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Toast of the Town 

Businessman Richard Fiske has made a decade's worth of improvements at the Bombay Club (830 Conti St., 586-0972) in half that time, returning the predominantly martini and cigar bar into a classy dinner venue with live music and, soon, opening the kitchen for lunch.
click to enlarge Martinis are a specialty at Bombay Club, but owner Richard Fiske says the establishment's reputation is growing as a good place for fine dining.
  • Martinis are a specialty at Bombay Club, but owner Richard Fiske says the establishment's reputation is growing as a good place for fine dining.

"The most significant change is that I brought back fine dining to the Bombay Club," says Fiske, who bought the business in 1996 and re-established the dinner menu three years later. "I brought back its history of a late-night menu." The change has been so popular that Fiske has rearranged and expanded the dining area to seat 50, plus there also are dining tables in a courtyard, and dinner also is served at the bar.

For the past few years, however, Bombay Club has been known more for libations, martinis in particular, a comfortable and elegant atmosphere, and a place where locals gather after work and after dinner. Fiske is enhancing that, introducing a lunch menu in November and maintaining the week-night piano music and weekend jazz trio that perform now.

"People do still come for the martinis, but they also come to dine," says Fiske, who added other beverages along with the dinner menu. "Pairing martinis with food isn't easy. About the only martini you could really include with a meal is the Breathless, a chocolate martini ... as a dessert."

To fill the dinner libation niche, Fiske compiled a wine list of 35 vintages to complement the dinner menu. The extensive wine selection hasn't dampened the public's demand for martinis and cocktails in general, however. In fact, Fiske says, customers' taste for martinis has expanded and pulled in imbibers who before didn't think they liked vodka or gin, the traditional ingredients of martinis.

"It's all changed," Fiske says of the liquor designing and distilling industry. "Vodka is not what it used to be. The distilling techniques have been greatly refined ... and they're infusing it with all kinds of flavors." Consumers find the new premium vodkas, some of which have been quadruple distilled, are smoother, more palatable, offer a variety of taste options, and lack the burning taste and propensity to cause hangovers of vodkas past.

"Even people who don't drink martinis can drink the specialty martinis," Fiske says. "The [new vodkas] are more broad-based and appeal to a greater number of people. The alcohol bite is not there, but the real flavor is."

The Bombay Club bar stocks 20 different vodkas from which bartenders concoct scores of martinis for every taste. "Our martini list has grown from its original 40-plus to more than 120," Fiske says. It most likely will grow even longer in the future as the gin industry follows vodka makers' example and is now making its own refinements, he says. Consumers are driving the trend as more and more choose quality over quantity. "People in general are drinking less, but drinking more premium liquors," Fiske says.

Martinis are a traditional favorite at Bombay Club, but local regulars and out-of-towners who happen to find the intimate bar and restaurant also know it as a purveyor of premium cuisine that's available -- along with live musical accompaniment -- until as late as 2 a.m.

When Fiske first bought the English gentlemen's club-themed business, it was a bar that served hors d'oeuvres, had a humidor with premium cigars and musicians who played its grand piano. He kept all those things, but added a dinner menu, drawing on both the past and present to establish the business' culinary future.

"We kept some of the menu's original concepts from the 1980s when it had dinner," Fiske says. Those include hearty filet mignons and voluptuous burgers, but with a contemporary twist. The Bombay filet is a 10-ounce center cut filet drizzled with Stilton cheese and served, as all entrees are, with creamy mashed potatoes and vegetables, and the Famous Bombay Burger blankets Stilton cheese over 10 ounces of tender beef cooked to order. Other popular dishes include barbecue shrimp in an Abita-beer base and rosemary-infused roasted chicken.

Locals, particularly business people, make up a large part of Fiske's regular customer base, and he hopes to attract even more soon-to-be-regulars from the French Quarter and Central Business District when he opens for lunch.

"My reputation is being built on word-of-mouth," says Fiske, who hopes recommendations also will bring in tourists. "The interaction with people is something that I enjoy very much about my job, but I also like to promote the club as a place where visitors can experience what the locals do. They walk away with a good feeling, that they experienced something."

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