Bar review: New Mt. Vernon lounge E-Villa struggles with identity
New Mount Vernon lounge still struggling with its identity
The second-floor bar at E-Villa, which recently opened at 917 Cathedral St. in Mount Vernon (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun / November 9, 2011)
The stretch of Eager Street between Charles and Cathedral has Eden's Lounge and City Cafe. Right around the corner, there's Red Maple. And now, there's E-Villa, which has more in common than just a neighborhood with Eden's.
The two lounges share a kitchen, which puts out an Ethiopian-flavored menu; an owner — Harold Edwards — and some decor. It also has a purely decorative velvet rope, which seems like an aspirational affectation. On a recent late Saturday night, there was no line to get inside E-Villa, and its two floors were sparsely crowded.
Perhaps the two lounges have too much in common. There's also bottle service — $300 bottles of Dom Perignon are available — and regular DJ sets. After a recent visit, it doesn't look like the new lounge has much to offer that will set it apart from nearby businesses. Except, maybe, its funny name, which sounds like an early dating website.
E-Villa benefits from being tucked away in a quiet corner of Mount Vernon. On a recent Saturday, the street could not have been more deserted. At least, the lull outside E-Villa was a welcome reprieve from the usual clatter of Eager Street.
Located in a tony rowhouse that, according to Edwards, used to host a bar called Gaslight, the lounge takes up the second and third floors of the building. The first floor is a lobby used, it seems, mainly by a hostess and a bouncer.
Though Edwards said the building had been in disrepair since the 1980s, it is now handsome and mature; it features arched doorways, exposed-brick walls, hardwood floors and several boutique chandeliers that provide accent lighting.
Edwards has said the decor was inspired by Marvin, the popular U Street hangout. To my eye, it retains much of Eden's aesthetic, both clean-cut and ostentatious.
The first floor is divided into red and blue zones, a snug dance-floor bathed in blue lights and a lounge area with the bar, several leather couches and high-top tables. Upstairs, a second bar served another lounging area where some couples smoked from hookahs.
The mood inside was as restrained as outside. Though the lounge was hosting a record release party and a DJ set by someone named Nappy Riddem, by midnight, the only people in the dance floor were sitting on couches.
Elsewhere, couples chatted over candle-lit tables and tall cocktail and wine glasses. The DJ played a mix of classic and modern R&B — "Roady" by Fat Freddy's Drop, the well-regarded Kiwi seven-piece; Marvin Gaye remixed; Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" set to a dance-hall beat.
A lounge should move at that kind of languid pace, but E-Villa came dangerously close to comatose ennui while I was there.
In keeping with its upscale look, E-Villa offers, by the bottle, champagne (starting at $110), vodka ($130), bourbon and whiskey ($125), gin ($165), rum ($120), and tequila ($110). Cocktails — there are 10 — start at $9.50; the pomegranate martini ($11) I had was fruity and nicely mixed. Bar service was satisfyingly bubbly.
But these attempts at creating an intimate, adult atmosphere are marred by some missteps. The leather couches are draped with the kind of tasteful and budget-friendly cushions you'd find at a Rooms To Go; ditto the carpets hiding otherwise lovely wood floors.
The beer and wine menu is also anemic: five reds, five whites, and six bottled beers, including Sam Adams and Yuengling. At both bars, flat-screen TVs broadcast ESPN.
Affordable furniture and Dom by the bottle? Marvin Gaye and ESPN? E-Villa will have to choose what it wants to be. If it wants to be a romantic lounge, the sports television has to go. If it wants to be approachable, same goes for the expensive bottle menu.
No matter what, the lounge's name should be changed to something that sounds believable.
E-Villa has a beautiful space as a starting point. It also shares an advantage with Eden's in serving Ethiopian food until midnight most weekends nights. It needs to build from there. Right now, it reminds me of the lovingly decorated Ethiopian lounges on U Street. Only not as crowded.
Back story: According to owner Harold Edwards, E-Villa's building used to house a bar called Gaslight that had been in "horrific" shape since the 1980s. He's been renovating it since he bought it a couple of years ago. The lounge takes up two floors and seats about 150, Edwards has said. In addition to bottle service and cocktails, the lounge also offers Ethiopian dishes — like kitfo and tibs, as well as typical bar grub (quesadillas and nachos).
Parking: Mount Vernon has metered parking and paid parking lots; the lounge occasionally offers a valet.
Signature drink: Martinis; there are 10 of them including a pomegranate version ($11).
Where: 917 Cathedral St., Baltimore
Contact: 410-244-0405; e-villa.us
Prices: Cocktails are $9.50-$13. Dinner menu is $6 (tomato salad) to $18 (baby lamb chop dinner). The lounge offers party packages for groups that start at $1,600.
Open: 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Tuesdays, 5 p.m.-midnight Wednesdays, 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturdays-Sundays.