Lady Genever mural at Genever

Lady Genever mural at Genever | Photo by Bradley Tuck

Opened with considerably less fanfare than numerous high profile L.A. bars in recent months, Genever quietly debuted this spring in Historic Filipinotown. Owned by three accomplished Filipinas – Patricia “Trisha” Perez, Roselma Samala and Christine “Tinette” Sumiller – Genever is uniquely situated at the nexus of women’s empowerment, cultural heritage, community, and Los Angeles cocktail culture. Named for the progenitor of gin, Genever currently carries 24 gins, including four genevers. Several cocktails feature Filipino ingredients like tapioca, panutsa, bitter melon, pandan, calamansi and sago.

Friends since their undergrad days at UCLA, the Genever owners come from varied career backgrounds: IT and hospitality, philanthropy, and finance. The first-time bar owners were inspired by women speakeasy owners of the Prohibition era like Texas Guinan, Belle Livingstone and Helen Morgan.

As Principal of Daana Raphael Group, Roselma offers philanthropic consulting to foundations, corporations and families. Tinette says, “[Roselma] was distributing money, I was lending money. I went from commercial finance to personal finance, small businesses, families and individuals. I could actually feel that I am helping somebody directly.”

Patricia’s background is in IT – as Project Manager / Programmer at the City of Culver City, she’s described in the press materials as “the troubleshooter who puts out fires before they wreak havoc.” She is also the co-owner of two Pho Show restaurants, and just opened 310 Coffee.

The seeds for Genever were planted on New Year’s Eve, which the three friends have spent together for the last ten-plus years. “And we always end up sleeping over at someone’s house!” says Roselma with a laugh. On New Year’s Day 2013, it was just the three of them at Patricia’s house, sipping mimosas in their PJs at 10am. The conversation turned to their careers – maybe they could do something different, or even go into business together. “They always say you should start a business in something you enjoy doing,” says Roselma. “So what do we enjoy doing together? ‘We enjoy drinking together!'”

Opening a bar wasn’t just a booze-addled New Year’s resolution. “If we’re going to commit to something, we’re going to commit to it,” says Roselma. “We spent a lot of time researching, doing our due diligence to determine if it’s feasible.” Needless to say, they decided that they could move forward.

They subsequently met every Tuesday. At the top of the to-do list was naming their nascent company and setting up the business structure. Tinette says, “[We] did all that research and came up with Red Capiz Partners. ‘Red’ because of all the things you think of when you hear ‘red’ – love, energy, strength. ‘Capiz’ because it gives homage to our heritage – capiz is a shell you can find in the Philippines. [Capiz windows are cultural icons that date to the Spanish Colonial period.] And ‘Partners’ because we are all partners in this.” The company’s acronym, “RCP” cleverly matches their first names: Roselma, Christine and Patricia.

RCP wanted their bar to focus on gin and have Filipino flavors in the cocktails. Tinette explains, “Gin is actually huge in the Philippines, they’re a big consumer of gin. And the more we did our research, we realized it’s a spirit that’s very malleable. We started doing pop-ups. In the meantime we put our business plan together.”

“For all three of us, this is the first undertaking of a full liquor offering,” says Tinette, noting that Patricia’s F&B experience includes beer and wine, but not cocktails. “Although it’s a steep learning curve working with the city of L.A. and putting this establishment together, it helped that she already had the background of construction and permits.”

Always looking to expand their restaurant business, Patricia’s husband found the Historic Filipinotown space, which sat abandoned after an ’80s incarnation as a karaoke bar and more recently as an art gallery / performance space. Roselma says, “We were pretty specific about what we were looking for in terms of size, how much we wanted to pay. We wanted it near Downtown L.A. but not in Downtown.”

Tinette adds, “It was great that it was available because we have a lot of ties to Historic Filipinotown, especially to the nonprofit on the corner of Temple and Dylan, SIPA [Search to Involve Pilipino Americans]. Each of us has volunteered [there].”

After they signed the lease in 2014, RCP shared the news with the then-executive director of SIPA, Joel Jacinto, who is now Commissioner for the Board of Public Works. Incredibly, when they told him the address, he said that that was SIPA headquarters in the ’70s. Roselma says, “The story [of Genever] was developing on its own. Everything was kind of coming in place. It was great to have that vision and share that vision.”

The project was partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign that exceeded its $30,000 goal by nearly $9,000. Roselma says, “So many of our friends and family wanted to help us, but they didn’t know how. This was a way for everyone to contribute and give us the help that they wanted to at any level that they could [afford]. It was a lot of work to do the Kickstarter stuff, but it was just so worth it.”

