By Adam Tschorn, Los Angeles Times
When the Artist Tree Studio Dispensary Lounge opened its doors on April 20, on the two floors above its West Hollywood dispensary, it became — for the next few months, at least — the only legal cannabis consumption lounge in the Los Angeles area to be up and running. (The Original Cannabis Cafe, which was open pre-pandemic at the opposite end of WeHo, is currently closed, and the City of Los Angeles has not issued any consumption-lounge licenses to date.)
To find out what it’s like to get high in public and surrounded by total strangers these days, I booked a table, grabbed my best blazing buddy, Chip, and set off to Santa Monica Boulevard. It turned out to be buzz-inducing balm for the soul, and the kind of place where both the seasoned social smoker and the novice cannathusiast will feel at ease.
In no time at all, we were cackling like school kids on the playground of the mind, back-and-forthing lines from those Progressive Insurance commercials about turning into your parents.
Even better, though we weren’t interacting with the pot-puffing patrons of the tables around us, we weren’t exactly not interacting with them either. And somewhere around the third smoking wand of Orange Apricot cannabis flower, public pot smoking went from feeling strange and new to feeling like the most natural thing in the world.
And then the chicken wings we’d forgotten all about (more on that below) arrived, flapping to their demise by way of clamshell container, devoured in between the snorts, guffaws and chortles of a well-had high.
With that smoke- and laughter-filled magic carpet ride in the rearview mirror, here are a few top takeaways and things to think about if you’re considering doing the same.
The Artist Tree’s four shops (three in the L.A. area and a fourth in Riverside) aren’t just dispensaries, they’re also functioning art galleries that sell the works adorning the walls.
That aesthetic carries over to the consumption lounge as well, where the art is displayed amid clubby library/SoHo House decor that includes bookcases, entry doors with stained-glass windows, a patio with boldly striped upholstered cushions and a well-stocked bar that, instead of alcohol (which is not on the menu), is a showcase for a range of cannabis flower, pre-rolled joints, concentrates and edibles in glass cases set into the bar top.
Instead of spirits bottles, the shelves behind the bar are filled with an assortment of glass bongs, futuristic vaporizers and other pieces of pot paraphernalia.
Plan (and book) ahead
Getting the most out of any outside-the-home high takes a little bit of advance planning, and it’s no different here. Although walk-ins are accepted on a space-available basis, it’s a smart idea to make a reservation (via OpenTable) in advance.
The upside is that you’ll get the lowdown on all the necessary and super-crucial details, including the proof-of-vaccination requirement, the fact that your reservation is for an 75-minute time slot, and the admission fee ($15 per person or $30 for a table of up to five people).
Although the lounge has a heavy-duty air filtration system to help keep billowing clouds at bay, the smoke-averse might prefer to take a table on the third floor, which is reserved for noncombustible consumption such as edibles, potables and tinctures. This third-floor space also will be where stoned yoga classes and puff-and-paint art classes (featuring the artists whose for-sale work fills the walls of the dispensary and lounge) take place. More on those below.
Also, plan to bring cash — or a debit card. Both are accepted methods of payment (the latter for a $3 fee), but credit cards, due to federal banking restrictions, are not.
Pro tip: The two ATMs in the dispensary downstairs do accept credit cards that allow for cash advances. Also, request an outside table, which will put you on a patio balcony overlooking Santa Monica Boulevard.
Take a rideshare
This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: The single smartest and most responsible thing you can do is to arrange for someone else to be behind the wheel to and from your visit. This has less to do with the lack of parking and more to do with the fact that driving while high is as stupid, dangerous and irresponsible as driving drunk.
The dispensary and lounge share just a handful of spots, and West Hollywood parking restrictions make the surrounding streets an exercise in futility in the best of circumstances.
Bring a friend (or five)
Saving a few bucks on the cover charge isn’t the only reason to bring baking buddies along for the adventure.
Smoking, especially out in the wild, has always been an inherently social thing, and having a few of your favourite weed-smoking friends along for the adventure will keep you from being the burly bearded guy chain-smoking pre-rolls at the weed bar all by himself and scanning the room like a sky marshal. Unless that’s your jam, of course.
Order food (first)
If you’re the kind of cannabis consumer prone to get the munchies, seriously consider placing your food order shortly after you’re seated. That’s because the eats, ordered online via a QR code at each table, come from Kitchen24, a block away on Santa Monica Boulevard, and will take about 20 minutes to get to your table. (Outside food and beverages aren’t allowed.)
Pro tip:While we couldn’t go wrong with the Buffalo-style Red Hot Wings, next time we’re determined to throw caution to the wind and order a messy-looking plate of Disco Fries — garlic french fries smothered in chicken gravy and topped with melted provolone cheese.
