Q & A With Aidan Demarest: Neat, Kate Mantilini, Guest Bartending + The Bottom Line
Caroline on Crack Aidan Demarest with his award-winning Mai Tai at the Spare Room.
Barman Aidan Demarest has managed some of the best cocktail bars in town, opening up downtown's whiskey bar Seven Grand and the Hollywood Roosevelt's bowling alley/lounge Spare Room, while also introducing a unique guest bartending program to the Edison and First & Hope.
After years of jumping from one bar to the next -- a condition exacerbated by his cocktail consultation company Liquid Assets with partner, Marcos Tello -- Demarest is finally settling down in his own little drinking hole, Neat, located in Glendale, in the former Side Bar space. The 3,500-square-foot venue's old Moroccan theme will be stripped away and made over by Alexis Readinger at Preen Design. Its bar program will simply focus on, not cocktails, but spirits, 250 bottles' worth.
Caroline on Crack How Aidan gets around Hollywood: his Fernet Branca cruiser.
Squid Ink: What was it about this Glendale location that made you want to finally open up your own place?
Aidan Demarest: I walked in the room and it felt like a winner. I knew I could do something with it. Even then I was thinking what could I do for this guy [Side Bar's owner]. He was throwing it at me as a bar for sale and I had investors in the past approach me about "When are you going to open a bar?" On a lark, I looked at the space and I discussed doing some consulting and helping him to sell it, talking about a concept idea and I started kicking around some concepts for him. I left that meeting and the bar was sticking with me and the area and the challenge that Glendale would be. And I have given a lot of lip service to the Valley and the suburbs as being some place to head to.
So it was just the right feel. It was cheap because the bar is not doing well. It had gone its course. It's in the middle of nowhere as far as I'm concerned. But the bones of the bar are such a classic bar. A long bar in a black room, rock front. It couldn't be any more simple. I've never worked in that demographic. I don't even know who goes out in that area.
SI: You've never gone to Side Bar before?
AD: Never. I've only set foot in it three times before I bought it. But I've sat at the bar and had a drink the first time I went over and met the guy and I could have sat there all night. And I didn't like the drinks and I didn't like the crowd but I could have sat there all night because the bar had a good feeling. And it's a size I know I can do. I've actually said, over and over again, "If I got a bar, I don't want a tiny little speakeasy but I also don't want a nightclub, especially for my own first bar." It happened super quickly and the concept "Neat" resonated with me.
I certainly have an interest in great spirits and making great drinks, but I have no interest in creating a Milk & Honey [New York] in Glendale. I don't think the area is ready for it. But I think they ARE ready to think about what they're drinking. And that's all we're going to do. We're just going to make people think about what they're really drinking because the spirit is going to be separated from the...it's a deconstructed cocktail. It's going to be a drink and that whole drink [gestures to my Moscow Mule] would come but your vodka would be on the side and you'd pour it in.
SI: Wait, what?
AD: So one glass would be the mixers like ginger beer, lime... and this is your vodka and that's it. So it's going to be all neat spirits, is the bottom line. It won't be a complicated cocktail program. It'll be all the things you can make with sugar, sour or soda.
SI: So are you going to have any specialty cocktails?