Bartenders are super easy folks to crush on; they are charming, hospitable, fun, and they serve you booze. When we first met Yael Vengroff in the Road Soda Bar at Tales of the Cocktail, a mutual friend immediately said, “you must get to know Yael,” and we understand why.
An extremely talented bartender, Yael is easy to crush on with her immense talent, confidence and infectious smile. She is equal parts of that badass you don’t want to mess with and a popular cool girl that you want in your bestie squad. And speaking of squads, her mentor one is seriously strong with Alex Day (Death & Co.), Audrey Saunders (Pegu Club) and Giuseppe Gonzalez (Suffolk Arms). Having cut her teeth in the NYC cocktail scene, Vengroff now calls Los Angeles home and is the Bar Director in charge of the uber cool The Spare Room. So let’s get to know her and go drinking with Yael Vengroff.
Having cut her teeth in the NYC cocktail scene, Vengroff now calls Los Angeles home and is the Bar Director in charge of the uber cool The Spare Room. So let’s get to know her and go….
Drinking with Yael Vengroff
Name and Occupation for the record:
Hi, gang. My name is Yael Vengroff and I am the Bar Director at The Spare Room.
Tell us about your start in the industry:
When I was 17, I moved to New York to attend school there. An insatiable desire to enjoy everything the city had to offer quickly had me realizing that I needed a job. Once I turned 18, I applied for a gig as a cocktail server at a neighborhood sports bar called Common Ground on Avenue A. They were the first bar family I had and I fell hard for the life. After a year and a half there, I wanted to experience more that the industry had to offer and so I made it my mission to do so.
The drink experience that opened your eyes to the craft cocktail world:
It was the Last Word that Jim Kearns made for me at GoldBar. He served me a number of my “firsts,” probably because he was sick of me ordering Jack and Diets and Heineken Lights from him.
Coffee or Tea:
I am a tea drinker all the way, which I get from my mother. I love black teas, especially fruit-forward ones. I typically just drink tea at home because my mother sends me the most exquisite ones; she always knows what I like.
Take a hit of acid. You’ll feel better in no time ;) No, but for real — Advil + Pedialyte —> Joint + Bloody Mary
Guilty Pleasure Drink:
What’s not my guilty pleasure? I love Grasshoppers and Stoli Blueberry sodas.
Death Row Drink:
I would most likely want to drink a super rare absinthe if I was on death row, perhaps something by Jade Nouvelle.
Only in L.A. Bar Experience:
I love showing out-of-towners The Magic Castle. Because of their strict dress code, this will be a fancier evening than something I would traditionally plan, but well worth it. You can hit the quintessential Musso & Frank’s for dinner right down the street, before heading to the Castle, where you must know a magician to get in. Wander through the many rooms and shows of this historic establishment, making sure you talk to the owl and visit Elsie the piano downstairs before you go. Next up is Jumbo’s Clown Room. Because nothing beats showing up to a strip club dive bar dressed to the nines.
Romantic Date Night:
What’s a date? If I’ve got good company that I want to get sexy with, I typically enjoy inserting some sort of adventure into the evening. This usually involves getting out of my usual territory and trekking somewhere I don’t frequent often. The Westside has some of my favorite places for this. Start with sunset drinks on the rooftop of the Shangri – La, then head into the mountains to one of the most magical restaurants in Los Angeles: The Old Place.
This spot is completely transportive and serves delicious, non-pretentious rustic cuisine surrounded by years and years of history. On the way back down into civilization, I’d recommend pulling over to engage in some sort of illicit beach activity. Next head to Old Lightning for some serious drinking and conversation. Finally, hit the Brig before the last call to enjoy three more mezcal shots that you didn’t need and see where that takes you next.
I’m all about the classic dives — where do I even begin here? The Tiki Ti is the crown jewel of classic LA dive bars for me. I also love The Burgundy Room for a darker, punk rock vibe, Good Luck Bar is always solid, and although newer, the Cha Cha Lounge is a fave for when the drugs, er I mean tequilas start to kick in. But my number one dive is La Cita in Downtown LA. It looks like a Mariachi band puked mirrors and Christmas lights all over the inside of it and they also have my favorite patio in Los Angeles. But the holy grail of classic dive bars is most assuredly the Drawing Room at 6 AM. Order a Stoli Sprite and meet the regulars, play some darts and forget that it’s blazing daylight outside.
