West Hollywood's goal of becoming the new Amsterdam moved one step closer to reality last month with the Oct. 26 opening of PleasureMed, the tiny city's fourth legally licensed (and third currently open) cannabis consumption lounge.
This new one deftly navigates state and local regulations to make weed, booze and grub seamlessly available to patrons under one roof (well, technically, two very close adjoining roofs) against a stylish, well-designed backdrop that's part speakeasy, part greenhouse, part Cuban cigar bar and all fun with a sly dash of sexiness thrown in for good measure.
That subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle sexiness manifests itself in unexpected places, including the drink menu, which offers up concoctions called the Pornstar Slush and the Spicy Like a Sleepover, and the bathroom wallpaper, with patterns such as cheeky mushrooms and reclining nude card players. It's all a nod to the Pleasure Chest, the sex-toy emporium next door, which shares a parking lot and an owner, Brian Robinson.
On a recent visit shortly before PleasureMed opened to the public, Robinson said his original idea was to open a dispensary inside the existing adult boutique. "Because what's better than sex and weed?" he said.
But when the long-vacant machine shop next door went up for auction, he expanded his vision to something more like a one-stop vice shop. What exactly does a dildo dealer know about slinging the sticky icky? I asked Robinson that (well, not in exactly in those terms) on a tour of what he's billing as a "pleasure campus."
"When people go into the Pleasure Chest [for the first time], they're surprised that it's not what they expected," Robinson told The Times. "They see people laughing and they talk to our staff about anything. And they don't feel like they need to take a shower afterward. There's a respect, a sense of encouraging people to go on their journey without shame. ... It's the acceptance of all kinds of people — big and small, old and young, rich and poor. We want you to walk in and feel accepted for the sexual person you are, and it's the same thing with this."
Patrons embarking on this particular shame-free journey have a lot to look forward to, especially if they arrive after sunset when the trippy video-art installation (created by Robinson and New York-based video design studio Optical Animal) projected on the western wall of the building is at its most striking (mind the jaguar). The 6,500-square-foot space includes an alfresco cocktail bar, a cannabis dispensary and a food-forward consumption lounge — each with its own point of entry.
Visitors have some strategic choices to make. If an alcoholic beverage is on the agenda first, the destination should be toward the rear of the property, home to the outdoor bar and lounge area called Hind (get it?), which serves close to a dozen specialty cocktails and a trio of zero-proof ones as well as food from the adjacent kitchen. It's a smallish space that can fit up to 45 people, but somehow it feels much bigger — maybe it's the open roof or the focus-pulling wall mural that resembles Matisse cutouts.
If it's a grab-your-ganja-and-go type of visit, then the arched doorway just off the parking lot topped with the name PleasureMed in glowing green neon should be the place to aim for. That door leads to the dispensary proper, which has an upscale, almost old-timey feel thanks to high ceilings, wooden fixtures, ivory-colored chandeliers and a black-and-white checkerboard-patterned tile floor.
Robinson said he took inspiration for the space, which was designed by L.A.-based Studio UNLTD, from the apothecaries of Havana, a point hammered home further by the budtenders sporting guayabera shirts with stylized cannabis-leaf logos embroidered on the left lapel.
If the evening's itinerary calls for finding a stylish, well-appointed place to fire up and chow down, that can be accomplished by heading for the door that fronts Santa Monica Boulevard marked by a small sign that reads Irie. That's the name of the second-floor space that makes PleasureMed a unique destination among the city's other open cannabis consumption lounges.
That's because the airy, plant- and light-filled space at the top of the stairs is designed to feel like a restaurant that happens to offer cannabis products as opposed to a smoking lounge with food options Franken-grafted on as an afterthought. (That's not to throw shade on the other two open WeHo consumption lounges. The lack of in-house food options has to do with state regulations. More on that below.)
At the center of the 135-seat dining/dabbling space is a marble-topped bar above which there is a massive skylight that slides open to let the sunshine in and smoke and vapor out. Off the main room are two smaller ones; a private dining room with a long wooden table that seats 16 (perfect for an office holiday gathering — hint, hint) and a lounge area appointed with comfy couches, overstuffed chairs and glass-topped coffee tables and touches that include a framed cover of the first issue of High Times on the wall and a stack of Playboy magazines from 1969 (the year Robinson was born) on a side table.
This room, which can accommodate about a baker's dozen (see what I did there?), is designated for walk-ins and pop-bys, as are the seats around the horseshoe-shaped bar, while the rest of the upstairs is available by reservation via Resy, which further underscores the restaurant-first, weed-second strategy. (Reservations also can be made through Resy for Hind.)
Behind the bar are old-school glass beaker bongs (each emblazoned with the leggy PleasureMed logo), dabX go water-filtered vaporizers and stacks of PleasureMed-branded ceramic ashtrays. During a tour, Robinson pointed out the vaporizers as well as the skylight and the high-powered filtration system humming behind the scenes as ways Irie (named after the Jamaican word meaning all right or fine) aims to mitigate lingering smoke and vapor.
