Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bar Keeper Bliss in Sunset Junction

Wander along Sunset Junction some sunny afternoon, and try to find the coolest store on the street. Yep, the Cheese Store of Silverlake is pretty rad, and Intelligentsia will boost both your caffeinated energy level and your java street cred. The vintage clothing
stores are fab and the bohemian cafĂ© at the corner of Hyperion is a great spot for writing your next award-winning screenplay. Tucked in among all that, however, is the coolest of the cool places – according to top-notch tippling standards, anyway…

I’ve often referred to Bar Keeper as the “awesomest bar store in Southern California” and few could argue with that statement. The owners, Joe and Anna Keeper, are pillars in the cocktail-lovers community. They are major supporters of all who work in and around L.A.’s finest drinking establishments as well as staunch protectors of the Silverlake community where the store is based. While studying at USC in the mid-80’s, Joe moved into the neighborhood. After buying a house there in the early 90’s, he’s never left.

Joe opened Bar Keeper in what is now known as Sunset Junction three years ago. He describes his store as “a head shop for people who drink,” adding, “ergo, everything for drinking alcohol except the booze

Personally, I call it “the ultimate destination for the hipster sipster,” with the Bar Keeper inventory being split about 60% vintage home bar ware to 40% new. Clients obsessed with making authentic classic cocktails can find a range of specialty bitters ranging from the classic Peychaud’s for a true Sazerac; Gary Regan’s famous orange bitters; or peach, rhubarb or grapefruit-flavored bitters from Fee Brothers. His is also now the only spot to find the whole line from The Bitter Truth: celery, lemon and ‘Jerry Thomas “Own Decanter Bitters.” Yowza. Sign me up, NOW!

In addition to cocktail glasses, shakers and his mind-boggling array of bitters, Joe also sells specialty gourmet ice from Neve Ice. At $30 per pag, this is for the hard-core cocktail enthusiast who understands that the $3 bag from 7-11 just ain’t gonna fly. Now that its once again legal to search for ‘the little green fairy,’ the absinthe-curious can select from a wide variety of absinthe spoons and fountains. And, those taking home decorating to the extreme can pick up an old neon beer signs. (After all, nothing screams “party” like a “miller time” sign buzzing on the living room wall…)

Speaking of parties, Joe and Anna host at least 6 cocktail parties per year for their customers and Silverlake residents in the garden patio behind their store. They bring in mixologists and bartenders (I did it once – loved it) and provide drinks for free. Why? Joe explains, “The idea is that most people drink what they are familiar with. Barkeeper tries to educate.”

Prior to opening Barkeeper, Joe worked in the entertainment industry in reality-based programming. He remembers, “Television had a way of sucking the life out of me. I typically worked 80-hour days, sleeping in my office at least once a week and vomiting in the editing bay often. Ultimately I discovered that I really hated my job, and more importantly, I was embarrassed that this was the best I could do with my life. I fretted over what was next for me...”

He says that he reached out to his father for advice. Joe’s dad explained that providing for his eight children had never felt like work because he loved being an architect, and found his bliss in it. Joe exclaims, “This was the catalyst for my change of careers! I had to prepare for trading Financial Bliss for Spiritual Bliss!”

Inspired by an article in the Wall Street Journal about young people currently coming of age and missing out on the cocktail resurgence of the 90's (ala indie film "Swingers”), Joe says, “I took my wife out to our favorite places on earth - Death Valley - woke her early in the morning, poured her a shot of Tequila, and told her of my plans!”

Not only was Anna supportive of Joe’s bliss but for his 40th birthday, she wrote to the (now) Tony Award winning artist Stew, who once called Silver Lake home, and explained that Joe was a big fan and owned a shop in the ‘hood. She asked if he would compose and record a song for him. Joe says, “The song explains my spiritual journey towards Bar Keeper.” Listen to it on the Barkeeper website and remember Joe’s words of wisdom:

“I believe it was Frank Lloyd Wright who said that to be extraordinary one must first find an environment where they are comfortable. Otherwise, the best a person can be is ordinary. I love my neighborhood. I am passionate about ritual and tradition. I am extraordinary.”

Indeed, you are Joe, and so is your store.

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