A rare treat: Excellent cuisine, cigars and spirits under one roof in the heart of Hollywood
By Rick Rhay
For the partners of State Social House, the concept is simple: combine great food, plenty of drinks, some fine cigars and a friendly place to enjoy them all, and you’ve got a winning combination. It seems easy, until you consider the location: the heart of the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, Calif. In the midst of one of the least cigar-friendly locales in the country, State Social House has defied convention—but not regulation—creating that mythical combination of restaurant, bar and cigar lounge in one California hotspot.
Opening in 2013, State Social House was the vision of owner and veteran restaurateur Robert Silverberg. The idea was to create a sturdy neighborhood gastro-pub, a comfortable hangout for locals, and an approachable, nonthreatening stop for visitors to West Hollywood. Silverberg partnered with executive chef Vernon Cardenas, formerly of Sushi Roku and Pink Taco, to fulfill his vision for the menu, and consummate promoter Chad Weiner, formerly of the Viper Room and Hard Rock Hotel, to make it come to life as managing partner. And the results fulfill that vision in resounding fashion.
Impressive on Many Levels, Literally
The building itself looks like it would fit in nicely in one of L.A.’s stately older residential neighborhoods, or it could possibly be a pub in a small English town. Either way, it’s got a comfortable, familiar look, with its mullioned windows, gabled roof, chimney and long, inviting porch. And if the exterior looks like a transplanted English pub, the interior solidifies the impression even further.
One of the notable features of State Social House is its multi-level layout. The entry level makes up the main bar and dining room, which, with nearly 250 seats, is expansive to say the least. To the right of the entry is the main bar area, with a dozen or so seats at the bar itself, plus high-top cocktail tables and long trestle tables, perfect for socializing and sharing items from the comprehensive appetizer menu, but more on the menu later. The bar tops are hammered copper and the exposed-beam ceilings add something of a rustic feel. There is wood everywhere.
The liquor selection is impressive. A wide variety of whiskeys, rums and brandies at a range of price points should appeal to the spirits enthusiasts in any group. Notable brands include The Macallan, Martel, Flor de Caña and dozens of others. The vodka and tequila selections are just as impressive, and the cocktails are poured by a staff of expert bartenders. Twenty beer taps feature a broad selection, from national-brand domestics to local and regional premium craft brews, and a few imports as well.
To the left of the main entrance is the second bar, this one equally well stocked, but more than triple the size of the main bar. On a quiet Thursday afternoon it may be totally abandoned, the lights dimmed and the chairs vacant, but on Taco Tuesday, or during one of the many special events held at State Social House, the bar is packed with guests enjoying creative pub food and hand-crafted cocktails. Street-side seating is also available on the front porch, for those lucky enough to catch an outdoor table.
Dividing the main floor in two is a large central staircase leading to a space affectionately referred to as the Attic. What was formerly a literal storage room has been transformed into a versatile multi-use space, perfect for private parties, corporate events, lounging with friends or, as is the case on many nights, live music. At least three nights a week, live local and regional musical acts appear in the Attic at State Social House. The space is close but comfortable, with lots of low leather chairs, an open-rafter ceiling and, of course, another fully stocked bar, keeping you close to the action and to the drinks.
And speaking of action, there are a dozen or so TVs around the building, showing all major sporting events and news. A regular feature are Fight Night events, where guests can view live boxing and MMA fights while enjoying the comforts of the bar, restaurant and cigar lounge.
Cigars in the Back Room
Some visitors to State Social House may never notice the narrow passageway to the right of the main bar, where a staircase leads down from the first level. Though marked with signs on the walls, this staircase could easily be missed by guests entering to the left. A few short steps lead you through another doorway into the Back Room. Technically a separate venue, the Back Room is perhaps one of the most surprising cigar spaces in all of California.
