It’s not quite the 1970s, even though the color red covers the lounge like shag carpeting. It’s not quite the 1980s, even though the DJ spins early 1980s funk and R&B as if the Converse-wearing Fat Albert crew is bound to pop in at any moment for an epic dance-off. It’s not quite the 1990s, even though the artwork that adorns the walls has some distinctly Basquiat-esque neo-expressionism. It shouldn’t work together, but somehow it all does, and it’s all very welcoming.
Stepping into Sasa’s Lounge—located at 924 Columbus Ave. between 105th and 106th streets—is not unlike entering a portal to the bits and pieces of the last few decades. The wood-paneled entrance and the totem-like statue to the left immediately signal a certain bit of quirkiness. Patrons sip their drinks while lounging on the hand-carved pieces of art that double as seats. There is also a somewhat secluded back room with a beaded curtain that lends the lounge an air of elegance.
Sasa’s Lounge is owner Sabrina “Sasa” de Vanna’s vision. Many of the decorations and numerous fixtures were handmade by de Vanna. She hails from the town of Manduria in the south of Italy, a region that heavily influences the menu. The Primitivo zinfandel is excellent, and is just one of the many wines from the south of Italy. De Vanna doesn’t shy away from making a mean cocktail, though. Visitors can take advantage of happy hour from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m, and down specials such as the “Spicy Rum” for $11, a personal spin on the classic “Dark and Stormy” with a generous portion of Captain Morgan Black and a splash of triple sec, amaretto, ginger ale, and sour mix, which de Vanna makes herself.
The aperitivo deals another offer worth a second glance, given that it serves up a complimentary food item with a drink for a little bit more than the price of a cocktail—$14 instead of $11. The Frisella Napoletana is de Vanna’s signature dish, a salad with plum tomatoes, olive oil, and oregano served on an authentic, bagel-like piece of frisella. It’s delicious, but as good as the bresaola-salami-goat cheese panini, which is delightfully rustic and filling comfort food. The flavors are quite familiar, but familiar is sometimes very, very good. As the personable bartender Susie Pallaghy said, “We don’t do anything half-baked around here.”
Sasa’s Lounge is dedicated to becoming a neighborhood institution, and de Vanna is big on regulars—one gentleman spent his whole time there while doing laundry next door. It’s located just three blocks from university apartment housing on 108th Street, and mere blocks away from bars like 1020 and the Pourhouse, making it a convenient stop for Columbia students. Bands visit on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays, and past performers include ex-Bowie drummer Dennis Davis. The music varies from mariachi and salsa to reggae and jazz. Even during private events, the lounge is open to everyone. De Vanna added that under-21s are also welcome.
“I won’t turn them away,” de Vanna said. “They can come and eat, and I’ll have things for them.”