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WISHING UPON STARS 

Metro Bar's A-list clientéle gladly settles for a B-grade menu

Look at the movies coming out of Hollywood lately and you'll detect a common thread: Rather than embrace originality, the big studios are electing to wager their money on the safe bet. Moviegoers hungry for artful creations with fresh appeal must instead stomach a diet of derivative sequels and remakes.

The same approach appears to be at work in the Warehouse District, where the once-original Metropolitan Café has been rebranded as Metro Bar + Kitchen. Operated by Hyde Park Restaurants, the Metropolitan had always been the odd man out of the group, which duplicates its steakhouses in numerous cities and states. Operating largely independent from the troop, Metropolitan featured a chef-driven menu free from corporate constraints.

When Metro debuted this spring following a four-month renovation, it was immediately clear that more than the drapes had changed. In an attempt to attract the broadest possible audience, the restaurant ditched originality in favor of trendy predictability. Items like wings, pizza, ribs, burgers, chicken, and steak reflect a menu drafted not by a chef but a suggestion box. What's more, Metro isn't just emulating the dishes served at countless other popular establishments — it's aping itself. Metro and the recently unveiled Jekyll's in Chagrin Falls feature nearly identical menus.

But Hollywood blockbusters can still be entertaining — and so can Metro. The splashy redesign has worked wonders on the dated 10-year-old restaurant. The bulk of the efforts went into the bar and lounge area, a sweeping multi-level affair that encompasses soft, traditional, and communal seating. Some of the most comfortable squats are found on the backside of the bar, where low-slung armchairs abut a reduced-height bartop. Ornate paintings, suspended horizontally from the ceiling, proffer a whole new way of looking at art. Outsized pendant lights introduce drama to the wide-open room, while a warmer color palette adds class.

And people appear to be taking notice. In a town not known for its markedly handsome populace, Metro manages to attract the cream of the crop. Those in the market for a new model could do much worse than a night here, where A-listers brighten up the joint with their gleaming-white smiles. Not long after the clock strikes five, the sleek new outdoor bar begins filling up with martini-toting movers, shakers, and local celebs.

Those who get to Metro's bar before 6:30 enjoy half-priced appetizers and pizzas, as well as discounted beer, wine, and cocktails. But even at the happy-hour price of $4, our ginger cocktail tasted like lemonade, containing little more than a thimble of the promised Skyy Ginger. Much better bargains are those half-priced apps, like a pile of freshly fried potato chips (regularly $6.90) topped with buttermilk blue cheese, candied pecans, and a drizzle of sweet balsamic glaze.

As for bar munchies, few things pair better with a cold beer than Metro's warm Jersey Shore pretzels ($7.20). The trio of salty, puffy bread sticks is served in a wax-lined basket along with honey-mustard and sweet caramel dipping sauces. Also on the sweet side is the Thai chile sauce that glazes the tiny fried calamari ringlets ($10.90) and, for that matter, the faintly spicy Asian chicken wings ($5).

Small groups can gather 'round a crock of gooey cheese fondue ($10.90), fortified with Buffalo-style chicken and served with tortilla chips. Also prime for sharing are the consistently tasty thick-crust pizzas, bedazzled with everything from pepperoni ($9.90) to shrimp in lobster sauce ($11.50).

Burgers are neither new nor trendy, but sourcing beef from New York's famed butcher Pat La Frieda is all the rage (see B Spot). Despite the cow's pedigree, however, our cheeseburger ($7.90) arrived gray and juiceless throughout, appearing more steamed than seared. Diners can pair their burgers not just with great hand-cut fries ($1.90), but also thick milkshakes — with or without a shot of booze.

We'd rush back to Metro tomorrow for another order of the blue-cheese-topped boneless short ribs ($16.90), which have all the flavor and tenderness of a killer pot roast. An equally lush roasted half-chicken ($14.90) arrives firmly perched on a bed of herb mashed potatoes.

We never did get around to ordering any of the numerous steaks and chops. Why bother? You can get those anywhere.

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