An area devoted to psychic readings might seem an odd feature for Employees Only, a cutting-edge new bar and restaurant. Until you realize that it’s a reference to the wily ways of Prohibition – fronts were needed to conceal the fact that booze was in the house.
This is, after all, a speakeasy with a modernized Deco feel, a dash of Manhattan and a touch of kitsch re-imagined in West Hollywood, a contemporary setting that’s high on style and casual elegance.
“WeHo is the location where people drink and eat every single night of the week. It was the energy we wanted,” says Tom Sopit, co-owner of Midnight Hospitality Group, LLC, which owns and manages Employees Only LA. Co-owner Steven Weisburd chimes in: “It’s a place that appreciates great fun, great food and great drinks.”
A New York City Original
Speaking of great, the new bar/restaurant has a reputation to live up to. The original Employees Only opened in 2004 in New York’s West Village. It started as a cool after-work hang for service employees, a place to relax and revitalize with food that’s delicious but not fancy.
Pretty soon, A-list chefs were dropping by along with celebrities like Robert DeNiro. Employees Only NYC has won countless awards for its offerings and is credited with pioneering the concept of craft cocktails.
That legacy will infuse the new digs without defining them. The dinner menu –influenced by the peerless California harvest and led by veteran chef, Sascha Lyon – pairs food with cocktails, rather than wine. For example, a local wildflower and herb-infused vermouth is used both in drinks and in the pan roasted halibut.
“It’s important that we integrate the cocktails so they make sense, so that they logically fit into the whole gastronomic picture of the place,” says original Employees Only co-founder Dushan Zaric, who teamed up with Sopit and Weisburd to launch the WeHo location.
Creating a Memorable Experience
Some of the most popular NYC items that will show up here: tableside steak tartare, bone marrow poppers and roasted black truffle chicken. But the L.A. food program, headed by Lyon (a former Balthazar, Pastis, and Daniel vet), is twice the size of New York’s with lots of lighter items. Wood-fired pizza will also make its debut on the West Coast.
Employees Only LA’s cocktail specialties will include classics ($16), in addition to new concoctions, such as Distance & Elegance (Buffalo Trace bourbon shaken with chamomile-peppercorn syrup, St. George bruto and lime juice). You’ll also find aperitifs, long drinks (more than 10 ounces) and fancy cocktails. Spin the Bottle lets patrons spin a wheel (inside a vintage cigar box) to select the spirit, the rest is up to the bartender’s imagination. Read more about the cocktail program at Employees Only on Eater LA.
Another way Employees Only distinguishes itself is by making staff a top priority. “If we treat staff with respect – if they are inspired, enthusiastic, and proud – then I can demand a higher level of hospitality,” says Zaric.
Additionally, he seeks to restore the validity of bartending as a craft with an apprenticeship program that can last up to three years. Once the word was out about EO’s opening, many local professionals wanted in. Says Weisburd: “We have a Miami Heat of a bar team.”
That said, this isn’t a haven for cocktail snobs. Rather, it’s a place for laidback charm, feeling happy and enjoying in-the-moment entertainment – DJs and pop-up burlesque, perhaps. It just depends on the night and the mood. Feeling cozy? Behind a hidden wall, there’s Henry’s Room, a private room with a fireplace, named after another founding member of Employees Only, Henry LaFargue, and features New Orleans-inspired cocktails in his honor.
“We want to create a joyful and memorable experience that you want to replicate,” says Weisburd. “The experience is very inclusive, with everyone being welcomed.”
Or as Zaric puts it: “It’s a human thing.”
Employees Only LA
7953 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90046