Story and photos by MORGAN PARENT
Glasses clink together and again as they’re set on glass table tops throughout the room. The music is at the perfect volume for listening without having to shout to hold a conversation. You feel relaxed here.
This is the Red Door that faithful patrons have come to know and love.
Opened in October 2002, “the Red Door became the second non-smoking club in Salt Lake at a time when bars were private clubs which allowed smoking,” said Louise Hannig, the owner. “My vision was a comfortable warehouse vibe with a unique martini menu and liquor selection.”
Hannig’s vision continues to live on after 17 years. The Salt Lake City bar, located at 57 W. 200 South, specializes in craft martinis, cocktails, and ambiance. The red painted brick with subtle artwork, exposed lighting, and odd monkey in the corner give the spot an eccentric feeling, unlike any other in the city.
Getting the joint going was no small task. In the beginning, Hannig spent hours at the bar for eight months straight, working out the quirks and making sure it could run smoothly. Although preparing to open was occasionally challenging, the hard work and personality that went into the creation is evident.
The lighting was custom-made, the tables were handmade by a local artist, and Hannig and her friends painted the brick walls.
Down to the bartender name tags, the Red Door is a full experience. Though some say the styling of the name tags was a bold choice, “it actually happened as a happy accident,” Hannig said. “We had just opened the bar, but I hadn’t planned any name tags yet. A friend who was helping me said she had her actual missionary name tag with her, so she wore it the night we opened. We took the idea from there and I used a favorite line from my favorite show as a kid, “MASH,” and tweaked the wording.”
The name tags read “Sister” or “Brother” then the name of the bartender, followed by “Church of the Emotionally Tired and Morally Bankrupt.” This play on the influence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues in the design of the A-Frame sidewalk board in front of the bar.
Martyn Duniho, a University of Utah graduate student, is a Red Door regular. He’s been patronizing the establishment for a few years and considers the Vesper Martini his go-to mix. “This is by far my favorite place to get a drink,” Duniho said. “The staff are excellent at what they do, and the crowd is rarely too rowdy. Weekend nights can get a little crazy, but weekday nights are just perfect.”
Lynnae Larsen-Jones, manager of the establishment, said those who know Red Door believe in its great drinks and mature atmosphere. Alternately, those who aren’t familiar with the bar tend to think it may be too fancy for them, there is a dress code, or it’s only for old people.
About this reputation, Duniho said he “fully agrees. The atmosphere can’t be beat, but before visiting the first time I assumed it would be a snooty kind of place.” Now he can’t imagine going anywhere else.
The people who frequent the Red Door are certainly a spread of personalities. Larsen-Jones said the people have been the most interesting part of working at the bar over the last 16 years. “Especially the couples who come in for a few drinks then start fighting with each other and want the bartender to weigh in on the argument, tell them which one is right, or play therapist. But that kind of situation isn’t super common,” she said.
“Most of the guests coming in are generally pretty alright — just weird in their own ways,” said Larsen-Jones. No matter the attitude of the customer, Larsen-Jones’ philosophy of bartending is to “be nice no matter what and don’t ruin your own night. Also, don’t worry about tips. You don’t know what’s going on for other people.”
As diverse as the individuals drinking here are, the types of cocktails are equally varied. Hannig has seen bar trends change time and again over her nearly 30 years of bartending.
Vodka martinis and drinks such as the Cosmopolitan and sour apple martini were very popular when the Red Door opened. Bourbon and other classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned were in vogue next, around five to seven years ago.
Gin has been the preferred drink base recently, although it was rarely ordered in a martini or craft cocktail 15 years ago. Tequila and mezcal, liquors which are typically shot, seem to be next up in the ever-evolving cocktail mix craze.
Witness to these changing trends, Larsen-Jones has adapted to each new style. No single drink tops her list of favorite drinks to make. Rather, making something up on the spot provides her the opportunity to have fun and use her knowledge of how flavors mix to create something in line with the customer’s desires.
“I don’t know how she does it, but every drink Lynnae makes is amazing,” Duniho said. “I can ask her to include a couple specific ingredients then she does her thing and hands me something delicious.”
At the end of the day, owning the bar throughout the years has been worth the effort to Hannig: “Pouring what you love to do in every drink makes a bar successful.”