clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Some of LA’s Best Cocktails Are Hidden Behind a Bookshelf at This Valley Speakeasy

For nearly half a century, the Rendition Room’s Scott Warren has been serving some of the best drinks in town

Glowing lights and dark accents in the Rendition Room.
Inside the Rendition Room.

If you buy something from an Eater link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics policy.

Virali_Dave is a writer and editor in Los Angeles. Born in Mumbai, she has always considered the West Coast to be the best coast. Her writing has appeared in FoodBeast, NBC News, LAist, Life and Thyme, The Ringer, Input Magazine, and more.

On a balmy night in Studio City, speakers softly play Edith Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” inside the Rendition Room. The small space — dark save for candles placed on tables and in a fireplace — is swathed in red velvet drapes and dotted with large leather armchairs. A poster of a burlesque dancer promoting Lillet Blanc hangs on a far wall, while piles of vintage books and various other memorabilia recall a bygone era. It’s all very fitting for a Prohibition-era speakeasy, capturing the feel of a time and place worlds away from present-day San Fernando Valley.

The Rendition Room opened in 2016 inside the Italian American restaurant Vitello’s, which has been serving martinis and whiskey sours alongside plates of spaghetti and eggplant Parmesan since 1964. The 7-year-old bar, hidden behind a door disguised as a bookshelf, transports those in the know to the 1930s. In the middle of it all is Scott Warren — a barkeep moving so fast he blurs. His mixing is meticulous and graceful: Is he shaking a cocktail or swaying to the jazz? It’s often hard to tell.

A jukebox glows in the dark Rendition Room with velvet curtains.
Jukebox inside the Rendition Room

Warren was scouted by the Vitello’s team and has been steering the ship since before the Rendition Room was even built. “It was still a blank canvas for the most part, and that meant that I could have a very strong impact on what it eventually would look like,” Warren says.

The Vitello’s team researched the finest speakeasies across the country and visited several along the West Coast with the goal of building one of the best 1930s-style bars in the nation. With full reign to create the bar’s menu, Warren curated a selection of classic cocktails alongside original inventions that pull from a wide range of spirits and ingredients. The veteran barman makes the Rendition Room what it is, says Matticus Abshire, a partner at Vitello’s who previously helped open West Hollywood’s the Roger Room.

The team sought out Warren, whose career spans nearly half a century, for good reason. Born in 1961, Warren began working behind the bar in 1977 at 15 years old, cutting his teeth at the Hollywood Palace (now Avalon), Sagebrush Cantina, and the Wiltern Theater and serving celebrities like Prince, David Bowie, Aretha Franklin, and more. He’s also spent years tending bar in Budapest, where colleagues first dubbed him the Liquid Chef, a moniker that he’s kept across international waters.

Scott Warren at the Rendition Room shakes up a drink, and the photo is slightly blurred to show his movement.
Scott Warren shakes up a drink, moving so fast he blurs.
A male barkeep prepares a yellow tiki drink at the Rendition Room.
Warren prepares the Tiki on Tujunga.

Warren approaches creating a drink menu with his past and present clientele in mind. “I have to conjure up a personality,” he says. “In some instances it’s as easy as taking the pain of losing an iconic person such as Gene Wilder, Aretha Franklin, Don Rickles — some people that have crossed my path — and turning that into the backdrop or the momentum for the ingredients.”

Warren created the Golden Ticket cocktail in honor of the passing of Wilder, an actor best known for his role in the movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, shortly after the Rendition Room opened for business. The finely balanced cocktail is made with vodka, banana liqueur, white chocolate liqueur, and cream. To mark Aretha Franklin’s passing in 2018, he crafted the Respect, which combines gin, peach and blackberry puree, lemon, and Champagne.

As much as the menu at the Rendition Room honors those from Warren’s past, it also features drinks that celebrate Los Angeles, like the Tiki on Tujunga made with several rums, fruit juices, orgeat, and allspice dram. The Moonlight Drive, one of the bar’s more popular drinks, is a proper whiskey sour made with vanilla, maple syrup, and the Rendition Room’s own baked bourbon infused with applewood smoked bacon. Warren thought of it while driving through Mulholland Drive under a full moon.

Even with a cocktail menu that changes regularly, most of the magic happens off the page. There’s Warren’s compelling limoncello, smoother than almost any other version in LA, served in glasses acquired from Audrey Hepburn’s estate. Those in the know can ask for Warren’s baked bourbon served neat or in cocktails, or any of Warren’s previous creations that haven’t made the cut through various new menu incarnations.

While every drink is expertly executed, it’s Warren’s personality — don’t mistake it for a persona — and the way he takes command of a room that makes every patron feel like a regular. He moves quickly from one table to the next, dressed sharply in a vest, tie, and button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He speaks with charisma and warmth. “We’ve been expecting you,” Warren says as he welcomes in each new or returning guest. The words have become a tagline of sorts for the Rendition Room.

A barkeep presents his version of an Old Fashioned at the Rendition Room.
The New Old Fashioned at the Rendition Room.
A vibrant yellow tiki drink with a blue mermaid and pink umbrella at the Rendition Room.
Tiki on Tujunga.

In his years behind the bar, Warren has seen the industry evolve and blossom. He’s also watched the role and reputation of the bartender change as cocktails have become more complex. “Bartenders have a whole other level of respect than what I was subjected to in the ‘80s,” Warren says. “We might as well have been the lead singers of a metal band. We were not the people that you wanted to bring home to mom and dad because we might be lecherous, drug- or alcohol-abusing fiends who had no credibility.” But now, Warren says, his barkeep title is a badge of honor. Today, he has no plans to slow down; he dreams of expanding the speakeasy across the country and bottling his own spirits to sell in stores.

“I’m so glad I held on for dear life and lived long enough to be embraced the way I am now,” Warren says. “This is what’s so cool about people still enjoying a proper cocktail. There has never been a better time to drink.”

The Rendition Room is located at Vitello’s on 4349 Tujunga Ave #2, Studio City, CA 91604 and is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations can be made on Yelp.

Velvet curtains and wooden booths and tables at the Rendition Room.
Velvet curtains line the speakeasy, creating privacy between booths.
A small figurine of a man at the Rendition Room.
Accents throughout the room.
Soft armchairs, candles, and lamps in the Rendition Room.
Soft armchairs, candles, and lamps create a cozy atmosphere.
A barkeep smiles as he prepares a drink.
Warren smiles as he prepares a drink.
A barkeep shakes a cocktail shaker at the Rendition Room.
Warren shakes up a Moonlight Drive.
Various bottles and specials at the Rendition Room
Behind the bar.
Several bottled and labeled mixtures at the Rendition Room.
Some concoctions take days of preparation before guests even arrive.
A bright orange cocktail at the Rendition Room.
The Mayan Skies.
A bookshelf hides a secret entrance at the Rendition Room.
A bookshelf hides an entrance.
A series of books on a bookshelf at the entrance of the Rendition Room.
Guests much know which book to pull in order to enter the Rendition Room.
Two men chat by a jukebox at the Rendition Room.
Warren greets guests.
A barkeep prepares a cocktail at the Rendition Room.
Warren prepares a cocktail.
A male barkeep greets guests in a velvet-draped booth at the Rendition Room.
Warren tells visitors, “We’ve been expecting you.”
Comebacks

Triple Berry Cake Lovers Rejoice: Sweet Lady Jane Is Reopening All Locations Under New Ownership

LA Pop-Up Restaurants

Beverly Soon Tofu at Open Market — And More LA Food Pop-Ups This Week: March 1

LA Restaurant News

Panera Is Not Exempted From California’s Fast Food Minimum Wage Law After All