Rewards for Kickstarter pledges included getting your name on a barstool, engraved on a lowball, or etched on a tabletop. Roselma says, “Since our opening, it’s been awesome to see a bunch of our Kickstarter supporters come in – ‘Oh, this is the stool I bought.’ You’ll see a lot of things named around the bar. It brings a story to everything in this place and a connection to it.”

Genever interior design by Natalie Kazanjian

Genever interior design by Natalie Kazanjian | Photo by Wonho Frank Lee

When guests step inside Genever from Beverly Boulevard, the low-lit Art Deco interior transports them to a Los Angeles from another era. The Beaux Art-style tiled ceiling is framed by gold-painted and paneled walls. Mirrors add a sense of space to the 1,100 square-foot lounge.

The Art Deco aesthetic “was something we always wanted,” says Roselma. “We were very inspired by the women speakeasy owners during Prohibition that you don’t really hear about. We wanted to bring a modernized version of a speakeasy, but on the Great Gatsby sort of feel. Celebrating that we’re drinking, not hiding that we’re drinking. It has dark woods, more male energy – we wanted it to be a little brighter, more fun. You could come in here and have a drink or a party.”

RCP worked with architect Natalie Kazanjian to realize their design vision. Roselma says, “The elements are our ideas or in collaboration with our consultants, but [Natalie] put it all together for us.”

Genever chandelier by Cleveland Art

Genever chandelier by Cleveland Art | Photo by Wonho Frank Lee

The chandeliers, which evoke the fringes of a flapper dress, were created with recycled materials by Cleveland Art, Roselma’s neighbors in the Arts District. Tinette says that sustainability was part of their business plan – there’s repurposed glass and recycled material in the chandeliers, pendant lighting, and the vestibule lighting. “It’s really manifested itself, whatever we did in our business plan.”

Close up of Lady Genever's feather skirt

The names of Genever’s Kickstarter supporters are hidden in the feathers of Lady Genever’s skirt | Photo by Bradley Tuck

The stunning Lady Genever mural was painted by Emily Caisip, a Brooklyn-based artist and fellow Bruin who used to dance with the Genever founders in Kayamanan Ng Lahi. Caisip hid the names of Kickstarter supporters in the feathers of Lady Genever’s skirt – the shout-outs recall legendary caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, who famously hid his daughter’s name (“NINA”) in his drawings. “It creates this whole conversation, especially for the people who are sitting right there!” says Tinette. (laughs)

Besides the women speakeasy owners, local bars like The Varnish provided inspiration as well. “We call it ‘research’,” says Tinette with air quotes. “Faith & Flower for their Deco – we walked in there and it was like, mmm… there’s a feminine touch in here. (laughs) Our chairs were inspired by going to Otium. It’s the same manufacturer.”

RCP’s frequent travels also inform Genever – Roselma mentions The Library, a Singapore speakeasy that closed last July. “We always remember or appreciate the places that we could go into and feel at home – we don’t feel like we’re in a foreign place, but [it] has that characteristic of where we’re visiting.”

Roselma continues, “I went to Scotland by myself and I felt so comfortable in one of the bars, it was just the hospitality of the people there. That’s why for us [Genever is] like a living room feeling, welcoming people as they come in, that’s what we want to emphasize. We’re not trying to be the best gin bar in the world, we want to give you quality drinks in a good environment.”

Lost Angel at Genever

Lost Angel at Genever | Instagram by @genever_la

The Genever bar program is helmed by Kellie “Kelso” Norris, who met RCP last December through their consultants, Last Word Hospitality (Same Same, Brack Shop Tavern, Sam First). Roselma says, “We happened to meet them on this adventure and fell in love with them, so they really worked with us. One of the consultants was at the bar that Kelso used to work at, Tintorera. [Last Word] knew we valued promoting women in this field, and we wanted [Genever] to be women-owned and women-led as much as possible. She was telling them [about] her love of gin and they’re like, ‘Oh my god we have to introduce you to someone!’ The timing was really nice. We’re really lucky and we have a feeling she was part Filipino somewhere in her history.” (laughs) “We’re just so grateful for her.”

“They were a great resource to me,” says Kelso. “I was slightly familiar with some flavors, but was eager to experiment and learn new stuff, obviously. I’m very fortunate that they were always there for me when I was like, ‘Would these flavors work together?’ or ‘Does this work?’ It was mostly just fun experimenting with new things and seeing how I could incorporate things that are usually used in food and then use them in a cocktail.”

