Sassafras Saloon: Pure Southern Comfort

By Kirk Pynchon

If you were to hear that a couple of bar owners took an actual townhouse from Savannah, Georgia, disassembled it, trucked it to Hollywood and reassembled it inside a bar, your first instinct would be to call bs, right?

Well, welcome to Sassafras Saloon, where truth is stranger than fiction.

“L.A. is really missing that feeling of relaxation and hospitality and we wanted to recreate that as much as possible,” says Jared Mort – manager of the new downtown joint. That means keeping it authentic to what a real down-home, old-time Southern saloon has to offer. As Mort states, the owners “didn’t want to do a Pottery Barn version of a Southern bar.”

What was once the Vine Bar is now a beautiful saloon with white walls covered and moss hanging from the ceiling. The vintage embellishments are endless: There are old oil paintings, frayed woven rugs, worn screen doors, fringed brass lamps and a stuffed bear roaring on its hind legs in a corner. Even the bathrooms have an old-time charm, with actual old-fashioned cord flush handles. It’s this type of detail that separates Sassafras from other Hollywood bars and lounges.

This near obsession with authenticity even extends to the bartenders, who wear old-timey hats, bow ties and suspenders. More importantly, these mixologists are experts in down-home Southern charm, something Mort says was crucial to their finding the right bartenders: “We weren’t looking for names. We were looking for people who had spirit knowledge and who were the nicest. And you can teach mixology. You can’t teach personality.”

The cocktail menu, designed by Mort and head bartender Aaron Stepka, is created around barrel-aged cocktails, which involves letting the ingredients of a cocktail rest inside charred oak. Some bars have one or two barrel-aged cocktails. Sassafras — seven. And every drink here has at least one house-made ingredient that you cannot get anywhere else. Adding to this inventiveness, the spirits are held in colored glass bottles hanging from a converted dry cleaning rack which circles above the main bar.

“We wanted flavor profiles that embrace the South but are recognized by Los Angelinos,” Mort says. Nothing exemplifies this more than their Blackstrap Old Fashioned — whiskey, Blackstrap molasses and house-made cherry-vanilla bitters. It’s just like the traditional, only dark and savory. Their Sassafras Royale is another winner, made with rye, house-made sassafras bitters, egg, malted milk powder and house-brewed sarsaparilla. And of course they have the julep, only Sassafras does it one better and has the Toasted Pecan Julep, made with house-made toasted pecan liqueur.

And if all this isn’t enough to make you feel like you’ve time warped to the Old South, Sassafras offers live music, not just jazz but gritty blues, garage, NOLA swing, and roots Americana. Says Mort, “We span the whole feel of the South.” Rather than giving the feel of the nightclub, the music is used to liven up the room and enhance the fun — something Sassafras has in spades.

Sassafras Saloon, 1233 Vine St., Los Angeles, CA, 90038

Image via FaceBook