q&a with paulius nasvytis of the velvet tango room

Ten or 11 years ago I had my first cocktail at the Velvet Tango Room. I was instantly smitten from the moment I stepped inside. This was my kind of place. It was like taking a step back in time. A step back to a forgotten era that was still alive and well in this unassuming, unrecognizable building (that coincidentally use to house a speakeasy). The feeling that this place conjured up, the vibe it gave off, was undeniable. I knew even before I placed my order that I too would be under the VTR spell and that this would be my first of many visits. Oh yeah, they make one hell of a drink, too.

When people ask me where they should go to eat, I always make a restaurant suggestion based on the occasion, preferences and a few other fact-finding questions. But almost always, my recommendation is capped off with a visit to the Velvet Tango Room.

Paulius Nasvytis, founder of the Velvet Tango Room, was raised in North Collinwood and moved to Ohio City in the late 80s. He shares that his dad thought this move was crazy. His dad had said, “We worked hard to move from neighborhoods like that.” His mom found it romantic. He says he takes after her side of the family (lucky for us!).

If you were mayor of Cleveland for one day, what law would you implement or what would you change? Here is a link to a Yelp thread I started.  Longer than a day, but…

What’s your favorite thing about Cleveland and what drives you nuts? I love younger people’s pro-Cleveland attitude in the ones that have it.  I’d hate to see city hall stifle their creativity.  Our food scene is phenomenal for a city in our tier.  I get nuts seeing the city waste opportunity such as the West Side Market.

What is one cocktail everyone must try and why? A flawlessly made Ramos Gin Fizz.  Aside from its historic qualities,  it is very hard to get it made right.  (I can think of only a handful of places in the U.S.)

What should every home bar consist of? First, those old aluminum ice cube trays for large cubes.  Then as many spirits as you would use.  I would not have any “flavored” vodka, rum, tequila etc.  I would also only have 1 or 2 vodkas.  Vodka is the tofu of spirits.  If you think about it, all it does is dilute the flavor of other ingredients.

You make nearly everything in the bar. Why is this so important and how long did it take to perfect the cocktail? The VTR goal is perfectly consistent and balanced cocktails.  I have developed a bullet-proof system to build them, however, each cocktail takes time.  Rushing = inconsistency=a poorly balanced cocktail.  We work on ours for weeks before presenting it.  Also, a lot of ingredients are no longer made, or the recipe has been changed from the original.  For example, Roses Lime Juice bares no resemblance to its original formula.  So, we recreated the original.

What’s behind the bar’s name? Music, romance, a wink and a nod.

What’s your most requested drink? No question.  The VTR Manhattan.  People who found Manhattans overbearing have an epiphany.  People who like Manhattans do too.

Have you ever refused to make a drink? What drink do you/your staff hate making? At times, depending on the situation.  If we do not have the right ingredients, we won’t compromise.  First timers can be intimidated by our menu and default to a vodka/tonic, but usually it is an opportunity to introduce them, gently, to real cocktails.  It shocks people to find that they actually LOVE gin when they are served a well-made cocktail, for example.

If you could trade places with anyone in the world for a day, who would it be and why? No clue on this one…  OK, I’d trade places with “The Most Interesting Man in the World” guy.

What book are you currently reading? The Devil’s Eye by Al Ruksenas, a local author.

In your opinion, what other places in town make a good cocktail? The VTR has “raised the bar” to unparalleled heights.  You can get a damn good drink in Cleveland.  The Greenhouse Tavern does great work.

What’s the biggest challenge or obstacle in your business? Enough hours in the day to start.  Also, growing business without sacrificing quality and consistency.  Also, I get frustrated when we get too busy and we have a lot of first timers that do not really understand why they should wait 15-20 minutes for a cocktail.  Again, we do not sacrifice quality for speed.  And the VTR is not a big space, but we do our best to seat people in order, employing 2 hostesses on weekends to keep things cool.

When dining out, where do you end up most often? Greenhouse Tavern, ABC Tavern, Bac, and Ty Fun.

When hosting a dinner party, what’s a good go-to cocktail we can make at home that would be to the VTR standards? I would suggest a French 75.  I started serving them as our “house cocktail” almost 15 years ago.  They seem to be gaining popularity as of late as well.  They can be made with either Brandy or Gin as the primary spirit.  And I would love to be at that party BTW!