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Tasting Freedom: Dispatches From Lowell Café, LA's First Cannabis Restaurant
culture  |  Nov 4, 2019

Tasting Freedom: Dispatches From Lowell Café, LA's First Cannabis Restaurant

The City of Angels is on the brink of a major cultural shift, and Lowell Café, the new onsite consumption restaurant in West Hollywood, is at the epicenter.

The City of Angels is on the brink of a major cultural shift, and Lowell Café, the new onsite consumption restaurant in West Hollywood, is at the epicenter.

It’s fantastic that there are tons of places to buy legal weed in LA. But it’s lame-as-hell that there have been no true establishments to legally smoke delicious bud — until now. Last month saw the grand opening of Lowell Café, Los Angeles’ first legal onsite consumption restaurant. And it’s everything the city’s been missing. It’s a refuge from wasted nightlife, where flower service replaces bottle service and ceramic bongs are delivered to your table on a platter. We’re officially on the brink of a mainstream social culture that doesn’t revolve around alcohol. 

According to the World Cities Culture Forum, there are 1,644 bars in LA. Aside from Lowell Café, there are no places (outside of your home) to legally consume cannabis in the county — and even most neighboring counties! Imagine living in a massive city — with a population bigger than some entire states and countries — where there were hundreds of liquor stores, but no place to drink your booze. And if you’re caught sipping that beverage outside of your house, you’d get harassed, fined, slammed on the concrete, or arrested and thrown in jail — or, in worst cases, all of the above. You’d probably think the world is a scam. (And, it is — but that’s a story for a different day.)

Related: America's First Cannabis Cafe: Lowell Farms

That’s basically how it’s felt in California for a long time, technically since the dispensary explosion initiated by Prop. 215. But since Jan. 1, 2018, the day cannabis became legal in the Golden State, the dearth of places to enjoy our “freedom” to smoke weed has become so obvious it’s made legalization feel like a sick joke. Thankfully, Lowell Café fills that void — and it does so with an industrial bohemian elegance that ironically leaves patrons feeling like they’re at home. Not “home” in the physical sense — it's more of an instinctual “home," like an intuitive understanding that you’re among kindred spirits.

That’s saying something for a restaurant in West Hollywood that doesn’t serve alcohol, LA’s favorite vice. Given the difficulty of securing a reservation for parties of three or more, it’s evident that the people of LA are thirsty for a new adult culture — one that doesn’t revolve around getting blackout drunk and forgetting what the fuck happened last night. Lowell Café, then, is the start of a new normal built on the foundation of celebrating freedom. Here are our takeaways from a night at LA’s new history-making joint.


Lowell Café

The Weed Menu Is 14 Pages

When the menus are delivered to the table, you get one for food and another solely for cannabis. The food menu is one piece of double-sided construction paper. The weed menu, which looks like it could be a wine list, is 14 pages. They have a page dedicated to joints: You can buy a single preroll, or you can buy packs of three, six, 10, or 14 — all of which are labled with short descriptors, like “happy” or “calm mind and body” or “mentally stimulating.” 

There’s a section dedicated to edibles, which is divvied up between infused-drinks, such as Two Roots “beer,” and candies, such as WYLD gummies and Defonce Chocolate. I know from experience that the latter is outrageously potent — albeit unbelievably delicious — because one time I gave my friend a bar of Defonce Chocolate as a gift, and she put it in her freezer (next to other artisan chocolates) to save for later. The next day, her husband came home after work and went into the freezer and blindly grabbed some chocolate. He obviousy grabbed the Defonce bar not knowing that it was infused and ate half of it — which truly says something about the quality of this edible because it does not taste like weed. 

After going to sleep, he woke up at 2AM stoned as fuck and clueless as to why he felt so strange. He started panicking and inevitably thought he was dying. After an hour of questioning what he’d done earlier in the night (which he could barely remember), he said he ate chocolate that was in the freezer. My friend told her husband that the chocolate he ate was, in fact, amazing weed chocolate. But he wasn't having it. He was convinced that I laced the chocolate with LSD (which I obviously didn’t because I probably wouldn’t have shared, if we’re being honest) because he was that high. So, there’s your warning about eating more than half of a Defonce bar if edibles aren't your super power. Thankfully, what you don’t finish at Lowell, you can take home with you!

The menu also has sections for flower, concentrates, legal vapes, and smoking accessories. Each different type of cannabis product is labled with the onset time, as well as if a product is fit for beginners or expert tokers. You can also order ceramic or high-tech gravity bongs to be delivered to your table on a tray. Bong service is way better than bottle service. 


Photo via Lowell Café

There’s Flower Service and Food Service

There’s a set of servers at Lowell Café who deliver your food, and then there are servers who are in charge of flower service. Our flower girl for the evening was Chantelle, who told us she worked in a medical marijuana dispensary in Denver for years called MJ Organics. Prior, she worked in a bar. Chantelle said that working at Lowell was significantly less crazy because she doesn't have to babysit people the way she did while bartending. She said everyone stays mellow and is significantly nicer and respects her boundaries — meaning, men don’t incessantly hit on her.

That’s a pretty solid endorsement for weed over alcohol.

