An all-star cast of bartenders and mixologists have come to nest at a new den of drinking and dining called Black Market Liquor Bar on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City. The bar team is headed up by Pablo Moix and Steve Livigni, who previously cast mix-craft spells on La Descarga Rum Bar and Harvard & Stone, and also claims professor of alcohol Tricia Alley of Eva and B Side along with a crew from Providence, Bouchon, 1886, Cole's Red Car Bar and Waterloo & City.
And that's just behind the bar. The kitchen is the province of "Top Chef" alum Antonia Lofaso, who is turning out a careful menu of reasonably priced small plates with global influences. The last time Lofaso was in a restaurant kitchen was at SBE's Foxtail in West Hollywood, where she worked wonders on straight-forward French bistro fare.
Black Market is outfitted to look like a neighborhood pub with an arched brick ceiling that general manager James Michael Bobby (formerly of Bardot) says was made with 7,000 bricks, along with black booths, decorative glass windows, an open kitchen, concrete floors and fans that operate on a neat, spinning pulley system. Open for only a few weeks, the bar hasn't yet been roughed up by liquor-laden shenanigans, but when that happens it will wear in all the right ways.
Both the food and drink menus are rewritten daily, says Alley, who often brings ingredients from farmers markets and her home garden to share with the bar team for use in drinks. On a recent Tuesday, Alley expertly mixed up drinks including a favorite called Punch for One, made from pisco, bitters, agave, pineapple and lime; and a really delicious number called Fields of Gold that combines bourbon, lemon, orange juice, orgeat syrup and grated cinnamon for tart flavor with an almost creamy mouth feel.
For food, you'll find addictive peel-and-eat lemon-pepper shrimp (you'll be brought warm towels with lemon to help get the sticky off your busy fingers); thick-cut dill chips with fresh herbs and a creamy, vinegar-and-salt based sauce; crispy collard greens topped with Benson ham and a soft-fried egg; lamb meatballs with feta rosemary and pine nuts; and a really unique dish of ricotta gnudi that comes in a puddle of savory brown butter and pistachios.
With so much talent in the kitchen and behind the bar, it's amazing that no one person has tried to claim the limelight; rather, the best thing about the place is how fraternal it feels. To watch its bartenders work and its servers race around the room is to watch people who seem at ease in their environment. That sense of wellbeing transfers to the diners, making the drinks go down smoother and the conversation come easier.
"It's a higher level of professionalism here," says Alley. "It's not me, me, me. It's about Black Market."
Black Market Liquor Bar
Where: 11915 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
When: 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily
Price: Cocktails, $9 to $12; small plates $5 to $18
Info: (818) 446-2533; http://www.blackmarketliquorbar.com