History is chock-full of dynamic duos: Lennon & McCartney, Wozniak & Jobs, Ben & Jerry. In L.A. we rely on several to make our cocktail scene the diverse and trend-setting drink destination that it is. As part of a new series, we asked these celebrated pairs to share their history together.
First up is Austin Melrose and Zachary Patterson, the guys behind Melrose Umbrella Co. They’ve been friends for 25 years but just opened the bar last year. Together they’ve created a spot that not only showcases well-crafted cocktails and coffee drinks in a gorgeously decorated post-Prohibition setting but has become the hangout for many bartenders. And just last week Melrose and Patterson took their own sense of Melrose Umbrella Co. style to the Staples Center where, in partnership with Pernod Ricard, they debuted their own branded suite.
How did you two first meet?
Austin: We have known each other since we were kids growing up in Bend, Oregon. Zach likes to say he’s known me since I was this tall (cut to him holding his hand about 3 feet off the ground)…to which I always like to remind him that he was about the same height at the time. Regardless we have been fortunate to know each other for almost 25 years now.
First impressions of each other?
Austin: Zach’s younger brother and I were best friends growing up, so we were always privy to the antics Zach and his older “cooler, esteemed” buddies were up to and would of course try to emulate. Needless to say there were many “impressions” made throughout the years, for both of us.
What was the first thing you worked on together?
Austin: Right when the moving started happening in L.A., he started competing and teaching me stuff and then I was making these syrups for these off-site events and he’d come and work them with me. And I tried to launch a couple of nights where we had “Rockin’ Cocktails” with music and craft cocktails and we bought our own glassware. And then, no joke, we got fedoras and suspenders all black and white and we were like “Speakeasy” because we were doing it and you had to have a password. And it was premature because there was only so many people doing it in L.A., and then there was this boom.
Zachary: Years after that stopped the owner of the place we were trying to do it at ended up calling Austin going, “Oh my gosh, have you heard of this place: The Varnish? Is that what you guys were trying to do? I’m all in, I want to fund this.” And Austin was like, “My friend, that ship has sailed. We were cutting-edge, ready to do this before that happened and now you want to invest in it.”
Why go into business together?
Zachary: We both worked at bars and restaurants and clubs pretty much our entire younger lives all the way through. And we both did it in pretty much similar but some very opposite style places. Where I would do some high-end cocktail places, Austin would work in some high-volume club places. So we had a well-rounded perspective. I trust his opinions unquestionably on this side, while he trusts mine on that side…. We both want the same outcome and the fact that we’ve known each other for 25 years, pretty much family…. I want the best for him and he wants the best for me so knowing that and trusting each other inherently it makes things a lot easier.
What is it like to work with one another? How do you complement one another?
Austin: Many people have said we are very much like “yin and yang” in most things we do. We are both very creative however, and yet somehow always seem to share the common bottom line. It’s when we find the route to get to that bottom line that things get really exciting. Being that we are very much family is probably the greatest asset, in that there’s a lot to be said for having a platform of trust that allows us to focus forward.
What was the best thing you created together?
Zachary: The family we built here, because it truly is a family. Almost every day someone who works with us tells us they love working here and love what we’ve done and it makes us so happy. And that’s why we’re here all the time. Even today, Austin was opening up and I show up because I didn’t really know where else to go. I knew if I came here I’d see someone I could talk to and I’m going to work but I’d rather work here than at my house. It really is a family. I’ve always said it comes from the top down. We want to bring people on that we’re going to give our hearts and souls to.
What’s a quality you like about one another?
Zachary: I’ve got thousands I can say but just one of those is Austin’s attention to detail and not being able to do a half-ass job on anything. When we built this place he said every bit has to be authentic, every little detail matters. Austin would walk into different bars and he’d be, “For example, their lightbulb outside the restroom at this place. Nobody notices but they’re these faux Edison lights that…” And he’d notice all these little things, to me I’ve never noticed. Now obviously he’s helped me have more of an eye on all those little things. Name anyone else who has a partner who’s going to go to Home Depot, decide we’re using redwood for whatever reason he thinks redwood is the right one to use, figure out a method to hand-etch umbrellas. It’s these small touches that really help us stand out above the rest. A lot of that is credited to Austin not letting it stop without every piece being refined.
Austin: The way that Zach is with people. You can literally throw him in every situation and know that in that situation people are going to have a better time because he was there. He’s literally on all the time, no matter what the environment is, where he is, who he’s talking to. People walk away from it having an experience.