First impressions

Lolita’s Cantina & Tequila Bar might be awesome. It might have delicious, Mexican-inspired food. It may have tasty cocktails crafted with precision by expert mixologists. But even though I attended the VIP opening event last week, I can’t tell you any of that. The event — by the time I got there, at least (fashionably late, but by no means overly so) — was overcrowded, to the point I couldn’t properly assess the layout of the venue, nor even easily make my way to do so. It was hot. And after waiting at the bar for 15 minutes behind just one person, I gave up, and frustrated, just grabbed my girlfriend and left.

There were, to be fair, servers bringing around appetizers … not that any of them stopped for us. However, if there were servers carrying pre-made cocktails (at an event like this, there should have been, to ease bar traffic), either they stopped serving mid-party or never made it my way, but I didn’t see them. Apparently there was supposed to be some 3-D technology happening. Again, if there was, I never saw it. What was there? There was an emcee roaming the event with a wireless microphone, loudly addressing crowds over the DJ’s beats. There were groups of people ordering what seemed a dozen mojitos at a time. There was a venue design that seemed unable to accommodate a reasonable flow of traffic — not a good thing for a location touting itself as a nightlife destination.

There seems to be a trend with these restaurant-club fusions opening at Town Square lately. Like nu sanctuary (which is located directly below Lolita’s), these venues appear to be iterations on the same old restaurant/nightlife concept touting themselves as something new, different or even innovative. But their opening events have been messes, no better than your average touristy nightclub experience: too many people, overly loud music, understaffed bars — none of which lead me to believe they’re doing anything unique or distinctive. Yes, you don’t want an empty room at a party — it doesn’t look good for the people in attendance or the post-event press release. But 1,200 people packed into the VIP party for Lolita’s, and I can’t say for sure, but that feels a bit uncomfortable for even the 10,000 square-foot space (and who knows how much of that is customer-accessible area?).

This is how these things typically work: venue soft opens, works out the kinks, then invites media and whatever “VIPs” to an event. This event is the first (and possible only) chance to make a good impression, to make the venue appear to be as awesome an experience as heralded in advance press releases. Now, sure, the experience of those in attendance should somewhat resemble that of the general public, so that we can relate the best assessment of the restaurant/club/bar/whatever. But at the same time, if you’re going through the fuss of designating an event “VIP,” then the idea is to make sure those in attendance are taken care of, beyond opening the doors and the bar.

Here’s the thing: I want to say nice things about Lolita’s. I want to marvel at the 3-D entertainment, indulge in strong shots of tequila, snack on some contemporary Mexican cuisine. Hell, I was even looking forward to it. And it’s not fair to judge the place based on one overcrowded, overheated event. But often, as I said, this is a business’s only chance to make a first impression, and if it’s a bad one, I’m not likely to go back of my own volition.

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