Outside Sassafras, the new Hollywood bar that aims to capture the spirit of the South, two men with very different demeanors hover near the door. One stands guarding the door, mustached and bow-tied. The other paces a few steps away, complaining loudly into his cell phone. “They won't let me in because I'm wearing shorts.”
Two women approach the door, and the mustachioed doorman sweeps them inside with a gracious “welcome to Sassafras, ladies.” One of them is wearing shorts, although it should be noted that her high heels help the swank-factor of those shorts tremendously.
Inside, a low-country fantasy awaits. A Savannah townhouse, deconstructed in Georgia and reconstructed in Hollywood, makes up bones of the decor: an aged outer wall with wooden shutters surrounding grand old windows, a reconstructed living room complete with mirrored fireplace and life-sized portrait of Frederick Douglass, a glassed-in garden room that almost makes you feel as though beyond those panes of glass hangs Spanish moss rather than Vine St. An antique bar has a moving, hanging booze conveyer belt above it (a customized dry-cleaning rack), toting bottles of Sassafras' barrel-aged cocktails around above the bartenders' heads. Sassafras is Southern in the same way Epcot is international — impressive in part because of its outrageously theatrical fakery.
It's not quick or easy to get the attention of the bartenders, but once they turn their glowing attention towards you, it's hard to retain your frustration. And any lingering anxiety will melt away when the drinks come, particularly those of the barrel-aged variety. The vieux carré is deeply mellow and rich, and while a freshly-made sazerac is almost always superior, this barrel-aged version ain't bad. The peppercorn cobbler was perhaps a tad too sherry-heavy, but refreshing even so.
There's also food to be had — a nicely spiced but insanely salty jambalaya and a total mess of a dish that bills itself as boudin-stuffed sweet peppers. On the night of our visit they were all out of the shrimp and grits, but there's no anxiety to return for food reasons on this writer's part.
But for the outrageous decor and the drinks, Sassafras is absolutely worth a visit. It's a mishmash of ridiculous Southern cliches, but a fun one nonetheless.
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