By Gina V. Ramsey
*Make sure you have the password ready* Walk into Roxanne’s Bar, wave to the bartender as you head straight back to the old-fashioned telephone booth on the left, press the buzzer and wait. Suddenly the wall opens, and Exhibition Room host Jeff Berg (actor by trade) asks you for the password. Step through and into a 1920’s prohibition era speakeasy bar with dark wooden tables, crystal chandeliers, copper ceiling panels, Billie Holiday crooning her lament, and shelves and shelves with bottles of possibilities.
Devon Butler is a self-proclaimed ‘sommelier’ of wine. “Devon’s ability to take a drink ‘to the next level’ comes from his ability to organically create an experience that guests won’t forget,” said Jeff.
In this dark moody room, I decide to channel my inner adventure-novelist and order the Old Man and The Sea, a twist on the Old Fashioned concocted by one of Devon’s mentors. Devon sets to work, placing shavings of cinnamon and clove into a molcajete, lighting it and trapping the smoke inside a cocktail glass clapped upside down on the stone.
As I watch the smoke swirl around inside the glass, Devon opines, “Classics are called classics for a reason. They are blueprints of the drinks we know that work. So, the goal is to take a classic recipe and build off of it to create something different and interesting.” He takes the glass, rubs an orange peel on the rim, finishes mixing the ingredients in a glass beaker, and pours the drink through a strainer. One sip and I feel like a true grown-up.
Through the Looking (smoke) Glass
Born and raised in Southern California, 34-year-old Devon moved to Long Beach in 2021 from Culver City. Before assuming his role as bartender, Devon was a customer. “When you step through the phone booth, you’re transported into a different world,” Devon said.
The idea of the modern cocktail came about during the prohibition era. Since bootleg liquor was easier to transport, bartenders began mixing liquor with fruit juices and soft drinks to make it palatable for all. For generations since, playing around with drink flavors has become a challenge and an art form. “The more I learn and understand about flavor profiles the easier the tinkering gets,” Devon said.
Visiting the Exhibition Room is an experience that goes beyond the drinks. “I savor the moment when a guest comes through the phone booth for the first time and has that child-like look of awe when I open the door,” Jeff said. “Extra points if they’re able to go with the banter that I throw at them.”
It’s about the encounter with the past, the history lesson through cocktails and live jazz music, the interaction with Devon and Jeff and your guests without having to scream into their ear. “My favorite thing to do, when I have the time, is to make table rounds and just chat people up. I've always considered the Exhibition Room to be a place of learning. I'm always learning something new every night, and it’s my hope and intention that our guests do as well!”
And indeed I did, when Devon brought out a tray of cocktail glasses with a splash of amber colored liquid in each and took us on a “Smell Journey” of rums from around the world, sniffing in deep scents of vanilla and caramel. “I always keep in mind that the main goal above all is to create an experience that the guest enjoys.”