Red

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August 2, 2004 // UPDATED 2:47 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Ellen Gabler
Ellen Gabler

A hot cool spot to nab a vodka and lounge. Crimson joint makes its name with caviar, DJs and a killer happy hour.

While Red has stirred a buzz on the Downtown nightlife scene, it's not for the usual bump-and-grind reasons.

Service and sexy sophistication rule at this posh, new restaurant/lounge that sits street side in the Foshay Tower. Red fans come for the real Russian cuisine and trendy atmosphere, but they stay to be seen sippin' only the finest spirits and to enjoy the weekend's comparatively mellow DJs -- free from recently released frat boys and drunk and super-flirty singles.

What's hot

Vodka rules at this Russia-themed restaurant/lounge and is the featured highlight of its unique drink list. Fruit-infused vodkas developed in-house hoist Red to its own unique niche Downtown.

Ranging from strawberry to Granny Smith apple to pineapple to blueberry, Manager Paul Boyum says the specialty vodkas are "easy drinking." (If you're sipping with a sweetheart, however, beware: the horseradish shot, although tasty to some, does a number on your breath and could squash a noble attempt for that good-night kiss.)

Although the extensive list of fruity gut-warmers are a light and fitting spirit to complement the restaurant's undeniably chic aura, the chef's first-class cuisine likely draws the main dinner crowd.

The food is the real Russian deal -- pickled herring, jazzed up potatoes, blini (small buckwheat pancakes from Russia usually served with sour cream and caviar) -- and many other apps you can't pronounce.

Although normally a pricey stop, Red packs value into its Monday-Friday, 4-6 p.m. Happy Hour with the "5 for $5" special. Weary workers can pick five late afternoon treats from two separate appetizer and infused vodka-shot menus, all for five bucks!

What's not

Unless you're solely hitting happy hour, be ready to throw down the cash. And remember, since you're hanging with a high-class crowd, you have to be on your best behavior. Although there's live music every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, it's a chilled out DJ, so you'd better bring along good company or you could get bored.

And if you're looking for a standout place to dance, you'll want to look elsewhere, unless you're exceptionally light on your feet or have gone heavy on the booze that night and are brimming with confidence. There's no dance floor, but Boyum says some late-night guests go for a swing when the DJ gets going and restaurant tables are happily moved out of the way.

The scene

Sharp colors -- crimson, black and gold -- reinforce Red's upscale, classy look. The tall, black bar, tiny restaurant tables and dim lights also make it an ideal spot for a romantic night out.

The whole experience is structured on service, Boyum says, and aims for "sexy and sophisticated" -- yet, not stuffy or pretentious. Details are not spared, even the paper towels in the bathroom are dynamite (at least in the women's) -- they're extra thick and absorbent.

The crowd

An older crowd rules the dinner scene at Red, while a younger set, 25-35, usually comes out later for drinks. Although Red is a place for anyone 21-80, Boyum said, the general group is "in a lifestyle that can appreciate what we are doing."

That means trendy, high-class and more refined than most other watering holes that have a DJ.

One customer, Laura, 35, says Red suits her tastes because she still likes to go out and have a good time, but doesn't want to shake Pabst Blue Ribbon off her purse or deal with ringing ears from a blasting bass at the end of the night.

"You're older and you pay a little more," Laura explained. "You don't want to go to a college bar and be a grandma."

As an added bonus, she said, the "food is fantastic, and the bartenders are really cute."

Drinks and hours

Specialty drinks are fairly expensive, although you can score some domestic beers on tap for $4 or $5 bucks each and simple mixed drinks like rum and coke run $6.

Wine by the glass ranges from $4 to $17, while bottles start at $28 and can reach the $100, $200, even the $500 mark.

The verdict

If you're looking to kick it high-class, wine and dine yourself (or someone else) silly, and be seen in a sophisticated scene, check out Red. They'll even park your car for ya'. Type-A partiers, however, should keep it stepping.