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Soda Lounge reminded me of guys I once knew. I’d meet them in bars or at parties and think, "No."

A couple of drinks later, and I’d wonder why I hadn’t noticed how attractive they were, how witty and sexy.

It took two cocktails, strong ones, for me to warm up to Soda Lounge. It’s a dark cave of a space, lit sporadically with lamps and groups of votive candles. The walls have been aged so brick peeks from beneath layers of plaster. Owner Anatoly Dubinsky named the place after its former incarnation as a sundae and soda fountain.

Dubinsky, who opened Soda Bar in 2002 and the bar’s annex, Soda Lounge, last November, is big on the recline-and-dine look. The long room has several seating areas with either a Jennifer Convertibles-style sofa or yard sale redo in the center paired with comfortable chairs. Ottomans thoughtfully accompany many of the chairs - a great idea when a guest can no longer sit up. The only tables are knee-high ones, meant to rest your cocktail and food basket - baskets trump dishes at Soda Lounge.

On the brutally cold evening I visited, the room was slow to warm up. One couple huddled in front of the lounge’s focal point - a fake fireplace, its phony logs crackling and emitting cartoon like waves of fire.

"Is that keeping you warm?" I asked, pretending to thaw my frozen hands over the flames. Either they were too drunk to realize the fire wasn’t real, or knew and didn’t care. Neither answered my question.

In this atmosphere, drinks are important. There are 15 beers on tap. Lots of imported ales, stouts and microbrews and great cocktails like the "Vanderbilt," a potent, ice-cold martini made with lime juice that could make an hour with Paris Hilton palatable.

The food is bar grub - burgers, BLTs, fried fish & chips, onion rings and chicken wings - served diner-style in plastic baskets. In this setting, more ambitious fare would seem overreaching.

I wish the burger were better, though. It’s a robust round of meat with a satisfying charcoal-grilled taste, and although it arrived medium rare, as ordered, it was too lean to be juicy. Onion rings, so oily they slid from my fingers, made up for the burger’s lack of grease.

Soggy, battered fish came with good chips that were sliced into slivers, fried crisp and tasted like fresh potatoes.

Pierogies (Polish dumplings with different fillings) are the one novel addition to the roundup. We ordered them steamed, a mistake as they arrived forlornly wilted in a bowl. The pierogies with bacon and kasha stuffing were tastier than the potato and cheese. All are served with plastic cups of sour cream and applesauce straight from the jar.

There are no desserts.

Yes, the food at Soda Bar and Soda Lounge is nothing special, but it doesn’t matter. People come to hang out at the bar, play pool and unwind. Food is something that goes with the booze, not the other way around. After awhile, I started to like the place, too. The chair I sat on was cozy, and I liked having my feet on the ottoman while I chatted with my husband. Once the chill left the room, we ate slowly, sipped our drinks, and eased into a relaxed couple of hours.


Soda Bar and Soda Lounge (629 Vanderbilt Ave. between St. Marks Avenue and Prospect Place in Prospect Heights) accepts American Express, Diner’s Club, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $3.50-$8.50. The bar is open until 3 am on weekdays and closes at 2 am on Saturday and 4 am on Sunday. Dishes are available until 1 am on weekdays and until 2 am on weekends. For information call (718) 230-8393.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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