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Aug 20, 2014
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Late-night rounds in the CWE
By Matt Berkley • Photos by Ashley Gieseking
Posted On: 07/01/2009   

The steady hum of ambient noise in the Central West End’s Sol Lounge was several decibels lower than it was a few months ago. Fewer well-primped coeds idled by the long bar. The posh lounges off to the side – spots you’d normally have to go to fists over – were conspicuously vacant. Sol is still pumping out newfangled cocktails and frosty imports, but the bar seemed strangely depopulated for a weekend. Where were the hordes of prowling single girls in halter tops and low-rise jeans? The swelled-up jocks in too-tight graphic tees with hair plastered down in product?

Turns out they’re still there – they just walked up a few flights.

After some not-so-major reconstruction, Sol has transformed its third-floor attic space – formerly a gaming lounge for coffeehouse patrons – into a proper after-hours bar and mini dance club dubbed The Reference Room. The good news is that this venue, and Sol proper it seems, are operational until 3 a.m.

The dark, candlelit space is a clever little escape from the main bar. The foosball tables and arcade games have been replaced with leather seats, and cocktail tables tucked neatly into the window spaces afford small groups intimate spots that aren’t too far from the action. The center has been cleared for dance space presided over by a DJ who churns out the same type of to-be-expected pop dance remixes downstairs – mixes that only sound good after your third round of shots. Thankfully the music is kept at a reasonable pitch for both the dance party crew cutting it up center stage and the too-cool-to-care weekend power drinkers huddled around any available seating space.

The bar, a small area at the head of the room, does suffer somewhat from the move, having lost the capacity for drafts and the space for the higher-end bottles of hooch. But this really isn’t a problem as long as you don’t mind lugging your glass up three flights. Prices remain moderate to somewhat objectionable, and the service is pretty much indifferent. Reference deals mainly in domestic bottles, shots and predictable highballs. If you want bartender chitchat or drink recommendations, head back downstairs.

The clientele hasn’t changed. Sol regulars, a diverse 20- to 40-something crowd, casually mill back and forth between the two levels with cigarettes and scotch tumblers in hand. Despite the upbeat soundtrack and the club-like overtures, the atmosphere in both spaces remains casual and unrestrained, making it a solid venue both for singles looking to make a move as well as their more involved friends looking for a relaxed cocktail.
Still, it would be nice if Reference differentiated itself more from Sol – maybe its own signature cocktails or at least a change in music, which currently seems, despite the separate DJ, pumped in from the downstairs bar. A distinctive space deserves its own feel.

Since its inception in 2007, Sol has proven a real winner for West End residents and devotees. But even good things get old over time, so hats off to Sol for realizing that a little facelift and a new gimmick is vital, especially for nightclubs looking to avoid empty seats. Since nearby Savor shuttered its doors, the West End has been hard up for a 3 a.m. spot. Happily, Sol and The Reference Room have taken up the standard and kept the party going for few more rounds. So far, so good.

Check it: The West End’s only 3 a.m. watering hole.
Hipster or Hoosier: Late-night binge drinkers, West End locals, grad schoolers, yuppies.
Suds or ‘Tinis: Stick to the basics: highballs and domestic bottles.
Where: The Reference Room at Sol, 4241 Lindell Blvd.,
St. Louis, 314.484.9532
When: Fri. and Sat. – 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.

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