The Driftwood Lounge is ideal for a sophisticated date

If you have a soft spot for neon, you'll probably develop a crush on the Mallory Hotel's Driftwood Lounge before you even enter the building.

The glowing 'Cocktails' sign above the entrance to the popular Portland hotel isÊan irresistible invitation for bar hoppers who like a splash of sophistication in their drinks.

Not that the Driftwood Lounge is the most elegant game in town. Many of its decorations are wonderfully kitschy, though, such as the fake plants mixed with pieces of genuine driftwood, which creates a peculiar jungle-coastal ambience.

What makes the lounge so charming is that it's a relic Ñ and proud of it. The small space served as the hotel's breakfast nook until 1956, when it got a face-lift and became the Driftwood. Nearly half a century later, the dŽcor remains the same. According to Chris, a chatty lounge employee who did not want to give his last name: 'The dŽcor will never change. It's a solid foundation.'

Unless you're distracted by the occasional Blazer game that plays on the TV, it takes little imagination to pretend that you've been zapped back to the 1950s. Songs by the Platters and Roy Orbison drift through the speakers, and 'I Love Lucy' is the bartender's show of choice on Saturday nights.

The lounge has that suave bachelor-pad vibe. Or as Chris puts it, 'It has a Rock Hudson feel to it.' A wall of mirrors gives the illusion that the room is far bigger than it actually is, while dim lighting and dark woodwork add a note of mystery to the space.

If you're trying to hide a facial blemish from your date, you couldn't ask for better lighting conditions.

' 'Dark is better' must have been the motto when they built this place,' Chris says. 'A lot of our customers say that they squint when they go out into the lobby.'

The Driftwood gets its biggest crowds between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., and during a late rush between

10 p.m. and midnight. The clientele can't be pigeonholed, says Chris; it includes 'hipsters, people on dates and wedding parties.'

On a recent Saturday night, the place is empty until a group of people in their 20s and 30s take over a row of comfy green booths. They chain-smoke and order rounds of Greyhounds and Lemon Drops. Their voices grow louder with each drink they toss back. At a quieter table an older foursome nurse their drinks and talk about golf.

The hotel's kitchen closes at

8 p.m., so don't expect to chomp down a late-night hamburger. You'll have to fill up on the baskets of popcorn that the bartender

passes around.

In keeping with the 1950s atmosphere, most customers stick to old standbys when it comes time to order drinks.

'Classics like Cosmopolitans and Manhattans are popular,' Chris says. 'Only a few people order fruity drinks.'

A word of warning: Classic drinks lead to classic hangovers. In the words of one customer who takes on a generous serving of Grand Marnier, 'I guess I'll be sleeping till noon tomorrow.'

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