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Lolapalooza 

The subtle changes at Lola are making a profound impression.

Relax, hipsters; your favorite haunt is back in business and swankier than ever. After a two-week hiatus for remodeling, Lola (900 Literary Road, 216-771-5652) reopened last week with a gala party attended by nearly 400 of owners Liz and Michael Symon's closest friends. The celebration also marked the debut of Upstairs at Lola, a former apartment space that's been transformed into two sleek private dining rooms and a dazzling demo kitchen, where chef Michael, a perennial critics' darling, will hold cooking classes beginning in January.

With Spiegelau wine goblets in hand, friends, family, and colleagues milled around the spiffed-up bistro to admire the recent upgrades, including the shiny new stainless-steel kitchen equipment, a translucent new foyer enclosure, expanded seating near the bar, sound-absorbent carpeting, and funky track and tabletop lighting. Liz Symon says that while the alterations were significant, they are subtle enough that many diners may not notice them, and that's OK with her. "We didn't want to change the basic nature of the room at all," she explains.

Instead, the major work took place upstairs. Although Liz describes the decor as "definitely contemporary, but more feminine," don't expect to find reams of chintz and lace. Instead, look for striking touches like a crushed-velvet-upholstered window seat, stacked with plump, sequined pillows, and sheer curtains that appear to be strewn with orange zinnias. One of the two private dining rooms has been tagged "the boardroom" because of its long acrylic-topped table glittering beneath a row of cobalt-shaded halogen pendant lights. The other, a minimalist beauty in stark black and white, is fitted with a half-dozen conventional dining tables and can be shut off from the rest of the upstairs by a series of frosted glass doors. (Claire Rogers, wife of Lola's long-time chef Frank Rogers, is the coordinator for Upstairs at Lola events; contact her at the restaurant for information about cooking classes or to schedule private affairs.)

Super-chef Symon says his menu of creative contemporary American fare also continues to evolve. "Basically, I find myself putting twists on my childhood food memories," he says of his multicultural creations, which now range from crab pierogi to buttermilk fried chicken, stuffed with mushrooms and creamed spinach.

Not that we think the Symons lost any sleep over it, but the roving critic for Gourmet magazine constantly bemoaned the darkness and din inside the bistro whenever she came through town. Maybe these refurbs will help Lola merit a well-deserved reassessment.

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More by Elaine T. Cicora

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