Are Home Bars the New Speakeasies?

The drinks are free at El Tigre Magnifico—you just have to get invited

You know how I write about all those spectacular home bars around L.A. that you wish you could visit, but you can’t because those people won’t let you in their houses? Well, now there’s finally one that’s open to the public—it even has its own Yelp page.

El Tigre Magnifico was founded last year by intrepid home bartenders Matt Blackburn and Cary Daniels, and it’s operated out of their Glendale apartment. The only minor catches are that it doesn’t have regular hours, and entry is by invite only. But, at least they don’t charge for their drinks.

Obviously the El Tigre Magnifico duo completely ignored their mothers when they decided to invite a bunch of would-be drunks into their home. It started after they moved into the apartment a little over a year ago and got heavily into cocktails. Blackburn, a bartender at Spitz Little Tokyo location, was constantly experimenting and creating new cocktails, so the roommates decided to start inviting friends over for R&D sessions. Several months in, one of their friends created a Yelp page for the “venue.” Cut to now, and they have an actual Web page promoting their bar and even a bouncer, a.k.a. a surly neighbor paid in tequila, who makes sure none of the visitors get out of control.

You won’t find another Varnish in this Glendale apartment—the scene is more “chill, intimate cocktail party” than speakeasy. Around their dining room table, a group of six new friends, varying in age from late 20s to early 30s, pass the time waiting for cocktails by enjoying conversation. Mood lighting comes from very bachelor pad sources: a light machine casting an animated blue nebula on the ceiling, a flat screen television showing No Country for Old Men in black and white, and a couple of beer bottle chandeliers illuminated with Christmas lights.

The El Tigre Magnifico bar, itself, is very modest with a simple offering of spirits and mixers, but the 10-drink menu reflects more complex DIY techniques than you’d find in the average home bar. There’s a drink with house-made cascade-hopped grapefruit cordial and another made from pecan-infused bourbon. The boys also favor whiskey and tequila not only for drinking but for mixing cocktails.

“We don’t really do vodka drinks. If you want something with vodka, fine,” says Daniels. “If you want whiskey or tequila neat, we have nice stuff in the back because that’s what we drink.”

It’s things like attention to detail—considering glassware, ice, and garnish—and hunting down exotic ingredients from ethnic grocery stores that makes this place feel closer to an actual bar than a home bar. And although the cocktails aren’t exactly Julian Cox caliber, El Tigre has its share of fans.

This is only Eagle Rock resident Liz Lim’s second visit, but her excitement about finding a place so close to home makes it apparent that she’s going to be a regular. Lim said she found El Tigre by searching for “specialty drinks” in Highland Park/Eagle Rock on Yelp after wanting something more complex and crafty than dive bar offerings and closer than downtown or Hollywood. Naturally the five-starred El Tigre Magnifico popped up.

“I live really close by. I wanted to go somewhere where they make cool drinks, kind of like a speakeasy,” says Lim, who usually drinks cocktails at restaurants, like the Cheesecake Factory and Bourbon Steak, as well as dive bars.

“We were just hanging out and wanted to go grab yummy drinks somewhere fun and different,” echoes Lim’s friend Marzena Zuber.

Now that most anyone can craft a tasty cocktail at home, thanks to well-written cocktail books by bartenders like Jeffrey Morgenthaler (Portland’s Clyde Common) and Dave Arnold (New York’s Booker & Dax) along with cocktail boutiques like Silver Lake’s Bar Keeper selling bartender-grade bar ware, public home bars seem a natural next step in the cocktail frontier. Why not share all your good booze with good people?

Does this mean El Tigre Magnifico is setting a trend for a Speakeasy reboot where, like during the Prohibition (not the early 2000s), bars are actually hidden from “the Man” and require a password for access? Are Airbnb for home bars not far behind? Well, even if that’s the case, eventually Blackburn would love to go legit and open his own bar.

“This is our test run, our no-risk bar,” he says. “We’re just trying it out to see how it goes.”

The Skinny

  • Hours: Irregular and closing times vary—“Sometimes it’s 3 a.m., sometimes it’s 1:30,” says Daniels.
  • How to get in: Call or text (512) 588-2279; email [email protected]
  • Prices: They don’t charge for the drinks but will accept cash or liquor/ingredient donations. “I don’t expect people to drop $12 a pop. I think people are enjoying the drinks and they’re usually pretty generous,” says Blackburn.