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Around Town: Definitive Design

Dec 16, 2018 08:07PM ● By Dawn Garcia
Renovation, by its very definition, is a way to restore life back into structures and buildings that time has neglected. In Southern California, the buildings tell stories that connect us to the past in ways that instill a little extra romance into our daily lives. Sadly, too many of them are dilapidated and in need of revival. So when a hometown landmark that has been an instrumental part of our iconic city scape gets a makeover, I can hardly wait to see what they do. Finally, the wait is over. The Victorian (THEVICTORIAN.COM) in Santa Monica recently underwent renovations, and the historic fixture is fabulous.

When I was growing up in Santa Monica, my mom, sister, and I would roller skate from Venice beach to the Santa Monica pier, stopping for a bite to eat at Rose Café on Main Street. We knew we were almost home when we passed the Victorian, a large two-story home-turned-venue and restaurant that stood out amidst the bars, shops, and eateries.

At six years old, I reveled in its beauty, and as I grew up and moved throughout Los Angeles, the Victorian became an important part of my nostalgic memories and a damn fine place to grab a drink and a bite with friends. (The Victorian is also the locale for the Sunday Farmers Market and the annual Main Street tree lighting ceremony.)

With a gorgeous exterior, the Victorian has design elements dating to the late 1800s. Built in 1892, the house was moved to its present location in Santa Monica in 1973, to an intriguing new space surrounded by blooming flowers, and sprawling oak trees. With a brick entry, and multiple patios, the Victorian is a preserved part of history thanks to the California Heritage Museum (CALIFORNIAHERITAGEMUSEUM.ORG), which is located on the opposite side of the Victorian’s entry beyond a green lawn. The museum was once a home designed by renowned architect

Sumner P. Hunt built for the son of John Percival Jones, the founder of Santa Monica. Committed to preserving the rich history and diversity of the area, it’s apropos that they are beside the Victorian, ensuring history and the architectural integrity of these landmarks don’t get lost in a sea of change.

The Victorian is a well-loved venue with a restaurant, LGBT bar and club, and a world class speakeasy whiskey bar. “All the different locations have a really unique feel, and the experience as you move through the house takes you through different worlds,” says co-owner Garrett Gerson, who co-owns the Victorian with his brother, Garner. “The Basement Tavern is our speakeasy whiskey bar with great live music. As you move from there to the main floor, you walk into Mamacita’s, our restaurant and alfresco dining on our patio. From there, you can go to the Birdcage on the upper level of the house, a chic LGBTQ lounge with hints of the 1970s as the lush greenery brings in elements of the front patio. We created a very different look and feel to the location so that guests can meander and have the excitement of discovering different worlds within one site.”

As you enter in through the white picket fence, patio tables and chairs are situated lining the perimeter of the house at night, the way is lit with candles and twinkling lights. It’s like being welcomed with a warm, friendly hand, extending outwards to invite you in. In the main house, the redesign boasts 19th-century social urbanization with 1930s cabana-style décor. Enlarged palms line the walls, velvet-tufted sofas and chairs invite you to take a seat, and artistic cues signifying the influence of times when style and affluence was mirrored in design, set the tone. Shades of emeralds, azure, and elements of nature fill the space, with accents like exquisite crystal chandeliers.

At Mamacita’s, the cocktail and dining menus showcase the idea of change. In addition to far more endearing décor, the renovations included the Mamacita’s menu, with the addition of cocktails like the Whiskey Kissed Collins and Ward 8, and bartenders who can educate you on the history of the spirits you happily consume. “Our executive chef, Ricardo Zarate, drew on the rich South American culture found in Los Angeles and his experiences working with our local farmers and ranch where we source our ingredients from Malibu, and the menu is the result of all of it combined,” explains Gerson.

I tried a variety of menu options, and a few completely impressed, including the Mama’s Papas, a potato fritter with pickled red jalapeño, avocado cream, and cilantro blossom. Like anyone with a heartbeat, I love a good fried potato, but these were really interesting from the texture down to the perfectly matched flavor profiles. My other favorites were the pork belly tacos, enoki mushroom tamales, queso made with soy chorizo, and the bourbon burger (clearly, I wasn’t tapping into my vegetarian diet this time around). This menu is a far cry from basic. I love the blend of cultural expansion that comes out in the unique ingredients and approach to taking something common and making it anything but. You won’t be disappointed in the bar, with drinks lending to the cabana vibe. The yuzu mojito is my pick simply because my love of savory and citrus was met in a single sip.

In the downstairs speakeasy, whiskey calls like a cheeky lover, and it is way too easy to heed the call. The Basement Tavern (BASEMENTTAVERN.COM) is a dimly lit bar with live music and a fine selection of whiskey, bourbon, and everything in between. Sitting in the dark leather chairs that seem fit for a proper cigar, a low-ball filled two fingers deep with Pappy 15, neat, the mood filtering through the air is one of total seduction and Paul Newman cool. The Basement Tavern is where you come with your favorite people to drink, convene and catch up, listen to really good music, and pass the hours with ease.

The Birdcage (THEBIRDCAGESM.COM), where clubbers are greeted by an over-sized birdcage, is the place to go as night eases in. Karaoke; a DJ; a lively bar menu including salmon, filet mignon, and chicken; seductive lighting; dark corners; cozy seating; and cocktails galore make the Birdcage an LA favorite. When I feel the need for happy community, and dancing it out comes over me, it reeks of a good time. The Victorian staff is top notch in every way, and the renovation effortlessly lives up to my anticipation. Thanks to the Gerson brothers, Santa Monica’s beloved Victorian has even more reason to be your go-to.