Ray Tagavilla and Opal Peachey.

"Here's to no hard feelings," the blond in the low-cut dress says, leaning on the bar. "Here's to no feelings at all, lady," the man in the fedora replies. They drink as the rain pours audibly outside in the night and the bartender unobtrusively polishes a glass. Sauced is the latest from Cafe Nordo, of recent dinner-theaters The Modern American Chicken and Bounty. The dinner's been dropped in favor of appetizers with cocktails concocted by the Zig Zag Cafe's Murray Stenson, and what with the Zig Zag being the best bar in the country (as anointed by everyone who's ever been there and by GQ last month) and Stenson being the best bartender in the world (as anointed by everyone who's ever had one of his drinks and at the national Tales of the Cocktail convention in July), it's a smart move. You can eat dinner when you're dead—meanwhile, cheers.

Sauced is a noir jazz-club love-triangle affair, further complicated by the whereabouts of an obscure elixir, with a history lesson on alcohol in general and the cocktail in specific also shoehorned in. The waitresses wear silky black short-shorts with fishnet stockings, spangled tops, little black hats perched on their heads; the set's an almost-bare bar, plain walls, and a low stage, with the audience playing the audience and filling in the rest.

"'Civilization begins with fermentation'—that's William Faulkner, and he knows a drink when he sees one," the bartender intones. Played by Ray Tagavilla, he's the show's secret weapon. He sounds like he's been listening to Double Indemnity in his sleep, like he's absorbed the black-and-white into his bones—if someone's gonna have to address the audience directly, it's best it's him. He slows down to deadpan his good lines, then fast-clips through the overly long lesson-sessions (including the possible origin of "cocktail"—involving George Washington and a rooster's tail feather—twice).

The singing's not too shabby—Mark Siano as the fedora'd bar owner creditably croons "All of Me," Billie Wildrick as the blond gets feisty with "Come On-a My House." They carry out their stereotypes, despite a lack of chemistry; in a would-be passionate moment, Siano gropes Wildrick's flank like he's trying to identify a piece of furniture in the dark. Opal Peachey, as the triangle's third, is part owner of the bar, and where in past roles she's been visibly nervous, she now owns the stage. Watching her small, pale face harden as things go sour is a pleasure.

Meanwhile, dapper Annastasia Workman's piano-playing almost upstages everyone, and the sample-sized cocktails upstage the appetizers—turmeric-lime nuts, a few pickled and cured things, a couple experiments in deep-frying, dessert. Is dropping the $55 worth it? You pay your money, you take your chances. recommended

Through Nov 13, www.cafenordo.com