"People have accused me of doing it for the attention," says Jared Meisler with a laugh, in regards to the strict no-press and no-photo rule he's imposed on his new L.A. bar, the Roger Room. "But more than anything, we needed the time to figure out how to run this place and really make it work.
"Besides, this place is tiny, and we're not trying to have some drunken blowout here. That's what Bar Lubitsch is for," Meisler adds, referring to the much larger and raucous West Hollywood nightspot he runs, both with partner Sean Macpherson.
Since it opened in June, the Roger Room has set off a tiny tempest by asking local media not to cover its debut, reportedly because it did not want problems with the neighbors. Local blog FoodGPS put up a post and took it down after a request from Meisler, and a subsequent post on EaterLA inspired a 52-comment discussion about whether the blog had betrayed or served local consumers.
While it is hardly unusual for L.A.'s many private clubs to ban press, it's a rare occurrence for a just-opened public bar.
Finally letting a Times reporter inside, after fretting over both the interview and the photos, Meisler sits at a table in the back of the warm, inviting room. Well-put-together gentlemen in white button-down shirts and thin black suspenders are hustling through the bar, delivering the Roger Room's many ambitious and palate-pleasing cocktails as quickly as the bartenders can create them. The bar is busy but still comfortable, and already dotted with regulars.
"The Roger Room is an intimate, dark and sexy space," says Heather Kohos, director of marketing for the Roxy nightclub on Sunset. "Though I have only been a couple of times, both evenings ended up Facebook status update-worthy. Apparently, this will be my new local hang, since it is walking distance to my house."
"We want to ease into the area and really get to know the people around here," Meisler says of the location north of the Beverly Center. "It wouldn't have been cool to show up with a big sparkly neon sign and lines around the block, which is exactly what some folks in the area were afraid of. We were respectful, and it's paid off. People that yelled at me in City Council meetings are now regulars and friends."
Securing the lease in spring 2008 for the space that used to be the Coronet Pub, Meisler and Macpherson spent an inordinate amount of time and money creating the Roger Room. The goal, says Meisler, was to offer nothing less than the best cocktails in town.
"I wanted each drink on the menu to be incredible," he explains. "After a lot of experimenting with dozens of cocktails, I'm confident that we can make a drink that will absolutely blow your mind."
Traveling as far as the Curio Bar in Paris for inspiration, Meisler and his team (including lauded local bartender Damien Windsor) have created a menu of interesting libations. The Japanese Maple turns the unlikely combination of whiskey, maple syrup, lemon juice and egg whites into an icy whip with a waving hand in the foam (to mirror a neon hand outside the bar), and the Tijuana Brass is tequila and agave syrup topped with cucumber foam.
"I'm a perfectionist," says Meisler, who picks the Thug, a whiskey drink tempered with honey liquor and habanero bitters as his current menu favorite. "With so many special drinks, you want to make sure that every aspect is on point. It was a lot for the staff to learn. We're still working out the kinks, but so far, everyone has been amazing."
Given the bar's diminutive size, weekend nights have found the bar reaching capacity early. But instead of fostering a velvet-rope scene out front, the doorman will take your cell number and give you a call when a table opens up.
"People are always so shocked when we actually call them back," says Meisler with a chuckle. "The name of the bar is the Roger Room, like, 'Yes, roger that.' We celebrate the culture of positivity. That often gets lost in this business. Things get taken too seriously, and establishments forget about treating people well."
Meisler is acutely aware that opening up the Roger Room to the glare of media could potentially create the kind of mob scene he's been working to avoid. Still, he's proud of what he's created and excited about the response so far.
"We wanted it to feel like a bar from 100 years ago brought back to life. It's really not a speak-easy; this is a bar that celebrates cocktails, music and the neighborhood. Because no matter how busy it gets, Dave and Katie from up the street will always be able to get right in. That's what's going to sustain us for the next 15 years and hopefully longer than that."
The Roger Room
Where: 370 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles
When: 6 p.m.-2 a.m. Mondays through Fridays, 7 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays
Contact: (310) 854-1300