They're not among my regular haunts, but I love a good restaurant lounge. Since I spend so much time in bars, these lounges represent a relaxing change of pace, where crowing is minimal, volume levels are restrained and good food is generally on hand.
That last clause is particularly interesting because, for as much as I enjoy these types of places, it's rare to find a restaurant lounge that I would go out of my way to visit solely for the drinks. Food is usually part of the deal, whether it's after-dinner cocktails or enjoying a drink while I wait for a table.
I've recently found a place that I would most certainly visit for the drinks alone, even if the food were not excellent, as well.
Domani Bistro Lounge, a new addition to the budding Seminole Heights drinking and dining scene. When Domani opened last August, it was met with much praise from the community for its quality food, spacious-yet-intimate dining area, and relaxed, old-school atmosphere.
Absent, however, were mentions of the second qualifier in the restaurant's name.
I stopped by late in the evening, after the dinner crowd was long gone, and passed through an outdoor patio facing the rear parking lot, populated by a handful of fellow late-nighters sipping cocktails and beers. Inside, I found a large — and of course, empty — dining area, with a separate lounge tucked away in an adjacent room to the side.
This room was small, as you might expect. A long bar, a few café tables, and some paintings of crooners and jazz musicians. Behind the bar: wine bottles stored cellar-style in wooden racks, half a dozen craft beers on draft and premium spirits arranged in front of mirror-backed shelves.
Curiously, there's also a huge array of syrups, tinctures, bitters, juices, herbs, and fresh produce; that's the kind of stuff that you'd expect to see at a high-end cocktail joint, not so much in a little Italian bistro off Florida Avenue.
As it turns out, Domani maintains quite the impressive cocktail menu. Half of it is in the form of a regular, house cocktail list, while the other is a seasonal list that changes a few times a year. The house drinks are made up of several classic Italian and Italian-inspired cocktails, such as the Tony Negroni (Nolet's gin, Italian vermouth and Campari, served straight-up), an orange juice-tinged Bellini, and the Frankie Blue Rye's, a rye whiskey-based version of the Old Fashioned.
There's nary a throwaway cocktail on this list, but I have to insist that you also take a look at the seasonal cocktail selection. Bartender Pete Siewruk has put together some of the more simple-yet-effective creations that I've seen lately. This list elevates Domani's lounge status from high-quality restaurant bar to that of a legitimate cocktail destination.
Take the Day at the Spa, for example. An otherwise ordinary blend of gin, muddled strawberries, lime juice, and simple syrup is made into something both refreshing and mildly savory with the addition of celery bitters. Or Mmmellonz, a rethinking of the classic Zombie ("Brainnns") that features a blend of rums with fresh cantaloupe, mango and jalapeño-infused simple syrup. On paper it looks simple enough, but it's quite unlike anything I've had before. And yes, it's spicy — and delicious.
If you show up on the right night, you might even catch some live jazz. If not, just grab a seat at the bar, enjoy the low-key, intimate setting, and see what's good on the current cocktail list.
Between the house drinks, seasonal menu, and diverse selection of premium spirits and fresh flavoring additives, you should have no trouble finding a reason to come back.