High Society at Mari Vanna LA
Written by Sarah Oestreich (Editor) @Sarah_Oestreich
Photos courtesy of BJ Panda Bear and Monkeybird
A “Garden-Party-Meets-Grandma’s House”…with Vodka
Adam Bravin is half of the band She Wants Revenge, the “President’s DJ,” co-creator of modern discotheque Giorgio’s at the Standard Hotel in West Hollywood, and High Society DJ.
BJ PANDA BEAR
BJ has his hands in a little bit of everything: he is a blogger, stylist, DJ, and the blonde Asian you see at every party.
Monkeybird is a photographer, model, art director, and vagabond
MARI VANNA LA
Mari Vanna is a Russian restaurant and lounge located on the infamous Melrose Place. On every Monday night it hosts a private party called High Society.
The place to be on Monday nights in Los Angeles is Mari Vanna, where you can dine on authentic Russian fare, sip on house-infused vodkas, and listen to great music while rubbing elbows with the Hollywood elite.
Located on Melrose Place, this Russian restaurant and lounge – with locations in New York, DC, London, and of course, Moscow – has made headlines for its unique door policy: after 8pm on one night per week, only those holding keys on custom matryoshka doll (Russian nesting doll) key chains are granted entrance to this cozy space. But more on the keys later.
When I say cozy, I don’t mean it in the way property owners often use the term to describe vacant apartments that are the size of closets. You will love this apartment! It is so cozy! The toilet in the kitchen is so convenient!
Once through the double doors, the distinct scent of freshly baked bread wafts over you as you enter the garden patio with trees and wooden tables paired with wicker chairs. The rest of the restaurant is housed in a small cottage, up a few stairs lined with potted plants.
Mari Vanna’s décor is reminiscent of an elderly woman’s rural cottage, filled with various knickknacks—birdhouses, dolls, teapots—she has gathered throughout her long life. The menu is even held in what looks like a photo album, old black and white photos included. After the sun sets, this afternoon teatime-worthy location turns into a magical little forest that belongs in a children’s fairytale. The only light shining on the patio comes from the house’s open windows and a few strategically placed twinkly lights and lanterns.
What so easily could have gone kitschy, hokey and over the top, surprisingly is not (well, maybe there are just one too many birdhouses). Unlike the numerous restaurants that strive for the appearance of authenticity and often end up feeling forced, there is an ease to this Russian-owned and run establishment. Instead of gimmicky, the tchotchkes lining the walls come across as having a purpose and story behind them. They offer an instant feeling of familiarity and comfort, especially to the restaurant’s large expat clientele. Mari Vanna is not trying to be anything than what it is: a traditional Russian eatery. The restaurant’s website aptly describes its design aesthetic as “garden-party-meets-grandma’s house.” Which is apropos, given its namesake.
On one night per week, only those holding keys on custom matryoshka key chains are granted entrance.
Mari Vanna is named after Slavic legend of a woman who welcomed hungry travelers into her home and cooked them hot meals. She treated them like family. If her visitors turned into frequent guests, she gave them a key to the front door.
This tale not only informed the restaurant’s furnishings, but also was the inspiration behind the aforementioned key nights, which take place at all Mari Vanna locations. The owners started these members-only events with the intention of creating a welcoming and relaxing experience for patrons. And since the keys open the doors to all locations, weary key-holding travelers can be in unfamiliar cities and feel right at home.
But these nights are not without detractors. Some feel that permitting only a select few and their guests entrance as needlessly exclusionary and elitist. (Although I would like to see another nightlife venue that doesn’t give off the same vibe.) According to founding partner Tatiana Brunetti, however, believes that the policy actually fosters intimacy. In an interview with The Washington Post, she stated, “This isn’t meant to keep people out — on the contrary, we want visitors to feel as though they are guests in our home. We want diners to start their night at Mari Vanna the same way they might at a friend’s house…[receiving] a warm welcome.”
This may seem like an odd backdrop for a weekly party, but that’s the point. The Los Angeles event, entitled “High Society,” is not like a nightclub and the organizers have no intention of making it one. Brittany Flickinger, Director of Events for Mari Vanna LA, says High Society will be a “heartfelt” experience and a “safe place for our guests” to enjoy themselves.
This isn’t to say Mondays will be without any excitement. Unlike the key nights at other locations, High Society offers a uniquely LA experience. Case in point: High Society is hosted by social networking site Crushee.com and DJ extraordinaire, Adam 12. You may know Adam (né Bravin) as half of the duo She Wants Revenge, the “President’s DJ”—it is not uncommon for him to post screen shots on social media of text messages between him and President Obama’s team—and the co-creator of Giorgio’s, the über successful reimagined disco at the Standard Hotel in West Hollywood.
If Giorgio’s patrons are any indication of what’s to come—Mick Jagger, Rufus Wainwright, Balthazar Getty, Dita Von Teese, Russell Simmons, and Lenny Kravitz have all made appearances—High Society will feature the who’s who of Los Angeles.
The rest of the crowd will be familiar to those who frequent restaurants and lounges in LA—hipsters, designers, television execs, models, writers/bloggers [eh hem], etc. One group you won’t find at High Society, however, is the Ed Hardy wearing types. You know them: they only go to clubs to be seen and pay way too much for bottle service, with the requisite vulgar sparklers included, of course. You will not have to skillfully dodge and weave between wasted bros and party girls who not only should not be getting behind the wheel, really shouldn’t be in public at all.
“This isn’t meant to keep people out — on the contrary, we want visitors to feel as though they are guests in our home. We want diners to start their night at Mari Vanna the same way they might at a friend’s house…[receiving] a warm welcome.”
–Tatiana Brunetti in the Washington Post
And unsurprisingly, Adam 12 knows how to select just the right tunes for this circle. While diverse in genre, each song flows perfectly into the next. The music adds to the “chill” atmosphere, for lack of a better term. It also isn’t so loud and distracting that it is difficult to talk to the person next to you, but there are certain moments when people stop what they’re doing and acknowledge a song choice (like the perpetual crowd favorite “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails.)
And the food! Mari Vanna’s menu consists of traditional Russian dishes such as beef stroganoff, borscht, chicken kiev, an assortment of blinis, and of course, caviar. Don’t fret if you’re a vegetarian or don’t want to leave the restaurant in a serious food coma: like all Los Angeles restaurants, there are options for you too. For a nice change of pace, these dishes don’t stick out like a sore thumb, but rather are just non-meat or lighter versions of Russian classics.
But a heavy meal may not be a bad thing when there are so many varieties of vodka to try. Mari Vanna infuses Russian Standard vodka (what else?) in-house and the selection includes more familiar flavors to Americans such as strawberry, cranberry, and raspberry, but also customary Russian ones like pepper, horseradish, and seaberry.
If you weren’t fortunate enough to score one of the few keys or know someone who was, a little birdy (c’mon, there has to be at least one residing there) told me that if you RSVP via Crushee, there is a better chance of you getting to experience the high society lifestyle – but no guarantees.