The Walker Inn, a new 27-seat cocktail bar tucked behind a secret door at the back of the Normandie Club in Koreatown, opens Wednesday.
"We want to surprise people," said bartender and co-owner Devon Tarby. "I am looking forward to taking people to another land. We want our guest to be able to go to a place through a drink."
Tarby owns the Walker Inn and Normandie Club with Alex Day and David Kaplan of Proprietors LLC and Cedd Moses and Eric Needleman of 213 Nightlife. The bar will be manned by Tarby and Day, along with Katie Emmerson and Daniel Zacharczuk. If you want in, the venue will take reservations online (with confirmations via text), and have a couple of walk-in seats available.
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To get inside, there's a small button at the back of the Normandie Club, to the left. A red light lets the bartenders know a guest has arrived.
The Walker Inn space and menu implement several elements the Proprietors LLC team has been dreaming about for the last few years. The bar has been built table height with the bartender recessed. Lowering the floor behind the bar gives the bartender the ability to make eye contact with everyone seated at the bar and throughout the room. For this idea, they drew inspiration from bars in Japan, a few bars in Koreatown, and Goldbar in New York City.
Two Walker Inn menus highlight Tarby, Day and Kaplan's exploration of cocktail culture.
"We have what we call the Book, which is a collection of our favorite classic cocktails presented in our favorite way," said Tarby. "The second part is the Walker Menu, which will change about every six weeks and will draw inspiration from one core theme. [You] can order a multiple course tasting menu or as an omakase offering with two courses with additional options."
The opening Walker menu aims to capture the romantic spirit of Pacific Coast Highway. Inspired by the iconic destination in the Central Coast, the elaborate presentation of the Big Sur cocktail is topped with tea fog. Made with blanc vermouth, Douglas Fir eau de vie from Clearcreek, a little bit of Islay scotch, fresh lime juice and a hint of Absinthe, the Big Sur is then shaken and served over a large block of ice.
Tarby and Day create the fog effect by combining some dry ice with warm August's Civil Disobedience black tea infused with tobacco and cardamom.
"It makes a beautiful vapor that we pour on top of the finished cocktail," said Tarby. "It lingers over the ice and evokes the atmosphere of Big Sur, which is kind of foggy."
They serve the drink on top of a cold piece of slate with some grey sea salt and aromatic herbs.
For the Normandie Club and the Walker Inn, there's a prep space and test bar behind the scenes where Tarby, Day and Kaplan can play with ingredients for both bars.
"We constantly use our immersion circulators to cook ingredients, explore flavor cooking and cook ingredients at different temperatures," said Day. "We also use a circulator behind the bar to keep certain things warm throughout the night.
"We are excited about the Sunset, a drink that is essentially an aperitif in three colored layers of granita," said Day. "The bottom is purple carrot with Dolin Blanc. The middle is orange carrot with Aperol. The top is a yellow carrot with Soler.
To make the drink, Day cooks carrots at a low temperature in a circulator, then blends them with other ingredients before pushing the mixture through the centrifuge. The ingredients are then frozen to make a granita and served with a side car of sparkling wine.
"We have all of the toys there to indulge in any kind of creativity we want and now we have a beautiful intimate setting in which to showcase it," said Kaplan. "My hope is it will be a timeless place for people to reaffirm their love for the cocktail."
On one wall in the bar, a series of locked cabinets are meant to make the room feel like a home or library. They also act as a sort of bar subscription service (price to be determined). When you subscribe to a cabinet, you get a welcome letter and a gift. Every month after, you receive a new gift in the form of a liquor bottle, or an item from a spirits brand collaboration. The cabinets can also be used as private bottle storage.
The Walker Inn will be open 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesdays to Sundays.