Can this century’s Roaring ’20s repeat history but with pre-rolled joints instead of whiskey flasks and soccer moms as the new flappers? This month, West Hollywood will see the opening of the nation’s first at least quasi-legal cannabis consumption lounge, officially dubbed Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Café, located at 1211 N. La Brea between Fountain and Santa Monica Boulevard at the former site of the Loreley Restaurant and Beer Garden.
“For us, this is the real end of prohibition,” says David Elias, co-founder/CEO of the Hacienda, the parent company of Lowell Herb Co., the financial and creative force behind the café. “This restaurant is a historic moment for the cannabis movement. We want to make sure we do this right. We feel very well-suited as a brand to be doing this.”
Indeed, with major investments from retail giant Med Men and co-signs by celebrities including Chris Rock, Miley Cyrus and Sarah Silverman, Lowell, the leading seller of pre-rolls in California, is perfectly positioned to showcase its product — and brand — with the new consumption lounge. Featuring a separate room for smoking and vaping, as well as a full-service, non-infused menu from celebrated chef Andrea Drummer, author of “Cannabis Cuisine,” the Cannabis Café went through a lengthy approval process that stretched out over two years since being awarded the license in 2017 by the city of West Hollywood.
Lowell’s director of restaurants Kevin Brady, a graduate of Cornell’s prestigious Hotel Administration and Hospitality School, and a 13-year veteran of the Tao Group (Hollywood’s Beauty & Essex and the LAVO nightclub in Las Vegas, among others) was in charge of getting the venue up and running. This required, among other things, filling out a 75-page application.
“The challenges were pretty formidable,” he says. “Nothing has transformed the cannabis and restaurant industries like this will, though. It’s a new frontier. We needed to find a yes for every no, with ongoing negotiations on the municipal and state levels.”
The Lowell group was awarded one of 16 licenses by West Hollywood from more than 300 applications, half of which allow smoking, vaping and edibles on-site, while the other eight are for edibles and infused meals only.
In conforming to the new guidelines, dining at the Lowell Café — where management says beer and wine will be available with the previous tenant’s license — goes in tandem with its flower, vape and edible offerings, including Lowell’s recently introduced micro-dose mints.
Servers — flower hosts, budtenders and even cannabisseurs are some of the names being bandied about — will offer selections on the menu and bring orders to the table, where patrons can sit and partake to their heart’s, and head’s, delight.
“The whole idea is to educate and guide first-timers through the process,” Brady says. “Or simply recommend which variety goes best with each dish. It’s like a sommelier but without the pretensions. It reflects the ritual of opening the bottle and allowing everyone a sniff and taste.”
The renowned Houston Bros. team partnered on the interior design, which will be “unique and plush, an area oasis with living walls and plenty of space,” according to Brady. The menu will be “high-quality, farm-to-table California cuisine, with ingredients to play off those intense flavors to make the experience even more fun,” he adds. “Healthy and approachable, but also fundamentally delicious.”
With an eye toward a business crowd, Brady muses whether the three-toke lunch will soon replace the classic three-martini meeting of “Mad [not Med] Men” days. Will happy hour now take on a whole new meaning?
Just a mile or so away, Chris Sayegh, known as the Herbal Chef, the only cannabis cook represented by William Morris Endeavor, which also reps celeb chefs Bobby Flay and Guy Fieri, is ready to bring an upscale infused-dining experience to Herb, currently under development at 7740 Santa Monica Blvd. just east of Fairfax, previously the site of Heavenly Books.
“We want to serve amazing food with and without cannabis,” Sayegh says. “It’s a whole new landscape, designed for someone who is high rather than intoxicated. You’re toying with people’s consciousness, something that heightens the senses.”
Sayegh is part of the ASHE Society group, which received the license to open a restaurant that serves infused food, but doesn’t allow smoking or vaping on the premises. The chef is planning two nights a week set aside for VIP members in which he’ll offer a 21-course tasting menu. Dubbed the Origin of Edibles, the curated culinary journey takes guests through the history of cannabis, from 2737 B.C. in ancient China, following its path through India, Egypt, the Middle East and Great Britain.
And while no alcohol is permitted in the restaurant, Herb will offer an upstairs lounge serving drinks made from exotic plants and fruits, including terpene-infused cocktails, with such amenities as a sensory deprivation room where you can listen to music on headphones and get a 15-minute massage as well as a petit fours dessert platter of cannabis cookies, chocolates and brownies. The venue will also include a special package with Lyft, which offers car service in the cost of the meal.
Entrees, listed under snacks, land, sea, air, pasta and vegetarian, will be priced between $20 and $30, and include such specialties as ribeye steak, a chicken dinner, oysters — using not just cannabis, but sustainable plants such as the Chinese medicinal herb cordyceps, rashes and aloe vera. Also on the menu are playfully themed desserts that evoke childhood days of chasing ice cream trucks, dubbed Mom, Can I Have Some Money? including chocolate tacos, Rocket pops and other nostalgia items.
Not everybody is as bullish on the prospect of cannabis lounges succeeding in West Hollywood. Dina Browner, owner of the Alternative Herbal Health Services dispensary, just doors down from Herb’s location on Santa Monica, says: “This isn’t Amsterdam, where you can walk into a place like Barney’s and just smoke out all day. Los Angeles is not a walkable city. And if there’s going to be a cover charge, why not just smoke at home? All the previous private clubs closed not because they were illegal, which they were, but as a result of having a hard time keeping their doors open.”
Indeed, there seem to be several thorny issues that keep cropping up, including liquor licenses, liabilities and the cooperation of the local police department.
“Will the cops be sitting out front ready to make arrests as people drive away?” wonders David Moss, VP of development for From the Earth, which runs a pair of California dispensaries and whose application for a lounge was turned down by the city.
“West Hollywood is still trying to figure out how to do this,” adds Browner, who notes she’s been smoking joints on the outdoor patio of the Rainbow on Sunset Boulevard for years and was even charged a 20% “corkage” service fee. “It’s a logistical nightmare.”
Still, there’s no turning back now, as Moss notes, the wave of the future, in his mind, includes consumption-friendly cruises, hotels, campsites, theme parks, Airbnbs — even what he dubs “Buds and Breakfast” rentals. His company has recently acquired a downtown apartment building, where it has thrown several private, cannabis parties on a 7,000-sq.-ft. rooftop of the penthouse.
Moss foresees the day when every hotel room comes equipped with an iPad that allows orders of cannabis for delivery to your door, obviously supplied by his own dispensary, or tours of grow sites in Humboldt County, where he once lived, turning the area ravaged by legalization into marijuana’s answer to the Napa Valley.
“There’s tremendous potential. But it all depends on how the city regulates it and how strict they’re going to be. Why not have a place where you can go, sit down, get high, drink a beer and watch sports or play video games?”