Zengo: the bar review

I went to Zengo last night with some friends for girl-talk-over-drinks. We sat in the bar/lounge area and didn’t order any food, so you’ll have to go elsewhere for discussion of the menu.

Zengo is right next to the Chinatown Metro station entrance at 7th and H, so it would be hard for it to be more conveniently located. The restaurant dining area is upstairs, and the smaller downstairs area is dedicated almost entirely to the bar area and several low lounge tables surrounded by couches. As far as ambience goes, it was great- the music was well-chosen and was played loud enough to enjoy but not so loud that you have to shout to converse with the person next to you (my personal bar pet peeve). The decor matches the Latin/Asian fusion theme- clean and simple lines with warm colors. No complaints there, except that the couch/banquette thing along the wall opposite the bar is as high as the barstools, but without any corresponding foothold, making it extraordinarily difficult and undignified for short people such as myself to sit on it. But climbing up on barstools is something I’m pretty used to by now, so that’s really more of a minor gripe about restaurants designed by tall people.

The wine and beers have a distinctly ethnic bent as you would expect- Mexican and Japanese beers, sake, and Argentinian and Chilean wines. Several of my friends ordered from Zengo’s signature cocktails menu- their drinks were met with mixed reviews.

What I really want to talk about is Zengo’s service. I realize, we were in the lounge rather than the restaurant portion, so I didn’t expect a lot of attention from servers, and that’s fine. But when I stand at the bar for several minutes, closed drink menu in hand, trying to catch the attention of a bartender, I expect to be able to, you know, ORDER A DRINK, rather than read all about the drinks I can’t order while the bartender ignores me.

Instead, thus denied, I climbed up onto the aforementioned banquette and got the attention of one of the servers, who did bring the requested glass of Malbec pretty quickly. As our group of 10 or so subsumed two small bar tables, the organizer of this little outing informed us that she had called to ask about reserving one of the lounge tables, and had been told that for 10 people it was a minimum order of $1200 to reserve one. That’s right, $120 per person. In the bar. On a weeknight.

I have come close to running up a $120 bar tab for myself on one occasion in my life. Tom and I refer to it as The Denver Incident. That it has a capitalized, proper name should indicate to you why it’s not a more common occurrence.

The crowning moment in my Zengo service experience, however, came when it was time for people to settle tabs. We quickly realized that my glass of Malbec, so speedily delivered, had been charged to the tab of another member of the party. “Oh,” the server said, “We had too many tabs open so they put it on hers.”

Okay, but since that was incorrect, can she get a correct bill?

“You can’t just pay HER for it?” the server asked, clearly irritated.

It’s not that I couldn’t “just pay HER for it,” since it was a $9 glass of wine and I had enough cash on me to cover it. It’s that for starters, either your POS system is poor or your staff isn’t bright enough if they can’t keep up with the number of tabs a busy bar is likely to have open at any given time.

Secondly, I don’t think an accurate bill is such an oppressive expectation from a place that requires a $120/person minimum to reserve a damn lounge table.

Thirdly, what if I couldn’t “just pay HER?” Maybe I didn’t have any cash on me. While the person who got the incorrect bill is certainly a friend, she’s a new friend, and so I’m not yet comfortable saying, “Oh, just let me get you back later for that,” like I would with someone I know better. (That’s an important friendship milestone that you don’t want to push too quickly, you know.) What do you suppose the reaction would have been if we handed in the bill with two credit cards and made them break out my $9 drink anyway?

It’s not that I wouldn’t go back, because it actually was a pretty nice place; it’s that I probably wouldn’t go back with a large group again. So consider this my vote against Zengo for any future Metroblogging DC happy hours.

4 Comments so far

  1. chris (unregistered) on January 11th, 2007 @ 3:10 pm

    I didn’t spend any time at the bar, but the food there was fantastic and the dining area had great service even for a large party.

  2. Lemkin (unregistered) on January 11th, 2007 @ 4:07 pm

    The dining service upstairs is fairly decent and overall good.

    The service at the bar is just as you describe. I’ve been there several times and it’s abysmal. Sometimes, the bartender is stuck making a shit-ton of frou-frou drinks, but by and large, that area just seems totally disorganized. It’s too bad, cause it’s a nice space and their blueberry vodka martini thingy is awesome.

  3. Mike (unregistered) on January 11th, 2007 @ 10:31 pm

    I have eaten at Zengo twice and brought clients with me. I have regretted both of those experiences as the service was terrible. So I’m not surprised that you have written the same thing. I wonder if the managers know of this problem and that everyone is talking about it??

  4. CSH (unregistered) on January 11th, 2007 @ 10:49 pm

    I went to Zengo’s tonight for restaurant week and it was excellent!!! I tried the Mojito de Mango- suprisingly delicious! We all loved the duck and the sushi roll that was offered for appetizers (skip the spring roll). The colby beef w/ mashed potatoes was fabulous!!! We each made a comment how attentive the wait staff was, as well. So for those of you that did not have good experiences in the past, give it another shot! Especially for restaurant week, when you can get your fill for $30!!

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