The ever-burgeoning restaurant scene in downtown's Arts District just expanded again with last week's opening of luxurious cocktail bar Westbound. Its name is an homage to its location, on the site where the famous La Grande Station passenger train terminal once stood. Owner Sarah Meade took inspiration from the area’s history, and the result is an antique train car–inspired bar on the ground floor of the swanky new, cruise ship–sized complex One Santa Fe. If you have any trouble finding the vintage-looking cocktail lounge, it’s past the artisan ice cream shop and next door to the art and architecture bookstore.
At first glance, it could be confusing that a historic-looking bar is, in fact, brand new. And if you’re familiar with the designs of Michael Maltzan, the architect behind One Santa Fe, it might seem incongruous. But step inside and it begins to gel. Details such as brass light fixtures and dark brown leather booths are reminiscent of a 19th-century train car. But it’s not just that the old-fashioned design works. The juxtaposition of modern and classic makes even more sense when you begin to leaf through the multipage menus.
The cocktail program, headed by Dee Ann Quinones (formerly of New York’s Booker and Dax, London’s 69 Colebrooke Row and Susan Feniger’s STREET here in L.A.), involves innovative twists on the classics. The Conductor cocktail is essentially a whiskey sour with subtle hints of tamarind and black sesame. The pretty, light pink drink is shaken with bourbon, egg white and lemon, then strained into a chilled coupe glass.
In addition to Quinones, a strong team of bartenders is stationed behind the beautiful copper bar. "This one is an old Nomad cocktail,” explains Matt Seigel, a recent hire from New York’s Eleven Madison Park and the Nomad Bar. He is pouring a clear pink liquid onto a giant ice cube in a lowball glass placed in front of an onlooking guest.
The Boxcar Cobbler, a goblet filled with crushed ice, sherry, pineapple, rosemary shrub, lemon and celery bitters, is given a mist of chartreuse, perfect for summer drinking on Westbound’s olive tree–lined back patio. The La Remedia — gin, watermelon, grapefruit, lemon, lime, pink peppercorn and sea salt — is a revelatory play on a greyhound. The bright pink beverage comes in a highball glass with a long, vertical ice cube.
Wine, beer, sherry, Vermouth and an extensive list of spirits are available. But with such talent behind the bar, it seems foolish not to let them shake something up for you.
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Chef Gary Nguyen, who worked previously at Mélisse and Alma, is crafting Westbound's bar bites, which include tiny cones filled with trout roe, goat cheese and dill, and its larger plates, such as beef tartare and New Zealand tai snapper, which, according to the menu, are “designed to share.”
Like any new establishment, Westbound is still working out a few kinks. It’s possible that an order of Nguyen’s “Foie N Waffle” could take longer than expected. But when it arrives, the warm foie gras — perched atop a tiny bed of arugula, drizzled with maple syrup and accompanied by a scoop of orange compote and fluffy brioche waffles — is worth the wait, which you probably spent enjoying another round of some of the most delightful new cocktails in town.