Food & Drink

Employees Only Hides Craft Cocktails Behind Psychic Front

The NYC speakeasy embraces Deco and neon in West Hollywood

An area devoted to psychic readings might seem an odd feature for Employees Only, a cutting-edge bar and restaurant, until you realize it’s a reference to the wily ways of Prohibition when 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 adds, “It’s a place that appreciates great fun, great food, and great drinks.”

Midnight Hospitality Group co-owners Tom Sopit (left) and Steven Weisburd (right)

A New York City Original

Speaking of great, the new bar/restaurant has a reputation to upkeep. 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. Yet pretty soon, A-list chefs were dropping by along with celebrities like Robert DeNiro. Employees Only NYC has since won countless awards for its offerings and is credited with pioneering the concept of craft cocktails.

That legacy infuses the West Hollywood location without defining it. The dinner menu—influenced by the peerless California harvest and led by veteran chef Sascha Lyon—pairs food with cocktails, rather than wine. 

“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 West Hollywood location.

Employees Only co-founder and Maitre d’Bar Dushan Zaric.

Creating a Memorable Experience

Some of the most popular NYC items have made their way to the West Ccoast: tableside steak tartare, bone marrow poppers, and roasted black truffle chicken. But the LA food program, headed by Lyon (formerly of Balthazar, Pastis, and Daniel), is twice the size of New York’s with lots of lighter items including wood-fired pizzas.

Employees Only LA’s cocktail specialties include the classics, in addition to new concoctions, such as the Mata Hari (Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac shaken with EO chai-infused Italian vermouth, fresh lemon and pomegranate juices). You’ll also find aperitifs and long drinks (more than 10 ounces). For the adventurous, ‘Spin the Bottle’ lets patrons spin a wheel located inside a vintage cigar box to select the spirit, then leaves the rest  up to the bartender’s imagination. Read more about the cocktail program at Employees Only on Eater LA.

Employees Only doesn’t just pride itself on its cocktails and food, but also distinguishes itself is by making staff a top priority, a testament to its early days as a place for hospitality workers to congregate.

“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, Zaric 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 including 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. New Orleans-inspired cocktails are featured 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.”

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