The Place: AVIA Lounge at the AVIA Hotel, 285 Bay St., Long Beach, (562) 436-1047; www.aviahotels.com.
The Hours: Sun.-Thurs., 4-7 p.m.
The Deal: S.I.N. (Sunday Industry Nights), with $3 beers, $4 libations and $5 glasses of wine, plus $8 martini Mondays, $8 tequila Tuesdays, $5 wine Wednesdays (per glass, while bottles are half-off), and Cougar Thursdays brings $5 wine glasses and $8 libations. No happy-hour food specials, though.
The Scene: AVIA Lounge is in the surprisingly hip AVIA Hotel. I say "surprisingly hip" because it's at the Pike at Long Beach, which I hardly associate with trendy--isn't that the LBC's version of the Block? The hotel reminds me of the South Beach scene, except without loud Cubans, douche-y regulars or much pretense. A blue-lit bar displays the wares; low-slung chairs create a comfortable atmosphere. There's one television for those of us who can't live without ESPN, but the sound is off--the better to let DJs spin the night away.
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But its location also presents a problem. There is no free parking in the area, and even though AVIA does validate, you're still going to have to pay at least $3 for your evening--there is simply no way around this, unless you take the bus.
The Sauce: I'm not a beer or wine drinker, but the cocktails are not only delicious, but also inventive. An Old Fashioned garnished with salted pecans is downright dangerous--strong but sweet due to the nut and nearly tastes like the best pecan pie, with the salt accentuating the flavors of the pecan and bourbon instead of overwhelming them like in the worst margaritas. Even better, however, is the off-the-menu sage martini. Here is a drink that's doubly jolting, with the cutting verve of vodka, but also the invigorating scent and savoriness of honest-to-goodness sage. Don't introduce this drink to the eco-friendly crowd, as they're likely to engage in a group grope on the spot, so earthy and awesome this drink is.
The Food: Excellent. Lamb sliders, topped with a cranberry compote, weren't a cliché, but rather savory, juicy and sweet. The fish tacos also worked, but the tortillas were cold. And I had something else, but I forgot because I had three of those Old Fashioned drinky-poos. Only problem? There are no happy-hour specials on the food menu. Hey, AVIA peeps: it's called Happy Hour for a reason--can't you knock off a buck for three hours per day?
The Verdict: B+. I really enjoyed AVIA Lounge--great drinks, good food. But between paying for parking and not having food specials, it'll have to work on one of those to get the A it deserves.