Saturday night the center of downtown resembles an Edward Hopper-does-Norman Rockwell canvas. The quaintness of autumn's cool air mingles with the lustiness of summer's heat still radiating from city streets; moonlight casts a diaphanous, sensual glow over buildings and faces. Trees surrounding Fountain Square wink with standard cityscape charm of tiny white lights while the Tyler Davidson Fountain reaches out with a melancholy, uplit embrace.
We pass horse-drawn carriages hopeful for tourists and lovers, crossing the street for Palomino Restaurant. Its main window stretches grandly above us, the diners returning my voyeuristic gaze with mere indifference, as if their elevated perch awards them omnipotence.
Inside, the ride up is all cool and gleaming quiet until we arrive at Palomino's entrance, where bachelorette squeals and FatBoy Slim simultaneously greet us. The bar is packed at 10 p.m. with lots of gorgeous men and women, the majority dressed in the urban uniform of black-on-black. The room itself is very handsome with post-modern paintings on cabernet walls, Chihuly-style lighting, marble-topped tables and mahagony bar.
We manage to grab the last table next to the window overlooking the square and are promptly greeted by an affable — but, thank God, not perky — server who spares us of any unnecessary introductions and gets right down to business.
CityBeat has sent me out to try Palomino's late-night happy hour.
Offered in the bar 10 p.m-midnight Monday through Saturday and 4 p.m.-midnight Sundays, the special includes two-for-one appetizers, $3 well drinks and a $5 designer drink feature. This will go over big with my boss, who allots an expense account smaller than an Enron dividend.
Palomino's bar menu is extensive: premium beers and wines, plus boutique martinis, Manhattans, cosmopolitans, dacquiris and the new celebrity-endorsed fave, mojitos. Tonight's feature is the "Pirate Mojito" — a refreshing elixir of Cabana Boy rum, fresh lime juice and mint served over ice and topped with a dash of soda and a float of Gosling's Black Seal Rum. I've never been a rum drinker, but, yo ho ho, this is some smooth devil juice. My date seems both concerned and hopeful as he watches the second one neatly disappear.
"Bar Snacks," as the menu is titled, is an understatement. Six different gourmet pizzas, sandwiches, pastas and a dozen other assorted appetizers are offered. We choose two — Seared Ahi with horseradish cream and an asparagus-pine nut relish and Hot Blue Lump Crab and Artichoke Dip with cracked pizza crust for dipping. These are both so good (especially the sashimi-grade ahi) and such a deal ($13 for both), we polish these off and go for two more — Roasted Garlic with Cambozola and Tomato Chutney, and Honey Peppercorn Salmon Skewers. Another delicious bargain ($10.50), we're now as satiated as a couple of johns on nickel night in Newport.
The night is young and we still have a few bucks to spare, so we take our mojito happy feet to Havana Martini Club for salsa dancing. We're glad to have discovered Palomino's late night happy hour — a great way to sample a variety of value-priced, well-prepared food in a beautiful room with a view of the once and future heart of Cincinnati.
Palomino, 505 Vine St., 513-381-1300.