By Ron Donoho / Photo by Kristina Yamamoto
Dave Whitton and Aidan Demarest are big deals in Los Angeles nightlife circles, having advanced to the level of: If we build it, they will come - and stand in lines that circle the block.
When the bartenders-turned-bar-innovators opened Frauds and Swindlers in the Gaslamp this summer, however, they discovered that San Diego is a world apart from their usual stomping grounds.
"We're L.A. guys who've been a little humbled," says Whitton. "The Gaslamp is a lot different than we thought. It's been eye-opening, and we see that we are going to have to work to generate clientele."
That's a lot of honesty - especially from a guy who opened a place in L.A. called Villains and now runs Frauds and Swindlers. Whitton says the name pokes fun at the bar industry's management personnel, the humor compounded by his bar's location inside the Keating Building, where Charles Keating played banking shell games during the Savings & Loans scandals in the late-1980s.
Whitton's been in the L.A. scene for 14 years, opening downtown L.A.'s Golden Gopher (a luxe/dive hybrid offering both Pabst beer and fine scotches) and Seven Grand, a sister whiskey bar to the popular venue in North Park. Seven Grand, L.A., is where Whitton met Demarest, who also owns Neat Spirits Bar off the beaten path in Glendale, where, as the name implies, premium spirits are doled out "neat" (sans ice).
The pair have been featured on The Cooking Channel and in Los Angeles Times; judged the San Francisco World Spirits Competition; and consult as beverage directors for L.A.-area bars such as Cliff 's Edge, The One Eyed Gypsy and King's Row Gastropub.
Long story short, these guys are on their game. Demarest says their local venture, the two-story Frauds and Swindlers, offers "a dark, sexy and urban experience." It's located on the former site of Brick + Mortar (previously The Merk) and next to Croce's (which relocates to Banker's Hill at the end of the year).
Frauds and Swindlers serves cocktails in Mason jars and punchbowls. The upstairs bar, Two Fingers (like the old-fashioned pour) is a derivation of Demarest's Neat, offering hard liquor without garnishes.
Whitton and Demarest's big-city experience may ultimately provide the leg up they need to make it big in the mean streets of the Gaslamp. The Italian Next Door, their adjacent pizzeria (on the former site of Krust), may offer additional support. It stays open until 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights, when patrons are sure to be two (or many more) fingers deep.