Cleveland is situated on the mouth of the Cuyahoga River and is known as the birth place of Rock n’ Roll. The city is also known for many other things, but cocktails are not usually one of them. However, if Paulius Nasvytis has anything to do about it, that will soon change.
As the founder of The Velvet Tango Room, a cocktail bar that opened in 1996, Nasvytis wanted to do something out of the ordinary for the beer and shot city. “It was either bars for (college) kids or old man bars,” he says. “For the most part, they were all doing the same thing.”
Photo courtesy of Velvet Tango Room
Cleveland was only beginning to find its footing when The Velvet Tango Room opened; way before the Martini craze hit the bar scene and the cocktail movement became mainstream. “It was an interesting market in the mid-90s,” Nasvytis said, opening the bar in a “neighborhood no one went to.” However, Nasvytis used that to his advantage. He made The Velvet Tango Room an exclusive spot in the heart of Cleveland. He limited the marketing, and relied on word of mouth from his avid guests. “If you’ve heard about it, you knew where it was.”
“I opened the bar that had some standards,” he says. He made sure there was dress code, an aggressive price point, live entertainment and highly trained staff that appreciated the craft as much as the cocktail. “What we had done is focus on the bar.” It was not a place for everyone, he added. "It's a place for ladies and gentleman." However, even with the exclusivity it still produces happy hour events Monday through Friday from 4:30pm to 7:00pm. Additionally, the cocktail bar hosts a three-piece jazz band during this time.
What makes it a place for ladies and gentlemen is the people behind the bar. The training period is long and arduous, Nasvytis says, but everyone remains consummate professionals. Imbibers, too, are on a learning curve starting with a brief history lesson about the cocktails to understanding why they may wait 20 minutes for a cocktail. “This isn’t fast food,” he says. “Nothing is made haphazardly. We do just the right balance consistently in the cocktail we serve.”
“When someone orders something they never had and watch it being put together, it rocks their world,” he says. “They have a sip of it, and it’s not like anything they’ve tasted before.” Nasvytis says the staff at The Velvet Tango Room is creating memories for people and making everything an experience. This experience and the raising of standards is the marketing draw that keeps customers coming back. “The American palate is becoming more and more sophisticated not just in cocktails but in food as well,” he says. “Customers are starting to demand more.”