To say that the Short North Parlor Room “went a different direction” would be the understatement of the year.
Gone from the former Surly Girl space: the faded wallpaper peeking out between hundreds of ornately framed tintypes, and sepia-toned portraits.
The skulls, and longhorns, like the old wooden bar they once decorated, are nowhere to be found. In their place, an ornate back bar, with deep wood tones, and warm built in lighting, and a gilded bar top that snakes across the room allowing patrons to see everyone sitting to their left and right.
The pressed tin above diner’s heads remains in some places, though it is now adorned with art deco light fixtures, in place of beaded over-the-top chandeliers, and partially obscured with a dramatic three tiered tray ceiling. It’s as if the pirate ship that got lost in a squall and somehow crashed onto the set of Deadwood drifted back out to sea, and the crew got to work immediately on a production of The Great Gatsby.
Perhaps the first step to understanding (and writing about) The Short North Parlor Room, is to stop comparing it to the restaurant that used to occupy the space. It does not serve Tex Mex-inspired comfort food with a side of sass, and it certainly isn’t “surly.”
It does, however, fill the void of a solid neighborhood bar left behind when the old gal saddled up her horse and rode out of town—albeit with a costume change, and a new set designer.
The cocktail menu, designed by Jake Politsky, is a healthy mix of classics and classically inspired creative options that manage to take risks without alienating those looking for something simple. The Smoke & Mirrors, which combines, mescal vago elote with a house-made honeydew syrup, fresh lime, orange cordial, and a mango-habanero spiced rim, does so with a proper grasp of how to balance the sometimes overwhelming flavors of smoked earthy agave in the mezcal, while still showcasing the heart of the spirit.
The Clover Club is a pretty classic affair, but it is done well at the Parlor Room, and the house-made raspberry syrup was a perfect foil to The Botanist gin and dry vermouth. The confusingly named Papa Doble, a reference to the drink Hemingway consumed in staggering numbers at Havana’s Floridita bar, shares only two ingredients with the original recipe; rum and lime. However, the Parlor Room’s version which substitutes maraschino liqueur with a house made plantain syrup, and grapefruit juice for pineapple, is a perfectly pleasant drink, if a departure from tradition.
The bar features a well-stocked bourbon selection, and 12 taps populated with some of the usual local and craft suspects, including Rhinegeist, CBC, Jackie O’s and North High, among others.
Executive Chef Isaac Holzworth’s elevated takes on traditional bar food are great for dinner or late night dining, and with no dishes topping the $13 mark, they’re surprisingly affordable. The Lollipop Chicken Wings strike a perfect balance with traditional spicy buffalo, and Malaysian sweet and spicy glaze, and can be consumed in one easy (read: not messy) bite.
The pickled celery served alongside the wings marked the first time I’ve ever paid any attention to the little green sticks that come with my wings, and I was happy I did. Three bags of Shagbark popcorn seasoned with bacon and chive, salt and malt vinegar, and roasted garlic and parmesan called the Popcorn Trilogy is like a dish that was genetically engineered to be shared amongst a group of friends catching up over drinks.
The fish tacos, which feature salted cod and potato fritters with avocado, yellow aji chili sauce, cabbage, and cilantro were filling and delicious, with the potato being a unexpectedly welcomed addition, and the pork Bahn Mi, with the fantastic savory chicken spread somehow seemed at home in this art deco palace, as far from Mexico, or Vietnam as you could get.
It’s easy to be wary of anything that replaces a beloved restaurant in the rapidly changing Short North, especially when it is such a dramatic departure from what we once knew and, mostly, loved.
But those who decide to stop in and see what they’ve done with the place, will be greeted with a warm neighborhood vibe, attentive service from a well trained staff, and food and drink that delivers. •
Get a taste during Burger & Beer Week, September 19-24th! View their $6 burger, here.
Short North Parlor Room is located at 1126 N High St. For more, visit shortnorthparlorroom.com.