Inside the U.S.’s First Cannabis Cafe
America’s first cannabis cafe, a place where you can get high and eat at the same time, has opened in L.A. Here’s everything you need to know.
With every election cycle, a new state seems to legalize recreational marijuana. California was the first state to make it legally available for medicinal purposes and one of the first to make recreational use legal. It’s no surprise, then, that Los Angeles is the home of the country’s first cannabis cafe, Lowell Cafe. It’s owned and operated by Lowell Farms, a brand best known for their packs of pre-roll joints seen at various dispensaries and Hollywood events. It officially opened on Oct. 1 and is the first of eight cannabis cafes set to open in West Hollywood in the next few months. They, and the city hope to create a model for the next level of cannabis tourism.
Their website proclaims: “The end of prohibition is here”—which is the basis of their mission. For decades, marijuana enthusiasts have been forced to partake in the shadows (or in our cars), away from public view as if smoking is shameful. Yet cannabis is the most widely used “drug” in the world and according to a 2017 study, one in seven people in the United States reported using marijuana. Walkthrough the streets of most American cities and you’ll catch a whiff of the sticky-icky.
Lowell Cafe sits on a 20,000 square foot lot on La Brea Ave on the edge of West Hollywood next to Ralph’s supermarket and across the street from a synagogue. You’ll know you’re in the right place because there’s a massive billboard above the building with an arrow pointing down telling you to “Eat, Drink & Smoke...Here!” The space itself consists of an indoor bar area with numerous tables for eating and smoking, and an adjacent outdoor garden patio seating 220 patrons.
The bar looks like it should be serving craft cocktails but instead serves up food and non-alcoholic beverages. There’s an indoor/outdoor ledge with stools that connects the spaces and keep it airy. The patio has an earthy aesthetic with the wooden booths, vines running along the walls and powerful air vents that look like heat lamps. Trees provide some shade and oxygen along with succulents and desert flowers. It’s a pothead garden tucked away from the bustling traffic of La Brea. And it doesn’t reek of weed on the sidewalk because those fans are working overtime.
So what to expect when visiting Lowell Cafe? The No. 1 pro-tip is to make reservations. It’s hard to say how long the walk-up wait is but there’s always some sort of line. It could be 20 minutes or an hour-plus. Save yourself the drama and reserve a table online.
Once you enter, there is someone to check you in so you must have identification which will be scanned. Bringing in your own bongs, pipes, tobacco is prohibited. Visitors must be 21 or older and you’ll see folks of all ages, L.A. natives, tourists, entertainment industry professionals, homegirls hanging out. Weed is a universal unifier. After a quick check-in, there’s a host stand where you give your name and wait for your table. There’s a little outdoor waiting area (not for consumption) or you can wait by the bar and take cute Instagram photos by their neon sign-branded wall.
The cannabis menu is extensive; you can purchase numerous types of flower or bud (the plant itself), vapes, beverages, edibles and if you really want to go hard, concentrates (oils, waxes or hash that have super-potent THC levels). There’s something for every type of cannabis consumer. Bongs are available for rent, and the cannabis host offers free rolling papers and lighters are plentiful. Though it’s important to note that most of the flower sold comes in pre-rolls or straight-up buds with relatively high THC ratios. For those of us who prefer higher ratio CBD flowers and less paranoia, there’s a pre-roll pack of five marijuana cigarettes from Caliva that have only 8 percent THC so you can still get a buzz without freaking out. Just be sure to safely consume especially because there’s a 90-minute limit on table seating. Consider that when purchasing edibles.
While there’s no cannabis-infused food available, the menu was designed to pair well with cannabis in the same way restaurants pair food with wine. There’s a plethora of munchies: jalapeno mac & cheese bites, gooey grilled cheese sandwiches, and a baked Alaska ice cream concoction. If you’re super hungry (and you probably will be), there’s jerk lamp chops, sticky tamarind wings, burgers with fries, and hefty salads. Vegan options are also plentiful including the (delicious) vegan nachos, cauliflower banh mi and black bean burger, which caught my eye. But instead I had the pork banh mi and it was juicy and properly seasoned. Because it’s a cannabis cafe, their appetizers are made for stoners. A popular and highly recommended favorite is the “Street Corn,” a heaping bowl of corn, bacon, cojita cheese, Corn Pops, and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. I’ll admit I was hesitant about it but after that joint it was heavenly.
Because of legal issues in California, you pay for the cannabis and the food separately. The owners had to split the business in two: one as a restaurant and one as a “cannabis retail establishment.” This means there is an outdoor cafe that only serves food and beverages (including alcohol) but when you’re in the indoor restaurant and garden patio, you’re essentially ordering food from the adjacent restaurant. A smart workaround. So you’ll have a waitress who brings you food and non-cannabis drinks, and a flower host who specifically brings you the herb. Both were super attentive and knowledgeable, making helpful food and cannabis recommendations especially if you’re a marijuana novice.
The only major quirk is that visitors can’t access the bathroom directly from the cafe. You have to exit the restaurant and walk around to the back of the building. It’s definitely a logistical inconvenience but at least the bathrooms have funky decor. The walls are covered in a collage of celebrities and cultural icons who are famous for their love of weed. Smoky images of Bob Marley, Rihanna, Snoop, Cheech and Chong, and John Lennon exhaling are plastered above the toilets maintaining the vibe.
Lowell Cafe is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily so you can wake and bake, create your own happy hour, or come for a nightcap. Its biggest selling point is the novelty of being able to smoke your weed in peace at a restaurant or cafe. However, in places like California and arguably all over the globe, folks smoke everywhere: beaches, parks, parties, backyard BBQs. But there’s particular freedom to being in community with a bunch of cannabis lovers enjoying bud in public without fear.