There are just 48 cocktail-only licenses in this area and Nick Zanoni's 97 year old real estate broker hooked him up with one of them, helping to pave the way for the transformation of longtime dive Lou Jones Inn on Adams Avenue into a 95 seat, 1,500 square foot classic cocktail-focused lounge called the Sycamore Den, projected to be open by early April.
For this next evolution of Zanoni's career, which includes opening Pacific Beach's Thurster's Lounge at the age of 23 and a farm-to-table restaurant in Georgia in 2005, he turned towards his future and his past. As a new dad, he wanted to create a mellow space where he could feel comfortable nursing a well-made cocktail or two. For design inspiration, he looked back at his formative years growing up in the 70's and used some of that decade's keywords — quilts, macrame, flutes and Olan Mills — as a jumping off point for his style collaborators, the team behind Bells & Whistles, who also happened to have designed Zanoni's favorite bar (Starlite) and restaurant (The Smoking Goat).
To that end, expect Sycamore Den to house a working cigarette machine, a player piano, loads of amber glass, a sunken seating area and central focal point that'll command the room — a 16 foot tall, renewable energy-fueled brass fire feature. It's an homage to his father and the blue-collar workers of their time who'd come home from a long day and enjoy a hard-earned drink in their shag-carpeted family room.
Eater also caught up with Eric Johnson, a lead bartender at Noble Experiment who is developing Sycamore Den's cocktail program and will be spending some time behind the bar. Johnson said that dad drinks are the inspiration for the still-developing menu that'll play it close to the classics, with a focus on bourbon, scotch and whiskey (including a scratch-made update of a whiskey sour), and incorporate some other currently popular spirits — a mezcal fan, Johnson will feature it on the menu here, along with a fiery scorpion pepper-infused tequila. He'll even fill a retro thermos with a housemade coconut syrup-sweetened coffee mocktail and says that drink prices at Sycamore Den should come in a little lower than their downtown counterparts.
· Sycamore Den Coming to Normal Heights [U-T]
· Sycamore Den [Official Site]
· All Plywood Reports on Eater San Diego [~ESD~]