Right away, we noticed prom couples and teens in the front coffee-house area. With its plush red chairs, board games and a magazine collection running the gamut from People to Flaunt to Seed, it looked inviting -- but we headed for the back, which is reserved after 5 p.m. for those of us lucky enough to be older than 21. This room was also warm and comfortable, with art on its honey-toned walls, a thick carpet underfoot and a lovely oak bar surrounded by glass shelves of liquor.
"This is nice," said Research Assistant Amy. "It's small enough to check out people and make eye contact, but it's not meat-markety."
Also nice was the extensive drink selection. When we asked for the menu, a bartender handed us three sheets of paper with the potential to make us three sheets to the wind. We started off with the Daily Dose Special, a frozen coffee drink that comes in mocha, bianca mocha or caramel, served with a shot of espresso, vodka or rum. It was topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a squiggle of chocolate syrup, decadently reminiscent of a mudslide. Amy, a KU alum, ordered the Tornado ("A good ole Kansas special made with Ciclón and raspberry vodka"), in honor of her alma mater's win over Marquette earlier that night. The lime flavor from the Ciclón rum complemented the raspberry nicely.
The high point of the night, though, was the Spanish coffee. Our bartender lit Bacardi 151 on fire, and as he deftly swirled it around in a wineglass, he added Kahlua, Triple Sec and cinnamon. Then he poured in coffee, crowning the whole thing with a squeeze of whipped cream sweetened with vanilla syrup.
"We're trying to put a different spin on our drinks," said Nabeel Shaaban, one of the owners. "We want to stay up on the learning curve and want to stay new and different and fun."
As we sipped and played a game of Uno, Kirby the guitarist kicked off his set with "Take Me Home, Country Roads," much to our delight (the Night Ranger having spent the first four years of her life in West Virginia). Happily, the music wasn't so loud that we couldn't carry on a conversation.
The bar crowd was slightly older; there were well-heeled men smoking cigars, guys with shaggy hair working on their laptops in the corner, and the Girls' Night Out table. We liked three twenty-ish guys with sexy Russian accents who were drinking pitchers of Bud and playing a card game called Stupid. "It's a relaxed atmosphere, and there's a different variety of people," said Jonya, one of the card players. "You have your rich Johnson County types as well as high school kids. It's not exactly Westport."
That's precisely why we'd venture back to Strip Mall Land. Well, that, frozen drinks and the opportunity to use Venn diagram in another sentence.