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A Few Words On Closing
The Varnish

July 3, 2024 marks the last night of The Varnish's legendary 15-year run in Downtown Los Angeles in the back room of Cole's French Dip. While The Varnish will live in memory, Cole's, LA's longest running Public House, is still open. Like most of DTLA's bars, it needs your support more than ever. Statement from Cedd Moses below.

The Varnish back bar

The Varnish and Cole’s family has been humbled by the outpouring of love and support since the announcement that we will be closing The Varnish's doors on Wednesday, July 3rd.  We have been packed with well-wishers, fellow bartenders, bar owners, food writers, spirits critics, beloved former staff and our loyal regulars, all wanting to raise one more glass with us. Some have even proven crazy enough to be making pilgrimages from overseas to have one last perfect daiquiri before we conclude this amazing chapter.

The Varnish has had special meaning for Pouring With Heart within our expanding bar group, fortifying our love of building into the bones of historic structures in Los Angeles. The Varnish took the crown as the perfect cocktail bar within our ranks since it opened in 2009, which was the product of a beautiful collaboration between the late Sasha Petraske, Eric Alperin, Mark Verge and myself.  We are so proud that it helped to further the careers of so many amazing people making their own indelible marks on our industry, including: Devon Tarby, Alex Day, Chris Bostick, Daniel Eun, Gordon Bellaver, Daniel Zacharczuk and so many others.

We also experienced an Incredible honor when we brought home the Tales of the Cocktail award for best American Cocktail bar to our very own Los Angeles. And, maybe even more so, when the Pulitzer prize winning food critic Jonathon Gold featured us in “The New Cocktailians” piece in the LA Weekly in 2009 for which he was nominated for a James Beard award.  We loved how he championed cocktails as America’s greatest culinary invention and somehow felt that our humble little bar had added to that legacy.  

With all that said, it’s been a challenging environment for our industry in Los Angeles, and the Varnish fell victim to the astronomical costs and liability of running a full service culinary experience.  The Varnish’s hospitality was at its best when we had one team member working for about every ten guests, but with the soaring costs associated with labor in Southern California, it didn’t stand a chance.  Full service establishments such as the Varnish have seen these costs rise from 25% of sales a decade ago to more than 40% in present day, making the business unsustainable.

Los Angeles has been not only one of the best culinary restaurant scenes in America but, thanks to joints like the Varnish, one of the best cocktail arenas, as well. I’m so inspired by our surviving hospitality operators that are fighting day-in-and-day-out in this challenging environment.  Many have perished, but so many have remained open by pivoting and reinventing their service models to stay in business.

At Cole’s French Dip, we are fighting as well, and we have such a storied legacy to uphold.  Cole’s is the longest-running public house in the city limits of Los Angeles. It is, arguably, the inventor of the French Dip Sandwich — a historic battle we share with our friends down the road at Philippe's.

After we took it over, we worked to restore Cole’s in time for its 100 year anniversary celebration and were recognized by the LA Conservancy for doing so in an honorable way.  But like most of our City’s independent and family-run venues, we need our guests' support and relief from the city, county, and state’s onerous policies and ever-increasing impediments to our survival.  

Thank goodness for Organizations like the Greater Los Angeles Hospitality Association and Independent Hospitality Coalition, who are fighting on behalf of independent restaurants and bars at City Hall and in Sacramento everyday against the increasingly Machavillian rules and costs that jeopardize our industry.  I proudly sit on both boards and have witnessed the herculean efforts that people like Eddie Navarrette are putting in to support and protect us. These organizations need our support so they can, in turn, continue to support our venues.

It’s been one hell of a run for The Varnish, and for all of us who have been involved in its magic.  We sincerely appreciate the tremendous support we received from Los Angeles patrons and our brilliant bar teams over the years.  

For us, we will keep fighting each day, continuing to serve and pour with heart.  At Cole’s, that specifically will mean continuing to serve the same delicious combination of French dip sandwiches and classic cocktails poured for one hundred sixteen years.

Long live our treasured Los Angeles bars and restaurants. Long live the impact of the Varnish and long live Cole’s!

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