The Bartender Next Door: Joseph Brooke at Hollywood’s New Next Door Lounge

— by Caroline on Crack

Next Door Lounge's Joseph Brooke by Caroline on Crack

Gotta love how Next Door Lounge's Joe Brooke presents a drink.

I first remembered barman Joseph Brooke’s name when he worked with Vincenzo Marianella at Copa d’Oro in 2009. I had seen him around before but since I’m horrible with names I couldn’t remember his. One night at Copa he had just finished telling me about how he was competing on this new reality show, On the Rocks: The Search for America’s Top Bartender,  which he went on to win by the way. And afterward as I walked out and bid him a farewell, I yelled, “Bye, Gus!” (The name of his co-worker Gus McShane.) “It’s Joe,” he said, smiling. Of course I didn’t hear him but my friend who was with me at the time said, “I think he said his name is Joe.” Oops. Anyway, haven’t forgotten his name since.

From there, I went on to realize that Joe’s a genuinely good guy. Sure, he’s really easy on the eyes and does his job with mesmerizing flare but the man also knows his drinks and makes tasty cocktails with infectious enthusiasm. I’ve followed Joe to the Edison where he served as director of spirits for a couple years and to his newest gig as head barman at Next Door Lounge in Hollywood where I visited him there for the first time during a press preview.

The 4,000-square-foot Next Door Lounge, located on Highland Avenue next door to casual eatery The Corner, is decorated in a similar vein to the Edison. Apparently it used to have fire pits, a waterfall and burlesque dancers, but they have since done away with all that to focus on that 1920s speakeasy theme, complete with a piano, chandeliers and plush leather couches.

In With the New Cocktails

For the preview, press was invited to try out the cocktail menu which featured a mix of classics like Clover Club, French 75, Moscow Mule and Tequila Daisy as well as modern drinks created by Joe. Apparently, even though the bar just opened, the cocktail list already went through a change.

Turns out Joe didn’t create the whole menu initially, just three of the cocktails. A bit short-sighted on the venue’s part considering his illustrious cocktail background. Fortunately, thanks to a post by fellow booze blogger Thirsty in LA pointing that out, Joe was granted the freedom to have at the menu.

During the preview, I tried the following cocktails.

The Bump-Off by Caroline on Crack

The Bump-Off: Sagatiba Pura, ginger syrup, orgeat, lemon juice. Joe said he wanted to call this "Goldfish" because of the seemingly floundering orange peel garnish.

Volstead & Vice by Caroline on Crack

Volstead & Vice: Ilegal Mezcal Joven, Pernod Absinthe, cucumber water, agave nectar, lime juice. With mezcal and absinthe, this might intimidate most but the cucumber and agave really make it approachable. Smokey but refreshing.

Brass Flower by Caroline on Crack

Brass Flower: Plymouth Gin, elderflower liqueur, grapefruit juice, prosecco. I usually don't like grapefruit juice but its bitter edge was softened by the elderflower liqueur here. This elegant, classic-esque cocktail was actually the first one Joe ever came up with when he worked at Bar Marmont so holds a special place in his heart.

Drink prices here are what you’d expect for this part of town, $12-$14. But I’m really curious to see what sort of crowd this bar, off the beaten Hollywood bar hop path, attracts in the long run since when we went it was filled with media types. I had heard it described as “glamorous but laid back.” Hmm.

Where To Sit…and Not To Sit

The space itself is gorgeous with a variety of seating areas — large wooden communal dinner tables, high tops, low couches with ottomans. But my favorite place to sit, of course, is at the bar. Not only for Joe but the other bartender, Shea Lewis, who was juggling bottles, flipping them behind his back and performing the same sort of bar acrobatics I had seen in Barcelona. Wonder what he’d do with a Sazerac?

In the works for the space — yes, they’re still building stuff — is an actual speakeasy hidden in the bowels of the building in the place of what used to be a swingers club that came complete with stage, an upstairs area for who knows what and an extra-large hot tub. Remnants of its lurid past have since been removed and, with a good scrubbing, it’s in the process of being transformed into an elegant space to grab a secret drink. (Photos of the space and more of Joe after the jump.)

In the meantime, pull up to the bar and order up a cocktail from Joe. Once you do, I bet you won’t forget his name.

Drink tip: The Dame Next Door, the drink with the stenciled key, was actually made by Damian Windsor (Roger Room, Ice Ice Shavie) and meant to be a riff off the Algonquin. It’s made with Canadian Club 12 year, dry vermouth, pineapple juice, pasteurized egg white, Angostura bitters and clove-infused pineapple gomme syrup. Joe contributed the syrup which he created with tips from The Spare Room’s Naomi Schimek.

Next Door Lounge
1154 North Highland Avenue
Hollywood, California 90038 (map)
Hours: Tuesdays-Sundays 5pm to 2am
Facebook: Next Door Lounge
Twitter: @NextDoorLounge