In a booze-saturated city, there's always room for a good cocktail bar, even one that's playing it a bit coy to start.
Opening on Southeast Grand Avenue last month, Lulu comes across as something of an annex, or at least like a newcomer that doesn't want to be too provocative. Save for a huge wall mirror, the narrow bar is utterly devoid of décor, and with its inoffensively punny cocktails and dim first-date mood lighting, it seems almost intentionally designed to catch peak-hour overflow from its neighbors, namely the perpetually packed Dig A Pony.
That's not a bad business plan, really. And to be fair, Lulu does enough to stand out on its own.
In a respectable list of seven featured cocktails all priced at $10, the Pretty Ugly proves to be the highlight. Made with mezcal, kiwi, lime and celery bitters, it sports a nearly radioactive green glow—and there is perhaps no better use for celery, that fibrous filler vegetable, than as a complement to the unwieldy smokiness of mezcal. The aptly named Sleepin' With Strangers (Bulleit rye, Pedro Ximénez sherry, Carpano Antica, black walnut bitters) does replicate the experience of attending a key party at Frasier Crane's penthouse, packing a confusing but not unpleasant wallop with a fine finish.
Other brave offerings include the Fake News (tequila, strawberry, agave, grapefruit bitters, lime), rounded out by a more-than-serviceable New Fashioned (Bulleit rye, Demerara, Gomme syrup, aromatic bitters, orange bitters, orange twist).
The food menu mainly keeps things light, promoting Lulu as more of a happy-hour destination or first stop in a much longer night. Bar finger food choices are chips and guacamole with roasted sunflower seeds ($4) or a fried hominy cup ($4), while entries include a veggie naked burrito bowl ($7) or guacamole chipotle aioli-tinged quesadilla ($8).
But there is one entree item clearly meant to be a conversation piece: the Flamin' Hot Cheetos torta ($8). As a torta, the carnitas and telera bread stuffed with guacamole paste are more than enough. The layer of crushed Frito-Lay devil's dust, while not unwelcome, seems more like the bar's attempt to add a little something seedy to the mix—perhaps to justify its existence in a crowded bar district.