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The Doheny: Cedd Moses' Ultra-Private Club Revealed
Update: The Doheny sent over some fun facts regarding items mentioned in this piece. You can read about the biometric fingerprint reader, Sheperd Fairey's artwork and other information here.
For the record: In the original story below, it was said that the initiation fee is $4,950. To clarify, $2,750 is a one-time initiation fee. When combined with the annual $2,200 membership fee, the total for the first year only is $4,950.
I did it! I broke into the fortress of fortitude that is Cedd Moses' super-exclusive downtown club, the Doheny. I shunned the $4,950 initiation membership fee, barreled past the burly bouncers and scoffed at the elitist terms of membership.
OK, not really. All I really did was ask one of the Doheny's famed barmen, Marcos Tello, if I could stop by and check out their cocktails. And like the good guy he is he said, "Sure." But on the one condition that I don't bring a camera of any kind. Gasp! Yeah, I'd have to rely on my failing memory and my copious but illegible notes.
And if I did try to take a picture I'd get kicked out. Not wanting that to happen or for Marcos to get in trouble, I agreed to the terms. Oh, and I HAD to dress nice as there was a strict dress code. I wanted to bring my boyfriend, too, but when I told him that he had to dress up, i.e. not wear jeans, he said ferget it.
So instead I brought my new friend Jeannine, who also happens to be a friend and fan of Seven Grand and knew Marcos pretty well. And being a stylish girl she wasn't opposed to dressing nice at all.
Bonus was that Jeannine had visited the Doheny before, as it just opened last month, so she knew where to go. Her "in" was former general manager, Aidan. Unfortunately, as of Tuesday, Aidan's no longer there though. But at least we had Marcos, which isn't a bad thing at all.
Jeannine instructed me to drive up to that unlabeled awning down an unmarked driveway off Flower. A valet walked up to us and asked us if we were here for Doheny. "Yup!" I said proudly. "$7 please," he replied unimpressed.
We then walked up to that ominous awning. A bouncer in a black suit emerged from the shadows of the doorway and asked us for our names. "We're here to see Marcos...um...I'm Caroline and this is Jeannine," I said, nervous all of a sudden.
The bouncer looked at his clipboard briefly and then nodded to us. "Ladies, we ask that you don't use your cell phones in here," he proceeded to say. "You can text but if you have to make a phone call please take it outside. And please put your phone on silent or turn it off."
I thought for sure he'd also want to check our purses to make sure we didn't have cameras of any kind and maybe even confiscate my camera phone but surprisingly he didn't. I figured Marcos would give the Doheny security the heads-up about me, "Keep your eye on that one. She likes to take pictures." But he didn't. Or at least it didn't seem like he did.
The bouncer walked us in. There was no retina scan or fingerprint reader as was initially rumored. Maybe it's not up and running yet? We moved through a long dimly lit hallway which was lined with a display of expensive bottles of liquor and boxes of cigars behind glass, sort of like how it is in that hallway at Seven Grand that leads to the restrooms.
Then we ducked through some heavy black curtains at the end of the hallway and set foot on the hardwood floor of the main room. The bouncer took us up to the bar and then did a Vanna White, gesturing to our man behind the bar. Marcos had his back to us so while we grabbed a couple of the stools, the bar back got his attention for us.
He greeted us warmly and immediately handed us three menus: one for food, a long laminated double-sided list of spirits and the drink list. The last I tore into right away, scanning it greedily. The coveted list of cocktails (cue heavenly choir).
What makes the Doheny the one-of-a-kind bar that it is isn't so much the exclusivity factor (Paris and Britney can't even get in HA ha!) but that the sacred list of cocktails makes this bar a veritable church of mixology. If the art of the cocktail and its culture are sacred to you, this is the place you'd want to go to. They may not do it fast, but they do it right.
The barmen, or "liquid chefs" as Moses likes to call them, who created the menu are some of the best in Los Angeles with the resumes to prove it: Eric Alperin (creator of the liquor program at Osteria Mozza), Vincenzo Marianella (formerly of Providence) and, of course, Marcos Tello (Seven Grand alum and cocktail caterer of For Medicinal Purposes).
The three worked on a menu of 75 libations but the list I was handed only displayed 31. There were Doheny originals, classic cocktails from around the world (which included blurbs about their history), champagne cocktails and even "Driver Cocktails," virgin drinks for the designated driver.
"What would you like to drink?" Marcos asked. I requested one of his creations so he made me the Angel Dusk ($15), an aromatic cocktail consisting of Fillioux Grand Champagne VSOP, Aperol (an Italian aperitif) and almond syrup, sprinkled with Angostura and orange bitters and garnished with a flamed orange peel. It smelled warm and beautiful but tasted a touch more bitter than I usually prefer.
Before I could order another cocktail, Marcos took us on a tour of the bar. Not too hard to do since the Doheny really just consists of a bar area, a backyard patio and that hallway.
First stop was the patio which is where guests go if they want to smoke up. Formerly the Doheny family greenhouse, this still had the glass roof intact so you can look up and see the back of the Petroleum Building and the sky. The walls were covered with mirrors whose trim was made up of turn-of-the-century-inspired etchings. See that publicity teaser shot of those cocktail waitresses? They're standing in front of that mirrored wall in the patio.
And what's funny is that you'd think an exclusive club like this would have the best of everything, patio furniture included. But instead the partially rusted and highly uncomfortable metal chairs and the tables came straight from Cedd Moses' own backyard. Gives it a nice homey feel, I guess. There's also a fireplace back there and a flat screen TV hanging from the ceiling.
