It's 8 p.m. and you're already rummaging through your oversized bag, looking for your ID. The doorman at the Normandie Club in Koreatown wants to see it.
Some might say you're starting a little early, but you know you're on an important mission: Get into The Walker Inn, the new secret bar at the back of The Normandie Club, and drink your way through the cocktail menu.
For this, you need to start early.
Walk through the bar, past the restrooms and stop at the back door. Press a button, which triggers a red light above the door, and Devon Tarby, one of the bar's owners, will let you inside. Since you're there for the cocktail omakase, you pass the lounge seats and head straight for the bar.
It's dark inside. Very dark. So don't try to take photos with flash. People will stare, and it will be embarrassing.
There are some liquor cabinets along the wall, but other than that, we're keeping the details at a minimum. Because part of the bar's charm is the secrecy.
In the same way you surrender your ordering privileges to a talented sushi chef, the same goes for your drinks at the Walker Inn. At the bar, lead bartender Katie Emmerson acts as your cocktail sherpa for the evening. You tell her if you're allergic to anything, if you would prefer higher or lower alochol by volume drinks (how chocolate wasted do you want to get?), and if you like your drinks on the herby, smokey, sweet, or whatever side. Then decide if you want two or three courses.
Here's a tip. If you're allergic to something, say it. And she doesn't mean cats. If you're not allergic to any herbs, liquors, cordials etc., don't say a word. The omakase experience works best when you let Emmerson do whatever she wants. And she does.
This can involve an old school air pop popcorn machine, a waffle maker, an immersion blender, giant ice cubes and vintage glassware Daisy Buchanan only dreamed of.
On the bar, fresh fruit, containers of clarified lime juice, spritzers and various vials of liquids. In the fridge behind the bar, deli cups of citric acid and lactic acid and a plastic container of color flowers.
To start your liquid dinner, a glass half full of sparkling wine with a spritz of jasmine-infused cognac on top. And here's where the fun begins. Each cocktail is meant to be a sensory jigsaw. Smell the jasmine, let the bubbles tickle your tongue and feel the wamth of the cognac in every sip.
Most of the cocktails are part of the bar's Walker Inn menu, a seasonal menu that changes every four to six weeks, and each with a different theme. On this night, PCH served as the inspiration. The Malibu cocktail includes grapefruit a variety of different ways, pisco and tequila. Think a drunk Malibu Barbie.
The Big Sur is a smoking goblet of Laphroaig whisky, Douglas fir eau de vie and Dolin Blanc vermouth and there's a Chardonnay wine cocktail with Calvados apple brandy, honey and white pepper.
Each drink takes around 5 minutes to make, and watching the bartenders behind the bar is the cocktail equivalent of dinner theater. A couple shakes of a vial here, a sprtz there, a stir in one glass, followed by the application of a nitrious oxide charger, an extra long shake in the corner, and a couple scoops of ice cream out of the freezer.
As the liquor kicks in, the bartender's movements, like the entire night, seem to slow down, you can feel it warming your entire body, and you all but sink into your bar chair.
If you can handle it, your second drink is followed by a third. And in between each drink, an intermezzi of whatever's behind the bar. Maybe some honeydew with a couple drops of saline solution, because the melon looked good at the store.
The third course may or may not be a tribal wooden bowl full of house-made almond milk, tea infused apply brandy and jasmine, that have been warmed on a tea kettle behind the bar. It's meant to remind you of a drive up PCH, past an almond orchard.
When the check arrives, it's a little past 10:30 p.m.. And be prepared to pay for a three-course meal. The omakase varies in price, but was around $45 per person for two drinks each. A night and money well spent.
Emerging from the dimly lit bar and into the bustling Normandie Club, it's hard not to feel a distinct, fuzzy sense of accomplishment. You've just completed your first liquid dinner, and no one suspects a thing.
Often a lush but always classy about it. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @Jenn_Harris_