Posted On: 02/01/2006
My social anxiety was palpable upon setting foot in the Red Carpet Lounge at Brandt’s Café. Momentarily, the friendly hostess – five steps inside the door – caught my attention. But the fact that I, when talking to said hostess, was also five steps from the band and a mere six steps from being the fourth background singer stole my focus.
I scanned the more-than-packed house. Everyone seemed to be staring at me, thinking (I thought), “Hey! Who is this dummy standing by the band? He should move. Now.”
I scouted the room again. By the bar, zero empty spots – none for sitting, none for standing. When I saw a minuscule opening between dinner tables across the room, I put my head down, prayed my zipper wasn’t open and meekly limped over. Once there, I realized how hopeless it was. If I stayed, I’d be blocking the view of three occupied tables. Then, epiphany – for the first time in my life, I would have to leave a bar because there was literally no place to go.
The Red Carpet Lounge is a good example of old meets new. Old: ’60s-era Gaslight Square’s Red Carpet Lounge and the low-key jazz-bar vibe now common (again) throughout town. New: Jay Brandt running a bar with the same name/concept of his parents’ Gaslight Square Red Carpet Lounge and his striking remodel to fit the new image. The specialty market is out. Live jazz with a martini is in.
The café has survived, albeit with a slicker design, but the market is gone, replaced with a few red carpets, red bar stools, red lava lamps and funky suede furniture. The pale-wood bar sprouts 12 beer spigots and many drink flip-menus. The window walls facing Delmar Boulevard are still sans blinds, so you can see the streetscape in all its glory. No stage, just a band alcove between the front door and adjacent dummy-door.
Things bustle on weekends – my aforementioned self-conscious debut went down on a Friday – with most dinner tables booked and most barstools occupied. Crowds grow young as the night grows old. You’ll see first dates (Brandt’s is a great date spot), families, young singles and 10-deep groups of grad students. Weeknights are much more sedate. One Wednesday, my only other company was a middle-aged Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers smoothly fox trotting to former Gaslight Square performer Hugh “Peanuts” Whalum’s slide piano. Dress as you like.
Along with Peanuts and other Gaslight Square legends, Brandt’s offers live music (Motown to Javier Mendoza) every day, usually for tips but occasionally with cover. Nonetheless, Brandt’s is still equal part café with the same mid-tier dinner menu (the cover is waived for dinner patrons). As before, the wine list (30+ selections) accompanies the beer list (64 selections) with the added pleasures of a martini menu (“Shooters in stemware,” the bartender said) and a retro cocktail menu (Rusty Nail to Sidecar).
The straight 411 ...
For crowded Fridays of live jazz, Rusty Nails and funky suede, head to The Red Carpet Lounge.
Gaslight Square was once the epitome of coolness in St. Louis; THE place to see and be seen, sip cocktails and listen to great music. The entertainment district’s glory days are long past, but a bit lives on in The Loop. Inspired by a Gaslight spot of the same name, The Red Carpet Lounge at Brandt’s Café melds historical charm with modish design to fashion one of St. Louis’ premier cocktail lounges and jazz clubs.
Owned by Brandt’s Café owner Jay Brandt’s parents, the original Red Carpet Lounge was one of the first clubs to grace the Gaslight Square district back in the early 1960s. Touches from the original grace the modern-day version, including a picture featuring the cast of characters that frequented Brandt’s parents’ lounge back in the day. A sign that hung at the first Red Carpet now hangs behind the bar. The décor, in a classic red-and-yellow palette, keeps the place feeling fresh by updating the vintage feel of the Red Carpet with modern touches such as the musical note chair and stainless steel accents on the bar.
What once was the small market section of Brandt’s has given way to what is now the lively lounge. A sociable and obliging bar staff dishes up a barrage of beverages from a revamped liquor menu, where drinks like the Harvey Wallbanger and Pink Lady embrace the history on which the joint is based. But be warned: I partook in the house special, the Red Carpet Martini, and was about knocked off my barstool. Dry gin, vermouth and cherry brandy came together to affect my ability to function as a normal human in society … it was
The clientele is diverse and makes it easy for just about anyone to feel at home in the laid-back setting. Dress is fairly casual, but you would not feel out of place stopping in for a cocktail or dinner if you were dressed up for a night out.
The food at Brandt’s, as always, is amazing. I am especially fond of the Pasta Di Napoli and the Cajun Crab Cakes. The menu is large and offers healthy choices as well as naughty indulgences.
The lounge features live music nightly, and the music is highly enjoyable. The acts are never so over-the-top that they take away from the enjoyment of a cocktail or meal, but they always provide delightful distractions when wanted. Trio Trés Bien, a lively instrumental jazz trio, and Jeanne Trevor, a spunky little lady who belts the classics, are both regulars worth checking out.
Overall, The Red Carpet Lounge is a great place to take a date for a remarkable Valentine’s Day or date night. But it is also a refreshing place to stop in for a cocktail to break up the mundane routine of frequenting the same bar over and over again.
The straight 411 …
The Red Carpet Lounge gives St. Louis a reason to get out of the patio chairs and step inside. Well, besides the restroom, that is.
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