The Tar Pit, the bar and restaurant project from Mark Peel and Jay Perrin (Campanile) and new partner Audrey Saunders (Pegu) is set to open in three weeks. Named for the dump in the 1936 film My Man Godfrey, the Tar Pit is scheduled to open December 7th, according to Peel (“Hey, it's Pearl Harbor Day, why not?”) with Craig Russell as chef de cuisine and Marcos Tello as head bartender, along with an experienced crew that Saunders has assembled. Chad Solomon and Christy Pope will also be partners in the project. Peel will divide his time between the new place and Campanile, which is conveniently located a few blocks down La Brea. “I'm going to be cooking here the first few months,” said Peel the other day, as he and Saunders showed us around the almost-finished location.
The decor is retro, with Art Deco stylized palm trees on the walls above the spacious booths, a jewelry box lit-from-beneath bar, and a chandelier in the main room. The kitchen (all the appliances are on wheels) has a pizza oven, though Peel will not be making pizzas. An ice room has a Kold-Draft double-stacked ice machine that makes 1-inch ice cubes, and another Scotsman ice machine that makes pebble ice. The kitchen will also have a reverse osmosis system, just for the ice.
Saunders said she's excited to be out in Los Angeles, especially as her parents live in San Diego. “I would not be here if Mark hadn't given me a call,” said Saunders. Both Saunders and Peel say that they're playing with how their food and drinks work together. Among the dishes they're considering are steak and kidney pie; duck mousse finished with Glenfiddich; clams casino; and oysters with fino sherry mignonette. They'll also be pairing cocktail flights with a specialty menu. “When you open up a new restaurant,” said Peel, “it gives you a chance to do things you can't maybe do with a 20 year-old restaurant.” Said Saunders, “I've learned so much of what I do from the kitchen; when you look at the bar, it's like having another kitchen.”
Saunders finds the L.A. bar scene tremendously exciting right now. “[It's] fertile. New York has gotten serious. This is like when I was at Blackbird in 1999; that was the time when the bar was fun. You weren't paying homage to the bartender. I think we've fetishized the cocktail.”
As for the Tar Pit, both Saunders and Peel emphasize that it's not a speakeasy like, say, The Varnish. (Speakeasies are Prohibition-era-style bars, and as such can carry an aura of secrecy that dates from that time.) “No handshakes except the normal one,” said Peel.