Iconic Velvet Tango Room Has Been Sold, New Owner Promises to Preserve Legacy

Iconic Velvet Tango Room Has Been Sold, New Owner Promises to Preserve Legacy
Edsel Little/FlickrCC

The Velvet Tango Room has been sold. While rumors of the sale have been floating about town for weeks, the company that purchased it from founder Paulius Nasvytis has finally come out on record.

That company is Sly Restaurant Group, the company that took the iconic Cleveland deli Slyman’s and expanded the concept to include multiple Slyman’s Taverns locations.

“We bought it and are planning on changing nothing, so everything will stay the same – the same cocktails, the same staff, same décor, same everything,” says Rebecca Riemer, marketing coordinator with that company. “It’s always done so well."

Work already has begun on minor interior cosmetic upgrades, but nothing major, she adds.

The Duck Island lounge had been on the market for as high as $2.75 million. The sale price, while not disclosed, was well below that number according to those familiar with it. During the period of time that VTR has been on the market, the owner was approached by many suitors, but few met his objectives.

“I wasn’t going to sell just so the building could get knocked down for condos or townhouses,” Nasvytis explains, adding that he’s thrilled his legacy will continue relatively unchanged.

It’s not hyperbole to say that Nasvytis was ahead of his time when he debuted the exclusive cocktail lounge nearly 25 years ago. He set and maintained a bar for quality that didn’t exist locally or, barely, nationally when he quietly opened the doors. From the mysterious “back room” to the live music and long-stemmed roses, there was always plenty of glamour to go along with the drinks.

But it was the quest for perfection that set VTR apart from the other watering holes. While most people were draining Zimas, Cosmos and White Russians, Nasvytis nudged his clientele to aim higher, thus helping to usher in the golden age of cocktails that soon followed.

Since opening in 1996, the neighborhood around the Velvet Tango Room has seen seismic shifts, causing the ground beneath its foundation to soar in value.

“The neighborhood was really, really rough,” Nasvytis told me a few years ago. “It was like the no man’s land between the few sparkles that Ohio City had back then and Tremont, which was still in the infancy of its transformation.”

Nasvytis is coming off a difficult year financially, he admitted, being closed since March.

“I’ve been paying everything out of pocket for the last year,” he adds. “I was kind of on the ropes. What a weight off my back. I’m happy that it happened, but it’s still weird.”

New owner Ron Leonhardt has been a patron and fan of Velvet Tango Room for years, says Reimer.

“It’s an iconic Cleveland-based operation and that’s kind of what he does,” Riemer says. “He saw the opportunity and jumped on it.”
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Douglas Trattner

For 20 years, Douglas Trattner has worked as a full-time freelance writer, editor and author. His work on Michael Symon's "Carnivore," "5 in 5" and “Fix it With Food” have earned him three New York Times Best-Selling Author honors, while his longstanding role as Scene dining editor garnered the award of “Best...
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