camellia lounge lori lucas

I love hot toddies. They're delicious, and thanks to their occasional use as a remedy for the common cold, I believe they're also good for me. There's only so much you can do with the classic toddy, though: Aside from adjusting honey/water/lemon ratios, or tossing in the odd clove or cinnamon stick, a hot toddy made with whiskey is going to taste pretty much the same no matter where you order it. Or so I thought.

TeaZone, an upscale tea store and café in the Pearl, has recently opened a small "marTEAni" lounge (get it?), which features an assortment of cocktails made with tea. The tiny lounge is tucked behind the café, and stocked with an unusual array of infused liquors and unusual mixers (like Yerba Mate sour and Thai-like tequila).

The first drink I tried was the Yunnan Toddy, a toddy made with Pu-erh tea instead of hot water, giving the drink a bracing earthiness. This would be excellent chilled as well: I could keep a pitcher of it in the fridge and drink it all summer long.

An equally tasty drink, though sweeter, is the abysmally named—oh, god, it makes me cringe just to write the words—"Chitty Chitty Chai Chai." If you can spit the name out (or better yet, just point to the menu), you'll be rewarded for your trouble with a delightful concoction reminiscent of a sugar cookie: milky chai stiffened up with amaretto and Tuaca.

I was less enchanted by the Jade Emperor, which blends Momokawa Sake, green tea liqueur, and powdered Genmaicha (a combination of green tea and brown rice). To my taste, the sweetened green tea and sake made for a cloying, off-balance combination.

The Camellia Lounge is certainly a worthwhile destination for exotic cocktails. Their tea-infused concoctions will make you feel like you're doing your body a favor by drinking, which is the best kind of lie. And while their menu is projected to undergo some changes soon, I hope they keep the Dragon Chips—a huge, gooey plate of kettle chips topped with two kinds of cheese, chicken, and buffalo wing sauce. My heart rate gets sluggish just thinking about them. Most of the other menu items are a little more elegant, though—chewy mussels dressed with a tomato and garlic tapenade and arranged prettily on the plate, or a platter of Greek-inspired finger foods including stuffed olives, white beans, and pita.

Ambiance-wise, the Camellia has an inadvertent kitsch component. My date one night made the very apt comparison to a college girl's dorm room, while I was reminded more of an airport bar: both places in which Christmas lights and "flair" are used to disguise the underlying institutional quality of the space. The tiny bar is a nice place to sit; that way you have a view of liquor bottles instead of the glittery snowflake decorations hanging in the main lounge that I can only hope are seasonal.

If the Camellia Lounge has aesthetic issues, it's not a deal breaker. I'll still keep this place in mind the next time I'm in the 'hood, as a cozy spot to grab an invigorating—nay, a healing hot toddy.