Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Relapse at the Velvet Dog

1280 W 6th St
Cleveland, OH 44113-1351
(216) 664-1116

by Beau Cadiyo

We found parking in front of the Velvet Dog, under the shade of the trees - shade I'm not sure I've seen before. It's sometimes hard to remember that West Sixth exists beyond Saturday night; everything looks newer and cleaner and more alive when the sun is out, like a Disney city street. The doorman forgot that it wasn't early afternoon - he told us to "have a good evening," then laughed at himself while he checked my ID.

Upstairs, too, it looked completely different. Instead of being packed with girls in short skirts and guys in striped shirts or Affliction tees, there were patio tables and chairs, lounge chairs on the raised deck, a cornhole set near the bar and only about ten people milling about. It was warm, too - the sun reflected off of the bamboo and the concrete and intensified. Frank Sims, one of the organizers, greeted us with bear hugs and steered us to the bar, his social graces Gatsbyesque.

The first stroke of brilliance was using a rooftop bar for a regular Sunday party. The second was the Bloody Mary station. I got vodka and ice in a glass from the barmaid; my girlfriend mixed it perfectly. We moved to the reclining chairs, where a man with bright white skin and brighter red hair was laying out, anticipating a vicious Irish sunburn. He was friendly, which was the strangest thing about the entire day. West Sixth, and the Velvet Dog, don't strike me as being the most friendly places; the aforementioned skirts and shirts can be downright hostile when drunk. At Relapse, West Sixth became an intimate gathering where social barriers were lifted and everyone was eager to meet everyone else.

Third stroke of brilliance: the barbecue. Instead of traditional grill fare, we had a full breakfast menu. The grillmaster showed me how he was making the french toast, and how the eggs were cooked (over the grill, but in a large, disposable aluminum pan). I ordered the sausage and egg sandwich made out of French toast.

It took a while to arrive. It was, admittedly, huge. He'd added strawberries on top, along with some powdered sugar, and gave me bottles of maple syrup and ketchup. The eggs were surprisingly well cooked (especially over coals), as was the French toast. The sausage was a bit bland, but Sims said that they're going to be constantly tweaking the menu. Earlier I had ordered the home fried potatoes, which were delicious at the time. However, as the day wore on they seems to wilt in their catering container.

Later, girls laid out in their bikinis and the cornhole got more confrontational. I reflected a bit. I liked it a lot and I hope to go back, and I hope that they are successful. However, I hope it's not too successful - except for my girlfriend, everyone I spoke to expressed an aversion to it becoming an MTV beach party. Unfortunately, as people find out about it, I'm not sure that scene is avoidable. Right now, it feels like we're starting something cool, on the cutting edge. Next week, people will have told their friends, and a few newbies will show up, and will be welcomed. In a few weeks, additions will be admitted grudgingly, and then soon after it will be packed with people who don't know each other and stick mostly to their own groups. The forty-somethings who were there at Week One will either feel awkward hanging out with 20-somethings, will go to another venue, or will stay home. When people are fighting to get to the bar, or girls participate in a high-pitched impromptu wet t-shirt party, the people who were there first will not return. Right now, it is a relaxed Sunday afternoon haunt for close - or soon to be close - friends. If it became more popular and you actually had to wait for a drink, it will be yet another beautiful idea destroyed by its own success.

Velvet Dog Nightclub on Urbanspoon

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