The last time I was at Genever, I was sipping a Banana Hammock, a delicious and slightly funky tiki cocktail made with Belizean and Filipino rums. The bar had just opened for the day and regulars were trickling in to greet and be greeted by bartenders and other customers they knew. In that romantically lit Art Deco bar with sage banquettes, gilded walls and seasonally rotating cocktails, it was clear that Genever had become a neighborhood hang — a place where people could unwind and have a drink with their friends and the local community.
But now, the Filipina-owned, gin-focused cocktail bar in Historic Filipinotown, will be closing on Jan. 25. All restaurant and bar enterprises are tenuous, with businesses often dominoing apart in unexpected ways. Genever’s owners say their history with the landlord made clear that their relationship was unsustainable; they did not negotiate to secure a new lease. And though they’re closing, one of the very few women-owned bars in L.A. will be going out on top. It was nominated as a semifinalist for outstanding bar program by the James Beard Foundation and No. 50 in North America’s 50 Best Bars in 2022. Genever has been busier than ever since its opening in 2018.
Owned by Patricia Perez, Roselma Samala and Christine Sumiller, Genever is a joint venture that was launched with capital crowdfunding from family and friends. The names of top contributors can be found on the backs of barstools, on cocktail tables and subtly incorporated into the artwork painted on one of the walls.
There’s no doubt that Genever will leave a void, with its customers already anticipating the real loss because of the closing. “The drinks are awesome. The staff is awesome. [The bar is] so pretty. I love the whole vibe [and] it’s not too far away from where I live. I’m so heartbroken … completely disheartened to see that it’s no longer going to be there. And I keep asking myself and my friends, ‘What are we going to do now? Where can we go?’ You know, going there felt like home to us,” says Joanne Lazatin, one of Genever’s regulars.
Perez, Samala and Sumiller say that, in anticipation of their lease being up on Jan. 25, they never went through negotiations to renew. They were simply fed up and wanted to end ties with their landlord. “I want for us to have our own agency, and for us, this relationship isn’t working,” says Samala.
That the bar is located in Historic Filipinotown and owned by three Filipina women has been significant to the community and a continuation of their stake in the neighborhood. “SIPA [Search to Involve Pilipino Americans, a nonprofit] used to be in that space a long time ago. When I found out about that, it all made sense, so that’s why I’m sad to see them leaving the space,” says Anthony Almanzor, who has visited the bar at least once a week since its opening.
With its stellar cocktail program, the bar has drawn loyalists from both near and far. The void Genever leaves will be felt not only in the neighborhood but throughout L.A.’s cocktail community. “I think Genever has one of the most creative cocktail menus in L.A. In addition to their regularly rotating list that utilizes seasonal ingredients, custom-infused spirits and often an Asian or Pacific Island twist, their happy hour gimlets and gin and tonics often utilize whatever botanicals they have right at that moment, which keeps the experience fresh with every visit,” says H.C. So, a food and cocktail blogger who has frequented the bar, though he lives in San Gabriel Valley.
Other real challenges of the hospitality industry continue to vex restaurant and bar owners everywhere. But there are real volume issues that Genever faces. It’s a very small space with limited capacity, which in turn limits business.
The pandemic also acted as a time warp that completely upended the entire industry. Thankfully, government relief enabled Genever to stay current with rent. But even though restaurants and bars are resuming service and have mostly gone back to full capacity, priorities have shifted for many business owners, and the Genever women are no different. The bar had been closing at midnight instead of 2 a.m. — their normal hours during the “before” times.
That’s not to say that when Genever closes, the three won’t miss their regulars and other customers. “We’ve started the business with the thought of doing something for a community of women and the BIPOC community. And if that weren’t the reason, it would be so easy to leave. Because we see the community that’s been built here, we know that a lot of people, when we move out, will be really sad,” says Sumiller.
So, what’s next for Perez, Samala and Sumiller?
The three plan to keep their Type 48 liquor license, which is one that permits them to sell a full liquor lineup without food. “Our goal is to leverage that license as an investment in a woman-of-color-owned business,” says Samala. “We don’t know what that looks like right now, but we feel that’s something we can contribute to the community.”
Disclosure: The author serves as Academy Chair of the USA West Region for World’s 50 Best Bars.
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