When The Culver Hotel opened back in 1924, America was deep in the throes of Prohibition, but that didn’t stop its clientele of starlets, politicians, gangsters, movie moguls and socialites from having a fine cocktail — they just needed to know where to find one. Today, after an extensive renovation, the jewel of Culver City is introducing the Velvet Lounge and eighteen all-new Prohibition-inspired craft cocktails in honor of the hotel’s opening in 1924 and their recent Grand 90th birthday celebration!
There are plenty of speakeasy bars around town, but rare is the 21st-century lounge that may have actually hosted illicit booze in the days of Prohibition. The newly renovated Velvet Lounge is just that,” says Louie Spetrini, The Culver Hotel’s Director of Food and Beverage. “We are combining the past and the present in an authentic speakeasy setting.”
The duo behind the new cocktails are The Culver Hotel’s Head Mixologist J.J. Weiner and the Velvet Lounge’s Head Bartender Phil Santos. With more than 20 years of experience in the industry between the two, their goal was to create an exciting new cocktail program that offers innovative and delicious drinks for everyone to enjoy.
The newly renovated décor in the Velvet Lounge adds to the authenticity of the experience. The space takes you back to another time, when things were more elegant. “Prohibition meets Paris” was the style inspiration. The Velvet Lounge features plush couches, soft lighting and vintage accents, along with a stunning translucent bar top lit from beneath that showcases the beautiful display of the bar’s premium spirits selection. Dark colors, rich fabrics and an eclectic and chic design make the Velvet Lounge a special space in the hotel, it’s everything you would imagine from a Grand speakeasy in a Grand Hotel. The Velvet Lounge is located on the mezzanine level of the ground floor, which only adds to its ‘hidden’ quality and exclusive ambiance.
The Velvet Lounge cocktail list, entitled Culver Classics & Such brings together all-time classics made the traditional way, as well as original creations inspired by old favorites.Spetrini expects the number-one favorite will be the Dorothy’s Daiquiri. Named for the hotel’s connection to The Wizard of Oz (the movie was filmed in Culver City, and much of the cast, including the Munchkins, stayed at The Culver Hotel), the cocktail combines Ketel One Citroen with lemon, muddled strawberries and Prosecco for a fizzy sipper. “It’s an absolutely delicious drink,” Spetrini says.
Another sure-to-be-favorite is the Dutch Mule. The elegant take on the Moscow Mule swaps vodka for Nolet’s Silver Gin, along with ginger beer and a bit of grapefruit. “It’s a straightforward, clean drink that leaves you inspired,” Santos says. Another twist on a classic is the Phony Negroni, which eases up on the bitterness of the original by trading Campari for Aperol and gin for Ketel One Oranje Vodka. “We are giving you the Negroni experience in a more palatable form,” Weiner says. “It may be a phony Negroni, but it sure is tasty!”
For a refreshing cocktail, enjoy the Raspberry Martini, a sweet-and-tart mix of Nolet’s Silver Gin, lemon and muddled fresh raspberries. Or there is the even more refreshing Southside Limeade, combining Ketel One Citroen with fresh lime, cucumber and mint.
Topping off the Velvet Lounge’s cocktail list is a trio of delicious classics that one might have sipped alongside Douglas Fairbanks during the Prohibition. The Ward 8 is a Boston invention that mixes Bulleit Bourbon, Pama Pomegranate Liqueur and orange and lemon juices in a fruity but powerful concoction. The Blood & Sand, named for a Prohibition-era Rudolph Valentino movie about a bullfighter, is one of only a few Scotch-based cocktails in the mixological pantheon, combining Johnnie Walker, Cherry Heering, sweet vermouth and orange juice. And the Boulevardier, a Negroni variation calling for Bulleit Rye Whiskey in place of gin, is one of Weiner’s very favorite cocktails. “I am partial to dark spirits, and I love the spiciness of the rye and the boldness of the Campari coming together,” he says.
Adding to the Prohibition-era atmosphere, silent movies are projected on the wall in the Velvet Lounge, in addition to the nightly live jazz music you will find in The Culver Hotel’s Grand Lobby.
Downstairs, you will find Weiner behind the Grand Lobby Bar, where the cocktail selection more than doubles with all of the Velvet Lounge libations available, along with ten additional handcrafted Prohibition Cocktails.
Fans of bubbles will find several choices to enjoy, including the Culver 75, a vodka-based “French 75 on steroids,” Weiner says, with a hibiscus-flower garnish. “It’s really hard to have just one.” There is also the fruity Prohibition Punch, a mix of vodka, Prosecco, orange, passion fruit, lemon and cranberry that is made for celebrating. Other fizzy options include the old-fashioned Sloe Gin Fizz, made the classic way, and a Cucumber Mule, which adds fresh muddled cucumber to the classic Moscow Mule formula to make it refreshing and unique.
The Krome Kollins kicks up the classic a notch, adding a locally produced blood orange liqueur to a Krome Vodka-based Tom Collins.
Tequila and pisco were not exactly popular in the Prohibition era, but The Culver Hotel did not want to leave out these more modern spirits on their new cocktail list. The Avión Boarding Pass mixes Avión Silver Tequila with lemon juice, orgeat and bitters, and the Yellow Brick Lemonade combines Kappa Pisco with lemonade and passion fruit purée and is served in a Mason jar.
Cocktail aficionados will definitely want to try the Barrel-Aged Peach Manhattan for two, which adds Giffard Crème de Pêche to a classic rye-whiskey Manhattan that is then barrel-aged for three weeks before serving. “Although it serves two, most customers want the whole barrel to themselves,” Santos says. The Great Gatsby-inspired Old Sport, a Culver Hotel original cocktail, combines a complex combo of Selvarey Cacao Rum, Galliano, lime and muddled fennel seeds. And of course, The Culver Hotel features the most classic cocktail of them all, the Old Fashioned, made here with Bulleit Bourbon and a mix of Angostura and orange bitters.
So whether you want to retreat to the swanky speakeasy hideaway known as the Velvet Lounge, or see and be seen enjoying live music in the Grand Lobby Bar, The Culver Hotel’s new cocktail menu transports you back in time, and invites you to party like it’s 1924!
The Velvet Lounge at The Culver Hotel is open every Thursday from 7:00 pm to 1:00 am, and every Friday and Saturday evening from 7:00 pm to 2:00 am. The Grand Lobby Bar is open Monday through Thursday from 7:00 am to 11:00 pm, Friday and Saturday from 7:00 am top 2:00 am, and on Sunday from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm. The Velvet lounge is also the perfect location for any special occasion. Blow out your birthday candles, unwind at a wrap party or mingle at a company cocktail event. This private area is equipped with its own bar and an excellent sound system. Always ready for a party, the Velvet Lounge features an optional dance area and disco ball. For additional ambiance, project a classic movie or your personal slideshow. To book your private event, please contact Milena Alunni, the Director of Private Events directly at 310.838.7326. For more information about the Velvet Lounge, please visit CulverHotel.com or call The Culver Hotel at 310.558.9400
Photo credit Kelley Rich