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Out of the Shadow ; Hertel Avenue mainstay is a gathering spot for an eclectic crowd

Sometimes you want to go where everybody's not the same.

That's the time to head to the Shadow Lounge on Hertel Avenue.

"Eclectic," says bartender Erin Bullwinkel (who is from Seattle). That how she would describe the clientele.

"Anyone from 24 to 84," says her co-worker, Anna Lauria.

"One of our regulars is 87," adds Bullwinkel, just done with serving some customers in their 20s.

The women are part of the all-female wait staff at the too cool to be trendy night spot, nestled between Sterling and Wellington and an easy walk from more than half a dozen restaurants. They like their jobs because of the customers: People who respect a code for conduct and dress (casual, but no hoodies, caps or cutoffs, especially on the weekends) who are looking for a comfortable place to enjoy a well-mixed, affordable cocktail, wine or cold beer, possibly, depending on the hour, with a nice meal or live music.

Happy hour specials (4 to 8 p.m.) include $2 drinks. Beers on tap include Sam Adams' Winter Lager and New Castle Brown Ale, along with Blue and others, but the wine menu is a notch up from the average corner pub and the ever-changing cocktail menu expands on the imagination.

While we enjoyed a dirty martini in a well-filled glass, our friend on the neighboring nicely cushioned bar stool (with steady legs and ladder back) sipped a not-too-sweet cappucinotini (espresso vodka, kahlua, dark creme de cocoa, milk and a sprinkling of coffee beans). The cocktails are usually $6 or $7 each, including the very popular Tropical Martini (raspberry and coconut rums, pineapple and cranberry juice).

"It's a standard. It tastes like you're on the beach," Lauria says.

The decor crosses decades, from the art deco signs to 1960s-era crash zones to flat-screen TVs (not too many but enough to keep up with the game or know if news has occurred).

The good quality sound system keeps light pop, soul and jazz in the background if you want to listen, or hum along, but not so loud that you can't hear the person next to you.

It's just the regular kind of early evening crowd when we meet Jay, 360 pounds of good-natured company, who is enjoying buying splashes of citrus vodka for his new friends while waiting to go to the airport.

"We're all friendly here," he laughs, reaching out for a hug. Bullwinkel concurs: "We have everyone, all ages, a mixed crowd, all shades. It's not 1964 in here," she says with a laugh.

Indeed, the customers reflect their city: Young music fans, especially late on the weekends; office workers depressurizing at happy hour; groups of women laughing in a corner over cocktails before dinner; and people from the North Buffalo neighborhood stopping in. The place can be packed on the weekends, and special weeknight dates, when musicians like the Soul Providers, Urban Renewal and JJ Swing squeeze in along the dance floor and get the joint jumping.

And slightly above the main floor, Christopher Andres oversees dinner service until 10 p.m. weekdays and midnight on the weekends for people wanting steaks, chops or a nice seafood alfredo. Those wishing to just nosh can share one of the bar's signature fondues, a flatbread pizza or wings, among other hearty appetizers.

e-mail: mmiller@buffnews.com

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The Shadow Lounge

1504 Hertel Ave. (835-3975)

Scene: A cozy nightclub with drinks and food a few notches above the basic Buffalo bar, serving a true mix of ages from mid-20s to 80s.

Drinks: The expected draft beers plus a well-cultured wine list and creative cocktail menu, heavy on imaginative martinis.

Dress code: Collared-casual preferred; jeans are fine but hoodies and caps are discouraged.

Music: Pop and soul on the sound system during the week; danceable live music starting at 10 p.m. on the weekends; jazz on the patio in the summer.

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