Best known as co-founder of New York’s legendary Employees Only, barman Dushan Zaric is about to settle into his next venture as the drinks mastermind behind L.A.’s sprawling new Hotel Figueroa, due to open early summer. The project will include five separate bars, roving cocktail carts, pre-bottled pool drinks and perhaps his most radical concept yet: a bar with no bartop.
The bones of the Figueroa date back to 1926, when it was originally built as a YWCA before it turned into a hotel. After a top-to-bottom revamp, it will reopen with 268 guest rooms and a staggering amount of eating and drinking options.
They include Breva (Spanish for “fig,”), a Basque-inspired tapas restaurant where Gin & Tonics reign supreme; Bar Figueroa, a classic hotel bar with a craft cocktail list to match; Veranda, a poolside dining space that will focus on Mediterranean cuisine and plenty of Italian-style aperitivos; and Rick’s, a high-energy Latin restaurant with a deep rum program. Employees Only–style free-pouring will encourage fast execution and high volume, and there’s lots of designated space for private events.
But maybe the most interesting thing about the hotel is Bar Alta, a reservations-only mezzanine bar that looks to draw cocktail aficionados from near and far. “It’s not even a bar—it’s more of a table,” says Zaric. “There will be a back bar and a front working station, but the guests will be seated at a wide semicircle-shaped table, so people sit around it facing the same way. The idea is that bartenders can’t reach across, as they would at a normal bar. Instead, you prepare your drinks, put them on a tray, walk out and serve from the right, clear from the left.”
Bar Alta will feature two bartenders per shift—“that will be the whole staff,” says Zaric—along with a host or hostess, and will include 10 seats, plus another 28 in the lounge. Although a five-drink menu will be available, centered around a rotating theme (say, Paris in the 1920s), guests can disregard it and order whatever strikes their fancy.
“Bartenders will be encouraged to create custom cocktails for everybody who walks in,” says Zaric. “We want people to enter a conversation with the bartender. They’re trained to extract information from the guest about what the ideal cocktail would be for that person and then present it to them. We’re trying to foster creativity.”
The vessels used to make and serve the drinks will also be “completely different,” says Zaric. “We spent over $1,500 up to this point sourcing vintage glassware and serving vessels and shakers. We’ll use liquid nitrogen to chill our glassware. Think of it as if The Aviary, The Walker Inn and Milk & Honey had a baby together. It will be that kind of place.”
Why create a microbar like Alta? “The art of bartending has been lost in the last 10 to 15 years,” says Zaric. “Things have gotten too precious, too focused on execution and high-brow methods. I don’t think that’s what hospitality is. I decided to create a bar where everything is going to be about the highest possible quality of cocktail and service.” At the end of the day, says Zaric, “everything I know about making cocktails will be featured here.”