Setting foot inside 2023 Imbibe 75 Place to Watch The Butterscotch Den in Sacramento immediately transports one to another era when yacht rock reigned and a night out was affordable. Though it just opened last summer, the grill-your-own-steak lounge situated on the ground floor of a century-old Mission Revival building in Oak Park feels like it’s been around for ages. And in a way, it has. Not only was the previous tenant, Arthur Henry’s Supper Club and Ruby Room, an homage to San Diego’s 70-plus-year-old Turf Supper Club, but the space itself has existed as a couple of different music venues since 1955.
When Chris Pendarvis, the owner of Arthur Henry’s, opted to sell it in 2021, he wanted to make sure it went to someone who would do right by it, namely keep the grill in the middle of the bar.
Taking Over the Grill
Enter Trevor Easter, a partner of Irish Hospitality Group, which also runs Ro Sham Beaux and The Snug, one of the 2022 Spirited Awards’ Top 10 Best U.S. Cocktail Bars in the West. Having spent his 20s as a regular at the Turf Club, the bar industry veteran was a big fan of its cook-your-own-food concept. “It felt novel, and I feel like the world needs more novelty,” Easter said. “But I never thought we would get a chance to do it.”
Even though he wasn’t looking to build another bar just yet, especially during the Omicron stage of the pandemic, he couldn’t turn down the opportunity. Fortunately, the spot was turnkey. “The bar was actually in the right location, the walk-in was cool, and the kitchen was really ergonomically right,” said Easter. “It was impossible to say no.” Easter worked with interior designer Tina Ross on affordable decorating, including buying discounted wallpaper with coupons, installing the butterscotch-color lighting themselves, and curating the framed wall art from a 1980s DIY Halloween costume book. They also held onto the old carpet and the peeling leather booths.
The impetus for handling the venue with such a light touch was not only because of financial instability brought on by the pandemic but a desire to preserve what was already laid down. “I have no intention of taking the grill out of the room,” Easter said. But unlike Arthur Henry’s, which featured fine dining prices, including expensive steaks, The Butterscotch Den took its cues from the Turf Club. “The whole point of the grilling thing was to make it fun and affordable, you know? That’s what was so special about the Turf Club.”
The lounge does offer premium cuts of meat, such as New York strip and ribeye, but for jaw-droppingly low prices: $25 and $34, respectively. A 6-ounce American Wagyu burger goes for $9. The unusually low pricing comes courtesy of not having to pay a chef and kitchen staff as well as Easter’s insistence that the lounge be a place where people from the neighborhood would want to gather. “If our employees can’t even afford to hang out here and if the neighborhood can’t do it, then what are we really doing?” he asked.
“And I don’t want to be the person who pulls up in the really nice car in front of the place that the neighborhood can’t afford to go to because we’re going to nickel and dime everyone into our own financial success,” Easter added.
Raising the Steak House Cocktails
To keep in theme with the bar’s concept, Easter and bar manager Britta Currie wanted to create cocktails indicative of that era while offering something new, playful, and elevated. The Den Old Fashioned is sweetened with butterscotch syrup, while the Negroni riff is made with cognac and Rooibos tea. The Pink Squirrel cocktail on the menu gives a nod to the neighborhood with vanilla ice cream from Gunther’s Ice Cream, a local 82-year-old ice cream shop. Each drink comes in fun glassware, such as the cactus glass for the Mango Margarita.
In line with the affordable food, the cocktails average $10 each, including $8.50 for a freezer Martini; $3 extra for a caviar garnish. And like all the food at the Butterscotch Den, the caviar is high-quality. According to Easter, it’s the same sterling sturgeon caviar served at Localis, a Michelin restaurant a couple of miles away. “We didn’t buy cheap caviar to make it $3,” he explains. “We just decided that it was gonna be break-even for us.”
Compliments to the Chef
And what about those who don’t want to cook their own food, especially knowing there isn’t a kitchen? Easter recommends either having one’s friends do it for them or bringing in their own food. But DIY grilling is popular among those on first dates, allowing them to bond over grilling mishaps, such as burnt garlic bread and undercooked steak—the perfect icebreaker. For those in need of guidance, the menu offers tips on how long to grill each side to the desired temperature.
The only downside, joked Easter, is when the server delivers the check to the table and asks how everything was. “And they’re like, ‘Compliments to the chef.’ And you’re like, ‘Haha, I heard that 75 times today.’ So we’re working on a T-shirt that says, ‘The Butterscotch Den. Compliments to the chef.’”