By David Minsky
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The girl who serves us our sake is a Sexy Kitty.
Her name is Tuesday, she weighs about 80 pounds, and she's one of a stable of "burlesque" entertainers that West Palm clubtrepreneur Rodney Mayo and his right-hand man, Chris Johnson, have put together. The girls are called Sexy Kittys; you can find the pinups in various stages of undress at sexykittys.com, glossies of the "troop" (sic) in the latest issue of Mayo's magazine, Closer, and scattered around, fully clothed but in person at The Lounge: A Sushi and Saki Bar, on Clematis Street.
Like a blockbuster sequel or an academic treatise, Mayo's place has extended its title with a colon. It used to be just the Lounge, a sort-of interesting West Palm bar that occasionally hosted live local bands and was mostly half-empty anytime I dropped in for my mid-evening martini. About a month ago, the Lounge reopened with way more comfortable retro-mod '60s furnishings and flat-screen TVs over the bar showing cavorting sea mammals. A rather harried female sushi chef is tucked away in the back room; she evidently turns out "Clematis Rolls" until 4 a.m. practically every night. There's also a lovely, refurbished outdoor patio and a new lineup of entertainment, including karaoke on Tuesdays. It is to experience the magic of karaoke that we have come (singers drink free, but we're not singing) and to sample the sushi.
319 Belvedere Road, Ste. 12
West Palm Beach, FL 33405
Region: West Palm Beach
But let's back-space ten years. Any time you spot a "new trend" happening in Palm Beach County (burlesque dancers, sake clubs, '60s furnishings, ironic karaoke), you can bet this happenin' thing has already played itself out, wheezed its last pitiful breath, half a decade ago in New York, L.A., or San Fran. Burlesque parties started in Tribeca in the early '90s, took off in Frisco a few years later. You can tell the game has reached the debauched dead-end of its trail in West Palm Beach when you consider that the Sexy Kittys, our homegrown version, not only flash groomed muff and bare nipples but were conjured into existence by a couple of guys who hoped to turn a dime on their skills. The original entertainers of the "new" burlesque, it goes without saying, abhorred full nudity; were accomplished, creative, comic performers; and managed their own financial affairs.
But I'm off topic I should be evaluating the sushi. It's 9:30 p.m.; there are a total of six customers at the Lounge. Our kitty for the evening, Tuesday, has grabbed the karaoke mic and launched into a version of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car," sung charmingly, flatly off-key. I don't realize it at the moment, but within the hour, the room will have filled, and I'm going to be longing for Tuesday Kitty to sing something, anything, again. Because otherwise, some ghastly middle-aged man will be belting out Billy Joel's greatest hits at a volume to make my eyes water. I'll be staring at my companion in deafened, helpless misery, my forgettable, nearly identical rolls (the Mama-san, the Clematis, $10 each) and not-very-fresh hamachi sashimi half-eaten on my plate, my glass of second-rate sake (Gekkeikan Haiku, $12) grown warm. And I'll be shedding my good mood the way some girls peel out of their retro red-satin skivvies.
The next night, a Wednesday, on my way to the Saki Room in Delray Beach, I'm beginning to wonder if there isn't something cynical about the whole enterprise of opening a sake bar (and why is everybody spelling it saki, all of a sudden? Let's get this straight: Saki is a famous British author of short stories. Sake is a Japanese alcoholic beverage brewed from rice). I'm turning into a hideous curmudgeon over a couple of metallic-tasting slices of sashimi and a few spelling mistakes, and my expectations have plummeted, even after chatting beforehand with co-owner and Chef Ed Ueno on the phone. Ueno is a cheerful, voluble man who worked his way to Delray via a gig as corporate chef for the Penrods chain (of Nikki Beach, etc.). He hooked up with Chris Lacata, who edits a glossy local fashion and lifestyle mag called Capture Life, and predictably, their joint venture, opened nine months ago, has high concept written all over it, from the hot-girl greeters at the entrance to the exterior door that doubles as a flat-screen (fat-challenged models mincing down the runway) to the lounge that serves free sushi and champagne to "ladies" on Wednesday nights.
This beautifully tricked-out place with its textured paper walls, geometric lamps, squishy pillows, mood lighting, brick bar, and cool music (Boozoo Baju, at low volume) is, in fact, full of ladies when we arrive. Gorgeous 20-somethings show an abundance of cleavage, tossing glossy locks over tanning-bed-bronzed shoulders. They're sipping gargantuan sakitinis and fresh fruit infusions in spangly colors: the Dragon Breath, the Bloody Geisha, the Mandarin Buddha, the Sour Jap. I order a sakitini made with watermelon juice and orange liquor (the Tsunami, $10), and it conjures memories of kidhood: cough syrup, baby aspirin, Funny Face Drink Mix (Jolly Olly Orange?). It's disgusting, but at least it's strong, and I gulp it right down gotta feel the burn! wishing I'd ordered one of their dozens of premium sakes instead.