Black Water Lounge

Romance, Pomp & Sissy Sushi: Black Water in Duluth Is Open


Calling all ring-a-ding broads and big league players: the new Black Water Lounge is open for business… baby.

Actually Black Water opened about a week ago, but it’s best to give a little grace while new restaurants work out the kinks (even for a quick hit review). So here it is:

First, we’ll drop the 1950’s lingo, though you may feel a need for it at Black Water with its overt Las Vegas/Dean Martin/Sinatra motif. Personally, I could have done without it, but you can’t blame them for the obvious assertion. After all, this is Duluth & we Minnesotans are not easily alerted to conceptual insinuation.

Black Water is located in the Greysolon building, that’s the old Chinese Garden space. I stopped by early in the afternoon to grab a menu and being that Black Water is (at it’s core) a bar, it was closed. Not only was it closed, but there were actually contractors still milling about tightening up loose ends. Just like the overly dramatic Food Network show Restaurant Makeover. All hands were racing to beat the clock before opening at 3pm.

Even at this strange hour, I was greeted by a friendly face upon entry. With a firm handshake and an accommodating smile the gentleman introduced himself and was nice enough to lend a few morsels of juicy info and give a quick tour (signaling the great customer service I would receive later that evening). His name was Tom Jesperson and as it turned out, he was not the owner, nor the manager, but actually the designer- and he did an amazing job.

Here at The Dish, we love to be in awe of excellence, and as far as Black Water goes, the true craft and excellence of this joint lies in the design. Without it, Black Water would surely sink into an overly pretentious swell of Local ill will. Our highest praise goes to Tom (the designer) because his work is absolutely over the top and an expression of passion. The interior of the restaurant is intensely warm, inviting, familiar, classy, modern, edgy and above all… sexy. Then again, Black Water can afford to be over the top as it is in fact, a Blackwoods operation.


When you arrive at Black Water parking is relatively easy (we love it when restaurants go out of their way to provide easy parking) and they have definitely done so at Black Water. Simply Look for the black banner strung between the iron gates of the Greysolon and the North Shore “Experience” and you’re done.

Arriving at the street level entrance,you will be greeted by a handsome, well dressed doorman and an equally well dressed and beautiful hostess. I think the first thing that hits you is that the space has an abundance of nooks, crannies, sunken spaces and other various forms of comfort candy which reinforce a sexy first impression.

The branding is incessant (as with all Blackwoods restaurants) beginning with a Black Water Logo themed waterfall as you pass through the main foyer. To your right and up a few stairs is a very warm lounge area with low ceilings and back lit red panels (it doesn’t get much sexier than red lights, eh?). In this area, your senses are heightened by black and white furniture crafted in many different shapes and textures. The functional furniture adorns the room and makes it feel full, social and at the same time private enough that you could imagine…. well… having a good time with a special person.


To your left, you will find yet another lounge space which is actually something of a veranda overlooking the bar pit at street level. While most of the action is focused in the bar, this raised seating area is also a comfortable space with a grand piano and a giant martini glass. The views from this seating area are entertaining whether they have a live musician on the keys or not. Given the clear view of the bar area, and the fact that this area skirts the lion’s share of foot traffic, the veranda section gets my vote for best seat in the house (depending on the nature of your visit). If it’s romantic, sit in the upper lounge to your right if possible. If predatory, sit in the “veranda” or the bar.

Cascading down the final set of stairs to the bar pit you’ll pass an army of well dressed collegiate servers (hired for their looks) and trust me, they are dressed to kill. Some of the servers were even wearing corset inspired charlie popping apparel which I suppose are a wonderful nod to Duluth heritage and very much in keeping with the overall voluptuous theme.


As for the food: expect upscale and you won’t be disappointed. After all, there are a lot of meat and potatoes folks in Duluth. If you approach Black Water from this perspective all will be well. For a snooty cook the food didn’t quite meet my expectations, but I am the exception not the rule, and to be honest I only tasted a few dishes (remember, this is not the full review). The majority of menu items echo Blackwoods in one way or another. For instance: the flatbread, the blooming onion, the “bulldog bites” (insert confusion in an “upscale joint”) and a few desserts. Changing it up, they offer three different rolls of sushi which are interesting.

Here is where I initially went into a 300 word rant about sushi and about not doing it if you can’t do it right, how to use the mat properly and so on. However, we don’t want Duluth Dish to contain too much negativity (food is fun) and we try to maintain a policy of “if it’s not good we don’t write about it” and leave it at that. So, I’ll just say this about the sushi and hope that Blackwoods sticks to what they do best: The sushi was as Sinatra might say… “bombsville”. I’d rather eat sushi standing up from a street vendor in Portland or have a wonderfully plump California Roll at Chester Creek Cafe with no fish than choke down a Tuna Roll with a side car of ego just because it’s a fancy joint. It just has to be rolled properly, a-la-minute and with freshly cooked rice. This tasted like it was rolled well ahead of time and the seam was as tough as the sinew laden tuna trim. Ok, enough of the negativity and back to all things fun about Black Water.


