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The Gaslamp Strip Club

Grilled to perfection -- and cheesecake on the side

I spent an evening at a strip club this week. It was not a club like the "Bada Bing", Tony Soprano's joint. Rather, it was an innovative and exciting addition to the list of restaurant that are owned and operated by David and Lesley Cohn, along with such favorites as Blue Point, Dakota and Indigo Grill.

The Gaslamp Strip Club is named after the steaks that are served there and reflects an inside joke. David Cohn said, "we're poking fun at the political correctness of our society."

The Cohn's previous restaurant on the site, Tupelo, was not able to attract needed business to its locations at the far end of Fifth Avenue, close to the convention center. So, with savvy and courage, they decided to change to a different and relatively unique concept, a "grill your own steak" lounge. Patrons have the opportunity to cook their meat themselves on one of five special indoor grills that are conveniently located throughout the interior.

Servers always ask "how did you like your chef tonight?" How can you complain?

Cooking one's steak oneself has a number of advantages. To begin with, it is fun.

"Working together is a great icebreaker," Lesley Cohn said. Couples on first dates have a conversation focus. People at adjacent tables often get together over the grill to share laughs and seasoning secrets. Dinner can take on the feel of a block party or backyard barbeque. The experience can become a social occasion.

A second important advantage is the price advantage.

"We don't need a large staff or to hire special chefs. By saving money, we can pass on the savings to our customer," Lesley Cohn said.

Given the ambiance of the redecorated venue and the quality of the meat, prices are a bargain. A 12 oz bone in ribeye is only $13.95. A 10 oz New York Strip (for which the restaurant is named) runs only $14.95. That includes a large salad, served "family style" and grill-on-your-own garlic bread.

Wine is also a bargain. A large, walk-in temperature-controlled wine room is located near the end of the bar. Diners can simply select a wine, pull a bottle out of the rack and have it opened at the table. This "serve yourself" concept allows prices to be capped at a top of $34. I saw an excellent Modavi Cabernet for only $15.95.

And then there are the martinis. Tupelo, the previous restaurant, was famous for its martinis. The tradition continues. Prices, though, are below those at many others nearby restaurants.

The interior of the Gaslamp Strip Club has a "clubby" feel. The walls are red brick; the ceilings are high and have open rafters. All the booths are comfortable leatherette. The lighting, tabletops and choice of colors reflect a retro art-deco feeling. There are interesting brick arches leading to the back semi-private room where parties have their own grills.

The walls are decorated by a valuable collection of pin-up prints by Alberto Vargas. He was a very popular artist in the 1950's, drawing attractive, voluptuous women, dressed and undressed. The drawings are art and should not be considered offensive or make any female guest uncomfortable, although there may be some uptight people who would not dine there for that reason. Frankly, I found them very enjoyable. I also liked the "mud flap girl" silhouettes that are part of the d?cor. Nevertheless, The Gaslamp Strip Club is an "adults only" restaurant. Diners must be 21 and over.

Here's how the meal works: one's meat selection is brought shrink-wrapped on a wood baker's board, along with the salad (I recommend ordering a side of blue cheese crumbles to go with the salad and steak). The nearby grill has large bottles of seasoning options hanging on the side. It is a good idea to enjoy the salad and then stand by the grill as the steaks cook. Long tongs are supplied with which to put the meat on the grill. Because the grill is so hot, the outside of the steaks sear quickly but it is a good idea to let them stay on the grill just a bit longer, to make sure the middle is cooked to taste. When finished, put the steaks back onto the board to take back to the table.

There is a choice of "sassy sides" to go with the meat (all ala carte), such as Cheddar Smashed Potatoes, Fat Onion Rings and Strip Club Steak Fries. The fries, in particular, were terrific. They were big, fat, and crunchy and the plate was heaped with the delicious pieces. It took a while for the fries to be served but the wait was worth it.

In keeping with the retro art deco feel, desserts are shrink-wrapped ice creams and one totally decadent chocolate cake offering, all delicious ways to top off a pleasurable dining experience.

The Gaslamp Strip Club is a fun way to spend an evening, in a group or with that "special someone". The food is excellent (who can make it better than you?), the ambiance is delightful and the prices will make your wallet feel good. Kudos to the Cohns for their innovativeness. The restaurant is located at 304 Fifth Avenue. Call (619) 231-3140 for reservations.

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