Entering from the main room, you feel as if you’re still inside the restaurant, although a separate entrance gives you street-level access directly to the Back Room. As may be expected, there is another bar inside, the fourth and final one, under a large rotunda ceiling with an interesting echo effect. The bar-back rises more than 15 feet overhead, and is accessed using a library ladder, reaching the highest of the top-shelf selections: Hennessy XO cognac, Lagavulin 16-year-old Islay single-malt Scotch, Don Julio 1942 tequila, and others. A wall of windows opens the Back Room to the sights and sounds of West Hollywood on the Sunset Strip.
Moving past the bar, regular visitors to cigar lounges across the U.S. will be right at home; soft leather chairs cluster in groups of four around small wooden tables strewn with cutters, matches and ash trays, perfect for quiet conversation over drinks, or sharing any of the delightful small plates or entrées from the kitchen. Cigar art decorates the walls, and a pair of cigar box guitars reminds visitors of the regular live musical acts appearing in the Attic.
The cigar selection is something of a greatest hits: Padrón, Fuente, Ashton, La Gloria Cubana, Illusione, Oliva and others. The large, cabinet-style humidor features a state-of-the-art electronic humidification system with digital controls. Though the cigar selection may not be as extensive as many other venues, there is certainly something to satisfy even the most discriminating cigar connoisseurs. Patrons are welcome to bring their own cigars as well, but a cutting fee is charged.
While they were still in the planning phase of the State Social House, the partners worked closely with city officials to ensure they adhered closely to local and state smoking regulations. Managing partner Chad Weiner reports having little to no trouble with permits and licenses, despite California’s draconian smoking laws. “We followed their instructions, and had almost no push-back at all,” he says of the permitting process. The result is a great cigar lounge with an attached bar offering a full selection of beer, wine and spirits, along with delicious food from the restaurant, in a comfortable and open atmosphere.
To Tempt Your Tastebuds
The crowning jewel of the operation is the menu. Executive chef Vernon Cardenas has prepared a menu of solid pub fare, or as he calls it, “sophisticated bar food.” Nearly everything on the menu could be found in bars and pubs across the country, but Cardenas puts his own unique spin on it.
A duo of sausages, bratwurst and knockwurst, served over sauerkraut with beer mustard makes an excellent starter. Add a side of tater tots cooked in garlic parmesan truffle butter and you’ve got a delicious, sharable dish. Other favorites include the crispy cauliflower with jalapeño aioli, Brussels sprouts with white wine and bacon, and mac and cheese made with cheddar, gruyere, gouda and bacon. All of the dishes are expertly prepared and handsomely presented.
A selection of half-pound hamburgers with a long list of available ingredients, a number of sandwiches and salads, and a creative assembly of artisan pizzas and flatbreads round out the menu, but the selection of tacos and main entrées allows Cardenas to showcase his true talent for fusing Asian and Mexican cuisines with his classical French training, while keeping the dishes anchored in the gastro-pub mindset.
The seared tuna steak on baby arugula showcases the artistry and subtlety of the preparations, while the chorizo mussels with pomme frites showcase the complexity of his creations. They’re served with bacon, garlic, onion, cilantro, jalapeños, parsley, white wine, cream and butter. The taco selections include pork belly with sweet and spicy cucumber slaw, tuna poke in sesame-soy marinade and shrimp with shredded cabbage, guacamole, chipotle aiole and lime.
Every one of these dishes, and dozens of others, are available over cigars and drinks in the Back Room at State Social House, providing a combination of delicious foods, great spirits and premium cigars rarely found due to the current climate of anti-smoking regulations in California.
State Social House has created a compelling mix of comfort and quality, excellence and approachability in a neighborhood restaurant, bar and cigar lounge, all under one roof. The food is familiar, but extraordinary at the same time. The staff is friendly and customer-focused, highly professional and committed to quality of service and experience. The beverage offerings are extensive and varied, and the selection of cigars is thoughtfully curated and carefully maintained. The combined effect is a pleasure to partake, a true gustatory delight, and a unique experience in the heart of Hollywood.
State Social House
8782 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, Calif. 90069
Rick Rhay is a Southern California photographer and cigar lover, and occasional editor of the Cigar Sasquatch online journal at CigarSasquatch.com.