It’s not an uncommon sight to see throngs of people lined up for something au courant in Los Angeles; the newest Nikes, most sought-after makeup lines and most Instagram-worthy food crazes all bring out the hippest Angelenos. But on one sunny afternoon in late September, locals and tourists alike were lined up to have an experience unlike any other in the United States. It was day two of operations for West Hollywood’s Lowell Cafe, the first-ever cannabis consumption lounge and restaurant to open in the country, and the buzz in the air was as tangible as the lingering scent of cannabis wafting on the breeze.
Past the rather long line, where guests who hadn’t snagged one of the restaurant’s elusive reservations were waiting for entry, a security guard ushered in media, VIPs, influencers and guests who’d reserved their table as far back as a month ago.
From the hostess stand, the restaurant is cleverly divided into several spaces. To the right, a charming patio opens in front of an indoor-outdoor bar with dark, moody speakeasy-like seating behind it. The patio’s courtyard is flanked by trees and ventilation hoods designed to (somewhat effectively) minimize the smokiness, and in the center, a mature olive tree provides both shade and a California chic atmosphere. Directly behind the host stand, a gate opens up onto another courtyard, which was booked that day with a private event, and is planned to be sectioned off into a “separate” bar space in the future, where alcohol will be sold, per the notice of application posted on the restaurant’s front wall.
These distinct and modular spaces are one of the keys to Lowell Cafe’s success as it navigates the complicated compliance issues at both the state and the city levels. Because the state doesn’t allow food sold next to cannabis products on the same premises, Lowell Cafe worked with the state and city to find a loophole: it has two sets of servers that come to your table, two menus, two checks, and even two addresses (one for cannabis, one for food). It also is not doing live food infusions, due to problems with the state’s track-and-trace regulations.
Lowell (which since its opening in September has already rebranded as the Original Cannabis Cafe) is the first of 16 consumption lounges that will be opening in West Hollywood. Eight of those lounges — Lowell Cafe included — will be permitted to allow “smoking, vaping and edibles” consumption, but the other eight will allow for edibles-only consumption, such as the upcoming Budberry, helmed by celebrity cannabis chef Jeff “the 420 Chef” Danzer.
For now, Lowell Cafe remains the only restaurant space in the country where diners can light up alongside their lunch, and the novelty of the experience is not lost on its guests.
“This is absolutely a new freedom for all of us,” says Thomas Giordonello, co-founder of cannabis PR company Hotline Agency, who attended the cafe’s opening day. “There was sort of this incredible, intangible feeling everyone had, without having to say a thing, recognizing that this is a special opportunity. The fact that you can consume right on top of your food is fascinating.”
Indeed, there was a sense of wonder on many guests’ faces as they perused a classic farm-to-table food menu featuring easy, Californian fare, such as vegan nachos, tamarind chicken wings, burgers and salads. The second menu featuring the cafe’s cannabis selections was presented by people dubbed “Flower Hosts,” servers designated to take all cannabis orders and make recommendations on the menu, which ranges from pre-rolls to flower, concentrates, edibles and accessories. Pre-roll pricing ranges from $18-$30, eighths are in the $55-65 range and grams of 710 Labs concentrates go for as much as $180.
The flower menu also features a selection of brands, including Maven, LA Kush, 22 Red and, of course, Lowell Farms. The edibles section is beverage-heavy, featuring pre-packaged non-alcoholic drinks like Two Roots “beer” and Cann Sparkling Social Tonic. And while papers, grinders and PuffCo Peaks are free to use, pipes, bongs and flower vaporizers are priced for rent, including a $200 fee for a hookah. A $30 “tokeage” fee allows guests to bring in and consume their own cannabis onsite.
With so many options — including, of course, the non-infused food for those not interested in consuming cannabis — it’s easy to see that Lowell Cafe aims to serve a wide variety of guests united by one thing: normalizing cannabis.
“Lowell Cafe is a place for those who are cannacurious and the cannabis connoisseurs looking to experience the plant in a welcoming atmosphere,” says Kevin Brady, restaurant director for Lowell Herb Co, the cannabis company behind the cafe. “For us, this signifies the real end of cannabis prohibition in California. This restaurant is a historic moment for the cannabis movement, and in steering the normalization of the plant for the country as a whole.”
Encouraging the spread of the onsite consumption model will be a key piece of said normalization, and with states like Nevada, Massachusetts, Colorado and Illinois eyeing rolling out their own social consumption programs, all eyes are on Lowell Cafe and West Hollywood. From bakery-led concepts like Budberry to a planned cannabis day spa model called Door Number Six, West Hollywood has created an innovative pathway for unique cannabusinesses and consumer experiences.
“We are charting new territory from literally every angle,” says Brady. “There are rules and regulations that didn’t even exist a year ago within the City of West Hollywood, so we’re very much on the forefront of something new. It’s exciting, but also means we want to lead by example for the cannabis industry, while creating the best experience for our guests.”
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