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Time to crack open the minibar

No, not one found in a hotel room. Tiny establishments serving specialty drinks are a hot trend around town.

January 22, 2010|By Anna Scott

First we saw teacup Chihuahuas, the iPod Shuffle and Smart cars. Now L.A. has its very own new diminutive trend: the minibar.

Not the sort of minibars you find in hotel rooms stocked with tiny-nip bottles of liquor and overpriced nuts. Rather, these are small watering holes offering everything from handcrafted cocktails to growlers of beer.

More than a half-dozen small bars with capacities in the double digits have opened in the last year or are slated to open in coming months. Though each occupies its own niche, the common theme seems to be an emphasis on quality over quantity, the idea being that a smaller space lends itself to a hyper-focused approach to booze.

"We looked for a space where we could make really nice drinks," said Jared Meisler, co-owner of the Roger Room in L.A., which opened in June. Inside the narrow, 900-square-foot bar, with no outside markers and a lush, circus-themed interior, elaborate cocktails like the Green Fairy (Lucid absinthe, egg whites, lemon juice, Angostura bitters) loom large.

"The drinks take a little longer than a Jack and Coke," Meisler said. "It's just hard to do for hundreds of people, and, to be honest, it's kind of lost on hundreds of people."

Some of the new establishments are stand-alone ventures, like the Roger Room or the upcoming Mignon, an 18-seat downtown wine bar focused on small-production French varietals.

Others are additions to existing businesses. The owner of the cozy Alcove Cafe and Bakery in Los Feliz, where diners nibble decadent desserts on a brick patio adorned with strands of white Christmas lights, plans to debut a 450-square-foot bar inside the cafe in the first half of the year. The menu will include fresh juice cocktails, small-batch liquors and Belgian beers and wines, all designed to complement the food offerings.

"What we've done with food and baking, we'd like to do with alcoholic beverages," said Alcove owner Tom Trellis, "which is classics with a twist."

Similarly, Bar Bouchon, a month-old, approximately 40-seat space adjacent to Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bistro in Beverly Hills, serves Keller's custom-made beers, along with wine and cocktail selections.

On the more exclusive side are private or semi-private drinking rooms, such as the 500-square-foot Wine Library at the Fairfax district restaurant Terroni, which opened in December. The space, hidden inside the restaurant and available by reservation only, takes its name from the room's floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, crammed with 4,000 bottles of mostly Italian wines.

The Wine Library, said Terroni co-owner Shereen Arazm, allows restaurant brass to be as picky about alcohol and clientele as they are in selecting high-quality, affordable menu ingredients. Bottles are carefully selected according to quality and price point, and the room's minuscule size "allows us to decide who gets in there," Arazm said.

The tiniest of the tiny is the 130-square-foot, purple-velvet-covered Wine Tasting Room at the Hollywood Italian restaurant Delancey, which opened in February and seats up to 14.

The room was set up primarily to cater to private parties, said owner George Abou-Daoud (who also owns the Mission Cantina taqueria next door), but it is open to regular customers for walk-in tastings when it is not booked.

"You can sit in there like the Last Supper," Abou-Daoud said. "It's like a little jewel box."

Of course, specialty drinks and exclusivity aside, a small bar can also make good economic sense.

Salaryman, a 20-stool bar specializing in Japanese bottled brews and obscure "food friendly" wines, opened alongside the Los Feliz location of Umami Burger in October. While Salaryman "definitely would work as its own bar" in a larger location, said restaurant and bar co-owner Adam Fleischman, in its current space it comes with a built-in base of restaurant customers.

"It's just a safer bet," said Mignon co-owner Santos Uy. "If you get 40 people in a 100-seat restaurant, you're 40% full."

And what if your bar seats only 20? Then those 40 people represent a very good night indeed.

Minibar locations


Where: 370 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A. Contact: (310) 854-1300


Where: 128 E. 6th St., L.A.


Where: 1929 Hillhurst Ave., L.A.

Contact: (323) 644-0100;


Where: 235 N. CaƱon Drive, Beverly Hills

Contact: (310) 271-9910;


Where: 7605 Beverly Blvd., L.A.

Contact: (323) 954-0300;


Where: 5940 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood

Contact: (323) 469-2100;


Where: 4655 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.

Contact: (323) 669-3922.

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