When the Mondrian Hotel opened more than a year and a half ago, Asia De Cuba (its famously Asian-Cuban fusion restaurant) and Red Bar (its super-sexy lounge) were two of Scottsdale's hottest places to see and be seen. The economy has cooled, but Red Bar still looks red-hot. Problem is, its happy hour won't really make you very happy.
The scene: Located just steps from stark white Asia De Cuba, Red Bar is its design antithesis, a dark, moody lair that not so subtly suggests, "Let's talk about sex," while prominently displaying a bowl of apples to remind you of Adam, Eve and the whole temptation thing. Smack in the middle of the wood-floored room stands a low, white Lucite table - lit with votives and surrounded by low benches - that literally glows. Sit here only if you plan to be the center of attention. To the right, a cluster of plush sofas and easy chairs (populated by businessmen one evening) and to the left, a curtained alcove, its low, curving back wall frescoed with cherubs. In this glowing red cave, mirrored cocktail tables and red velvet banquettes offer the best place to munch on happy hour nibbles, but honestly, the whole place seems more geared toward drinking and canoodling than chowing down. The south wall, one big window, looks out on a patio furnished with sofas, oversize ottomans and a huge white fireplace wall, roaring with an impressive fire. Grab the ottoman directly in front of that inviting blaze for a sundown cocktail.
The food: I figured that because the food at Asia De Cuba is imaginative and fun, the happy hour nibbles at Red Bar, which come from the same kitchen, would be equally yummy. Silly me. Seven selections, each offered for $7, are average at best and way too expensive for what they are. Let's discuss them in descending order. The best selection, by a country mile or city block, is succulent short rib sliders, scented with five-spice powder and served two to an order on toasted buns with sweet char siu sauce. Crispy chickpea and black bean dumplings translate to pleasantly chewy, browned potstickers, afloat in creamy tomato-based sauce. I like them just fine. Kobe sliders, their buns smeared with wasabi aioli, aren't bad either, but what's with the limp veggie "slaw" served with them? Ick.
I don't remember much of anything about pork potstickers with port wine-hoisin sauce. They were there. I ate them. Ditto for Caribbean-style fish tacos, three minis served in crispy shells. Nobody finished the Cuban-spiced chicken quesadilla, bland and inexplicably soggy on the bottom, and what made the freezer bag fries "mojito," we couldn't figure. The green flecks on them were indiscernible as either mint or lime. If you're a foodie, the entire experience is money ill spent.
The drinks: During happy hour, Red Bar offers beer at $5, well drinks, martinis and a ridiculously short list of wines by the glass (good wines though) for $7. Judging from the length of the list, cocktails are the lounge's long suit. The pink, utterly feminine Skybar Martini, made with Absolut vanilla vodka, fresh strawberry-coconut syrup and crème de fraise is a signature for good reason. Loved it. When there's money to burn, order a flute of Peiper Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage ($24). Yummy.
The lowdown: If you're coming for cocktails with absolutely no expectations about food, you'll probably have a great time. If you're bringing your sweetie or hoping to find a new one, even better. But don't expect to find great happy hour bargains here. The food is acceptable but hardly memorable. Stick with cocktails.