Cover Story: The Art of Lounging

The happy hour leap at The Cincinnatian's Cricket

Oct 10, 2002 at 2:06 pm
Brianna Kelly

Slip into The Cincinnatian Hotel's Cricket Lounge in the early evening hours, and you're in another era. A concierge in a top hat opens the door for you. Herb Kirchner could be playing on the baby grand; he might glance up to acknowledge you with a twinkling eye.

A loose configuration of cocktail tables sprawls around an island bar with a view of the connected Palace Restaurant. Soft lights give marble and walnut furnishings a warm, red glow. Contemporary décor is balanced with the old European air of the eight-story atrium above.

Whether winding down after work or winding up for an evening out, the best time to go is Friday at 5-7 p.m., when appetizers from the Palace's kitchen are a half-price steal and drink specials include half-price beer (which equates to $1.50 for domestics and $2.50 for imports), house wines and well drinks ($4) and specialty martinis ($7, usually $9).

The atmosphere is formal but not exclusive: I don't feel out of place in jeans, though I do find myself longing for a silver cigarette case and a pair of Jackie O shades as a girlfriend and I claim barstools opposite a circle of grazing suits. To our left is a man waiting to meet his wife for their anniversary dinner; to our right a solo diner entrenched in Philip Roth's I Married a Communist.

The only twentysomethings to be found, we shamelessly drill the bartender for bargains, only to discover that happy hour doesn't start for another 24 hours, as we've come on a Thursday evening.

The bartender, an acquaintance, generously gives us the half-price apps but not drink specials.

The menu has things you'd expect (such as shucked oysters and cheese selections) and things you wouldn't (like Shrimp and Pork Egg Rolls, marked down to $3.75 during Happy Hour).

One of us begins with a Sierra Nevada, the other with a Tanqueray and tonic. We sample the Smoked Salmon ($4.25 during Happy Hour) and Calamari (dis counted to $3.25). Four slices of smooth, fresh salmon are carefully folded alongside wheat toast points with capers, red onions and separately minced egg whites and yolks. The calamari is soft but not chewy, and the golden breading melts in your mouth with a smoky chipotle salsa mayo side. A bed of Mesculin greens makes a light, fresh accompaniment.

Intrigued by the presence of Onion Rings (the Happy Hour price tag is $2.88) on the menu, we must partake. Pretty standard, the onion slides out with the first bite, the remaining hollow ring still delightful dipped in a creamy, spicy remoulade. A neighboring guest kindly proffers Listerine strips when he sees what we've ordered. But chivalry aside, decadent presentation and service are enough to make you feel like royalty, even when posing for the camera with onion ring earrings.

There's a certain romantic anonymity to be found only in a hotel bar like the Cricket. Observing a couple in hushed conversation across the bar (the ones with wedding band tan lines who seem nervous about my friend's camera), I'm certain there's no better place to escape. And stepping outside onto the familiar streets, I feel like I've just returned from somewhere else.

The Cricket Lounge The Cincinnatian Hotel, 601 Vine St., 513-381-3000.