Address: 1875 N Humboldt
The warm-colored interior of Redroom makes this no-frills lounge the perfect place for a first date or small gathering with friends. The music is eclectic, the wine selection extensive and the bartenders are quick to start a conversation with anyone going solo at the bar. A self-proclaimed lounge and “think tank,” the Room attracts an educated, East Side crowd that enjoys cocktail, conversation and cigarettes.
Sake may be common place at any area Japanese restaurant, but when it comes to serving it in bar-only venues, options are limited. Redroom defies the local trend by offering 13 different types of sake, including a sake bloody mary and a sake-tini. Tuesdays are the best nights to sample, since they’re on special and served hot or cold to your liking. Other signature drinks include the Room’s Kir Royal, a $4 concoction of champagne and black kurrant (the bartender informed us they were out of black kurrant at the time of our visit, so no verdict on the taste). One of the best-loved traditions at Redroom is beer sampling--lots of it. With more than 15 imports and micros on tap, choosing just one can be a daunting task. That’s why the Room encourages people to mix-n-match their brews. If you sample three different ones between its 5 and 7 p.m. happy hour, the owners throw in a souvenir glass. Now you don’t have feel guilty about stealing one. While we’re talking happy hours, Redroom has one of the best in city. Besides being voted best happy hour in 2003 by Shepherd Express readers, the prices give anyone good reason to drink. Micros and imports are two bucks a pop and wines run $3 a glass. Even those tried and true beer drinkers can enjoy P.B.R. in a can for the discounted rate. On the cocktail flipside, we were disappointed that the lounge didn’t have a staple martini menu to browse. Bartender Joe indicated he could mix up just about anything we wanted, including chocolate martinis or a raspberry-looking thing a young woman sipped at the end of the bar. We were pleased with his recommendation of a Zygo cocktail, featuring the light, crisp vodka and its superb peachy finish. Nice touch. Shows the bartenders knows what’s quality and what’s not, even if they the Room doesn’t have the menus to back itself up.
Depending on when you visit Redroom, you may or may not find a live DJ. Appearances are rare these days, but the caliber of music pumping from the speakers is hardly commercialized schlock. On nights without DJs, the bartenders get the lucky job of controlling the mixer behind the bar. On the nights we visited, we were lucky enough to hear a mix that included a few gypsy-inspired chanting ballads, one track by the Beta Band and Felix da Housecat’s haunting remix of Nina Simone’s Sinnerman. Such juxtaposition is just a juicy taste of what the Redroom dishes out musically seven nights a week. One of the best known musical faces in Redroom’s short, two-and-a-half year history is Old Man Malcom. Occasionally a bartender, more so a DJ and constantly a musical innovator, Malcom has been to unexpectedly drop in to mix a set for crowds huddled around the bar. He also works the happy hour set like no man can. On Sundays, less-legendary, local DJs get their chance to mix it up at Space Camp, an evening of music featuring some of the best local downtempo house, breaks and anything eclectic, groovy or funky. As long as it strays from the ordinary, all music is welcomed at the Room. Bring your vinyl crates and a couple bucks for beers.
One look at the crowd and you’d think contact lens were never invented. Eyeglasses are an utmost necessary staple at the Room. On any given night, more then half the crowd was donning specs and involved in deep conversations that involved lots of hand movement. Maybe this means Redroom socialites just have something more to say than the average bar fly. Our bartender du jour noted that he had worked at many other bars around town and by far, this was the most intellectual crowd he’s served. That’s not to say the vibe is stuffy. The acoustics at the Redroom are quite echoey, and when those intense conversations get heated, watch out. Unless you want to keep your political and social views private, the entire crowd in the intimate lounge may just hear how you really feel about President Bush. Crowds and couples who hang at the Room are more interested in discussing ideas, politics and social issues rather than reliving the days of college keg stands or shooting blow job shots. Don’t be misled. The clientele, in fact, can be very hard drinking; they just couple their vices (be it nicotine, alcohol or socialist thoughts) with a more intellectual brand of boozing that doesn’t scream “Water Street,” even though the location is relatively close. Hmmm, maybe the Redroom should adopt a slogan like, “Drink hard, think harder.”
OK, so the walls are--um, red--and the bar is self contained in a one room, one bar setting. We guess that nails down the name. The rest is more complicated. Is it the burlap-covered wall fixtures hovering over the bar or the circular, ceramic tiles covering it that give the room its eclectic vibe? We guess it’s a little bit of both. When walking into the interior of the place it’s easier to forget Redroom is actually an old house converted into a cocktail lounge. Small, metallic-covered tables line the front and back areas of the bar, coupled by wood-and-steel barstools with spider-like legs. Looks funky. There’s also a few booths in the back, not unlike cozier versions of those at fast food restaurants. Their style gives them an unpretentious look, a sharp contrast to many seating areas found in VIP areas of local lounges. When crowds are sparse, patrons prefer to huddle around the bar and smoke cigarettes--lots of them. Despite the warm colors lighting the interior, Redroom’s hardwood floors and small, stark interior help it retain a strong smoky smell. It’s one of the first things we noticed when we walked inside. But all in all, the stronger smell doesn’t deter from the ambiance of the East Side think tank. It’s retro with a modern edge, intellectual exhibitionism without pretentiousness.
What to Wear:
Dark rimmed glasses and a beat up pair of bowling shoes. Corduroy jackets and olive drab pants work too if you’re going for the retro-chic look. If you prefer t-shirts and jeans, that’s fine too, but the “Hipster Handbook” is a welcoming guide book to have before drinking and donning fashions at the Room. It’s a neighborhood crowd, so don’t make too much of an effort. Those who come to drink are usually staying for the long haul or finishing out their night. Club garb is far and few between, so leave the bling and the rings for finer nights of partying. Just be you.
When to Go:
Happy hours are hoppin’ during the week, but crowds are pretty much cleared out by 8 p.m.. Weekday evenings prove to be on the slow side, except Tuesdays, thanks to the sake special. Weekends naturally attract the larger crowds and can throw together a more eclectic mix of people that strays from the usual neighborhood crowd. Weekends also make for a better opportunity to hear live music and DJs, especially on Sundays, when spinning live is just part of the gig. Let your ears decide and the buzz roll on.