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.
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.
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.
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.