Speakeasy serves up whimsy
“I'm running away tonight for good, and this time I won't get caught,” Barnaby Jack says. In response, Annabelle whispers back: “I'm coming with you.”
This comes from a passage in “The Light of Seven Matchsticks,” a book you've never read. Actually, no one has read it because the fictional book was invented for “Moonrise Kingdom,” that much-beloved Wes Anderson movie — and the fragments I cited were “quoted” in a film promo.
I'd wager that fans of “Moonrise Kingdom” — a darkly comedic fable in which youthful romance, adventure and art are shields against a looming flood of disillusionment — would say that the world of the movie seems real in their imaginations.
As of January, The Light of Seven Matchsticks has become more real than that: It's the name of a speakeasy-inspired establishment discreetly positioned beneath Natalie's Coal Fired Pizza (Matchsticks is a spinoff of the pizzeria). Subterranean both physically and figuratively, Matchsticks is unlike any tavern in town.
With its handsome wood, old-timey music, low amber lighting, plush-backed booths and menus hidden in vintage library books — always on page 166 (mine was inside of “Treasure Island”) — quaint and tiny Matchsticks, like “Moonrise Kingdom,” traffics in a book-celebrating, mystery-embracing spirit of whimsy. Also like the movie, it flirts with preciousness, but never irrelevance.
For instance, after sipping the snazzy Mr. Jones cocktail ($12), you'll know this place is for real. The smooth-bodied beverage might be made of unlikely partners — bourbon, Cynar, “Montana huckleberry,” cream sherry, rosemary, pineapple and citrus — but it's a harmonious combo.
For something lighter, try the bright and refreshing L.A. f-Stop ($10). Shaken with genever (Dutch gin), Peruvian pisco, citrus, tomatillo and locally sourced Roake Matcha-Pineapple tonic, it tastes like nuanced lemonade for adults.
Along with lots of cocktails, Matchsticks offers a few interesting, booze-friendly small plates. The two I tried were terrific.
One was the racy tangle of Singapore Noodles ($10). Offering something different and delicious in every bite, the good-sized appetizer with micro-greens, snipped shiitakes, cabbage, carrots and scallions commingles the appeal of curry, smokiness and umami.
The even-spicier duo of Merguez Meatballs ($12) arrives draped in melted, honeyed goat cheese and drenched in an addictive tomato-harissa sauce. Hints of mint and cinnamon, a little fluffy couscous and a few chickpeas are along for the ride. Recalling this tavern and its cinematic inspiration, digging into the dish can be a little like running away for a romantic adventure.