You don’t just stumble upon The Spare Room when you’re in Hollywood—visitors have to seek out the intimate cocktail lounge, located up a marble staircase and tucked behind a dramatic set of dark wood double doors on the second floor of the historic Hollywood Roosevelt. But once you find it, it’s the kind of place you don’t want to leave.
Maybe it’s the dim, sexy space, with its glam globe lights, velvet- and leather-upholstered seats, gleaming solid wood bar, vintage table games, and twin bowling lanes that visitors can rent by the hour. (Bowling reservations come complete with handmade bowling shoes to enhance your game, putting those ratty pairs at other alleys to shame.)
And maybe it’s also the drinks. The Spare Room’s cocktail menu is unlike any you’ve seen before, filled with elaborate recipes, small-batch liquors, and lots of housemade components. Many cocktails are presented in festive fashion and amped up with memorable garnishes from homemade chocolates to edible stars.
“We want drinks that speak to the place. We do elegant, intricate cocktails, but we like the fun aspect of them,” says head bartender Kalani Ben, adding that the uber-creative team spends a lot of time crafting elaborate new cocktails to roll out every few months. “We have R&D sessions where we pitch ideas, we taste each other’s drinks and give feedback, and kind of come up with the menu from there.”
The result is a rotating list of drink categories often centered around a fun theme. Right now, it’s outer space, with categories including Gamma Rays, Supernovas, and Big Bangs, ranging from light and refreshing to big and boozy. The drinks get cheeky, punny names — think “Figgy Pop,” “Sobbing Storm Trooper,” or “Strolling Magician” (aptly named after a customer) — and they have equally inventive ingredients.
The “It’s Complicated Being a Wizard” features tequila and grapefruit cordial with lime and smoked juniper, with the rim of the glass coated with a kicky “disco salt” and served it over a food-grade light that makes the drink glow in various bright colors, almost reminiscent of a Star Wars lightsaber.
And don’t let the “Walking in LA” fool you. While it doesn’t look too difficult to make as you watch the bartender fill the glass with a clarified raspberry vanilla scotch milk punch (and garnish it with a shortbread cookie), you don’t see the heavy lifting.
“It’s definitely most time-consuming drink on our menu, and most of the work goes into that drink on the back end,” says Ben. “The milk punch goes through a special clarification process. It takes a full day to make.”
That rainbow-esque row of syrups that line that bar are all made in-house too, giving the bartenders a way to incorporate wild flavors, from strawberry peppercorn to smoked paprika to macadamia nut. “[When you] make it yourself, you can make it the way you want it to taste, [and] make it the quality you want,” says Ben. “And we wouldn’t be able to find these flavors otherwise.”
The food menu is equally enticing, with upscale bar fare like crispy fried cauliflower with yuzu chili, a grilled cheese oozing with raclette and laced with truffle salt, and blistered shishito peppers tossed in a bourbon barrel-aged shoyu sauce.
As for the crowd, The Spare Room draws a serious mix of imbibers, including hotel guests, LA locals, and visitors who’ve got the venue on their must-do list while in town. And the crew here caters to all of them with an array of ongoing programming: There are nightly vinyl-spinning DJs; beer, brats and bingo on Sunday nights; a hospitality industry bowling league; and during the summer, a monthly Evening of Tiki, when guest bartenders show up to create tiki-inspired menus for the night.
“We’re really about the experience. [When] people walk in, we want them to forget they’re in LA for a little bit, have good time, relax, play games,” Ben explains. “We want them to have little bit of elegance with a little bit of fun.”
- Story by Lizbeth Scordo