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Sunset Sip 

Drinking in the atmosphere at downtown's latest lounge.

A towering pleasure: Seafood lovers, this one's for you. - WALTER  NOVAK
  • Walter Novak
  • A towering pleasure: Seafood lovers, this one's for you.
The picture on the cocktail menu is practically a cliché -- a woman's face, head thrown back, eyes closed, lips slightly parted. Over it, the text reads like the wrap-up to an episode of The Best Sex Ever. "He ordered for me -- a Bombay martini, straight up -- and smiled. I was a virgin. This was new. But I sipped the icy drink and felt warm. After that evening, he showed me much more . . . but I'll always remember my first martini."

Yo, barkeep: Gimme two of what she's having.

Welcome to the Sunset Lounge, the new martini bar nestled in downtown's Warehouse District. Friendly, urbane, and maybe a little too self-conscious in its attempts to be hip, the spot is the newest project for the owners of Brasa, Marbella, and next-door's Spanish eatery, Mallorca; and while the lounge lacks any notably Spanish accent, it does offer a long international wine list and dozens of martinis and retro-style cocktails, as well as sushi, a raw bar, and a small assortment of hot and cold appetizers. (Those craving a traditional dinner are welcome to place an order from Mallorca's menu, which servers will cheerfully provide.)

Although the menu's saucy imagery is tame by satellite-TV standards, it is fairly daring for an upscale Cleveland bar, particularly one billed as a refuge for the 35-and-older crowd. Ultimately, the innuendos promise more than they deliver. On the other hand, they do set the tone for the cadre of cleavage-baring staffers and for the room's artwork, which includes an eye-popping poster of a bare-breasted honey, her legs spread wide, and a keyboard where her musicmaker ought to be.

Intentional naughtiness, however, doesn't seem to explain why our table, on a raised platform near the front of the lounge, yields a clear view into the men's restroom each time the door opens. Poor design may also explain why, instead of casting a golden glow, the lounge's dim lighting gives guests a vaguely ghoulish appearance.

But while we wish the designers had given more thought to such details, we can't fault the overall appointments. Separated by a glass-enclosed sushi-prep area, the room's two small bars feel warm and intimate. And hefty white tablecloths, soft blue napkins, and broad-bottomed Italian-leather slingback chairs lend comfort and sophistication.

A rotating schedule of weekly promotions includes DJs, salsa dancing, and ladies' night. But the indisputable draw is the drink, and the well-organized wine, beer, cocktail, and cigar menu delivers the goods.

While prices clearly aren't aimed at bargain hunters, the variety has plenty of appeal. Pegged at nearly 200 bottles, the wine list offers everything from a $23 bottle of Covey Run Riesling (priced at $9 at our local grocery) to an $87 bottle of Mt. Veeder Cab (spotted at the same store for just $35). On the martini menu, one entire page is devoted to champagne cocktails ($7 to $12), with classics like Bellinis, Mimosas, and French 75s. A second full page is reserved for dessert drinks ($7 to $9) like the Truffle Martini. But considering the lounge's target age group, the "Sunset From the Past" page may be the biggest blast, with its roster of old pals like Tom Collins, Brandy Alexander, and Harvey Wallbanger, priced at $6 to $7.

Though the bar hasn't hopped on such upscale touches as the use of ultra-purified water, homemade maraschino cherries, or infused vodkas, the bar snacks definitely have gone uptown: In place of peanuts, there's bacon, fried until lean and crisp, then stacked into oversized snifters, whence it seduces with salty, chewy essences. Tempting as it is to just plant ourselves in front of the pork, duty demands that we explore the food menu; happily, it proves to be a pleasant enough assignment.

While the sushi is fresh but mostly unremarkable, the medium-sized seafood "tower" keeps two of us amused for most of an evening; the assortment includes jumbo shrimp, a shelled king-crab leg, a split lobster tail, seafood salad, raw oysters, scallops, and mussels, along with melted butter, fresh lemon wedges, and a trio of sauces.

Tender flatbread, generously topped with grilled chicken, mozzarella, caramelized onion, and barbecue sauce, makes a hearty, full-flavored nosh, and a trio of lush filet-mignon medallions, settled on portobello slices and topped with savory blue cheese, couldn't be more tasty. True, six deviled eggs garnished with a dab of roe seem pricey at $9; but sweet, creamy lobster bisque is worth every penny of its $5 price tag.

Later, as we head toward the door, my ladies'-night companion tosses her head toward the crowd of well-dressed men gathering near the bar. "I think we could have gotten lucky tonight," she giggles, as we hand the valet our claim check. Then the car arrives, and we slide into our seats and drive off into the darkness, as the Sunset Lounge slowly sinks below the horizon.

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