Stepping into Santa Monica’s The Independence, which opened yesterday, it’s hard to believe that it used to be Asian eatery Buddha’s Belly. Now it’s brighter and the bar takes center stage, spanning a large length of the restaurant. The layout is more conducive to casual hanging out than before. There are even a couple of TVs over the long marble bar to broadcast any big game. But most important, barman Vincenzo Marianella created the cocktails here. Unsurprising since he also does the drinks for proprietor Jonathan Chu’s bar Copa d’Oro a couple doors down.
You’ll want to linger after dinner with The Independence’s cocktails, which are named after the stops on the old steam-powered Santa Monica Independence rail line. Playing up the neighborhoody aspect of the restaurant, they appeal to every palate as well as to Santa Monicans’ healthy lifestyle. The straightforward cocktails incorporate ingredients fresh from the Santa Monica Farmers Market, and even the nearby Whole Foods when Marianella doesn’t get up early enough.
Fans of his work might recognize a few of his drinks, like the Campanula Sour, from Copa. There are also the rarely seen dessert cocktails and hot cocktails, which will be perfect for a foggy beachside night.
Just as long as you enjoy them before and after your meal. The drinks aren’t meant to pair with chef Tom Block’s food. Marianella believes hard booze is better as an aperitivo and digestivo while wine and beer belong with the meal. “Cocktails aren’t food-friendly because they have too much alcohol,” he says. Good thing the restaurant also offers a selection of craft beer and wine, including many bottles of Brangelina’s Chateau Miraval Rosé, “the best rosé in the world.” Something tourists stepping in from the Promenade will get a kick out of.
There is also a tightly curated list of spirits highlighting a mix of mainstream and boutique makers. “I’ve got the usual suspects. When talking about whiskey, I’ve got Elijah Craig, Blanton’s, and Bulleit. But then I’ve got a bourbon made in California, made in Louisiana. Just something different,” Marianella says.
For brunch lovers, the restaurant aims to debut its own in April or May.