It’s been a little more than two years since Sassafras rebuilt a dismantled Georgia Mansion in the interior of this unusual bar on Vine. Wrought iron, aged wood, Spanish moss and classic fixtures bring in the southern vibe as well as the time-traveling aspect that is the trademark of the 1933 Group’s bars. Occasional quirky touches like a hypnotic dry cleaner rack of revolving bottles overhead and a glass-encased bear in the back room make the place feel a little like a Steampunk museum of oddities. The place is just strange enough to be fun without feeling like too much of a theme bar.
The main area is presided over by a dignified portrait of Frederick Douglass and features a single bar running the length of the room. Adjoining the bar area are three smaller rooms, the middle one being almost fully enclosed and decorated with antique windows to keep the atmosphere of the bar open while retaining intimacy. A balcony stage high above the room hosts jazz, soul and funk bands starting at 10pm.
The LA Beat was invited to sample their new cocktail selection, which is heavily influenced by New Orleans. The first section of the menu is comprised of “House Cocktails.” Of course we had to try the Hurricane, a French Quarter favorite. The blend of rums, citrus, pineapple juice and the authentic house-made passionfruit juice tastes nothing like a real hurricane, so maybe it should be named something like Typhoon instead. While this may disappoint traditionalists, Pat O’Brien’s Hurricanes are kind of like Kool-aid punch, and this delicious concoction of fresh juices served in a tall glass with festive garnishes was the best cocktail of the night.
Photo Essay after the break
We also had to try the Pimm’s No. 1933, an interpretation of another New Orleans’ classic, the Pimm’s Cup, made famous by the Napoleon Bar. Using fresh lemon instead of the original lemonade and adding notes of ginger and cucumber make this drink another standout.
The Saint is a lighter drink, slightly sweet and easy to sip without being cloying, a quality that could describe most of their cocktails. The bourbon and ginger naturally took center stage, but the bar uses citrus to expertly balance the flavors. Again, a hallmark of the cocktails at Sassafras.
Four on the Floor is an original concoction of grilled peaches, rye, brown sugar, and Poe’s favorite – Amontillado sherry. In spite of the sugar, the drink was again not overly sweet, although I expected a stronger peach flavor. Perhaps this isn’t a November drink and it is best ordered in the peak of summer.
We would have liked to try The Yellow King just because of its Zeitgeist-y name, but the combination of chicory and two kinds of bitters made me wary. The Storyville Shandy also looked appealing with its use of gin and pear cider.
The next menu section includes “Barreled, Bottled and Jarred” cocktails. Barrel aging cocktails was created in the 1880s, because, as you may have noticed, this century and the last one are so last week. The only cocktail we sampled from this section was the Sazerac, because you may be sensing a theme here. With a traditional sazerac you swirl absinthe into an old-fashioned glass, then mix a cocktail of spirits and Peychaud’s bitters and pour it into the absinthe-swirled glass. This is the cocktail that appeared to stay truest to the original, and it was an extremely strong drink. It includes cane sugar, but this is not a sweet drink. This is a drink for people who want their hard liquor to taste like hard liquor and maybe work as an accelerant.
The final delight in Sassafras’ cocktail repertoire is the “Build a Buck.” A buck is a drink made with a spirit and ginger beer, like a Moscow Mule. It seemed very simple on the surface, until you take into account their seasonal ginger beers. Confronted with the temptation of a grapefruit-cranberry ginger beer, the spirit selection overwhelmed me. The helpful head bartender, Karen, surprised me by recommending cognac, which I never would have thought of in a million years. The bar then adds whatever citrus they deem appropriate, which they can be trusted to do well. This smooth, gingery drink was another favorite that I would happily order again if they ever run out of Hurricanes.
Gone were the whimsically named Corpse Reviver, and the house favorite, a Blackstrap Old-Fashioned. I’m sure they will be prominently featured on the final menu. If not, you can impress people by ordering secret off-the-menu drinks.
For the press event, cocktail bites were whipped up by Doomie of Doomie’s Home Cookin’ a nearby Southern style restaurant famous for being vegetarian and vegan friendly. Doomie is able to deep-fry foods without a trace of grease, just the delicious, rich crunch. We started off with a spoon of shrimp and grits that was still hot, and as southern as it gets. Next,fried green tomatoes were topped with a malt vinegar gel, burrata and a red pepper remoulade. Be still my heart. I am a sucker for burrata, but would not have expected these flavors to combine as well as they did.
We were also treated to Doomie’s version of chicken and waffles, which included the game-changing addition of bacon, and a hot, crispy fried mac n cheese ball with crawfish that was topped with “white BBQ sauce” and festooned with a Gouda chip. By this time I had stopped interrogating Doomie and just accepted “white BBQ sauce” for whatever it is. If Sassafras adds food to the menu, they will have a hard time getting rid of me.
As it is, the cocktails are a bit rich but not ridiculous at $12 and $14 a pop. The bar also has a good selection of microbrews on tap, and Abita SOS Pilsner from my favorite Louisiana brewery. The serious top shelf liquor menu has an impressive selection of bourbons, and is one of the few places I have seen a Japanese whisky, although I hear Japanese whisky is “trending” right now. If you are looking for a place to relax and be able to catch up with a friend, somewhere cool to bring co-workers for an exciting happy hour, or a hip and intimate music venue, Sassafras is the place.