Like a Millennial moth to a Millennial flame, I'm drawn to the glowing light in a back pocket of The Normandie Club. I'd been to the Koreatown bar a handful of times, but never to the speakeasy hidden inside of it. Tonight, I feel like I'm in on a secret as I ring the bell to The Walker Inn.
A hostess greets me at the door (labeled "Secret Door") and leads me to one of the six bar seats. There's more seating in the room, but the counter is where the bar's signature omakase-style cocktail experience takes place. It's 6 PM, the first of three seatings offered each evening.
Last year, The Walker Inn was the only Los Angeles spot to make it on the esteemed World's 50 Best Bars list. Bartender Daniel Zacharczuk tells me that they have seen more reservations coming in since earning the accolade, but nothing crazy—which is great news for people who don't want to fight for a reservation.
"What we do at the bar is a little bit of a tasting menu of cocktails. The menu changes every six to eight weeks—it's a seasonal menu," Zacharczuk says. It's $70 per person (excluding tax and gratuity) which is a pretty good deal considering how many drinks you're getting and the effort it takes to make them.
Three men sit down next to me as the first of five-ish courses is served. A playlist of Joy Division, Springsteen, and Creedence Clearwater Revival plays overhead while we drink our light and easy Cara Cara orange wine from liquid nitrogen-washed goblets.
"Normally our first-course tasting is a wine-style cocktail. We take certain ingredients, we combine them and manipulate them to evoke a similar texture and flavor of wine," Zacharczuk says.
For the second course, Zacharczuk brings over a sort of toddy served on a wooden slab. It's the Kumquat, made with brown butter-washed rum, apple juice, kumquat oleo, and spices. There's a choose-your-own-adventure element to it, thanks to the cinnamon, cardamom, star anise tinctures served on the side.
"At this point, this is your drink," Zacharczuk tells me. I feel like some sort of spooky witch mixing a potion as I dribble drops of cinnamon into my cocktail. It's creamy, buttery, and incredibly soothing, like Danish hygge in a glass.
"Wow, this is amazing," one of the other guests at the counter says. Zacharczuk is happy to answer all of our questions about the cocktails and their ingredients. He breaks down exactly how to make the brown butter-washed rum and gives us samples of different spirits to try on their own. It seems there are no secrets at this secret bar.
For the third course, we get a citrusy take on a familiar classic. "If you like negronis, this is your new best friend," Zacharczuk says. The Lee Tangerine & Sour Orange is made with Dolin Blanc Vermouth, gin, Suze, citrus juice and its zest, and some fizz.
We're also served plenty of water. The point of drinking a multi-course cocktail menu isn't about blacking out—it's about appreciating spirits and, in the case of The Walker Inn's current menu, appreciating California citrus.
"We're lucky enough to live in an area where a lot of citrus varieties grow not too far from here, so we took advantage of that," Zacharczuk says.
As the guests next to me discuss the freeways they took to get to the bar, Zacharczuk works on the next labor-intensive drink. He looks like he's making breakfast, not cocktails. There are whole grapefruits, a blender, and a blowtorch involved.
He's making the Ruby Red Grapefruit, an anise-forward mix of Cocchi Americano, aquavit, and grapefruit purée, with a bruléed grapefruit garnish, all served in a hollowed grapefruit half. We eat it with a serrated spoon.
The bruléed garnish turns out to be as delicious as the cocktail. Its delicately crunchy surface is dusted with salt and fennel pollen, and makes a perfect bite in-between grapefruit slushy ones to avoid a brain freeze.
The fifth cocktail is a frothy, creamsicle-colored concoction with a luxurious texture. It's called the Mandarin and it's made with "fluffy mandarin juice," fino sherry, cream, egg white, vanilla, and seltzer. Zacharczuk says people often compare it to an Orange Julius, albeit a boozy version of the mall treat.
The night ends with a little glass of Diamantes De Hielo Sidra, an ice cider from Spain. It's 7:55 PM and we all still have plenty of our cocktails left to enjoy—just not at the counter. The bar team needs to clean up and prep for the next seating.
If we didn't want the party to stop here, there's a secret cocktail to take things to the next level, literally. After 9 PM, you can order The Closer and score a room in the hotel above (if there's space available) for just $99, plus you get a bottle of sparkling wine. It may be the best under-the-radar bar hack LA has to offer.
I don't order The Closer, but settle my tab and leave the clandestine bar through the way I came.