By Dr. Ink
In the last issue I mentioned the difficulty in keeping track of where you might want to go for Happy Hour and what the various deals are at our Uptown bars and restaurants.
Some places don’t advertise their Happy Hours. I’ve been to bars where after sliding onto the stool and looking around for the requisite chalkboard or table tent I finally had to ask the bartender, “What’s on special?”
After the answer, I wanted to follow up with, “So why don’t you post something and promote it to your patrons?” But we all know it is not in one’s best interest to annoy the bartender. Unless you want to leave really thirsty.
Lei Lounge, a bar/restaurant that opened in University Heights three years ago, is the opposite end of this spectrum. Not only does this place have menus, signs and a Web site that eagerly promote its specials, it offers a dizzying array of discounts and coupons.
“You’d have to be pretty dumb to come here when it’s full price with all of these deals,” one of my friends said as we examined the long list of daily specials.
Fortunately for us, Tuesday – when six of us sauntered into Lei Lounge – is perhaps the best of all money-saving days there with half off all signature drinks and half off all menu items in the “numbered column” (more on that later) all night long. (The same drink special is available every day except Sunday from 5-7 p.m.)
Even better, Lei Lounge offers 27 signature drinks from which to choose at $4 each (normally $8), and we’re not talking your run-of-the-mill cosmos and daiquiris here. How does a Dragon’s Breath (vodka, dragon fruit juice, pomegranate juice, sriracha sauce and simple syrup) sound? Or an Aloe Vera Collins (vodka, aloe vera juice, lemon, simple syrup and 7UP)? Does a Tokyo Bubbles (sparkling sake, mangosteen juice and simple syrup) intrigue you?
This is where my ingenious plan to invite five friends – actually they just showed up but it felt smart – came into play. You do the math: 27 specialty cocktails divided by six drinkers – and yes, I think I did manage to taste nearly every concoction on Lei Lounge’s drink menu. I did incur a few dirty looks when two friends tried to order the same drink and I intervened with “no, everyone has to keep ordering something different so I can try all of them.”
“Are you paying the bill too?” another friend asked.
Uh, no. I am a starving journalist, after all.
Anyway, even if I were paying the bill, at $4 a pop these were pretty cheap, tasty cocktails. I watched the bartender pour and he was not shy with the vodka. Tip: they don’t charge extra for call vodka, so call your Grey Goose to fly right over to that glass.
I obviously can’t list all 27 drinks here, so let me highlight a few hits and misses instead. The Watermelon Lemondrop with its sugared rim tasted like liquid candy but really lived up to its name. I was also partial to the Black Cherry Cosmopolitan’s real black cherry juice and the Shanghai Tea with its whiskey base. But yummiest of all – dessert in a glass – was the Papaya Cream Colada, the bar’s only blended cocktail, which has spiced rum, papaya juice, crème de coconut, lime and simple syrup.
Now for the less successful sips. Everyone hated the aforementioned Dragon’s Breath. Something about that sriracha sauce, an Asian hot sauce, plus the sweet juice gave it an unpleasant taste, although I could see it as a Bloody Mary alternative. Another unpopular choice with my crowd was the Carioca Caipirinha, which has cacacha, a Brazilian rum that smells and tastes like tequila, in it. And the drinks topped with champagne tended toward overwhelming bubbly taste rather than an evenly mixed drink.
All in all, though, the drinks were fun and interesting, and Lei Lounge gets big props for not scrimping at Happy Hour and still using their high-quality exotic juices.
Unfortunately, the food just got one big “meh” from the group. The menu, which assistant manager Kevin McEuen termed “global tapas with French and tropical influences,” is broken into four columns. On Tuesdays, one column is half-off, so since this was the fourth Tuesday the specials were in the fourth column (another tip: on the fifth Tuesday of a month all columns are half-off). We ordered the Cuban Spiced Chicken ($12/$6), the Mini Kobe Burgers ($14/$7) and the Mini Crab Cakes ($14/$7). The chicken’s sauce tasted like bottled barbecue sauce with a shake of spices, while the burgers – ordered medium-rare – arrived medium-well with plain ketchup and mayonnaise instead of the Dijon dipping sauce in the description. The crab cakes were fishy-smelling. The food wasn’t horrible – even at medium-well the two mini burgers were still juicy and I was impressed with the baby greens and the tiny tomatoes on the buns – but we were glad we hadn’t paid full price.
Considering the size of Lei Lounge’s menu (four columns with 10-12 items in each), I was really disappointed that my strictly vegan friend could not be accommodated. Especially since one of the area’s best vegan stores is right across the street.
The service was spotty. Sitting at the bar we received fairly decent attention, although empty plates and glasses sat for a long time without being taken away. But when we moved to a side table, we had to be our own servers. It seems like they could have servers for the bar tables or the bartenders could come around occasionally for ordering.
Lei Lounge is deceiving from the street because the bar is in a narrow space that opens to a large, beautifully designed restaurant patio. The bar itself is long with plenty of seating and the area includes several long tables for groups to gather. But it is that patio with its private cabanas, lit torches and Polynesian meets Party City décor that makes this place exceptional for North Park. As the sun went down, the patio’s ambience increased and I wished we had reserved a table.
Speaking of which, those precious cabanas don’t come cheap, my Happy Hour penny-pinchers. They are only available by reservation for a two-hour block and require a $200 minimum check. Yet another tip: Book your cabana for Sunday or Monday and you probably won’t be held to the two-hour limit.
Lei Lounge is owned by Three Weiss Guys out of Philadelphia (which might have something to do with the Philly Cheese Steak sandwich on the menu!), who also own Bourbon Street next door. I found it to be less friendly and more L.A. or Gaslamp than Bourbon Street, but then again the hipsters deserve to have their neighborhood joint too, I suppose.
A final tip: If Lei Lounge sounds like your kind of place, go to www.leilounge.com and read through all the various specials, plus print out a few coupons – otherwise you might develop a little Dragon’s Breath when you get that final check.
Next issue: I’m diving into one of Uptown’s old-style bars.
4622 Park Blvd.
Dinner from 5 p.m. nightly.
Bar open until 2 a.m.
Saturday brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Sunday brunch 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
The 27 cocktails were fab but what about the wine and beer drinkers? No specials for them! (And Corona is not from Holland even if the menu says so.)
Possibly we hit a bad night but I found it all just average and a bit confusing with the columns. I rarely know what day it is, let alone which Tuesday of the month it is.
Hey, even mediocre eats and a few drink mishaps is fine when you’re paying half-price.
Not enough of it.
Lots of ways to save and experiment with the menu. Pay attention, all you bars who don’t know how to market yourselves!
Note about the ratings: Each category is based on 1-5 glasses, with 5 being best. Drinks and food are rated as to quantity and quality, while duration is based on the number of days and hours Happy Hour is offered. Value and service are self-explanatory.
Want to make me happy? E-mail Dr. Ink about your favorite Happy Hour and I’ll drop by with my stethoscope: firstname.lastname@example.org.