The "R&D" stands for research and development, rather academic posturing for a drinking establishment, but from the moment you walk in from the bar it's within, Harvard & Stone in the Thai Town section of Hollywood, you know you're not in for the usual experience. Rough-hewn, industrial, dimly lit, with a bar set beneath an old grill hood (we're in an ex-kitchen, evidently), it looks like a cross between a dungeon and an antediluvian laboratory -- if Dr. Frankenstein had wanted to devote himself to mixology, he'd probably be in digs like these.
Behind the bar, the scene is minimal. On a recent night the ledge held only nine bottles -- two bottles each of Akvinta Vodka, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Ford's Gin and Vida Mezcal, the spirits employed in the evening's cocktails -- and a ninth, Fernet Branca, on hand, I suppose, for digestive emergencies.
Behind the rail last night, a single bartender held sway: Nate Oliver, young, blond, bespectacled and on his game -- as the room filled with the thirsty he held pace. At R&D the bartender is a shifting paradigm, as is the menu, naturally, for each person curates a short set of cocktails for the night -- usually a half-dozen or fewer, and never the same menu twice.
Oliver's menu consisted of four cocktails: the Pit Fit, the Garden on Vidan, the Falcor and the President Ford, which he'd devised in the hours before the evening commenced. Next to his name on the menu was a number, #66, supposedly the number of times he has guest-tended this bar, but Oliver, who pulls shifts at Harvard & Stone as well, says that figure is an underappraisal -- he's worked R&D more than 100 nights. (Oliver, by the way, has just retooled the cocktail program for the new Larchmont, neé Larchmont Grill, now in soft-open on Melrose Avenue.)
Perhaps that's where Oliver will be tonight -- and at R&D, some other talent will relieve him. Past guest 'tenders have included Jill Webster, Joey Bernardo, Sonny Bonasera, and Serena Herrick, to name a few. Each comes with his or her own retinue, and a menu bearing no resemblance to that of the night before.
Meanwhile, when it comes to claiming this evening's receipts for the impending gaze of the taxman, this one's easy: File under R&D.