This is a love story that started out with a quest for the perfect bloody mary 12 years ago, when Renie Schoenkerman, a therapist, and Corrie Scully, a movie producer, met over one of the worst drinks they'd ever had and vowed to make an award-winning interpretation of their own. They spent years experimenting and using friends as willing guinea pigs.
“We were both bartenders back in our 20s, so we had some ego about our own bloody mary, and as we got to know each other we wanted to perfect it,” Schoenkerman tells L.A. Weekly. “We built a bar in the middle of our shotgun-style house, hoping to build the best library bar ever. Our friends kept coming over and just dubbed it MiddleBar. It was in the middle of the house.
“At first it was just a hobby for relaxation and had nothing to do with work. Slowly we started to cocktail cater, created our own cocktail line and ended up banging them out at the farmers markets.”
Scully went to pickling academy to become a master pickler and learn everything about fermenting vegetables and fruit. The two created the MiddleBar Mary, which Schoenkerman says was like the gestalt of the bloody mary. It’s adorned with a spicy and crunchy mix of pickled celery, green beans, onions and cucumbers. The concoction won the People's Choice Best Bloody Mary at the 2017 Bloody Mary Fest in Los Angeles.
Last December the couple, who celebrated their five-year wedding anniversary this week, opened the brick-and-mortar version of MiddleBar at the deteriorating end of Market Street in Inglewood, between eroding buildings that were once part of a bustling downtown. They searched L.A. for a space and saw the potential in Inglewood.
Originally it was just meant to be a production facility for their infused drink mixers, but things took off and the shop soon opened for jazz and gospel brunch Saturdays and Sundays, and Soulful Saturday nights in the tiny corner stage.
The MiddleBar Mary, which is made with custom-infused herbal vodka, was just the beginning of their fermenting frenzy. They have a vanilla bean–infused bourbon for their New-Fashioned, and the Blackberry Basil Sunrise is made with their own fermented tequila — and everything is garnished with house-made pickles du jour.
MiddleBar’s spiced rum features an especially interesting ingredient — coffee. Silverback Coffee of Rwanda is the brand of choice, because of taste and because it also benefits Rwanda’s people, wildlife, arts and culture, the couple say. Cocktails start at $10.
A native of New Orleans, Scully has incorporated her family roots into MiddleBar's decor. The stained glass window that hangs over the bar was salvaged from a church after Hurricane Katrina, and the tiles from her family’s corner store line the bottom of the stage.
“There’s a big New Orleans population in Inglewood,” Scully says. “We have a few NOLA-inspired items on the menu, so that gives me a little more street cred around here than maybe the average white girl would [have].”
Schoenkerman says the response from the neighborhood near Florence and La Brea has generally been good.
“Honestly, two white gay girls move into Inglewood, it’s on everyone’s consciousness, “ she says. “About 80 percent of the clientele is from the neighborhood; others drive in for brunch. For the 90 percent of people who are positive and good, there’s still 10 percent who are skeptical and disapproving. But we’re winning over a lot of hearts and minds.
“We had two guys from the church folk come in on Sunday. They were a little older, in their Sunday best, and we were wondering how this was going to go, what with our LGBT toast on the menu and all. As they were leaving after their meal, one of them came over and shook my hand, and that was huge for us. He said they were served warmly and that the food was great.“
As far as the gentrification of Inglewood with the nearby Forum and coming NFL stadium, the city is trying to bring more business in and restore the neighborhood to its original charm. According to Scully, MiddleBar’s mantra is to bring people together and not kick them out while at the same time providing jobs and reviving the magic of Market Street.
In addition to the mixologists, the team consists of local waitstaff, transgender executive chef Jace Every and his fiancée, Madison Conway, who runs the front of the house. Brunch items include the Wood, made with house-cured gravlax piled with the works on a bagel, honey lavender scones and pan crepes with farm-fresh berries and sabayon ($10-$16).
Having moved from WeHo to West Adams, Scully and Schoenkerman use oranges from their backyard for the menu. MiddleBar also has a line of bourbon-poached cherries, organic sugar-free grenadine and syrups for cocktails and mocktails available for purchase.
MiddleBar 129 N. Market St., Inglewood; (323) 454-7577, middlebar.com.