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The lights are dim, the stage is set

I know a dark secluded place, a place where no one knows your face. A glass of wine, a fast embrace, it's called ... Hernando's Hideaway ... OLÉ.

With its chunky gilt-framed paintings, the bar at Circa 1900 is surely more luxe than Richard Adler and Jerry Ross envisioned when they wrote "The Pajama Game," but in its abandoned Wednesday night state, the place has such a staged feel - black light boxes mounted on wood beams, yards and yards of draped brocade - we found ourselves wishing for the castanets. It seemed as though there should be couples dripping off the wooden balcony and smooching silhouettes in the corners. When we mentioned this to the bartender, she told us to hang out until 10:30 for Studio 54. Apparently, it features drag queens and disco music; we couldn't tell if it was a dance club or a floor show, but considering the intimacy of the stage, set at floor level, it may be a little of both. (Owner David Perez says that Daniel Monserrat plays tango on Monday evenings, and the bar is wooing Beverly Houston and David Muñoz for Thursdays.)

Circa 1900

1900 San Pedro
5pm-10pm Mon-Tue,
5pm-2am Wed-Sat

Either way, it sounded fabulous, but we had started drinking too early in the evening, and we had to work the next day. We did help ourselves to another drink - Circa doesn't have a drink menu, but keeps a well-stocked liquour cabinet, a wine list, and domestic and import beers - and the hors d'oeuvres menu. These were not your average bar snacks: frog legs, duck confit crepes, terrine campagnarde - even the buffalo wings came in a roll. An order of crab cakes was delicate yet crabby enough to carry the accompanying spicy chipotle sauce and pesto drizzle. Rather than confit, the crepes seemed to be filled with very thinly sliced duck meat in a wine reduction sauce, but they were nonetheless tender and delicious. Although a bit more pricey than a bowl of pretzels, a few of these rich plates passed around the table were enough to send us home satiated.

The following Saturday we returned, on the advice of our bartender, to hear the vocal stylings of Mari Williams. At 10 p.m., the bar was full of couples, their heads bent together listening respectfully to Williams, who sang a rendition of "Ode to Billy Joe" that would have sent a tougher crowd right off the Tallahatchee Bridge, but she apologized in key and kept singing, and the crowd seemed happy to let her work through it in the next chorus. And that, in the end, endeared me to the place: Circa 1900 may be too chi chi to be the regular neighborhood bar, but it's just mellow and funky and odd enough to be a regular treat.

- Susan Pagani

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