Cannabis Café: America’s First Consumption-Friendly Restaurant opens in California
Oct. 1, 2019, will go down in history as the date the legal cannabis movement made its most progress yet. The first-ever cannabis consumption-friendly restaurant is now open for business in the U.S.
Lowell Herb Co.’s pioneering business concept is licensed to serve both food and marijuana products, bringing cannabis out of hiding and into mainstream society. While it is still illegal to smoke cannabis in public in all legal states, the city of West Hollywood advocated for social use and in 2017, approved an ordinance for business licenses to serve this purpose.
Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Café was the first license granted among a pool of 300 applicants (eight more approved businesses are on the way), based on factors from social equity and innovation to community and design. This year, WeHo was able to accomplish what the first wave of legalized states is still trying to figure out and will be the model for how other cities can catch up. Local legislation in Los Angeles still restricts licensed businesses from serving dishes infused with cannabis.
In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill in May allowing cannabis lounges, which will take effect in early 2020.
“A place for public cannabis consumption was a natural next step for Lowell Herb Co. For us, this signifies the real end of cannabis prohibition in California,” Lowell Herb Co. CEO and co-founder David Elias told me. “This restaurant is a historic moment for the cannabis movement, and in steering the normalization of the plant for the country as a whole. As the first of its kind, we want to make sure we do this right, and set a good example for the industry. We are humbled to be leading the way.”
In 2017, Elias founded The Hacienda, the parent company for Lowell Herb Co., turning it into the fastest-growing and best-selling cannabis brand in California. Known for its organic, sun-grown flower and perfect packs of pre-rolls, Lowell swiftly gained a cult following among the cannabis-friendly celebrity crowd. Last month, Lowell announced an A-list of new investors for its latest round including Miley Cyrus, Chris Rock, Mark Ronson and Sarah Silverman; it also received a strategic investment from MedMen in 2018. The company additionally unveiled a Social Justice Program last year, giving special employment consideration to nonviolent cannabis offenders and providing opportunities to those who have been affected by unjust cannabis laws. Participants in the program currently make up 8% of the company’s workforce.
The restaurant project cost roughly $3 million to open and is already Hollywood’s hottest table; reservations — available 30 days in advance — are fully booked. A billboard emblazoned with “Eat, Drink, & Smoke Here” hangs overhead the barn wood-covered building with lush landscaping leading the way to Lowell Café. Upon arrival, a faint smell of cannabis is apparent only when entering the building. Some neighbors were concerned marijuana odor would seep across the street, but Lowell, which developed the space in partnership with Los Angeles restaurant group Houston Hospitality, installed a casino-grade air purification system that’s powerful enough to keep it contained.
Inside, the 6,000-square-foot space features a dining room and lounge (open to the outside), and garden café where farm-to-table fresh coffee, juice and cannabis is served seven days a week. A non-smoking patio is slated to open by the end of the year with the possibility of alcohol sales pending application approval from the state.
As I was taken to my table for two in the Italian olive tree-covered garden, weed smoke wafted over me, evocative of an Amsterdam coffee shop. But when I sat down, I immediately realized Lowell Café is how cannabis could and should be consumed. Paying homage to pre-Prohibition era cannabis “tea pads,” Lowell Café celebrates the end of 100 years of prohibition and the future of cannabis enthusiasts finally having a place in this world.
Executive chef and partner Andrea Drummer joined me for a brief chat and marveled, “To see people casually dining and ordering pre-rolls and smoking bongs, it’s amazing. It’s what it should be. Does it look odd to you? It’s just normal, right?”
Right. Drummer, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate, started working with Lowell on the project from the beginning after tapping the brand for dinners hosted through Elevation VIP, the cannabis cuisine cooperative she founded in 2012.
Drummer said of her inspiration: “Farm-to-table was the foundation, but you also see some of the subtle influences of my upbringing in the South and plays on my formal training. I wanted to do comfort foods — the go-to’s once you consume cannabis.”
But her menu is far from standard munchies fare. Dishes range from $10 and $30 and are designed with flavor profiles to complement strains offered in-house. Drummer sources ingredients from local farmers markets for most menu items including: crispy Brussels sprouts and turnips dusted with spice blend and cojita cheese; tomato carpaccio with red onion, basil, and burrata; sticky confit wings with house-made tamarind glaze; and pulled pork shoulder with blueberry barbecue sauce, caramelized onion, and kale slaw.
After I told the waiter I’d like the vegan cauliflower bahn mi, Bianca Blanche, Lowell Café’s managing flower host (think sommelier) stopped by to take my cannabis order. The extensive Lowell Café cannabis menu covers a daily farm-fresh flower selection, cannabis-infused beverages and edibles, concentrates and oils. Even accouterments are available to rent for a small fee from a curated list of leading luxe accessory brands like Summerland Ceramics, Miwak Junior, PAX, Puffco, Session, and My Bud Vase.
The team of 40 staff flower hosts come with a combination of dispensary and hospitality experience — an indicator of Lowell’s commitment to consumer education. Guests are asked about their cannabis consumption habits before ordering to avoid the risk of over-indulging along with their personal preferences to help flower hosts guide each table through a safe, enjoyable session. Each section of the cannabis menu also includes an estimate of onset and duration times depending on the method you choose to imbibe.
My pack of Lowell Smokes mini-joints in the Lucid Sativa blend was soon delivered on a gold tray. The strain is said to “send you to the moon with joy” and I am still feeling that historic high.
Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Café
1201 N. La Brea Ave., West Hollywood, Calif.
• Lowell Café is open from 10 a.m. until 2 a.m. A “last call” for cannabis is at 9:50 p.m., but if you wish to smoke later, you can pre-order and consume until close.
• Cash is required for cannabis purchases.
• Take an Uber or Lyft. Valet parking is also offered for designated drivers.
• Reservations are available up to 30 days in advance. Bar seats in the lounge are on a first-come, first-serve basis.
• Each table is allotted a 90-minute visit.
• There’s a “bring your own bud” policy for a $20 “tokeage fee.” The BYOB policy also covers bringing your own pipes, bongs and vaporizers. All rental accessories are cleaned and sanitized.
• A non-smoking patio that will serve wine, beer, and craft cocktails is slated to open by the end of the year.
• The Café section is open to all ages; the Garden, Lot, and the Lounge allow cannabis consumption and are for adults 21 and up.
• A casino-grade filtration system effectively keeps clean air flowing, but fair warning if you’re sensitive to smoke.
• Guests who don’t finish their cannabis are not permitted to take it home.
• It’s available for private parties.
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