When Julian Cox and Josh Goldman’s Santa Monica bar Brilliantshine abruptly closed earlier this year due to an investor-partner split, there was a collective “Noooo!” from cocktail-loving Angelenos. After all, it was where you finally got to see what those guys and their Soigné Group team could do when then were running things for themselves after having created highly acclaimed cocktail programs for other L.A. bars and restaurants for years.
Fortunately, for those who are still lamenting the loss of Brilliantshine, there’s Fiscal Agent in Studio City. Backed by restaurateur Bill Chait (Bestia, Barrel & Ashes, Redbird), the beautiful bar promises to have a sturdier foundation and hopefully more longevity.
It’s not exactly Brilliantshine Part II, however. The upstairs space designed by Ricki Kline (Normandie Club, The Varnish) is more intimate and meant to evoke the worldliness of cocktail bars like London’s Artesian, Paris’ Prescription Cocktail Club, and New York’s ZZ’s Clam Bar.
And thanks to a reservation system, you won’t ever see four-deep at the bar. “I want it to be an adult place for people who want to drink,” says Cox. “There’s not many places like that where you can sit down and have a cocktail in a small space that’s really beautiful and that makes innovative, delicious cocktails. Our goal is to create that experience.”
Although Fiscal Agent is, for the moment, signless, with its entrance located in the alley behind Barrel & Ashes, any reference to it as a speakeasy will be frowned upon. “We’re not a pre-Prohibition cocktail bar. I’ve already done that many times in my life. Over it!” Cox explains. “We’re going to put a big-ass sign out front just because when you put a sign out somewhere, it’s not a speakeasy.”
And rather than pigeonhole the cocktail program into one style, the bar crew—made up of the A-team of Dave Kupchinsky (Eveleigh), Nick Meyer (Sotto), and Kristina Howald (Bestia)—have collaborated to embrace all styles and techniques. The cocktail menu showcases market-fresh seasonality, Japanese technique, Tiki, and even the modernist approach with ingredients created from centrifuges and ultrasonic baths. Currently there is no set menu as the drinks change every week, leading the way for the eventual debut of a 36-drink secret menu.
The back bar, however, is limited on space so the spirit list is well-curated. If they want to add another bottle, they’ll have to kick one off the shelf. “We’re going to carry the best quality spirits that we can. Focusing on great brands, things that are responsibly made. Some of them are artisanal hand-crafted and some of them are bigger brands that we just really love,” says Cox.
Another draw for cocktail enthusiasts, as well as Instagrammers everywhere, is the lust-worthy vintage glassware collection. “We really believe that you drink with your eyes and having a beautiful piece of glassware in your hands, the space is kind of sexy, it feels good, it feels right,” says Cox. In order to amass an impressive and unique selection of glasses, the barman said he lived at the Pasadena swapmeet for the past four months and basically bought out Bar Keeper after owner Joe Keeper returned from a huge buying trip.
Inspired by bars like London’s Nightjar and San Francisco’s ABV where the server position was eliminated, Fiscal Agent is a bartender-run establishment. “We can have bartenders take care of the guests, get the order, make the order and bring it to them,” says Cox. “And there’s no question you won’t be able to get answered. We’re more invested than some server we hired. It was an experiment that we weren’t really sure was going to work but we’re five days in and it’s been really good.”
There is also food for those who insist on noshing while imbibing. Since Barrel & Ashes is located just downstairs, chefs Tim Hollingsworth and Michael Kahikina were able to create a separate bar food menu from the barbecue joint to more complement the international vibe of the bar. Think diver scallops, beef tartare and trout terrine. “We wanted to do food that was worldly,” says Cox. “We wanted to incorporate things from our travels into this menu and make it feel like you might be in London, or you could be in Paris.”
If you’re a little put off by having to make reservations here, not to worry as they do take walk-ins. Best time to beat the crowd, according to Cox, is around dinner time, between 8 and 9:30 p.m.