Why, after 125 years, should a historic L.A. landmark care about keeping up with the trends, especially when it’s members only? Even though the Los Angeles Athletic Club clearly has nothing to prove, what with its roster of famous members (Charlie Chaplin worked out here!), it needed to offer something on par with downtown’s stellar options, which continue to multiply.
However, the danger of updating any established and historical bar is that changes will alienate its old-time members. So LAAC brought in Liquid Assets cocktail consultant team Marcos Tello and Aidan Demarest to handle the delicate operation of revamping its nameless century-old bar, now christened “Invention.” The duo are experienced in walking that fine line of new/hip and traditional, as their new-old drink spots 1886 at the Raymond and Tom Bergin’s Tavern can attest. (This project marks their return to downtown together, where they had originally worked alongside one another at Seven Grand, The Edison, and The Doheny.)
As both men also happen to be club members, they were well versed in its long history and the expectations of its members. Says Demarest: “We went way out of our way to make sure that this guy at the bar didn’t get pissed off that his club, that he’s been going to for 40 years, suddenly got hip. I didn’t want it to feel like The Bazaar or like one of those hotel lobby places that are so esoteric you’re kind of like Woody Allen in Sleeper. Like all of a sudden you’re sitting on a yoga ball in the middle of a hotel.”
Fortunately there aren’t any yoga balls here. Instead, designer Tracy Beckmann went with Danish Modern decor, midcentury stainless-steel cabinets, molecular-inspired light fixtures, and the kinds of knickknacks you’d find in the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
The cocktail list harkens back to another time with eight straightforward drinking man’s classics which, as the menu points out, were invented at various private clubs around the world. They’re all pretty masculine but Aidan says they plan to add 10 more cocktails by the end of the summer that will include a champagne sherry cocktail and maybe even branch out into vodka.
Fish House Punch (Gentleman’s Society of Schuylkill Fishing Company, 1732): Hennessy cognac, Myers’ dark rum, peach liqueur, lemon
Manhattan (Manhattan’s Club, 1870): Bulleit rye, sweet vermouth, bitters
Southside (named after Southside Sports Club): Bluecoat gin, mint, sugar, lime
Pegu Club (named after Gentleman’s Club in Burma): Tanqueray gin, curacao, lime, Angostura, orange bitters
Buck’s Club Fizz (Buck’s Club, 1921): Tanqueray gin, champagne, Cherry Heering, orange juice
Hoffman House Martini (Hoffman House Hotel’s Society Club, 1906): Tanqueray gin, dry vermouth, orange bitters
Dark N Stormy (Bermuda Royal Naval Officer’s Club, 1900s): Gosling’s Black Seal rum, ginger, lime, soda
The Last Word (Detroit Athletic Club, 1937): Tanqueray 10 gin, green chartreuse, maraschino, lime
“This list isn’t going to blow anyone’s mind,” said Aidan. “What’s going to blow people’s minds is that the L.A. Athletic Club now has fresh juices, has Kold-Draft ice, has five bartenders that are trained in all the classics.” The well spirits have been upgraded (i.e. Broker’s Gin instead of Gilbey’s) and the soda guns 86’d.
Although Marcos Tello has made a name for himself by creating modern classics like the ubiquitous “Medicina Latina,” you won’t find any new creations here. “If these people really wanted an esoteric cocktail, they could go to 20 places around this block,” said Aidan. However, Tello and Demarest will save the infusions and barrel-aged cocktails for their new bar, which will slot into the “Los Angeles Room” on the club’s fourth floor, above Invention. Demarest says that bar, complete with a discreet bookcase entrance on the third floor, will hopefully debut next summer with Marcos working behind the stick!
If you’re not an LAAC member, not to worry. Next Tuesday at the bar’s grand opening, the club will debut a new social membership which is only a third of the regular membership fee. For $80 a month, social members will be able to enjoy the club’s dining room, bars, private events and public meeting spaces as well as discounted rates for the club’s partner hotels around the country. You won’t get access to the gym with the social membership but you do get that killer parking rate of $1.50 for the first three hours. Considering how hard it is to find parking in DTLA, that could end up paying for itself.
Invention at Los Angeles Athletic Club, 431 W. 7th St., Downtown, laac.com