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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Red Hot Red Lulu

Red Hot Red Lulu
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Norwalk, CT – The heat of the day had pushed the mercury up and temps continued to hover in the high 80s as Red Lulu stood ready to receive guests one recent Thursday evening. A select list of VIPs were tagged to preview the new restaurant, which had firmly established itself at 128 Washington Street in the throbbing heart of South Norwalk.

The “cocina & tequila bar”, as it had been billed, is the sister restaurant of Byram hot spot Lolita and the brainchild of cb5 Restaurant Group. More than just a creative spark though, its founding was spurred by the very crowd that patronized Lolita.

“Lolita just worked,” said cb5 Group owner Jody Pennette, “and requests to open another Lolita just followed. And we listened.”

Expectations were high with the promise of “the flavors and flare of Mexico City.” But a casual, vibrant atmosphere suited to SoNo’s artsy/trendy neighborhood was also pushed.

Authentic talent had been secured in the kitchen: Mexico City-bred Executive Chef Juan Reyes, recruited from Lolita and known in prestigious kitchens in Manhattan. On Red Lulu’s menu, he had placed such delectable items as bbq pork ribs with spicy Mexican coffee bean, chocolate, sesame and orange glaze; garlic shrimp flautas; and tacos with blackened grouper.

If the menu wasn’t enough to dazzle, some four-wheeled eye candy was rolled in for the opening occasion: a pumpkin-colored Lamborghini from Manhattan Motorcars, unloaded from a flatbed and parked in the newly dubbed “Zona Rosa” out front. Adjacent to the sassy automobile, three lovely senoritas dressed in black tagged patrons with orange wristbands.

Past the checkpoint, one enters a foyer with red velvet drapes, rustic ironwork, low-sitting couches, exposed brick and strategic red lighting. Most notable, pulsing Latin, classic rock and hip hop beats, which put an immediate spring in the step.

Generous tequila cocktails were distributed at the event start. These were a teaser of Red Lulu’s liquor arsenal, which includes an impressive collection of tequila sets, margaritas, cocktails, fine Mexican beers, show-stopping sangrias and Mexican aqua frescas.

Probing more deeply into the facility’s inner sanctum, one is enveloped in a red hue affected by more red lighting and red velvet walls. An elbow-shaped bar is a bee hive of activity as a team of bartenders pour, mix, shake and dispense refreshing libations. In display cases along one wall, Lucha Libre Mexican wrestling masks.

Like the mythical Sirens that lured sailors onto the rocks, go-go dancers in abbreviated red dresses writhed and wiggled atop podiums and along an iron-railed balcony that overlooked a dance space floored with a tattered rug.

In that upper tier, partiers relaxed on black leather seating in booths while a deejay threw out beats and the classic film “Barbarella” showed on a brick wall at one edge of the dance floor.

Heaping bowls of chips and salsa were everywhere you looked and in no short supply of hungry enjoyers. Hors d’oeuvres like tuna ceviche and grilled pork were also distributed in generous quantities to the consuming masses.

In less than an hour of opening, the room was SRO and people were two and three deep at the bar. Tequila drinks became a premium to obtain yet somehow large 20-ounce beers, which required no preparation, were smuggled across the border.

Couples huddled at intimate tables, foursomes fraternized and singles slunk through the crowd. Ceiling fans worked overtime to cool down this increasingly steamy crowd.

Dominique Marder, 32, from Greenwich, was glad to be out for the night. The mom of a young child remarked, “It’s a great scene, fun… a good time!”

Christian Friedrich, 35, of Norwalk, said Red Lulu reminded him of the vampire bar in HBO’s “True Blood” series. “It’s red, dark, sultry, sexy.” And he was loving the drink creations: “Excellent tequilas!”

Catalina Ramirez, 27, from Southport presently but Columbian-born, said, “Red Lulu is going to be the hit of South Norwalk. This place is going to be hot! And I think the crowd is going to be exclusive, which will be a plus.”