The Chestnut Club
Ruka and I drove back from Vegas to Desert Hot Springs and talked about where our adventure should go from here. We have been in the desert for four months now and the heat was about to become unbearable. I wanted to go to the coast and she quickly agreed. There are many things I like about Ruka, but one of my favorite things is her love for the beach. Nothing makes my day more than seeing her prance along the shore attempting to avoid the splash of the oncoming waves. It seems to me the beach is her happiest place.
We drove the highway until it came to an end and ended up in a little RV park just south of the Los Angeles Airport right on the beach. I was a little concerned about the jets taking off over the Pacific just a little north of us, but I must admit airplanes are a lot quieter now than they were 20 years ago. Well, it was up to me to find another interesting place and LA has thousands of restaurants and bars so the task of finding something unique was even a greater challenge. I wanted to find something that was off the beaten track, something that was unique, something that was a bit of a secret, yet known to those who know where you can find great cocktails. And I found exactly that when I came across The Chestnut Club in Santa Monica. You wouldn't know that this pseudo speakeasy was even there by driving by because there is no name on the front of the building there's just a doorway next to a parking lot.
"You wouldn't know that this pseudo speakeasy was even there by driving by because there is no name on the front of the building there's just a doorway next to a parking lot.."
“The Chestnut Club, a new cocktail bar from Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix (Scopa), in tandem with Sal Aurora and Mario Guddemi, [is]right smack in the center of Santa Monica.” This little hideaway is tucked behind a restaurant called Truxton’s on Santa Monica Boulevard. You walk in the doorway that is covered by a small awning and step down a few stairs into a brick walled room. On the perimeter of the room are horseshoe Chesterfield leather booths, this along with the brick walls, the dim lighting, and the exposed ceiling joists, gives the venue an old-school vibe. Most notably the center piece of the room is the bar itself. The back lighting and the daunting inventory of spirits will make you realize right away this is a very special place. I thought to myself immediately, this is my kind of bar.
I arrived early, shortly after they opened and sat at the end of the bar. I ordered The El Camino, which is a combination of mezcal, rye whiskey, Benedictine, Peychaud’s bitters, garnished with an orange twist and served in an old-fashioned glass with one big ice cube. I find that an early arrival is the best time to fully assess a venue. I think that the LA Weekly states it best, “On the cocktail spectrum, drinks are old-school and simple, letting the spirits shine through rather than burying them in multiple ingredients. The Blackberry Honey Sour features bourbon, blackberries, honey, and lemon; the Weeski spotlights Irish whiskey, Lillet, Cointreau, and
orange bitters. In the long drink camp, try a Chestnut Cup, where gin and Campari are tamed by Orgeat (an almond syrup). If stirred or shaken isn't your tipple, the bar offers a variety of gin-and-tonic permutations, including the Agua Caliente with serrano chili, as well as a nicely curated beer selection.” But then, “The whiskey offerings range from Willet Rare Release Rye to the James E. Pepper 1776 15-Year Bourbon to an A.H. Hirsch at an extravagant $300 a glass (the other whiskeys are far more reasonably priced). In the tequila camp, you'll find an exclusive Del Maguey mezcal aged in Hudson whiskey bourbon barrels — it's not available anywhere else in town.”
Who would think to put America and Mexico back to back, but that’s what you get in the El Camino, rye, and mezcal. And it works, but what fascinated me was the big cube. Somewhere long ago in my very distant past, I consulted a restaurateur on what kind of ice machine he should match with his glassware. He wanted to use super fragile thin walled glassware, which any reasonable consultant would advise that fragile glassware in a busy establishment is cost prohibitive. In addition, I explained to him, you can't use big cubes with fragile glassware. He didn't understand, that for the bartenders, glassware and ice are like playing the game: rock-paper-scissors. Ice can break glass and glass can melt ice. Small cubes have more surface area and melt more quickly in a cocktail. The big cube dilutes the drink more slowly which allows you to enjoy the drink longer. Big cubes are easier to make than globes, but globes have less surface space than cubes where the diameter of the globe equals the height of the cube. Ah yes, cocktail trivia.
Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix don’t need my advice. The spirit selection and the cocktail offerings, like the décor of the room, have been thoroughly thought through. The Chestnut Club is not the kind of place where you come to eat, nor is it where you’ll find little clothes pins in your drink*. Their menu is limited to a short list of appetizers and a pulled pork sandwich, which, BTW, was excellent. Not to worry, their clientele is not fresh off the beach in shorts and flip flops, because you must be dressed properly to be invited into the club. After all, they have bottle service. And even though there is no name on the façade, there is the line, yup this place is popular, which you can avoid by getting your drink on early.
You can surmise Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix are serious restaurateurs.
Here are their affiliate venues:
Well, Ruka and I loved this place. For some reason, Ruka always enjoys venues that have a concrete floor and that’s cool with me too.
More stuff about whiskey:
This is their neighbor:
Here is some more trivia:
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