21 and Over Club: Lounge 33

Tim Baca/HIGHLANDER
Tim Baca/HIGHLANDER

When most of your free time is spent poring over textbooks or pulling the late shift at the library in preparation for the first round of midterms, it can be beneficial to put down your book and cut loose for a night. This Tuesday, I decided to do just that, and headed downtown to Lounge 33, a bar located off Central Avenue at the Riverside Plaza.

As I drove past the dark storefronts of the Plaza’s now-closed businesses, haggling with my friends over which one of us would have to stay sober for the five-mile drive home, I wondered what a place that identifies as a “lounge” would be like. I pictured myself reposed on a velvet couch, sipping a martini while the blur of soft jazz and half-whispered conversations hung like smoke in the air. As I parked, however, and moved toward the thumping bass common to club music, I realized that our destination would have a club-like atmosphere much different from the one I had imagined.

Open since 2008, a time when most of us viewed our college life as some faraway fantasy, the lounge greeted Riverside with large bay windows and an interior dimly lit by black lights and small blue lamps, which were perched along the walls. After walking through a front patio roughly the size of a dorm room, I stepped into the cacophony of whooping patrons and blaring dance music. The interior thronged with people, some nodding rhythmically while others stood inches away from one another, trying to hold conversations above the surrounding din. We managed to find an open table out of the four total scattered around the interior. The crowd filled the inside that was roughly the size of a small classroom. As I glanced around looking for another room I may have missed, my friends and I headed to the bar to satiate our thirst.

The first bartender we spoke too was kind and eager, but upon asking about any house specialty drinks he looked bemused and simply informed us that well drinks were $3 until 11 p.m. My eye caught a sign listing a variety of specialty cocktails, but I was informed that those are no longer served after 10 p.m. I tried to order a Tom Collins (gin, club soda, lemon juice, and sugar — my go-to drink), but the bartender seemed confused at my request and stated that they did not have any gin. I ordered a Rum and Coke, and to my surprise, my cocktail was served in a six-ounce disposable cup. My friends ordered a Stella Artois Cider and a Shock Top, both $6, and rather than receiving a pint glass, they were given the disposable cups as well. I questioned the unorthodox serving style, as the bartender explained that after 10 p.m. drinks are served in the plastic cups to avoiding breaking any of the Lounge’s glassware. While this is a valid reason, it’s ludicrous to pay $6 for 6 ounces of beer. If broken glasses truly are an issue, they could switch to serving beer in larger disposable cups.

While my friends pensively sipped and tried to make three gulps of beer last more than five minutes, I was delighted when I tasted my cocktail and realized the bartender had given me a strong pour. I decided to mill about and get a better feel for the club. Aside from the bar and a DJ booth that consisted of two people sharing a single Macbook, there was a small dance floor-type area inside the door between the bar and two of the tables.

The street tacos offered were prepared by a kind-looking man working over a portable grill. He explained to me that he was hired by the lounge to cater on Tuesdays, and that there is not any food to be had on other nights. I lucked out coming on a Tuesday, as the tacos were only a dollar and tasted excellent. The chicken was sweet and spicy, while the carne asada was smoky with overtures of onions and chilis. The salsa and cilantro were fresh, and the fine food elevated our mood.

As I chatted with some of the other patrons, I found that they shared many of my gripes. Their complaints were typically about the paltry serving sizes and cramped atmosphere. While six ounces for a rum and coke was acceptable to me, a man who had ordered a Long Island Iced Tea was disappointed that a drink usually served in a tall highball glass was being served in the same tiny cups that everyone was holding. However, both the staff and guests were all in good spirits, and I soon lost myself joking with the other patrons and staff, laughing outside with my friends and embarrassing myself on the dance floor while Kanye West blared from the PA system. When I found myself at the bar again, a second bartender was able to make a Tom Collins and the sweet taste of gin and citrus propelled me toward more sporadic dancing.

Overall, Lounge 33 seems to have an identity crisis. It’s too loud to be a small, cozy dive, and far too small to be a club. I’m not disappointed because it didn’t match my initial expectations, but because every strength it has is counteracted by one of its flaws. While the disposable-cup servings and friendly staff give it a familiar feel akin to a house party, the small beer portions and limited availability of specialty drinks will disappoint most beer-drinkers and alcohol aficionados. However, if what I’ve described sounds appealing and you feel like giving Lounge 33 a try: Grab some friends, order a mixed drink and dance your heart out.

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