Watching the bartender and hostess dance to Dolly Parton's "9 to 5" while I sipped a strawberry mojito in a club that has a vague ski-lodge quality, I thought perhaps I'd made a mistake. Any of those elements alone would be fine, but their reckless mixture can put a skew on a Friday night.
As far as a theme (which in the social blast-furnace of the Bottom can come off as stylish or clownish), Element has its cues: a fireplace heating up fat couches, large fans that can kick up a breeze, waterfalls on the walls, earthy wood columns. (And a fifth element perhaps: fried stuff.) But how will it affect the bar-going public?
Elementary, my dear. They are lured by the messy availability of whatever: two DJs, martinis and mojitos as smooth and colorful as a pimp, a full menu and plenty of lounge space. It may be not be a new formula, but any place in Richmond where you can see not one, not two, but three races of people, rocking twice that many looks (or at least bountiful waves of cleavage), something's working. B.R.
119 N. 18th St.
Open nightly from 5 p.m.
If the original Tonic in Shockoe Bottom was a party, the bar's latest incarnation is the after-party. The new owners have given Tonic a loungier feel, toning down the gleaming white décor with mellower oranges and brushed metal. Soul and R&B tracks play on the stereo.
Comfort food like cornbread and sweet potatoes join bar food standards on the menu, but the drinks are adventurous. One we tried had whiskey and sour apple pucker; another was dolled up with vanilla vodka and strawberry liqueur ($7-$10).
The new Tonic has a full events schedule. A listening party for the latest Biggie Small album was there last month (and Mama Biggie was in attendance), and the bar now offers comedy and weekly open mics on Thursdays.
The night we were there, fresh flowers were heaped on a ledge between the booths and the wall, and a single rose in a glass vase sat on each table. It was a nice touch, but a half-smoked cigarette was yellowing the water at the table next to ours. That's the kind of thing you'd never see at the old Tonic, but with the bar's new commitment to all things lounge, I took it as a good omen. A.B.
14 N. 18 St.
Open Tuesday-Saturday from 6 p.m.
321 Supper Club
It is indeed a mixed blessing when food prices run low and cocktails run high. This young supper club, like most spots in the Bottom that charge a cover, doesn't bring in the crowds until after the Inebriation Fairy sprinkles her dust over East Main Street. But 321 stands ready, pumping hip-hop out the front doors while an early crowd comes in for a little something off the brief menu. Macaroni and cheese is $2, and so are the rather sublime Cajun fries served, like everything else, as they should be: in Styrofoam.
The front bar has the massive sound system, the light rig, the full, glossy bar, the flat screens. This is where the money is made, where love is lost and found at the drop of a beat. The back bar has the feel of a neighborhood joint: a single shelf of precarious bottles, mixers on a little table. The bartender (she said it was her first night) was one long, cool smile, mixing drinks a little light on liquor, but high on charm. The club has two faces, but both recommend the chicken. B.R.
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