It is always Harvard & Stone. Because I get off at 4 AM and nowhere else is open. And because they are my family.
Serious R&D Inspiration:
Leave Los Angeles immediately. I’m not going to lie, I’m finding it difficult to be inspired by much of what’s going on in Los Angeles currently. I think we might be nearing closer to being ready for a massive evolution but we are not there yet in my opinion in the food or drink spheres. It’s easy to answer this question by inputting XYZ’s newest molecular or hyper-seasonal program here for inspiration, but instead, I draw inspiration from all of the places I listed above. Most of my inspiration comes from seeing things or places that I haven’t seen before and from a variety of different sources. I draw a lot of inspiration from experiences with people rather than ingredients or dishes, so for
Most of my inspiration comes from seeing things or places that I haven’t seen before and from a variety of different sources. I draw a lot of inspiration from experiences with people rather than ingredients or dishes, so for me, I need to seek out atmospheres or environments that offer this.
Warm Weather Drink:
Anything effervescent with watermelon, duh.
Your most popular Cocktail at The Spare Room:
Our most popular cocktail right now is a drink called “My Agent is Gonna Be Pissed.” I typically hate long names for drinks but this one was way too good to pass up. The phrase was said to me late one night in Miami when my boss, Marc Rose, checked his email and realized he hadn’t responded to a request for an audition for “hype ghost,” around the time of Halloween. We get so many hilarious versions of this drink name when people are trying to order — My Asian is Gonna Be Pissed, My Agent is Upset, My Agent is Gonna be Really Mad at Me. And of course my favorite is when I get drink tickets for this order, as my French General Manager input it in the Micros as “Agent Be Pissed.” The drink is a juicy and herbal vodka – based collins with grapefruit cordial, lime juice, Clear Creek Douglas Fir Eau de Vie topped with East Imperial Grapefruit Tonic.
And of course my favorite is when I get drink tickets for this order, as my French General Manager input it in the Micros as “Agent Be Pissed.” The drink is a juicy and herbal vodka – based collins with grapefruit cordial, lime juice, Clear Creek Douglas Fir Eau de Vie topped with East Imperial Grapefruit Tonic.
What to drink in 2017:
Rumplemintz! Keep it in the fridge guys. Oh, and sherry, always sherry. Don’t mix these together, though, kids.
Favorite Drinking Buddy:
I have too many to name, but we are all in a really special group chat so we can feel like we are out drinking together in the same city at all times. Aaron Polsky and Joey Bernardo who hold it down at Harvard & Stone, Eric Bugosh, my left hand at The Spare Room, Christine Wiseman who will be spearheading the L.A. Broken Shaker at The Freehand Hotel, Eric “Shrimp Toast” Long of False Idol in San Diego, and lastly, Curt Carrillo of Sweet Liberty, one of our all-time favorites in Miami. I guarantee you everything would be on fire if we were all to have a night out together.
Advice for Young Guns:
Work as many different types of bars possible. Experience it all. Don’t be tempted by and take the brand jobs too soon. Knowledge is key, so do your homework. And lose the ego. It’s not about you, it’s about them.
Drop your Current Status:
I’m currently working on the program at Genghis Cohen, which is a legendary Chinese/Jewish restaurant cum music venue, I know, it’s a mouthful. My bosses took it over about eight months ago. We have two separate bars and two separate programs here that will launch at different times and are currently waiting on some permits to go through before we can officially get our hands dirty. The drinks here will be largely evocative of cocktails that you might expect to see at a Chinese restaurant, but with a lot of whimsical twists and playful presentations. I can’t say much more beyond that, except that I have never laughed so hard writing a menu before. Sense of humor is integral to understanding what we will be putting out here.
Follow Yael’s thirsty adventures in all things drinks and life via Instagram and twitter @asapstormborn.
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