A pair of the Westside’s most popular Aussie proprietors stare up at the iconic “V-E-N-I-C-E” letters every day—their café, Great White, is just across the street, after all. But co-owners Sam Trude and Sam Cooper also set their sights on the historic building just below the sign months ago, and over the weekend, they opened a sibling concept with an all-star team to keep the Great White spirit going late into the evening.
Gran Blanco, the full-service counterpart to the counter-service café, is now open in the former Bank of Venice restaurant space, a turn-of-the-century building (for the actual bank of Venice) designed by Venice founder Abbot Kinney himself. As of last Friday, its vaulted ceilings and original tile floors are now home to a menu that’s heavy on Mediterranean-leaning shared plates, some of the most fun-but-considered cocktails in the neighborhood, and the Aussie sentiment that a meal is a great excuse for a party peppered with bottles of wine and good music.
“There’s nothing over-designed or over-thought,” Trude says of the menu. “It’s approachable, but it has interest; you might recognize things, but there’s a thoughtful twist to it.” Overseeing the menu is Cassy Pugh—now executive chef of both Great White and Gran Blanco—whose breezy dishes include beetroot hummus with farmers’ market crudités; roasted carrots with honey dukkah, feta, watercress and mint; house-made flatbread; charred octopus with romesco and salad; and yellowtail crudo with celery juice and lime. Those looking for meatier portions and items can opt for a massive tomahawk steak in herb butter; lamb kofta with herbs; or the skirt steak with chimichurri. Expect the menu to expand later on with more seafood and other meaty options.
Half of the open white, wood and tile space belongs to the bar, which is where Mitch Ono Bushell comes in. The former Accomplice bar lead is crafting a beverage program that’s deceptively simple and ideal for sipping just a block from the beach. There are classics, frosés and even tiki concoctions, but nothing is as clear-cut as it seems.
He’s juicing every day: jalapeños for a syrup that makes its way into the spicy mezcal margarita, and watermelon for the margarita as well as the negroni—and if there’s any watermelon juice left, it joins the frosé, already a blend of grapefruit, lemon, Aperol and rosé (garnished with house-made watermelon jerky, no less). Their Celery Southside gets a base of house-made celery sorbet for mouthfeel, then an apple shrub made from the pulp byproduct in the juicer.
In tiki drink there’s a blend of different two amari, four liqueurs, three rums, three different juices, two syrups and two types of bitters—though the menu simply reads “rum, aloe, pineapple, passion fruit”—and it’s all garnished with a rainbow of pineapple teeth, hot-pink salt, shaved coconut, mint, orange, lemon, and Vieux Carré cherries that Mitch had been infusing for the last three years.
There’s a low-calorie margarita (which, according to Bushell, took 161 attempts), a large-format Aperol spritz and even an espresso martini garnished with glitter and dehydrated absinthe: The menu’s a boozy boon to the neighborhood, even if drinkers don’t press the team on all the work put into each glass.
“It’s a different environment, mostly nighttime and evenings, so it’s a bit more casual over [in Great White],” says Trude. “It’s a bit more elevated here, but there’s definite synergy between the two, and we like that.” The service will remain casual and cordial, though here there’s table service and it’s spread across a low lounge area, high-top tables, the bar and a handful of primo counter seats at the open windows that overlook the busy intersection.
Much like in Great White, there’s also a great deal of thought given to the playlist and how it creates the right atmosphere—a holdover from Cooper’s days as a music producer and DJ—and at Gran Blanco, there’s a vinyl soundtrack sourced from his own collection.
For now, expect dinner service only, with late-night and brunch to follow—and, should the neighborhood need it, weekday lunch. Trude and Cooper have been doing a lot of listening to the Venice community lately. It’s why they launched Gran Blanco.
“People always ask, ‘Is it a bar? Is it a restaurant?’ But I think we’re playing that divide well, which is uncommon—particularly in Venice,” says Trude. “Here, it’s either a a dive bar or it’s a restaurant with a small bar component, and the local community desperately needs something like this. That’s what they kept telling us, so we just kind of did it.”
Gran Blanco is now open at 80 Windward Avenue daily, from 5 to 11pm-or-so on weeknights, and until around 2am on weekends.