The Kobe Beef sliders (mini burgers) were perfect and I will be craving them for days. You see, this is what blackwoods does well: no B.S. Hotel American. Fancy upscale bar or not, I hope Black Water refines their offerings by focusing on what comes naturally to Chef Tommy. While a tad overcooked for “Kobe Beef“, they were juicy, simply done and perfectly charred. Just Kobe Beef, caramelized onion, a dab of mascarpone, horseradish spread and a perfectly toasted mini bun. To bring it all together these miniature beauties had a sandwich pick holding them together, each of which were capped with a GIANT green olive. In all my life, I have not had an olive like this in the US. Wherever these things came from (Sisco or not) they were GOOD and were a perfect nibble after each burger to cleanse the palate of Kobe fat with pickle-like acidity. The sweet onions and sweet buttery buns were also expertly punctuated by the bitter olives. Order a familiar Stella (Labatt’s) off the tap in a gold rimmed glass, enjoy a plate of Sliders and life is pretty good.

All things aside, We did say in the beginning of this “review” that Black Water is at it’s core a bar. Given the fact that they have a non-compete with 301 regarding the extent of their food offerings, we assume it will remain a bar for quite some time, though they could easily expand. Given that, I can say that this is among the most seamlessly composed, well managed, viscerally exciting, and yes… sexy bars in Duluth. That doesn’t mean I won’t sneak over to Fitgers after an hour or two to finish the night. But as a single, relatively affluent (though budget-minded) person and given the approachable nature of the menu, the expertly crafted design, the solid drinks and the attentive staff; Black Water is leaps and bounds beyond many other bars in Duluth if you like upscale. I personally am grateful to have Black Water as an option in Duluth. It absolutely raises the bar and can excite even the most cynical of Duluthians upon first step inside it’s doors.

One last thing: the bathrooms are tops.


Four colossal shrimp hand stuffed with bleu cheese and rolled in Japanese breadcrumbs. Fried golden and served with our French Quarter dipping sauce.

Three silver dollar grilled buns with Kobe beef, caramelized onions and a Mascarpone cheese and horseradish spread.

Sliced thin and served rare with a light Wasabi Dijon. Garnished with toasted black & white sesame seeds, baby greens and slivered fried wontons.

Our housemade roasted red pepper hummus served with an assortment of fresh chopped vegetables and pita bread.

Our housemade crostinis toasted with sliced Roma tomatoes, fresh Mozzarella, chopped basil and drizzled with a balsamic glaze.

Blackened tenderloin, grilled tenderloin chicken, Granny Smith apples, grapes, toasted housemade crostinis and a crock of smoked Gouda cheese for dipping.

Tenderloin chicken hand rolled in shredded snow white coconut and fried golden brown with a housemade Pina Colada dipping sauce.

Tenderloin medallions blackened and served on housemade crostinis with melted Roquefort cheese and drizzled with a balsamic glaze.

Two homemade lump crab cakes pan-seared and finished off with a champagne sauce laced with lemon. Garnished with roasted red peppers and slivered yams.

A sweet Vidalia onion flowered and lightly dusted with our special seasonings and fried golden. Served with our Agate sauce.

Lightly dusted and flash fried golden. Served with sweet piquante peppers, lemon and housemade plum sauce.

Five colossal shrimp chilled on ice with a fresh horseradish cocktail sauce, lemon and our fresh baked crostinis.

Seasoned bites of blackened tender sirloin over housemade crostinis and served with a creamy horseradish dipping sauce.

Maki Sushi traditionally is rolled in nori (seaweed) either with rice
on the inside or outside and fillings of either seafood or vegetables in
the center.

Tempura battered shrimp rolled with green onion and wrapped with toasted coconut and roasted panko. Drizzled with a sesame glaze.

Yellow-fin tuna wrapped in avocado, cilantro, jalapenos and spicy mayo. Topped with a soy citrus sauce and fresh squeezed lime juice.

Spinach, carrots, avocado, and cucumber with a sesame glaze.

Extra thin and crispy seasoned cracker bread

Shrimp, crab, spinach and Mozzarella cheese.

Strips of seasoned filet, bleu cheese crumbles, caramelized onions and roasted red pepper.

Thai chicken & peanut sauce with Mozzarella cheese and green onions.

An assortment of fresh chopped vegetables topped with
Mozzarella cheese.


Dip strawberries, bananas, pretzels, toasted marshmallows, and graham crackers into a pot of dark Godiva chocolate blended with heavy cream and a pinch of salt.

One of the original desserts served at Hotel Duluth. A rich cake sweetened with cocoa powder and topped with a butter créme frosting. Served with Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.

A scoop of Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Bean ice cream drizzled with Bailey’s Irish Créme and served in a chilled martini glass.

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