Bar of the Week: Jade Lounge
With signature cocktails like the Buddhalicious, Dragonlady and Jaded Player, you'd expect the newly opened Jade Lounge to be a bit splashy and over-the-top.
Instead, the bar (which is adjacent to and shares owners with long-standing Italian restaurant Il Piatto) is an exercise in masterful subtlety, from the décor all the way through to those exotic-sounding drinks.
And exotic they are. The Dragonlady is a beguiling combination of lemon grass- and chili-infused vodka, pineapple purée and lime that tingles the taste buds with its nuanced blend of sweet and sour. It might be the most understated and inventive (not to mention addictive) cocktail to debut in ages.
The Buddhalicious is a smartly tart update on the kamikaze that utilizes pear- and cherry-infused vodka, while the Jaded Player marries Maker's Mark and muddled orange - a drink whose proportions perfectly balance the sweetness of the bourbon with the tartness of the citrus.
It would be easy to spend an entire evening working your way through the house cocktail list. The Monkey Paw is perfect for chilly evenings - Clear Creek plum brandy served warm with honey, cloves and a cinnamon stick.
The Ginger Turnout, which features vodka and fresh lemon-ginger simple syrup, is lip-smackingly good - and could help knock that winter cold out of your system. All of the cocktails are delicious and surprisingly subtle.
As with Il Piatto, the owners have created a cozy and inviting neighborhood hangout. The Asian-inspired décor is dark and sophisticated without being stuffy or pretentious.
Instead, the low, plush seats are warm and comfortable and interspersed with dark green hardwood tables and chairs arranged to accommodate casual conversation and groups of varying sizes.
Stepping through the front door and through the velvet curtains is like entering another world. A sprinkling of vintage green hanging lamps helps create atmosphere as much as mirror the bar's name.
At the far end of the space, the bar (whose centerpiece looks like a magnificent piece of glowing jade) seems like an altar. Dark, polished wood floors and walls pick up the glow of the lights and add to the aura of relaxed intimacy.
The staff is down-to-earth and helpful, adding to the bar's charm.
If you want something to nosh on while sipping your cocktail, the Jade Lounge's menu provides an array of Asian selections, ranging from spring rolls and satay to Indonesian spicy tempeh and Vietnamese spicy lemon grass shrimp.
If you're favoring Italian over Asian, thanks to the shared ownership (and connected space) you now can enjoy cocktails while dining at Il Piatto.
However, the Jade Lounge more than stands on its own as a destination, with cocktails and ambience that will keep you coming back for more. It's already created a niche for itself as a sophisticated (yet neighborly) alternative to the area's abundance of wonderfully divey watering holes - a shiny jewel in the Southeast's extensive list of drinking establishments.
- Barbara Mitchell
2342 S.E. Ankeny St., 503-236-4998, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5 p.m. to midnight Saturday