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Blaze It: A New Santa Monica Restaurant Hotboxes Cocktails With a Gravity Bong and Tobacco Terpenes

Walking past the artificial grass-lined outdoor patio and into Santa Monica’s Nostalgia Bar & Lounge, one is supposed to feel transported into a suburban memory trapped in amber.

The wood-paneled walls, pop culture references, and deep sofas may remind you of your own high school safe harbor, the den or basement of that friend with parents “cool” or negligent enough that you could hideaway and toke before a few hours of Grand Theft Auto. And if those don’t align with your actual memories, just conjure up the stoners circle in That 70’s Show and you get the rough idea. Hey Arnold, Doug, lord Frieza in his final form—the gang is all there to trigger your deepest couch-locked nostalgia.

A stretched mural where Alf and SpongeBob share the wall with Mario, Stimpy, and Johnny Bravo is the first thing that hits your adjusting eyes. Jenga, Chutes & Ladders, and Battleship are stacked between the four-legged coffee tables where your vodka-and-Tia Maria-laced takes on Yoo-hoo and seriously beautiful food will soon be landing. Nineties punk-pop and Top 40 beats blast on the stereo while house-made cherry-beet Flintstones Push-Ups are served for dessert. The entire color spectrum starts at tan and doesn't go far beyond brown.

“Nostalgia is about making those memories of the past, the memories of the future,” says founder Chris Sayegh of his first brick-and-mortar restaurant.

And for those whose sense memories come clogged with dense clouds of sinsemilla smoke and spilled bongwater, the concept also embraces cannabis. As much as it can without serving the real thing. “Part of the past for me was gravity bongs, it was terpenes, it was cannabis, it was cartoons, movies, T.V. and music and all these things,” Sayegh says. “We’re really trying to have people reminiscence in a way that they truly love, that brings them joy.”

Herbal Chef Chris Sayegh

Sayegh knows what herb devotees like. The Melisse veteran is also the creator of The Herbal Chef, a celebrated local catering outfit offering private and pop-up dinners that extol and explore marijuana as an ingredient.

At Nostalgia, Chris and crew deploy terpenes, isolated and extracted essential oils responsible for the complex perfumes expressed by plants, fruits, and flowers. Cannabis terpenes are quickly ascending into popularity for their ripe bouquets, which span the gamut from bright and fruity to dank and piney. Here, you’ll find these non-psychoactive organics in your drinks.

At Nostalgia, any cocktail can be infused with cannabis-derived terpenes and any mocktail with CBD. An alcoholic riff on the Orange Julius has a tiny cannabis leaf stenciled into its foam on top. The menu’s also includes a gin, Aperol, and elderflower cocktail bearing a fruit punch Cloudburst terpene from the company Abstrax Tech and an ode to the Otter Pop with vodka, Clement Creole Shrub, berries, honey, and Abstrax’s raspberry-lemonade terpene aside a berry fruit popsicle. Lemon berry tart terpenes help bring the Strawiwi Cooler to life.

“The flavor and aromatics of the cocktails are totally, totally wild,” Sayegh says. “The aroma that you’re getting off from the terpenes, when you bring your nose to it, you have this incredible experience where you’re like, ‘what is that smell and why is it so familiar?’ The terpenes complement and balance the drink so well, that you just think it’s an accent or part of the drink. You would never know there was an added component of cannabis. It’s such a welcome addition that people never knew they wanted it.”

And while the sight of a smoked and smoking cocktail is no longer novel at places concocting fashionable drinks, Nostalgia’s cannabis coup de grace appears when bartenders use a high-end gravity bong from Stundenglass to smoke a bourbon, apple brandy, and blood orange cocktail called Apples to Oranges.

The top-of-the-line device, which slowly adds smoke from a burning bowl through a hose and into a glass dome in which the drink gets hotboxed, puts your two-liter Coke bottles and dorm room sink to shame, made with magnetic seals, and zero plastic for a smoother, more controlled draw while still leaning on gravity to make massive, percolated, water-filtered hits. It’s also visually stunning on a bar top.

The drink itself has an orange expression and apple-cinnamon syrup. The smoke comes from smoldering applewood chips with a terpene derived from the tobacco plant, creating a complex flavor unlike any smoked cocktail we’ve tried, complementing both the sweet and tart elements of the drink.

“Our bar manager Chris Serrano and I really wanted to get things that really reminded us of really amazing experiences we’ve had,” Sayegh says. “This is one that stemmed from an experience. Obviously, Apples to Oranges is a childhood game. The gravity bong and the smoke really elevate it from a childhood memory to this amazing, sophisticated cocktail that’s full of whimsy. The flavor is just like, ‘holy moly,’ you couldn’t ignore it.”

Nostalgia, which replaced the age-old Speakeasy, the last of Santa Monica’s Pico Boulevard dives, save for the gloriously seedy, members-only Elks Lodge #906, is a fun concept with serious food and drinks. As well as an open embrace of cannabis, even if it’s not the stony stuff quite yet.

Sayegh isn’t in too much of a rush to get there. Not only does he love doing private dinners where the herb is openly explored and relished, he had a hand in helping write legislation that allowed for West Hollywood’s first licensed restaurants to permit smoking and ingestion of cannabis. And wasn’t happy with the final results.

“I spent a lot of time, and they butchered it so poorly,” he says. “Legislators are making the rules for things they do not have any understanding of. So, the lounges right now are very disjointed from one’s experiences if they’re elevating their consciousness and getting high. It’s more conducive to someone who is having drinks and getting drunk, where they are less conscious of their surroundings and their actions. It’s not something I really wanted to operate in.”

He thinks cannabis lounges and hospitality providers will hit their proper stride if federal legalization becomes reality, something he predicts in about two-to-four years. For now, he’s thrilled to be sticking to the private chef route and playfully connecting guests to their happy childhood (and marijuana) memories at Nostalgia.

“I think, more than anything, whatever we focus on will grow,” he says. “And if we always focus on the negative in life, and what’s happening in the world, then that’s what will grow. But if we focus on the positive, then that can grow as well. I really want to highlight that in our culture and our society. I believe that the vast majority of people just want to be with their friends and family and live a decent life.”

Nostalgia Bar & Lounge ~ 1326 Pico Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90405. Closest transit lines and stop: Santa Monica Big Blue Bus Routes 7 and 41 - "Pico/14th."

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