All of the servers at Lowell were extremely kind and accommodating. Our food waitress recited the menu to us as if it were Shakespearian poetry. When we ordered the Avocado and English Pea toast, she was quick to recommend a tea and salad that would mesh well with the avo-smeared bread. We went with her suggestions and got the kale salad — its best feature was the goat cheese and hemp oil because it cut the stringentness of the greens and walnuts — and jade tea with almond milk. 

All of which paired seamlessly with our Jack Herer joint that we smoked until we thought it was logical to repeatedly say: “Would you like a smoke and a pancake? A pipe and a crepe? A bong and a blintz?” while choke-laughing for 20 minutes. 

But in that moment of hysteria, the greatness of Lowell hit me: Few things in life taste as sweet as freedom. So, an institution built around celebrating the freedom to take sun-grown flower bong rips with your meal, legally pass joints in the open, and blow smoke clouds in the air is the 2019 American Dream. (That said, this new American Dream only works if we stop putting non-violent pot offenders in jail, and cops stop targetting minorities and marginalized folks for literally everything, particularly weed.)


Photo by Mary Carreon

The Bathrooms Are Legendary

Located outside and around the building, the bathrooms feel like you’ve entered a dimension of pop culture euphoria. The walls of the women’s restroom are plastered with collage-style images of legendary stoners, such as Rihanna, Brownie Mary, Charlie Sheen, Marilyn Monroe, Miley Cyrus, the 420 nuns, Uma Thurman, Bob Marley, The Beatles, Whoopie Goldberg, Cheech and Chong, Willie Nelson, and more. 

The bathroom stall I happened to walk into featured a front-and-center image of Uncle Snoop and Martha Stewart holding a sterling silver tray of pot brownies. It felt like a wink from the universe telling me I was in the right place at the right time. Or that I was somehow being protected by Snoop’s omnipresent blunt smoke that hangs above LA and defends fellow potheads. Was it weird that Snoop (who’s essentially my boss) and all these legendary potheads were staring at me while I tinkled? Yes, a little. But in the same way that Roman Catholics hang crucifixes above their bed for Jesus to protect them, I felt like I was being watched over — blessed, even — by the past and present spirits of stoner history. May they light my way.


Photo via Lowell Café

Welcome to the Era of Tokage Fees

Just as most restaurants have a $20 to $30 "corkage fee" to pour a bottle of wine you bring from home, Lowell Café does something similar. For a $30 "tokage fee," you can bring your own product from home and use their pipes, bongs, and other lovely accessories to smoketh le herb. It's not a bad deal because, realistically, you'd probably spend at least $30 on weed at Lowell anyway. So, if the 14 page menu of medicated bliss (somehow) doesn't meet your needs, you can always bring your own puff stuff.


Photo via Lowell Café

Reservations Aren't Required, But They're Recommended

If you make a reservation, you'll likely be seated within minutes of walking through the iron gate entrance. If you're walking in any time past noon without a reservation, however, there's a chance you could wait hours for a table, depending on how big your party is. So, it's best to make a reservation. Further, making a reservation for the week of has proven to be nearly impossible since the opening. In other words, plan at least a week out if you have a party of two or more.

Also, be sure to bring a valid ID with you. Before guests are guided to the hosts's podium where you're checked in, people are required to go through one checkpoint where you must show a security guard your ID. If you're under 21-years-old, your ID isn't valid, or you forgot it at home, you can kiss your reservation goodbye.


Photo via Lowell Café

It's Cool If You Link Up to the Wifi

I can hear the sound of freelancers cheering across LA as I write this. Unlike New York — and tons of other cities across the US — finding a restaurant or café in Los Angeles to post up and work in isn't always easy. It's (somehow) just not a part of the culture here. A lot of places will treat you as if you're squatting on their property; some will flat out tell you laptops aren't allowed, and other places remove power outlets so there's nowhere to plug in. It's a hassle — and sometimes feels like an attack — especially if you're accustomed to whipping out your laptop and working from wherever. Plus, if you're someone who incorporates cannabis into your work regimen, you have to be crafty about how you consume and what to do with your work stuff, which is a pain in the ass.

So, the fact that Lowell Café allows people to bring their laptops and use their wifi is a fucking godsend. Just note that there's a 90-minute limit per party because it's a high-volume restaurant. So, while you might not be able to work there all day, you can start your work-sesh there. And, if you play your cards right, you might be able to make another reservation for later in the day so you can go and come back again. 

It's also a great spot to have a meeting because it's intimate and the noise of the restaurant doesn't get too loud. Plus, the ventilation system is so powerful that the room never hotboxes, nor do you reek of weed when you leave — unless, of course, you stashed the pot you bought in your pocket or purse on the way out. Then you'll for sure smell like a dispensary. 

Follow Mary Carreon on Instagram and Twitter


Mary Carreon is an award-winning journalist from Southern California and the Associate Editor at MERRY JANE. She’s drawn to stories about cannabis and the environment, social equity, veterans, the history of weed in California, and the rise of psychedelics and plant medicine in the 21st century. You can find her bylines in Forbes, Kitchen Toke Magazine, OC Weekly, (the OG) LA Weekly, High Times Magazine, Sensi Magazine, and more. Mary loves green juice, coffee, and red wine equally — but not at the same time. When she’s not working, you can find her doing yoga to Ravi Shankar, or migrating towards the nearest venue playing the best music. Follow Mary on social media @maryyystardust or visit her at marycarreon.com