This essential new bar in Historic Filipinotown is one of the most exciting openings of the year.
“You have to be really thick-skinned because it is no joke when people say that they treat you differently as a woman,” says Christine Sumiller, one of the three female founders/owners of Genever, the beautiful new gin-focused bar in L.A.’s Historic Filipinotown. “They will try and push you around and make you think that you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Sumiller and her business partners, longtime friends Roselma Samala and Patricia Perez, encountered all kinds of mansplaining as they built out Genever and bought supplies for the cocktail bar. They were spoken to with disdain “even through the permitting process” and when they were “negotiating almost anything.”
One factor: “We look young and we’re on the shorter side, so they really do think that we’re just young kids trying to make this big dream happen,” Sumiller says.
The worst, dumbest piece of unsolicited advice they got was being told that they shouldn’t go into business with their friends.
“That’s when we were like, ‘We are going to prove them wrong,’” Sumiller says. She smiles when she thinks about this now. “Because I have the partners that I have, I never thought about giving up."
Genever opened in March. On one hand, you could say that it’s part of a modern Filipino movement in L.A. that includes downtown dining destinations like Food & Wine 2018 Restaurant of the Year Lasa, Sari Sari Store, and RiceBar. On the other hand, Genever serves no food, and none of the aforementioned restaurants has cocktails. What all these places share, however—beyond their Filipino roots—is an unwavering desire to do things their own way. Lasa started as a pop-up. Sari Sari Store is a stand at Grand Central Market. RiceBar is a tiny counter-service spot. Genever is a cozy bar with a capacity of just 49. And yet, all four places feel much more significant than what their modest setup might imply.
“Filipinos, we don’t do a lot of things traditionally,” Samala says and laughs. “Maybe it’s in our blood.”
Genever’s owners have known each other since their UCLA days more than two decades ago. They had built successful careers in different industries: Sumiller in finance, Samala in philanthropy, and Perez in both technology and hospitality (L.A.’s Pho Show restaurants and forthcoming 310 Coffee Company). They knew they had complementary skills. And they knew they had a story to tell together.
Genever, which offers 24 different gins, isn’t just a women-owned bar. It’s a Filipina-owned bar that offers a taste of the three owners’ heritage. There are cocktails that feature Filipino ingredients like pandan, calamansi, bitter melon, panutsa, and tapioca.
“We wanted to be a woman-run business,” Samala says. “We wanted to be the ones who owned it, who ran it, who made all the decisions as women. Even in terms of when we were looking at investors, we made it very clear that they would be a silent investor and that we would make all the decisions. We wanted to bring in Filipino flavors.”
The bar was partially funded via Kickstarter, and there are names of crowdfunding supporters on Genever’s stools. There are also more than 100 supporters’ names hidden inside the feathers of “Lady Genever,” a painting that artist Emily Caisip made for the bar.
This isn’t just a woman-owned business; it’s a woman-created business. Lead bartender Kellie “Kelso” Norris (who was previously at L.A.’s Tintorera and New York’s Craft and The Raines Law Room) did “her due diligence as a white person” as she researched Filipino ingredients and created cocktails with sweet, savory, and bitter notes.
“Gin is super versatile and plays well with others and brings out a lot of characteristics, especially in the citrus and herbal world,” Norris says. “I had tons of fun exploring new flavors and figuring out ways to incorporate them into cocktails.”
The Lost Angel with St. George Botanivore gin “is a riff on an Archangel” with bitter melon instead of cucumber. “I also used Singani in that,” Norris says. “The sweetness from that kind of balances out the bitterness.”
The Butterfly in the Sky, featuring butterfly-pea-flower-infused Aviation gin, Scrappy’s lavender bitters, yuzu tonic, and lime, starts off blue and then turns purple moments later. The Diamond and Pearls “was just straight blowing it up,” Norris says. That transporting cocktail has green-tea-infused gin, coconut, pandan, calamansi, sago, and matcha powder.
Sumiller, Samala, and Perez started thinking about Genever on January 1, 2013. They had spent many New Year’s Eves together over the years, and the parties often involved sleepovers. So on that morning, they were still at Perez’s house, hanging out and talking about the future.
“We all looked at really taking control of our own wealth and taking more of our lives without our own reins,” Sumiller says. “So we thought, well, what business could we do together that we would also enjoy? And since we were still drinking at 10 in the morning, we thought, well, let’s open a bar.”
So they started meeting every Tuesday to make their dream happen. They were inspired by the history of legendary speakeasy frontwomen, like Texas Guinan, Belle Livingstone, and Helen Morgan, who all served drinks during prohibition.The Genever partners realized that gin was a big part of prohibition. And they talked about what it’s like to drink as a woman in the 21st century.
“We travel a lot,” Samala says. “As women, we’re always questioning whether or not we should go to a bar by ourselves. We really appreciate those restaurants or bars where it does feel welcoming and comfortable for us to come in.”
Sumiller, Samala, and Perez also thought a lot about their Filipina identity as they created Genever. They had all been involved with Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA), a nonprofit in Historic Filipinotown that works on health, economic, and social service programs. Coincidentally, the site of Genever was a big part of SIPA’s history.
“We feel that it was kismet that this space was available,” Sumiller says. “It was not actually used for many years. When we found it was available, we had looked at different parts of Los Angeles already. We find out after we lease this space that this was actually the SIPA headquarters back in the ’70s. We felt that was a good sign. And the fact that we are three Filipinas who own a full liquor bar melds together with our plan to show people what Historic Filipinotown is.”
Genever is a highly specific bar, but it’s also the neighborhood bar for Historic Filipinotown. The owners and Norris says they keep encountering customers who’ve lived in the area for more than a decade and say they have been waiting for a place like this.
It’s a bonus that this gin joint is unlike any other cocktail lounge. The bartender aprons at Genever are made in the Philippines.
“We worked with this Filipina-owned company, ANTHILL,” Sumiller says. “They engage the community and create jobs for women weavers. It was really important for us to support them.”
Even the name of the hospitality group started by the three friends behind Genever is about celebrating their roots.
“Our name is Red Capiz Partners, which has a very significant meaning to us,” Samala says. “The initials RCP are all of our first names. Red for us is the color of passion, of strength, of love. Capiz is a shell that you find in the Philippines. Us being women, us being Filipina, has always been at the forefront of our building this bar.”
Genever, 3123 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, 213-908-5693