Inside Look: Westbound, Los Angeles

Los Angeles’ sprawling cocktail scene offers plenty of local flavor, but a new cocktail bar in the burgeoning Arts District is expanding its focus beyond the city to explore ingredients from around the world.

Open since May, Westbound is helmed by Sarah Meade (formerly of Firefly and Tiki No) and located at One Santa Fe, a new mixed-use complex once used as the passenger terminal for La Grande Station, a Los Angeles hub prior to Union Station’s 1939 debut. “When I first moved to Los Angeles years ago, the Arts District was empty. Now there are developments on every corner. It’s exciting to be a part of that growth,” Meade says. After searching for a “raw and untouched space” that could work as a blank canvas for her ideas, she decided the burgeoning downtown neighborhood was perfect. “I fell in love with the history of One Sante Fe,” she says. “There are subtle nods to this time and place throughout the space.”

The travel theme is subtly expressed throughout the design and the food and drink menus. Satin brass light fixtures and espresso-dyed leather Pullman booths evoke the feel of an old-timey train car, and a hand-patinaed, copper-clad bar anchors the space. One of the best seats in the house is at the bar, of course, but not only so you can have a first-hand view of the cocktail mixing—chef Gary Nguyen (Alma, Mélisse) also works in the space, chopping and dicing an array of fresh bites on a butcher block–topped area oriented exclusively for culinary work.

Head bartender Dee Ann Quinones (Booker and Dax, 69 Colebrook Row) stocked the bar with an assortment of global spirits, and the menu pays homage to drinking cultures around the world. “Travel is where most of the inspiration for my cocktails comes from,” she says. “I’m always trying to replicate the taste and feel of the various food, cultures, colors and experiences that I’ve been exposed to. We’re lucky to have a travel theme to Westbound—there’s always a narrative or story to start from, and we’re always on the move.”

Cocktails like the La Remedia hint at the Mediterranean, with dry gin, watermelon, grapefruit, lemon, lime, pink peppercorn and sea salt, while the Westbound & Up is Quinones’ take on a Margarita, combining mezcal, chipotle honey, lemon, orange bitters and smoked paprika. For this year’s Negroni Week, she infused tequila with an assortment of botanicals found in gin and let the mixture rest in a barrel for several weeks. A floral, earthy cocktail emerged when paired with Campari and sweet vermouth.

Westbound is one of the few bars in Los Angeles with a no-tipping policy, and as an added perk, the bar staff offer guests complimentary brownies every night before closing. “We were inspired by the tradition established at places like Employees Only in New York, where soup is handed out at closing time,” Quinones says. “Service and hospitality are very important to us, as well as providing a sophisticated bar program.”

Meade wants the bar to inspire dreams of far-flung locales, while remaining friendly enough to draw in regulars. “We want Westbound to feel comfortable and welcoming to the downtown Los Angeles community and beyond. It’s not about turning tables,” she says. “We would love nothing more than you to spend your entire evening with us.”