Actually there are several TVs in the bar area as well but the thing is that they were a lot smaller than I thought they'd be for such a place. Must have been about 26 inches wide or so. Marcos said that they really only turn on the TVs for big games and Lakers games. This night's game was the Dodgers vs. the SF Giants.
He then took us back to the main room and told us how since he hates that whole bar look with the bar tools and bar ware, he focused on making the bar area look more like a kitchen and shopped for bottles, jars and containers at the Container Store. The result, again, was a nice homey atmosphere.
The four or five lamps made from antique absinthe fountains sat on the bar and emanated a soft glow. They were pretty but I was kinda disappointed that they didn't have a signature animal Moses' other bars do, i.e. The Golden Gopher has gopher lamps and Seven Grand has deer head lamps. Also wasn't too keen on the Roman pattern trim that hung from the ceiling over and around the bar. It reminded me of the trim from a motel awning.
The exposed raw concrete ceiling and pipes, however, lent the room an underground speakeasy vibe. For seating areas, plush honey leather booths lined the two wood-paneled walls: three booths could sit about four people, one could fit six, another eight and the last had seating for 15 as it was mixed with chairs. When we had first walked into the bar, there was a group of about six gray-haired people taking up one of the booths but other than that all the other booths were free.
So I hopped into one of them, eager to see if I could feel the luxuriousness of it all. Instead the leather felt dusty. I ran my finger across it like I was a rich lady inspecting her housekeeper's work. I held up my dusty finger and looked at Marcos. "They just painted in here," he explained. Hm, we are not pleased.
He then took us back into the hallway to show us the liquor bottles and rattled off some of the names of the high-end spirits. But the only thing I really remember was the unopened bottle of 55-year-old Macallan single malt scotch. They charge $1,000 for an ounce of it. No one has ordered one yet and Marcos is waiting with bated breath until they do. To give you an idea of how hoity-toity the liquor is here, the Doheny well whiskey is what's considered midlevel at Seven Grand.
As for the cigars, prices range from $5 for the CAO flavored mini to $25 for the Padron Anniversary Exclusivo Robusto.
Then Marcos showed us the men and women restrooms after mentioning that the men's room is wallpapered with old deeds. So cool! There was a deed for United Artists over the toilet. The women's room just had a pretty black and white floral wallpaper but a nice chair where the urinal was in the men's room. Too much information? Wait for it. There was also a delicate vintage-looking body powder container that stored feminine products and such. The hand soap smelled pretty like gardenia.
OK, back to the bar. Marcos wanted us to try some of Vincenzo's creations so he gave us samplers of the Southern Belle ($15) and Jalisco Flower ($20). The Belle is made of 12-year-old Elijah Craig, kumquats, fresh mint, lemon, Licor 43 and housemade vanilla syrup. It was a bit on the sweet side but not syrupy. I loved it. Wasn't crazy about the Jalisco Flower -- 4 Copas Reposado Organic Tequila, St. Germain liqueur, fresh squeezed ruby grapefruit and champagne.
I tasted the champagne more than anything but Marcos explained that since it was made with champagne everything else had to be light to complement it. "Respect the spirit and it will respect you," he said. Then we all giggled.
When we were feeling parched after all the cocktails, Marcos cracked open a bottle of Natura water -- the Doheny's own water from its on-site water plant. Yes, they make their own water and sparkling water, but they don't sell them so don't look for bottles at Ralphs. The bartenders also juice their own juices per drink order and infuse their own cherries with bourbon. They're looking to also infuse olives and onions for the drinks.
If you'd like a break from alcohol for some weird reason, they also make their own ginger beer which they serve in their driver cocktail, the Ginger Kick, which is garnished with candied ginger. Soo potent and tasty, and certainly kicks you in the teeth.
For food, a chef from Grace hangs out in the food prep area in the back somewhere from Thursday through Saturday. It's not an actual kitchen with a stove and all that. So the food on the short menu consists of easy-to-prepare items like an artisanal cheese, fruit and nut bread plate ($10) and imported Iranian Oscetra Caviar with chive blinis and horseradish creme fraiche ($133). Or members can order takeout from the Liberty Grillrestaurant next door.
As the night was winding down for us, a group of young folks came in dressed in hoodies, flannel shirts and...dun dun DUNNN! jeans. I asked Marcos, "I thought there was a dress code." "There is but when it's not busy it's not as strict," he shrugged.
Later, a familiar face walked in the door with his date. No, not Vince Vaughn. Rather, John the bartender from Seven Grand. Then another 7G bartender, Michel, followed soon after. Apparently they like to hang out here. I started to feel like I was hanging out in Cedd Moses' rec room. With a group of suits chilling on the patio, the 7G bartenders and me and Jeannine, it felt intimate. But Michel pointed out that since Marcos was the only bartender behind the bar, the place was slammed.
And it's for this reason that the Doheny suggests that its members make reservations to come in. That way the quality of the cocktail experience and the cocktails themselves aren't compromised. On most nights, though, you'd get anywhere from seven to 15 people here. Really busy nights are during sponsored events or during Lakers games at the Staples when Doheny members retire here afterward.
As it is, Marcos has returned to picking up shifts at Seven Grand which is sooo exciting because those who can't get into Doheny can now get a taste of it. Just order its cocktails from Marcos when he's at 7G on Wednesday and Friday nights. And the best part is you don't pay Doheny prices! But just remember that it'll take some time to make 'em. It's a work of cocktail art after all.
Detail photos by Francisco Arcaute.