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At Cooper Lounge, a swanky, tucked-away bar on the second floor of Union Station, I sip a gin and tonic and feel part of a secret society. Big bay windows overlook downtown and the city flowing underneath. This is the kind of place where, as a kid, you might have looked up from the street and thought, I wonder what they do in there.
The cocktails are served with nuts. Mine comes with pistachios. The British man next to me sipping whiskey receives almonds. He turns to me and says, “Like bar nuts? At a sports bar?” Yes, just like that. Except there are no games on, and for once in my life, I’m OK with that.
Behind me, business-clad men peer over the banister at the post-work crowd below hanging by the shuffleboard table and at the Terminal Bar. The feeling of being raised above everyone else, but still feeling grounded: That’s where you stand at Cooper Lounge.
Marcel Templet, the bartender and manager, welcomes you with a clap, or a bow, or on some occasion, a hug. He throws on Motown and does some impersonations, grabbing the attention of all the patrons. The eager youth and the more distinguished adults toast with tequila and highballs.
Templet motions to my empty glass and asks if I’d like to try the café con leche. I don’t even drink coffee but find myself saying without hesitation, “Sure.” I have no intention of leaving this hall where you can pretend to be anything. A caffeine-sipping confidant on a cloak-and-dagger mission.
But the bar has no guise. It is exactly as it appears and feels: It’s a hotel hideaway, a late-night date spot, a let’s-celebrate must.
“One more?” Templet asks. I should really be on my way, but I don’t want to leave. “How about Prosecco?” he offers with a grin. Bubbly, of course. How did I not think of that first?
I watch the crowd trod in and out. I see long arms stretch out across the glossy, velour couches. Flirtation gleams under the gold glowing balls that lean over each lounge area. Some faces look rested, others look like they plan on never resting.
It’s 12:30 a.m. and my light rail leaves in 14 minutes. I throw back the last bubble and pop a macadamia nut in my mouth. Marcel shakes my hand as I climb down from the chair. I want to linger some more, but the trains are moving and there is sleep to be had. Outside on the street, I look up at those big windows on the second floor. Extraordinary. I wonder what I’m missing up there. And then I return to my ordinary life.