Filling the shoes of the former Brass Elephant, which closed in August 2009, is like slipping into an $800 pair of Christian Louboutins.
Located in the heart of Mount Vernon, the building is so elegant and beautiful that it immediately demands to be taken seriously.
Unfortunately for Museum, the new restaurant and lounge that held its grand opening in June, that type of scrutiny did not exactly help its case on a recent Friday night. It's a shame because the night was filled with dancing to a solid DJ. But there was no mistaking the red flags.
First and foremost, my bartender was clueless about the signature cocktail list. I tried the Museum Teak ($8), a half-and-half mixture of Hennessy and Grand Marnier. As we waited, the confused young woman behind the marble bar stared and squinted at the menu as if it were a Scientology pamphlet. Her uncertain, heavy-handed pouring led to a drink that was memorable only for its unpleasantness. (Days later, management informed me that after realizing the Museum Teak was actually a French Connection, the lounge was in the midst of completely changing the Teak's recipe.)
For our second round, my friend and I figured it would be smart to keep things simple. This did not pay off, as the same bartender delivered two vodka and tonics, made with Ciroc, that were the worst-tasting drinks I've had since taking over this job. The tonic was untraceable. (I tried my friend's drink to make sure it wasn't just mine. It wasn't.)
To be fair, this could have been the bartender's first day — or maybe she isn't a bartender at all, and instead was filling in for a friend who had an emergency. But for a new lounge hoping to draw customers away from the popular neighboring spot Red Maple, poorly made drinks will always leave a bad taste in a customer's mouth.
There were other, more minor problems.The website, so crucial to a new establishment's success, looks sleek, but some of its information doesn't jibe with that on Museum's Facebook page. The website, for example, says the hours of operation are noon to midnight, while Museum opens at 5 p.m.
The phone number on the website doesn't match the number on the Facebook page, but given the frequency with which the phone is answered, that doesn't seem to matter much. Of the 15 or so times I've called, hoping to ask a question, the phone has been answered once.
The details seem to be glossed over at Museum, as if serving alcohol in a two-level building full of gilded fixtures and shiny chandeliers is simply enough. What's most frustrating is that if Museum fixed these problems, it could become an interesting new competitor to the lounges downtown.
The night was saved by DJ Rod Madd Flava, who set up his equipment, including a projector playing music videos, in the opulent-looking study adjacent to the main bar area. He played rap hits from 2 Chainz and Lil Boosie, but he didn't get the crowd — almost all seated along the walls, sort of like at a school dance, when I walked in — off its feet until digging into his catalog for surefire party starters. Suddenly the room of 25 or so had converged on the dance floor, moving in unison to "The Cha-Cha Slide" and "Cupid Shuffle." The exuberance was contagious.
Museum would be well served by inviting the Gambrills DJ back, because an entertainer of his caliber offers high-quality consistency, an element Museum sorely lacks. It is a lounge with potential — there's an attractive VIP area that went unused while I was there — but potential doesn't make a winner.
"Museum attracts the most discriminating A-list celebrities, and the social jet set," the website's "About" section dubiously reads. It's an ostentatious bid to appear sophisticated, and it does the lounge no favors. Museum must learn that just because something sounds good or looks good doesn't automatically make it good. Getting the details right does.
Back story: Formerly the Brass Elephant, Museum is a lounge and restaurant serving American cuisine. Aesthetically, the two-level Mount Vernon building remains one of the most striking places to get a drink in the city, but its beauty could not cover up the lounge's problems.
Parking: Metered parking on the street.
Where: 924 N. Charles St., Mount Vernon
Open: 5 p.m.-2 a.m., Monday-Saturday. 10:30 a.m.-midnight Sunday.