The Spare Room's Yael Vengroff talks L.A. cocktail culture and her proudest accomplishments

Written by
Danielle Silva

Yael Vengroff took over as bar director at The Spare Room in early 2015, and has since upped the hotel bar's cocktail game with inventive drinks that oscillate between tropical masterpieces and classic favorites with a twist (case in point: her Salt & Vinegar Martini). The former bar manager at Harvard & Stone also recently revamped the bar program at Genghis Cohen, a West Hollywood standby in need of an upgrade. We chatted with her about L.A.'s growing cocktail scene—and what to do after you've had a little too much to drink.

What has been your proudest accomplishment behind the bar?
Building a team at Harvard & Stone. I am nothing without them. That place had been open almost three years when I started there, and they were very much at the crux of the cocktail movement in Los Angeles, with Matt Wallace and Pablo Moix and all of these L.A. greats that you hear about. I was pretty young and vocal and I think I drove them up the wall. Eventually they offered me the bar manager position—I was a hard worker and they were loyal to that. That team at that particular time was really special to me.

How did you approach putting the cocktail menu together for Genghis Cohen?
Genghis is so unique because of it's largely diehard regulars. That drink menu has been around for 35 years. I don’t really know how many people in there actually drink the cocktails [which is] exciting. The menu [for the restaurant and lobby bar] is classics with quirky twists indicative of Chinese restaurant cocktails, but with balance—very friendly and colorful. I put a couple blended drinks on there, because I felt that was appropriate. 

What sets L.A.’s cocktail culture apart from other cities?
You see a lot of health trends, like the use of aquafaba instead of egg whites, and less emphasis on the classics. There are a lot more contemporary drinks that focus on the stellar produce we get here. What I initially fell in love with here is the variety and entertainment component. [L.A. bartenders] are inclined to have a little more fun with you.

Where do you like to have a drink when your shift is over?
When my shift is over and I don’t have to be up early, it’s a pretty safe bet I’ll be at Harvard & Stone. It’s still my home and family. If it’s early enough, I love to sneak into Bar Covell for a glass of wine, and spend time alone with a pen and a paper. If I'm lucky enough and Tiki-Ti is open, I make a beeline over there.

What L.A. bar program are you really impressed with right now?
In terms of flavor and execution, The Walker Inn is hands down the best. I think those folks are geniuses.

So, what's the next big thing in cocktails?
I think theatrics in cocktails is going to be more prevalent. We’ve come so far from the classic cocktail movement. Now people aren’t afraid to experiment with color, fun garnishes, some sort of interactive element. The Walker Inn does a great job of that. I think that we are going to see an increase in using science in cocktails. 

Do you have a hangover cure?
Oh yeah, for sure. Smoke a joint, [drink] Angostura bitters and a Mexican coke on crushed ice, take an Advil, and that should be enough to set you straight until you can get to a Bloody Mary. Also Pedialyte [ice pops].

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