Good Juju

Veteran chef delivers magic to a cocktail bar

By Greg Sabin
December 2023

Headed to the theater for a holiday show? I’ve got the place for you. Juju Kitchen & Cocktails, a drinks and small-plate enterprise at 15th and L streets, offers a sophisticated stop for the discerning theatergoer (or anyone else).

Chef David English brings his pedigree and penchant for tasteful simplicity. Having closed his Press Bistro in late 2019, English offers many familiar dishes at Juju but with a different vibe.

Juju is a cocktail lounge. It’s a bit of a restaurant too, but alcohol comes first. A cleverly situated circular bar dominates, but a partial wall bifurcates the bar and splits the room in two.

The inner space, all ferns and soft surfaces, opens onto the Marriott Residence Inn. The outer space, all windows, is an urban fishbowl with funky cocktail vibes. The menu is the same on both sides and bears the hallmarks of English’s journey from New Orleans to Sacramento.

If you knew Press Bistro, you might recognize his grilled calamari. If you never had a chance to try it, now is the time. Tender, smoky, delicate strips of grilled calamari, lightly dressed and served over a bed of arugula and white beans, it’s a dish that proves how incredible squid can be.

English brought back a small plate of roasted garlic and parmesan arancini. The fried risotto balls may not be good for the cholesterol, but they’re great for the soul. Other small plates (there are always at least 10 on the menu) range from falafel to tacos.

The price point at Juju is surprisingly low. Most small plates hover around $10. All three entrees are affordable, around $20. Offerings rotate with the seasons, but the care put into a plate of pasta Bolognese, gnocchi with parm and prosciutto or a chicken piccata is undeniable.

But this isn’t a restaurant. It’s a cocktail lounge. It’s also a hotel restaurant. Or maybe it’s a hotel bar with a kitchen. Doesn’t matter. Juju is an exquisite opportunity to try some of the most soul-warming food in town.

The fact that it’s a block from the Safe Credit Union Performing Arts Center and two blocks from the Esquire IMAX or four blocks from the Crest Theatre is just a cherry on top.

The cocktails, visually striking and crafted with care, range from classics (pisco sour and Manhattan) to clever mocktails and low-alcohol choices. One creative offering is the “Getting Figgy Wit It,” which includes these eccentric ingredients: ida mezcal, leblon cachaca, amaro lucano, fig jam, honey, dry curacao, lemon juice and walnut bitters. That’s mixology with a master’s degree.

Juju joins several new restaurants that, while located at hotels, feel like they exist for locals. 7th Street Standard, at 7th and L and attached to the Hyatt Centric, is a phenomenal dining experience. Echo & Rig is a brash steakhouse at the Kimpton Sawyer Hotel. The Star Lounge is a glamorous drinking and eating spot at the Hyatt House near Sutter’s Fort.

Whether you’re going to catch the Nutcracker at the Safe Center or Peter Petty’s Hepcat’s Holla’Daze! at the Crest or a Christmas film at the Esquire IMAX, you’ll appreciate a pop-in at Juju. If it’s drinks or dinner or something in between, Chef English and crew are ready.

Juju Kitchen & Cocktails is at 1501 L St.;

Greg Sabin can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, X and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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