There are some local places that I'm shocked aren't more well known, and I think that's the result of a general aversion to stepping out of one's comfort zone. I make regular concerted efforts to step outside of mine, which often leads me to strange and rewarding drinking establishments.
This is how I've wound up attempting to sing Japanese pop songs in a Korean karaoke bar, downing beers on a decrepit dock at a weathered bar hidden in the middle of the woods and doing shots of pumpernickel bread-flavored vodka chased with pickle slices while a man in a white suit and dark sunglasses played saxophone on the nearby stage, in between performing magic tricks.
Most recently, my affinity for strangeness led me to Les Partners Lounge, a long-running cocktail lounge and live music venue nestled into the corner of a nondescript shopping plaza located in a retirement community just east of Clearwater Beach.
My initial internet recon told me three things: Les Partners' clientele trends a bit older, the bar is adamantly smoker-friendly and the décor and atmosphere are from a bygone era — not reproduced, in this case, but as it was and presumably always has been.
I found all of these things to be true in abundance. The crowd, fairly dense on a Saturday night, was certainly qualified to live in the surrounding communities, though a few younger folks popped in throughout the evening. The smoke is, well, present. If you took a photo with the flash on, it might look like you took it with a cotton ball covering the lens. And you'd need the flash — the place is pitch black, with just a little light emanating from lanterns around the lounge area and behind the bar.
If you're in the market for an authentic, old school lounge — a place untouched by time — then Les Partners is your place. The interior is brick and wood, but that didn't stop anyone from suspending a disco ball over the dance floor. There's vintage, burgundy vinyl lounge seats — think of a Vegas showroom from a few decades ago — surrounding a band area, with the elaborate keyboard setup of Rick Fuller, who performs every Friday and Saturday night, bordered by piano-side seating, complete with oversized snifter-turned-tip jar.
If you get the impression that I'm having a laugh at Les Partners' expense, you're wrong. This place is so left field that I can't help but love it. In years past, it may have just seemed like any other lounge lizard hot spot, but today it's an atmospheric throwback that's too uncontrived to be enjoyed any way but unironically.
It also helps that it's friendly and fun. Granted, I visited on a Saturday that also happened to be the birthday of the owner of the next-door liquor store, so the balloons and overall celebratory vibe enhanced the surreal environment substantially. But the music was great, the crowd was alive and the bar staff kept the drinks coming at a surprising pace, never once necessitating a trip back to the bar.
In terms of drinks, you won't find many surprised at Les Partners, as the drink list is consistently old school. There are some house wines, a handful of standard beers on draft and in bottles and a reasonable liquor selection that covers the basics. If you really want to get into the spirit, order something especially anachronistic. A Harvey Wallbanger is the obvious choice, but a Rob Roy would also do the trick.
Les Partners may not be a best-kept-secret kind of place — it's very well-known within its target demographic of walking distance residents — but it's definitely one that you'd easily miss if you weren't looking for something out of the ordinary.
Perhaps some folks would prefer to stick with their regular haunts, but for me, discovering places like Les Partners is a lot more fun.
Contact Justin Grant at [email protected] Follow @WordsWithJG.