It’s grand indeed at Century Grand, the 1920s-inspired cocktail compound from the minds of Jason Asher and Rich Furnari of Barter & Shake. You feel like Jay and Daisy from the moment you walk into the Arcadia building that houses Century Grand (a Prohibition-era cocktail bar with dim sum carts bearing nibbles, cocktails and wine), the Grey Hen Saloon (a tasting room and spirits shop where Valley whiskey maestro and general manager John Christie can be found stirring up drinks) and Platform 18 (a luxe and immersive sliver of a bar designed to look and feel like the inside of a Presidential Pullman train car). As at Asher and Furnari’s subterranean tiki spot UnderTow, all of the senses are engaged in what is truly a cocktail “experience”: servers and bartenders in period-inspired garb, elegant Art Deco design flourishes and, in Platform 18, audiovisual touches that mimic a train ride through the countryside – trees and meadows rushing by, stretches of darkness while the locomotive goes through “tunnels,” etc.
This past week, I joined a couple of gal pals for a ride on the train, a true dream come true for a Harry Potter nerd who’s always wanted to hop aboard a boozy Hogwarts Express.
I didn’t get a chance to try the food this time – it’s served only in Century Grand, not Platform 18 – but I’m plotting my return to do so. After all, chef Sacha Levine (recently of Singh Meadows and Ocotillo) is at the helm of the kitchen, which means everything will be rotating seasonally, and all of it will be delicious.
There aren’t happy hour discounts, but that’s OK. Sometimes it’s worth spending more for a fun experience, even if there aren’t deals. Recent selections from Levine included gochujang beer nuts; whipped ricotta with peach chutney, basil and toast; heirloom potato chips with cauliflower dip; house pickles with gremolata and olive oil; and pork rillettes with grain mustard and garlic crostini. It’s a fun mix of Levine’s signature produce-forward cuisine with cheeky nods to retro dishes and cooking techniques like terrine and aspic. (If you’re Gen X or younger, you’ll probably need to Google those – I’m an old lady at heart who loves vintage cookbooks, so I’m “here for” Levine’s throwbacks, as the kids say.) Dim sum carts ferry other tasty nibbles like blini around.
Again, Platform 18 doesn’t have any special pricing, but the cocktails are crafted so thoughtfully, with such topnotch ingredients, that they are worth every penny. Plus, it’s an experience, people! Your $18 cocktail is a top-drawer tipple and an immersive escape from reality. My favorite was the 818, a bright and refreshing drink made with Monkey 47 gin, ajowan seed, apricot essence, Osmanthus-infused acacia honey, pineapple juice, lemon juice and Peychaud’s bitters, served over crushed ice with a plume of mint leaves and a snazzy silver straw. I loved the floral yet strong Silver Dollar, too, but in my excitement at the train video (and already one stiff drink in), I forgot to record the ingredients. It’s gin-based, with lovely fruity and herbal notes, so if you like that, you’ll love it. My whiskey-sipping friends loved their burlier drinks, too.
THE INSIDER SECRET
It’s not really a secret, just a “duh” thing that apparently people still need to be reminded of: Get there on time! Each reservation is for a 90-minute window, so if you’re late, you’ll miss out on part of the train journey, and you’ll only have yourself to blame. Be prompt, guys and gals!
Century Grand is open from 5 p.m.-midnight Sunday through Thursday and 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Platform 18 is open from 4 p.m.-midnight Sunday through Thursday and 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Grey Hen is open 2-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 2 p.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday. Reservations required; review the reservation policy online before you book.