"We want people who don't even use cannabis to be able to be here because of the food and the energy," he said, "in a space that feels safe and comfortable and creative."
Based on my two visits (one before the space opened and one five days after the official opening), Robinson and his crew have accomplished just that.
Because Irie is positioning itself as a food-first kind of place, it makes sense to start there. The menu is small but wide-ranging and, at launch, includes a deep bench of shareable options: a pair of pizzas (the beef ’nduja, giardiniera and fontina one might as well come to the table with a bull's-eye on it given how quickly ours was inhaled) and family-style platters of squash ravioli in brown butter (with just a pop of chile heat).
Also, there's the wild sea bass (with Sungold tomatoes, rapini and preserved lemon) and the dirty-sounding, gluten-free smashed butterballs (as in butterball potatoes — with crème fraîche, black garlic and gremolata). With a dozen gluten-free items and half again as many vegan ones, there appears to be something on the menu for just about everyone.
It's also worth noting (if only because Irie has already gotten the question plenty since opening) that while food and cannabis are both available here, none of the kitchen-prepared menu items actually contain cannabis.
For those looking to blaze either before or after dinner (or both), a cannabis concierge of sorts (here they're dubbed flight attendants) will swing by your table with a menu of THC-containing items that, at launch, includes beverages (two different spritzes from Artet) and a range of prerolled joints, ranging from 0.35 gram mini joints (10 to a box from Pure Beauty) perfect for a predinner amuse-bouche to nightcap, dessert-worthy 1.5-gram-infused prerolls from Heavy Hitters.
The food workaround
It's no small feat that Irie has managed to make the commingling of comestibles and combustibles feel so normal and so seamless, especially given how logistically challenging it was to pull off the location. The wrinkle here is that, under California law, it's actually illegal for dispensaries to sell food at all. Assembly Bill 374, which would have changed that, made it all the way to Gov. Gavin Newsom's desk before being vetoed earlier this month, with Newsom citing the state's smoke-free workplace protections.
The Artist Tree Studio Dispensary Lounge, the other WeHo consumption lounge that offers an on-site food option, collaborates with nearby Fresh Corn Grill to get the goods across the street and to the table.
Read more: The L.A. Times 2023 holiday gift guide
Although Robinson said he'd originally hoped his grand vision for the PleasureMed space would benefit from the passage of AB 374, it was designed to be wholly compliant with the law as it exists. That's because, while patrons might not notice it, the building that's home to Hind (as well as the kitchen that serves Irie) is not just a separate building but a totally separate business entity. (The food destined for Irie gets ferried up the back stairs to the dining room.)
At opening, the actual PleasureMed dispensary space, as beautiful a buildout as it is, is the least exciting part of Robinson's just-opened space. The real potential for a next-level night on the town comes with the synergy between Hind's food and booze options being cheek by jowl with Irie's food-and-weed lounge concept. It's less of a pleasure campus and more of a problem solver at a time when any group of more than three people headed out for a night of fun is likely to include one booze hound who doesn't get high, one weed head who doesn't drink and one gluten-averse party monster who does both.
On a recent visit, I chatted with a pair of diners, Santa Monica resident Michael Yeack and L.A. resident Jose Gutierrez, who had fired up some Binske mini 0.5-gram prerolls before tucking into some buri-hira aguachile and a chicory and apple salad with spiced pecans and pomegranate. Although both were cannabis consumers, neither of them had been to a consumption lounge before, and they promptly booked a table at Irie after hearing about it.
"Whenever we go out, we're not too interested in drinking anymore," Gutierrez told The Times. "And this was sort of a happy alternative where you can find food. And I heard about having the chef from Hatchet Hall [Wes Whitsell] consult on the menu here, so I thought, 'Wow, the food seems to be pretty good.' And also it felt like a good alternative to drinking, and you can eat and smoke weed."
"After COVID, a lot of our friends stopped drinking as much too," added Yeack, "so it's exciting to find places to go to that aren't drinking places. ... And also, I feel kind of bad going to a bar and not buying alcohol."
As they waited for their next course — a cherry tomato, pecorino, ricotta and basil pizza — to arrive, I asked what they thought of the space and their experience in it.
"It's really laid-back," Gutierrez said, acknowledging the general vibe of the space and the dozen-and-a-half diners scattered around the room melding meals with marijuana at 5:43 p.m. on a Monday evening. "It seems like a place like this would have been open for years already. It doesn't seem like it should be some new big thing."
Know before you go
Twenty-one-plus-only cannabis consumption is solely permitted in the upstairs lounge, Irie, and alcohol may only be purchased (and consumed) at Hind. Also, only cannabis products purchased on-site may be consumed. Although credit cards are accepted for non-THC-containing food and drink, all cannabis products are cash only (because of federal banking restrictions).
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.