If there’s a heaven for hairdressers, fashionistas, people on first dates and older women from Miami recovering from cosmetic surgery, Bootsy’s Produced by Jeff Ruby would be it. Packed into the two-story building across from the Aronoff Center where Pizzeria Uno’s used to be, Bootsy’s draws the young, the old and the beautiful. Marrying Moroccan kitsch and South Beach flair, the tribute to Funk legend Bootsy Collins seems to have filled a black hole in Cincinnati nightlife.
When we arrived on the Friday night after New Year’s, the place was swarming with men in black and women in cocktail dresses and sequined halters and jeans. My friend, who had been there on New Year’s, grabbed the manager and said, “Remember me?” Acting as if he did, he said he’d have a table for us shortly, even though we had no reservations.
Once at the bar, a square-shaped deal under a mile-high ceiling that reminded me of something you’d find in Los Angeles, we tried cozying up. But the bar stools, which were extremely heavy and awkward with no foot rests, were unbearably uncomfortable. So we made our way outside to the patio, a stunning space with comfortable sofas, warm fires and a festive street view.
Bootsy’s will make you feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland, surprised by the new world behind every door. It was a bit surreal: Two cooks in the corner were quietly roasting pigs, explaining that a pig roast party was coming shortly and that anyone could reserve the outdoor space for an event.
When our table was called, we were led into a room with gold beads hanging from the backs of tables and quilted pillows lining the sofa-like booths. Deep oranges and reds, Warhol art and the occasional fish relief lined the walls. I commented to my friend that it looked like an opium den, and to my surprise the very tan older blonde woman sitting next to us (the tables are banquet style) said emphatically, “It does not! Have you ever been to an opium den?” It was a fair question, and we were compelled to strike up a conversation with her
We waited 15 minutes for our drinks. Fortunately, the pleasure of the Elderberry Mojito was worth the pain. Up until this moment my favorite mojito lived at Doc Ford’s on Sanibel Island. But this one, full of fresh mint and made with Cachaca instead of rum (according to our lively next door neighbor), won my heart with its sweet clarity. Unfortunately, my friend was not as happy with her Sangria, which was champagne mixed with Chambord — a nice cocktail, but not Sangria.
By then we needed some substantial food to go with our alcohol, so we ordered Tapas. (I recommend making Tapas your meal here and skipping the entrées; you’ll have a better dining experience.) We started out with the Plantains — “Three Ways” — Tostones, Maduras and Mariquitas with preserved lemon-honey aioli, a steal at $5. While the pairing of the aioli with the Tostones and Mariquitas tasted acerbic — more like bottled limejuice than lemon — the Maduras and aioli combination went down like sweet key lime pie. If you order the Plantains, consider ordering only the Maduras.
The Patatas Bravas ($5), with crispy potato, smoked paprika and a smoky chipotle aioli, was perfect. We followed it with Duck Tacos ($9) and apricot salsa that my friend found entirely too oily for duck, as the juice dripped all over her plate. Still, the server said this is one of Bootsy’s most popular tapas plates.
While we were unsure what to order for an entrée, once our new friend next door whispered something in my friend’s ear, she immediately went for the Manchego Ravioli ($13). I’ll leave you to imagine what she said, and although the ravioli was quite good — creamy and flavorful without being rich — it wasn’t that good.
Unfortunately, the seafood Mariscos Mixto paella ($28 was a disappointment. It’s not that the paella hadn’t been cooked for a good while like a risotto, giving the saffron flavor time to sink in, it was that my friend, proud to have just learned from her French friend on New Year’s how to suck the brains from a prawn, attempted to do this, only to be met by the “worst metallic prawn flavor” she’d ever experienced. The server immediately brought over the manager, who kindly listened to our sad shrimp story. They took the item off the bill and we ordered the deep and creamy Gratineed Aged Goat’s Cheese with tomato fondue and grilled Cuban bread ($7) as well as a wonderful flatbread reminiscent of Pomodoris Apple Pizza with manchego, spinach, apple and dried fruits ($7).
Now on our third mojito, we determined that the Bootsy’s experience is something everyone in Cincinnati should have at least once — but you’re definitely paying for the atmosphere more than the food. While it doesn’t rival some of the better Cuban or sushi (yes, Bootsy’s also serves sushi) restaurants on the West Coast, as my San Francisco friend reminded me, it’s a fun addition to Cincinnati.
Go: 631 Walnut St., Downtown
Hours: 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday; 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Saturday
Entrée Prices: $13-$28
Payment: Visa and MasterCard
Red Meat Alternatives: Tapas and seafood
Accessibility: Second floor, not accessible