The Bar at Culver Hotel is one of those bars that you just want to root for. It’s been around since before Culver City became cool again; always an elegant spot convenient for grabbing a drink after dinner and a movie. Plus word has it that while filming The Wizard of Oz, the Munchkins lived in the hotel and held orgies, trashing the place like rockstars. What Angeleno wouldn’t be intrigued with a backstory like that? But because the bar went through so many changes—from Duke’s Hideaway to the Culver Hotel Lounge—it never could make a memorable impression to draw in those from outside the area.
Fortunately for the landmark hotel’s 90th anniversary this year, Director of Food & Beverage Louie Spetrini led the charge to makeover the cocktail menu as well as the Velvet Lounge, the Culver Hotel’s speakeasy-inspired second-floor bar. The new lounge, a former event space, went through cosmetic changes this past summer and now offers a swanky and intimate alternative to the more raucous downstairs lobby bar should guests want to trade live jazz for sexy conversation.
For the new cocktail program, head mixologist J.J. Weiner worked with mixologists from liquor brands to create a drink list that would honor the hotel’s Prohibition beginnings while at the same time appealing to its customers, a majority of whom love vodka. The result is classic-inspired cocktails that are more palatable to the casual drinker who might have been intimidated by the whole craft cocktail scene.
Here, classic gin drinks like the French 75, Negroni, and Southside use vodka instead. “A large percentage of what we pour here is vodka but I wanted to give people a chance to taste the Negroni,” said Weiner. In the Boulevardier, a whiskey version of a Negroni, the Campari is scaled back. “I just felt with equal parts [as stated in the traditional recipe], the Campari almost overwhelms the drink a little bit and I really want the rye to come through,” explained Weiner.
Even the barrel-aged Manhattan, served tableside in a two-cocktail barrel, is sweetened up with a peach liqueur “so you can experience the rye without being overwhelmed with the fortified red wine in there.”
Weiner doesn’t like to call his drinks “craft” for fear it will “scare people away from thinking that they’re going to have to wait a long time to get their drinks.” But he’s always happy to expand his customers’ palates by taking them a little bit outside their comfort zone. “It’s amazing how often people don’t realize that they love something until they try it.”
The new 15-cocktail menu debuts September 23 and will be served in both the Bar at the Culver Hotel as well as the Velvet Lounge, which is only open Thursdays through Saturdays at 7 p.m.