Engage your ‘budler’
Cannabis products consumed in the lounge on-site must be purchased in the downstairs dispensary the same day as your visit or ordered via a digital tablet from your budtender/server/waitperson. I suggest the latter option, especially if you’re in the mood to try something different.
That’s because, in addition to helping you dial in your buzz by quizzing you on the desired effects or flavours, your tableside server (a.k.a. “budler” as Allyn Moriyon, who waited on us, referred to himself) will be able to point to two important pieces of information that accompany each menu item: the onset time (how long until you can expect to start feeling the effects) in the lower left-hand corner and duration (how long you can expect those effects to last) in the lower right-hand corner.
By way of example, the jar of Tree Orange Apricot flower ($45 for 3.5 grams of one of the dispensary’s in-house brands) we ordered listed an onset time of “0-10 minutes” and a duration of “2-4 hours.”
Artist Tree co-owner Lauren Fontein explained that efforts had been made to stock faster-acting edibles for on-site consumption, explaining that the longer onset time associated with most edibles meant the possibility of patrons not actually feeling the effects until after they’d left.
Pro tip: Yes, you should tip your budler as you would any other server at a restaurant.
Try something different
The consumption lounge format provides the perfect opportunity to switch things up both weed-wise and consumption-method-wise. If you usually skew toward vaporizer pens, snap into some pre-rolls while you’re here, and if you’re a pipe person at home, this is a chance to experiment with a bong (a.k.a. a waterpipe).
Your budler will bring a plastic grinder, a pack of rolling papers and a lighter to the table (all of which are yours to take home) free of charge, but bong rentals range from $7 to $40 (they’re cleaned and sanitized between uses, Fontein says).
In addition to bubblers and glass beaker bongs, the stylish devices on hand to experiment with include the sleek, futuristic-looking Puffco Peak (used to consume cannabis concentrates) and the new Nespresso-machine-like Beed joint-rolling machine, which will be rolled to your table on a bar cart complete with a portable battery pack.
Unlike the other rentals, use of the Beed is gratis with the purchase of the pot-filled pods ($7 per 0.5-gram pod, sleeves of eight for $49). But the showstopper to end all showstoppers — and the must-try toy — is the Stündenglass gravity bong.
Renting this gadget ($40) is the consumption-lounge equivalent of ordering bananas Foster flambé in a crowded restaurant, thanks to the twin, water-filled globes that somersault over each other and fill with smoke that is then forced out of a hose in a thin stream to be inhaled by the user.
It’s high-tech and “Alice in Wonderland’s” hookah-smoking caterpillar all at once and an experience for which you’d otherwise have to shell out the almost $600 purchase price. (The plastic hoses and wand-like tips come to the table shrink-wrapped in plastic and are recycled — not reused — after each use.)
Chip and I decided to go all in on the gravity bong, and it definitely set the tone for an evening of fun. Allyn wheeled the contraption to our table with great flourish and gave us a brief tutorial, and we were off to the races.
Wielding the hose wand like wannabe wizards, we took turns propelling jets of smoke across inches of open space from the pointed tip into our mouths like tendrils of mirth-inducing electricity.
Add in an activity
If you’re not used to getting high in a public setting, simply booking a table and firing up a pre-rolled joint might be entertaining enough. But for those more skilled in the smoking arts, I highly recommend scheduling a visit while one of the myriad activities or entertainment offerings is taking place.
The schedule currently includes a Sunday afternoon Wake & Bake Drag Brunch, cannabis-infused yoga classes on Monday evenings, sound bath sessions on Wednesday evenings and Thursday night live comedy shows.
Chip and I planned our visit to coincide with the first comedy show in the space, and being high in a roomful of other high people laughing (and, very occasionally, groaning) together was its own kind of surreal entertainment.
Most of the comedians who took to the postage-stamp-sized stage while we were there were genuinely funny, and even the ones who weren’t exactly killing it were still plenty entertaining thanks to the tumbling Stündenglass at our table.
The Artist Tree’s consumption lounge won’t be a one-of-a-kind experience for very long. In July, the Woody Harrelson- and Bill Maher-backed the Woods (not to be confused with the Hollywood bar of the same name) will open its consumption lounge concept in West Hollywood. The dispensary side of that business opened its doors last Friday at 8271 Santa Monica Blvd., less than a mile from the Artist Tree.
Until then, though, this art-filled space is the only place to stylishly sesh surrounded by strangers, and, after two long years of hunkering down and getting high at home, will be balm for the social smoker’s soul. I’d say I can’t recommend trying it highly enough, but I’m pretty sure I just did.
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