Best Restaurants 2011: Up To Bar

This is what it takes to make a great cocktail.

The Velvet Tango Room is delightfully pretentious. From the antique-mixed-with-modern decor to the assurance (not apology) that a drink may take up to 15 minutes to arrive, to the rant against the created-to-get-you-drunk "cocktails" that greets you as you walk in.

Paulius Nasvytis is at the heart of the message. When you speak with Paulius, you speak to an artist.

The New York Times, USA Today, Food Network stars and national magazines have all lauded Paulius and his establishment. He is not just the father of the handcrafted cocktail scene in Cleveland, he's the man that gives it credibility.

Paulius offers some advice that should help you determine if you're in a bar where it's worth ordering a cocktail. "There are some magnificent beer pubs in Cleveland and a few good places for cocktails as well. There are none that do both."
2095 Columbus Road, Cleveland, 216-241-8869,

Good Ice: Water should be filtered, and it should not be in a crescent shape. "Ice is shaped that way to take as much volume in the glass as possible. That means there's less room for the expensive stuff," Nasvytis says. Standard ice is chilled to 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Ice at the Velvet Tango Room is chilled to -30 degrees Fahrenheit. "It melts slower and does not water down your cocktail."

Measuring Tools: A proper cocktail has ingredients measured to the gram. You do not eyeball. Nasvytis uses angled measuring cups to give a clear view of how much is poured. "When people are free-pouring, the size and density of the spout and the viscosity of the liquor changes everything," he says. "A six count of gin is going to be a lot faster than a six count of Campari. People don't look at it that deeply."

Visible Squeezing: "A lot of places claim to use freshly squeezed juices," he says. "If it is in a plastic container, who's to say when it was 'freshly squeezed.' You should squeeze each drink to order."

Homemade Bar Syrups: "There's a fake flavor to most premade syrups. Making your own allows you to control the ingredients and the quality."

Liquors That Match The Menu: Top-shelf liquors should be available, if not standard, for every cocktail. "There's a big difference between Paramount Triple Sec and Cointreau," he says. If there is a drink that traditionally calls for an obscure liquor, the bar should have that liquor, not a substitute. "Making cocktails is like baking. You need to have the right ingredients; otherwise, your bread may not rise."

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