“She has an exquisite palate,” says Tinette. She calls out the Lost Angel, a variation on the Archangel made with St. George Botanivore Gin, bitter melon, Singani 63, Aperol, and Winter Melon Bitters, garnished with bitter melon and a lemon twist. “To Filipinos, you either love [bitter melon] or you hate it, it’s like Brussels sprouts. I love it now as an adult, I hated it as a kid.”

Diamonds and Pearls cocktail at Genever

Diamonds and Pearls at Genever | Instagram by @genever_la

A breakout cocktail from the opening menu is the Diamonds and Pearls, served in a cobalt blue Plymouth Gin “Gurgle Jug” and made with green tea infused gin, coconut, pandan, calamansi, sago and matcha powder. “I think having sago in a cocktail kind of catches people off guard and they really like that. Pandan is used more and more in cocktails, so I think that that’s just a fun flavor to play with anyway. And who doesn’t like coconut? Originally we wanted to replace all citrus with calamansi, but it didn’t really work because it’s such a specific flavor, it doesn’t always play well with others. So it’s only in a couple of cocktails.”

Vice Versa cocktail at Genever

Vice Versa at Genever | Instagram by @genever_la

The Vice Versa is named for an infamous quote by Dorothy Parker, who was on her honeymoon when an editor asked about a missed deadline and she supposedly replied, “Tell him I was too fucking busy – or vice versa.” It’s made with Dorothy Parker Gin, strawberry and pink peppercorn shrub, hibiscus syrup and egg white. Kelso says, “I wasn’t sure how people out here would take to an egg white cocktail and a shrub, but it’s been a hit so that’s nice. I find that people aren’t as adventurous with cocktails here as they were in New York – but that’s mostly because people in New York are alcoholics. (laughs) They just drink so much more – ‘I don’t care, is it booze? I’m good!’ People here, if you’re only going to have one or two drinks, you give some thought into what you’re doing.

“The Constant Surprises has done really well, which I was really happy about because I created that cocktail for my grandma. She’s a Perfect Manhattan gal, so I used her favorite tea, Constant Comment, and that one’s done really well.” Kelso’s tribute cocktail is made with Bols Barrel Aged Genever, Constant Comment infused dry vermouth, Carpano Antica, saffron bitters, orange bitters, and an orange twist. “Being a mostly gin-focused menu, people aren’t super open sometimes, especially if you drink whiskey or dark spirits. The barrel-aged genever is a great gateway.”

“It’s been nice how receptive and open people have been,” says Kelso. “Roselma loves telling me when someone’s been converted – they only drink vodka – and then they have a couple of the cocktails and they’re like, ‘Oh, I like gin?’ I can’t think of anything nicer to hear than that, that makes me really happy. Because I used to just trick people into drinking gin. ‘Look, this is the best gimlet I’ve ever had!’ (whispers) That’s ’cause it has gin in it.”

Genever owners wearing skirts by ANTHILL

L to R: Christine Sumiller, Roselma Samala and Patricia Perez wearing skirts by ANTHILL | Instagram by @genever_la

Genever officially opened on March 13, 2018. Tinette says, “We were lucky enough to have a soft opening the week before and celebrate International Women’s Day that week too. We wore these skirts that are made by a company from the Philippines called ANTHILL (Alternative Nest and Trading/Training Hub for Indigenous/Ingenious Little Livelihood Seekers).” The organization preserves and promotes Filipino weaving communities by featuring handwoven fabrics in modern lifestyle items. “It’s a women-run organization and we were able to work with them to use those same fabrics in the pockets of our aprons.”

With a capacity of just 49, they have to run a tight ship. Tinette says, “We needed somebody who had the same DNA, if you know what I mean. And hiring the bar staff had to be the same thing, because in a small place like this everybody has to pull their own weight and they really have to believe in what we consider is important, which is the hospitality, drinks are queen, make everybody feel welcome – especially women – so that they are not intimidated coming into a bar by themselves, that they feel safe in here. And so far we’ve been very, very happy with the staff, with Kelso, with the welcoming neighborhood.”

Roselma adds, “It’s that feeling of walking into somewhere special, because we don’t have a sign outside, we just have our little coupe glass and our gold door. That’s what we wanted to offer the neighborhood, or anyone coming in as a tourist or visitor. Something special, that’s unexpected, and we just think that that’s what makes life interesting. You come in and no matter who you are or how you look, we want you to feel welcome here.”

Genever
3123 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90057
(323) 577 5446
www.geneverla.com

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