For months, I regularly drove past Zom Hee Chinese Restaurant in Largo, casually noting the "Cocktail Lounge" sign on the marquee. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before I was obliged to take them up on their offer.
Zom Hee is a family-owned and operated restaurant that has been in the same location, and under the same proprietorship, for the past 26 years. That's no small feat considering that it's in an unassuming strip mall location on Park Boulevard, a street where many restaurants have fallen prey to a lack of patronage. As unlikely a destination as this may seem to one searching for a quality drink, you might be surprised what can be found inside.
Zom Hee looks mostly like what you would expect of a sit-in Chinese restaurant; ornate, red and gold decorations, soft music piping in over the speakers, a buffet area, and plenty of seating. But if you take a detour into a small side-room next to the entrance, you'll find a peculiar, old-fashioned cocktail lounge.
The entire first page of the restaurant menu is dedicated to classic and traditional cocktails, as well as some elaborate signature drinks — think maraschino cherries, orange wedges, little umbrellas, and paper lanterns, served in kitschy ceramic glassware — which are depicted in photographs on the center of the page. Let's be honest: no one is going to turn down a piña colada served in a glass coconut, no matter how refined they consider themselves to be.
Now, if any readers can tell me of another drinking establishment in the Tampa Bay area where you can order a Jack Rose, Stinger, Sloe Gin Fizz or Rusty Nail straight from the menu, then your next Harvey Wallbanger is on me. Kenny, the bartender, may have to consult the handwritten bartender's guide on occasion if you order a particularly obscure drink, but believe me, he'll make it happen.
As with most of the cocktails on the list, the specialty drinks are somewhat light, with the focus being on flavor rather than taxi fares. However, the staff will gladly make your drink to order, so you shouldn't be afraid to ask for a slightly stronger libation if you're so inclined. Most of the house specialties are of the tropical, fruit-flavored variety, such as the St. Petersburg Sling (like a Singapore Sling, only "tastes much better," according to the menu).
So would I honestly head down to Zom Hee simply to order cocktails and relax in their restaurant lounge? Is a Chinese restaurant in Largo a solid destination for someone looking to indulge in some of the classics?
I suggest you take a trip of your own some time and see.