Located downtown attached to the Orpheum Theatre, the Broadway Bar is something of an anachronism. It's been around since 2005, before the classic-cocktail boom took hold of the city, and because of this — or maybe in spite of it — it's been caught in a sort of boozy time warp. Drinks are still served in basic glassware. The cocktail list still offers a pomegranate lemon drop. Instead of the now-common fresh squeezed juices used by most bartenders, drinks still employ sour mix.
On June 19, all that will change with a relaunch of the bar, which has been fully redesigned, from the decor to the drinks menu.
When the Broadway was conceived almost a decade ago by Cedd Moses and Joe Baxley, it was a brooding, dark, 1920s lair for downtown drinking. The new look is still in keeping with the original bones of the space, but the overall effect is brighter, lighter and more modern. Mirrors open up the rooms, while cream-colored window shades create a softer quality of light. Brass fittings add a bit of opulence, particularly in the glow of the chandeliers and wall sconces.
While it has been a popular watering hole for many years, the Broadway Bar has never been known for its drinks. As longtime barman and now assistant general manager Ozborne Williams recalls of the typical order, "It was a basic Jack and Coke." Indeed, the spot was more of a local hangout, known for a relaxed happy hour and a packed-to-the-gills, DJ-amped weekend scene.
Historically, this has been (and will remain) a high-volume bar where quick service is essential, where drinks are not central and most folks care more about hanging out than sipping a libation. All of these elements were taken into account when the idea of revamping the outdated menu took root. Starting with new glassware (a martini glass with a crystal knob, rocks/collins glasses with a more modern feel) and ending with the ingredients put in those glasses, the goal was to create a vibe that would still welcome regulars but also pique the curiosity of the uninitiated. The solution: drinks that are rooted in classic recipes but still simple, able to be delivered quickly with consistent quality.
With these ideas in mind, and under the guidance of Eric Alperin, 213's beverage director as well as co-owner of the Varnish, Williams approached the redesign of the bar menu. Several popular classics — the mojito and the Dark & Stormy — remain, but five more inventive entries breathe new life into an old list.
Among the new cocktails are two old-school sparklers: the Italian Spritz, a summery combination of Aperol, prosecco and lemon; and the French 75, a delicate blend of gin, bubbly, lemon and simple syrup, which has been known to convert non-gin drinkers.
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Appealing to L.A.'s love affair with tequila, there's a La Paloma, while the Gold Rush–esque Orpheum (bourbon, lemon, honey and Peychaud's bitters) and the refreshing Chapman (gin, cucumber, lime, simple syrup) will appeal to more serious cocktail devotees.
If these drinks seem somewhat ordinary, consider this: Until now, the Broadway Bar was still using sour mix in its drinks. This in a town where fresh juice and syrups have become the earnest hallmarks of a bar's modernity. With just a few basic changes to the menu and a major overhaul of the interior, the Broadway Bar has stepped into a brave new cocktail world without losing its downtown, noirish glam.
Lesley blogs at 12 Bottle Bar, tweets at @12BottleBar and is the author of the book "Gin: A Global History." Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.