Every once in a while, a new bar or restaurant comes along that is clearly a passion project, and for us local food writers, these places are easy to write about.
To be fair, not all passion projects are created equal. You cover new restaurants for Step Out Buffalo long enough and you’re bound to see some wacky concepts. While it’s still early days, it’s safe to say the new High Violet cocktail lounge is not a wacky concept.
Located down a blind alley in the Elmwood Village, High Violet is a bang-on, big city cocktail bar that transports guests to another place, maybe another time. Filled with bespoke design touches and mid-century furniture, High Violet conjures up luxury from far-flung, bygone places.
On my recent visit to check out the place, co-owner Bob Clerici told me this is his group’s first collective foray into hospitality.
“We went 100 percent over budget, and 100 percent beyond our deadlines,” he says. “But I think the result is worth it.”
Much of the space is the work of local artist David Mitchell. Inspired by the 1970s and an earth tones color palette, Mitchell created a series of spaces within the bar that feel handmade, comforting and luxurious. Crimson banquette seating wraps around low-slung circular tables in the Red Room. Dowel paneling, wicker bar stools and mercury glass radiate mid-century cool in the bar room. Pulling back curtains in the Jungle Room reveals large wall-mounted terrariums behind translucent decorative glass. Even the bathroom features simmering jade tile walls.
All this design work is meant to make you forget where you are. But it’s important to remember: You’re at a bar and there are drinks to be drunk.
Beverage director Brett Krebuszewski has developed a menu of both classic and modern cocktails. On the modern side, A Bird of Bad Moral Character ($13) features tequila, mezcal, roasted tomatillo and dried chili tincture. The classic Zombie ($17) is made with rum, falernum, grapefruit, lime, grenadine and absinthe. There are also beers and wines available for those who want to skip the cocktails.
“I think our philosophy is about what’s expected and what is unexpected,” Clerici says. “So, there are some things in our backbar that you may not expect to see back there. And there are some things that you may expect to see that aren’t there. It’s designed to feed this idea of intrigue, discovery and uniqueness.”
In keeping with the overall theme, the limited small plates menu from chef Nick Rice is also driven by classic luxury: cheese and charcuterie ($18), Berkshire pork belly ($7 for a small plate, $17 for an entrée size), yellowfin tuna crudo ($8, $20) and raw oysters (market price).
On my off-hours tour, Clerici took me out the back door of the building to a large deck that is being built out to what he called “an oasis in the city”, with a lush garden and outdoor seating. Beyond the deck, a converted garage will have indoor climate-controlled seating, grab-n-go items and a small menu of sweet and savory crepes.
As you might expect, reaction to the current version of High Violet has been positive. But Clerici said he is still hesitant to call this passion project a resounding success.
“We’re certainly excited, proud and even a little apprehensive,” he says. “What’s this going to look like six, nine, twelve months out? Is our project going to meet our expectations, but more importantly the expectations of people in the area?”
Hours at time of publishing (Subject to change): Wednesday and Thursday 5 p.m. – 12 a.m., Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. – 12 a.m., Sunday 5 p.m. – 12 a.m.
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