Jazz Lounge Opens After Three-Year Wait

Three years in preparation, Lakeland Loft has opened, bringing an urbane mix of jazz, spirits and cigars to a second-floor downtown space marked by plush leather seating, mahogany panels and crystal chandeliers. 

Why did it take three years, I asked Solomon Wassef, the fastidious, 65-year-old proprietor. I expected to hear the common gripes about bureaucratic delays.

Instead, Wassef explained that in his 4,200-square-foot lounge,  “Everything is brand new — the plumbing, electric. everything.” The outer walls and terrazzo stairs are the only original parts of his space at the southeast corner of Main Street and Tennessee Avenue.

“I want to thank Lakeland for being patient with me and supporting me,” Wassef said. He has been paying rent the entire time to the building’s owner, Dr Saqib Khan, who is moving his Cafe Roti to a building two doors down Tennessee. In all, Wassef has invested nearly $750,000 in the business, he says.

David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.

Lakeland Loft opened last week after getting rave reviews the previous weekend at an invitation-only VIP reception. The lounge features:

  • Live jazz on Fridays and Saturday nights. Performers are listed on the venue’s Facebook page. Classic recorded jazz is played otherwise.
  • A walk-in humidor housing 100-plus cigars ranging in price from $6 to $28.
  • More than 100 wines by the bottle ($20 to $130) and nearly two dozen by the glass, most at $7. | Wine list and prices | Full bar menu.
  • Four smoke suppression units. Wassef said they clear the smoke but don’t completely eliminate what he called the “sweet” aroma of cigars. I detected no cigar odors lingering from previous nights when I visited at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
  • Four private rooms overlooking Tennessee Avenue. They’re first-come, first-serve Sunday through Thursday, but require reservations and fees of $50 to $75 on Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Twenty paintings of influential jazz musicians painted by Lakeland artist Aaron Corbitt with accompanying bios.
  • Chandeliers made of Egyptian crystal assembled in England.
  • A decor emulating British private clubs and featuring deep mahogany hues. Wassef, who supervised the design, calls the style Old English Oxford with a Crawford ceiling.
  • Monitors that display classic black-and-white movies to fit the venue’s jazz-age theme.
  • Seating for 189 people.

Lakeland Loft serves no food yet, but Wassef says hors d’oeuvres are coming.

David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.

Wassef also owns the Hookah Palace around the corner on Kentucky Avenue and previously co-owned the Fresh Choice Plus buffet restaurant on Kentucky Avenue that closed following a fire in June 2008.

He said he moved to Lakeland about 20 years ago while working for Darden Restaurants, where he trained managers of Red Lobster units.

Wassef is still looking to hire more staff members. “I don’t call them servers or bartenders. I call them concierge.”

The focus of Lakeland Loft is jazz music, which Wassef says is a personal interest of his. His favorite artists are both trumpeters: Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis.

The cigars are supplemental to the jazz, he said: “If you look at jazz and its history, cigars and jazz go well together.”

The restaurant’s dress code (business casual encouraged at all times but mandatory on Friday and Saturday nights) has drawn some heat on Facebook. But Wassef said nobody has been ejected for their attire, adding that a few people have been “educated” about what they should wear when they return on another weekend evening.

Wassef sees Lakeland Loft as a complement to restaurants already downtown and ones yet to open — Cafe Roti, a Mojo BBQ restaurant and Tsunami Sushi within a block on Tennessee and Screaming Tuna at NoBay: “We’d like to have people have dinner downtown and come over for a cigar and cocktail after dinner.”

David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.
David Dickey Jr.