Sipping cocktails at the new Azul 17
A fancy lounge? In a strip mall? In Columbia?
Yes. And guess what? It's a hit.
When Amie and I paid Azul 17 a visit on a recent Saturday night, there was barely a seat left in the place. The line for tables was nearly out the door at 8:30 p.m. We bee-lined for the bar area, and snagged the last two open seats.
Azul 17 is split into two sections -- a long, semi-narrow dining room and a square-shaped adjacent bar.
Owners Julio and Lily Soto must have pulled out all the stops: The chairs in the bar appeared to be made of white leather and the back-lit bar glowed different colors over the course of the night, while Latin house music pumped through the speakers. I don't think I've ever seen a trendier spot in Columbia.
Azul 17's only stumble decor-wise were the long white drapes, which covered the windows and looked tacky from the outside.
As stylish as a high-end lounge might be, substance is always going to win out in the end. Snazzy decor and fancy furniture don't trump good service and well-made drinks. And Azul 17 came through ...
Azul 17's drink menu is a whopping six pages, complete with a page-long introduction which dispels tequila myths and describes the proper way to drink tequila.
There are plenty to practice on, too: I counted more than 100 different tequilas on their list. Add to that the 17 signature cocktails, 17 signature margaritas, 38 wines and 30-some beers and you've got oodles of options.
I opted for La Raspa ($11), a fiery margarita made with Milagro Silver tequila and lulo nectar and garnished with a Serrano pepper boat and fresh lime with a Chile pequin rim.
Believe it or not, the margarita wasn't that peppery -- until I got greedy and nibbled at the end of the Serrano pepper. That set the drink (and my mouth) ablaze. I kept sipping to cool down my mouth, but the margarita only made it hotter. Yowsa!
Amie ordered a Latin-American classic: The mojito ($9). Served in a tall, thin glass with plenty of fresh lime and Bacardi rum, Azul 17's mojito was crisp and citrusy -- but not worth $9.
It's good to see a high-end lounge prospering in a recession, in a strip mall, in the suburbs. It's clear the Sotos know their market well. Azul 17 has a bright future ahead of it.
(Baltimore Sun photo by Amy Davis)