Drinking is easy. Finding the right bar, not so easy. We’re here to help. As a public service to all of you thirsty explorers, every week we highlight the best bars in America and tell you what makes them so damn great. This week we’ve got a bar that serves elevated cocktails in an under-the-radar bowling alley in Hollywood.
NAME: The Spare Room
ON THE JUKEBOX: Jamie XX, EPMD, Chaka Khan
WHY WE LOVE IT: “Hollywood takes itself a bit seriously,” Yael Vengroff says. As the beverage director of The Spare Room (located in Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel), Vengroff’s mission is to make the neighborhood a lot more playful. Her swanky cocktail bar-meets-gaming parlour has two bowling lanes, dozens of vintage board games like Connect Four, and a menu featuring big, sharable punch bowls.
“When you think of a hotel bar, you think of a stuffy atmosphere with proper service,” she says. “But we’re a cocktail bar that doesn’t take itself too seriously—even though we make cocktails on that level. It’s a very unique opportunity for people who live in the neighborhood to come in, unwind, and really have fun, without having to worry about being on so much.”
Vengroff has been beverage director here for the past six months, but has waited until now to overhaul the cocktail menu. “You take over a new program and people rush you to put out a menu, but you have to learn what sells, who your clientele is and how the bar even works,” she says. “I worked with my team to figure out what we wanted to say. That’s not something that’s going to happen overnight.”
The previous menu, which was inspired by the Hemingway Bar in Paris, had been used at the Spare Room since it opened in 2011. “It was really big, like opening up a newspaper,” Vengroff says. “I wanted to make something that wasn’t so large, but still comprehensive and elevated.” She edited the menu down and gave her own spin to the classics. For example her new Pisco Punch is made with pineapple-infused Encanto pisco, green tea-citrus cordial, Chinato, and lemon. Owner Marc Rose also hired an illustrator to sketch out what some of the cocktails look and taste like, right on the menu.
“People aren’t as educated as you’d think,” Vengroff says. “Oftentimes they’ll see rum [in the description of a cocktail] and expect a mojito, but really they just ordered a rum Manhattan variation. I tried to separate the menu into sections to make it easier for people to understand what they’re getting into and what they’re going to wind up with in their glass.”
Because The Spare Room is kind of hidden inside the hotel, it doesn’t get a ton of people walking in off the street. Instead, it gets people who seek it out, oftentimes for its diverse nightly programming: On Mondays the Spare Room hosts a book club; on Thursdays it has live music; on Sundays it has Bingo. “We attract the type of people who get the thing that we’re doing,” Vengroff says. “The literary crowd sits and talks over cocktails. Then later in the evening it’s super high energy and loud. Some people come back often and try every cocktail. But unfortunately we don’t get a lot of regulars. It’s Hollywood.”
Alyson Sheppard is the resident hangover specialist at Playboy.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amshep