22 Jan Happy birthday!⎪Apotheke, LA
Ok, so we’re sure you all know about Apotheke NYC after reading about it on our blog last year (because being the loyal reader you are, OF COURSE you read it. Yes? Good, glad we got that settled). But what you may not know is that in January 2018 they opened a second location in LA. Alright, if you live in LA, you might already know this, but we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Their second location features some of the distinctive style of the original, but it is uniquely Californian and definitely has its own thing going. To wish them a happy first birthday, we sat down to talk to Holly Mattson and Nicholas O’Connor from the LA location. Here it is, happy birthday friends!
FAIR: Do you want to start by telling us about Apotheke LA? We’ve already written about the New York location, and many of our readers have been there, so how is the spot LA different, what are the similarities, and how have they grow from each other?
Nick: They are similar in a lot of ways. We loved the concept out there, and we wanted to do another one. We wanted it to have its own flavor, and we use so much of our environment in the cocktails. With the Chinatown location, you wouldn’t even know it’s there, it feels like it has been there forever, hundreds of years. It’s got that really good feel .With LA, the city is so different, and everything is spread out. We really wanted to create something magical, and you can’t really recreate the New York location here. You can tell right away that this is Apotheke, but it really is its own unique space. The building we are in out here is standalone brick building, that hasn’t been zoned or anything and has a really great feel. It has really high twenty foot ceilings. We have a huge outdoor area, which is something only LA can do. That has allowed us to have a garden and outdoor space and it’s been really fun to just create something new, while holding the image of what we had before.
Holly: Christopher Tierney is the owner, and he did the design in New York, and worked on the design for the one in LA, so there are some similar design elements. Using his background in architectural design, he uses that to shape the way he opens his bars and restaurants and you can definitely tell that with our location.
F: That’s amazing, and I can imagine there are some really great crossovers, as well as some really unique aspects. You mentioned using elements from your environment, can you tell us a little more about what that means?
N: Yeah definitely, I am trying to use as much stuff as I can from the local environment, herbs and plants that have a real California feel. I was part of the opening team in New York, but I am from LA, so coming back here and constructing this menu has been really fun. Not only are the ingredients around here great, and really fresh, but it reminds me of my childhood. This menu has a real California feel to it, a lot of tequilas and agaves, distinct flavors and citruses, things like that. We started on this menu from scratch, being able to create whatever we want. There is no crossover content with the New York menu.
H: Nick has mentioned that we have the outdoor space and the garden, and what’s really cool about that is being able to grow our own stuff. Nick loves to hike, and to forage, and our garden has been specifically designed by Nick with the idea of highlighting local and mountain plants, with a really local feel. There are some unique things we have in our garden that he was able to go and find.
N: Yeah the plants I’ve gathered, they thrive in this area. I’ve focused on things that grow in the San Gabriel mountain chain, which is the mountain chain that looms above Los Angeles. I used to clear trails back in high school, so it’s great to actually be able to go and forage for that stuff, and then really be able to apply it to our cocktails.
F: So the stuff in your garden, you’re actually using in your cocktails?
N: Yes, we use them for garnishing, and for infusions. We don’t have a huge garden space, so the yield on it is kinda tricky. But for herbs and things like that, it’s great.
F: Amazing, we love that! How about we move to how you both got into the industry? How you came to be managing bars, or a mixologist, and in particular how you’ve ended up in these creative bar spaces like Apotheke?
H: I can start. I have been in the industry for … fourteen years? Yeah I’ve been in the industry solidly for fourteen years, which is kinda crazy.
N: Watching your face trying to do that math was amazing!
H: (Laughs) I actually started in the industry when I was getting my Master’s in Boston. I really just found that I needed to make some money. I started at a coffee shop, as a barista, having to learn all of these ingredients and having to work really hard because we were a really high volume coffee shop. I realized I could be making a lot more money bartending and doing a lot of the same things, memorizing recipes and working with customers. Quickly I got involved with some pretty big groups out of Boston, and after about six months I started managing for this group. I graduated, I came out to LA, and I promised myself I was going to work in social work. This was in 2004, 2005, and as I think you all remember, in about 2009 we had the economy crash, and that’s what really solidified me leaving social work and I started working back full time in restaurant management.
