On January 20, The L Cocktail Bar opened quietly from within the refurbished walls of a former pet shop on South Broadway. The new space — a spartan room of exposed brick and concrete, Colorado Ash surfaces and a floral mural still in the works — is the brainchild of Adam Hodak and Alex Lerman. Cast against the bare surfaces, the fastidiously-curated liquor selection, house-made syrups and exquisite glassware immediately allude to the proprietors’ prolific resumes.
Prior to opening what is now his first solo venture, Hodak acted as partner at Russell’s Smokehouse, Vesper Lounge and Green Russell, along with more than a decade as beverage director for the whole of Bonanno Concepts. His tenure lasted through the opening of Milk Market, having provided the creative direction for nine independent and evolving programs for the acclaimed group. Lerman’s career — which most recently featured stints at some of New York’s more prestigious counters including Saxon + Parole, Dram and The NoMad Hotel — first intersected with Hodak’s in 2015 while he acted as bar manager at Green Russell. The pair’s combined talent speaks for itself, with each drink a distillation of decades of experience in and exposure to some of the globe’s most exciting alcohol programs. The bar itself — named after the rapid transit in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago — certainly conjures its namesake, recalling the unsentimental sophistication of the cities that have endlessly set the tone for what nightlife can aspire to.
Much of The L’s charm comes from the deliberate meshing of what could otherwise be construed as apparent incongruities. A cocktail list fit for white tablecloths is comprised of competition-ready concoctions, with a can selection chock full of Montucky, Coors Banquet and Lone Star. Natural and biodynamic wines are spread across white, red, sparkling and rosé, with sips soundtracked by Mac Miller and Wu-Tang. “We try to give people anything they want,” said Lerman. “It’s your drink, it’s not ours,” he continued.
While some hospitality veers into the conciliatory, The L avoids the pitfalls of putting on airs. The place is disarmingly sincere, suggesting that the best aspects of comfort need not be cozy. Patrons can expect perfection, with each feature presented unobscured, made all the better by the evident contrast. The place is fun and peculiar without ever descending into kitsch.
The current lineup features 15 cocktails built from hooch that spans traditional and obscure spirits from rum to aquavit. With much of the menu being highly original, even the classics like the espresso martini ($10) — with vodka, cold brew, aged Venezuelan rum, salt and nitrogen — veer unostentatiously into the spectacular. Everything is booze-heavy, with the more fruit-forward cocktails still generally relying on multiple liquors. The White Lady ($12) — with Plymouth Gin, orange liqueur, lemon, peach and egg white — receives the deluxe treatment, the glass nicely coated in a spattering of dehydrated blueberry dust. The Brooklyn ($12) combines rye whiskey, Chambery dry vermouth, Averna Amaro, Cio Ciaro amaro and maraschino-aged aquavit, delivering the appropriate funk befitting its titular borough. As a true cocktail bar, The L does not support a kitchen, though a working relationship with neighboring Danger Zone Calzones allows customers to order dishes that include the Maverick — with diced chicken, Frank’s Buffalo sauce and mozzarella — the Goose — with pepperoni, marinara, mozzarella and ricotta — and the Iceman — with grilled chicken, green peppers, onions, mushrooms and mozzarella — directly to the site. While the calzones are encouraged, patrons are welcome to bring their own food be it pizza-aligned or otherwise.
Allowing the cocktails to speak for themselves, The L has had a fittingly slow rollout — its current capacity of 46 providing a roomy insinuation of future glories. Music — with the eventual addition of both DJs and touring acts — will continue to be an important undercurrent. At the present time, seating is first come first serve, with plans to extend hours to seven days a week as the scene permits. While the menu should remain steady as the place gets its bearings, Hodak and Lerman intend to eventually retool the offerings seasonally.
The L Cocktail Bar is located at 46 Broadway, Denver. It is currently open Wednesday and Thursday from 5 – 10 p.m., Friday from 5 – 11 p.m., and Saturday from 3 – 11 p.m.
All photography by Alden Bonecutter.