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I love hotel bars. It stems from my fascination with the Algonquin Round Table, where Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, and Alexander Woollcott exchanged smarty bon mots, unleashed vicious wit, and engaged in scotch-soaked tomfoolery. The Cricket Lounge at The Cincinnatian Hotel has its own storied history, as a long-favored watering hole of the journalists and cartoonists of The Cincinnati Enquirer. Though its interior is defined by modern luxury—posh seating, luxurious textiles, and a soaring eight-story atrium—the menu includes both orthodox bar food (buffalo wings with celery and blue cheese dressing) and dishes more characteristic of the hotel’s celebrated Palace Restaurant. Pan-roasted Irish salmon with balsamic brown butter vinaigrette would fit that bill, as would a grilled hanger steak with maître d’hôtel butter, if only they had been executed as well as the dishes being served in the neighboring dining room (they were ordered medium rare and both mortally wounded to medium well). Ditto for the bland and pasty hummus appetizer and squash soup overwhelmed with cumin. The best bets are a mighty good sirloin burger, even overdressed as it was with a tiara of caramelized onions and minus its advertised “toasted brioche bun” (the untoasted, grocery store egg bun disintegrated); and a pulled pork sandwich, with tender flavorful meat. The food is cooked and delivered from the same kitchen that Executive Chef Jose Salazar oversees, so the incongruity is surprising.
601 Vine St., downtown
Originally published in the February 2012 issue.