F: You must enjoy it so much!
H: I do, I do. You know, there is still that element of myself that is a social worker, and there are a lot of similarities in a way, and bartending provides that fun side of interacting with people. A little less heavy but still just as real.
N: I got into this basically because I moved to New York and I really needed a job, and my friend was like “hey I’ll pay you fifteen dollars an hour to cut limes”, and I was like “really?!”. I ended up working promotions, and driving the van, and I ended up seeing so much of New York. This was around twelve years ago, and I got to see the beginning of mixology and really see where it could go. I was working events all over the city, at dive bars, five star restaurants, all of these different places. Everyone likes the guy coming with the promotional items, with the swag, and I would get to see behind the bar, showing people how to make different drinks. Within a year I had been to over 300 bars and seeing how they were all working, the good and the bad ones. And from there it was just natural to get into that world. It was at the beginning of that time when people were starting to experiment, and really start to work with organic produce and just create different drinks. I was lucky to get involved with Apotheke. There were no boundaries for us, we could put anything we wanted in the glass. To be honest, that freedom to work and create was just great. It’s been amazing to see the palette of the consumer really change and grow. People are really smart and want to see great drinks. Apotheke has been a part of that.
F: It has changed so much in the last five to ten years, I agree. I love how you’ve both ended up in a place that makes you really happy. We’d love to know why do you choose to work with FAIR. and what is good about it?
N: I’ve worked with FAIR since your US launch. I’ve always really liked it because it sort of hits the key points that we’re trying to find as well: companies that do things correctly, who create environmentally and logistically responsible products, and you provide a really good product, and something that is really unique. With the vodka being made from quinoa, it creates so much interest at the bar. I know vodka can get a bit of a bad rap, but I love using it because it is like a blank canvas, and you can taste the other flavors. I like that FAIR. Vodka sort of keeps itself; you can still tell it is there and you get that sort of nice lift and strength, but then also allows other flavors to shine. It’s just a company and product we can really get behind.
H: I also want to add to that, that Nick created a cocktail called Kale and Comparison for the New York location. He created that like nine years ago, back when Kale wasn’t even that popular yet
N: Oh yeah, I created that like eight years ago when kale wasn’t buzzing yet!
H: When we were doing our cocktail testing, it became a little bit of a joke, a kale and quinoa cocktail, it sounds like the most LA thing ever, but it was created in New York. When we first opened, we served that, and I had a bunch of people texting me the next day saying “I am drinking my green juice right now, and I’m thinking about adding vodka to it”. Back on FAIR., on the other side of the brand is the people, and I have to say, you have a really lovely team, and are very supportive. We’ve done a lot of events with you and you’ve come through for some sponsorship and things like that. You’ve just been really lovely people to work with. When you really start to have to deal with band ambassadors on a regular basis, and you find such a lovely group of people, you know that the company is putting in time and effort with their employees. The team speaks so well for the actual brand itself.
F: That is such a good point. You must deal with so many different people and so many different brand ambassadors every single day, that to get to work with nice and genuine people must be a lovely addition to the day! OK, for our final question, what is next for Apotheke LA?
N: Well it is our one year anniversary this month, in January, so getting through our first year has been all I’ve been focusing on. It’s been a long year, putting it all together and getting it all going, but I think we’re really now starting to hit our stride. Next year will be even better. We are on a large space, we call it the campus, and there will be two or three big openings in the next year or two on this same property. Where we are will look very different in the next year or two, so it’s going to be really interesting to see it all come together.
H: We are in East Chinatown here in LA, which is an area which was to an extent, undiscovered until recently. Things are just popping up and growing around us constantly. We’re seeing breweries pop up, we have a wine company right up the street from us, the very first wine company in this area since prohibition. We’re just seeing that our neighbors and the neighborhood is just constantly evolving. It’s super exciting.
F: Thank you both so much, and wishing you a happy first birthday!