Walk into the Lowell Cafe in West Hollywood and it may not immediately be clear what it is you are witnessing.
The new establishment looks like a quintessential Southern California haunt with indoor and outdoor seating areas and a bar in the center. Greenery—from succulents to vines—fills pots on the shelves and crawls up the walls. Two 60-year-old olive trees take up residence on the fenced-in patio, and wood floors, exposed brick, and other earth tones enhance the space.
But look a little closer and you’ll notice what customers have on their tables. Next to their sandwiches, salads, and shareable apps are joints, bongs, vaporizers, and even dab rigs. And they’re all being used openly, filling the air with a light cannabis aroma.
Lowell Cafe opened in fall 2019 as the first restaurant of its kind in the nation—where customers can come to not only buy marijuana but to enjoy it.
This was made legally possible by the City of West Hollywood, which passed an ordinance in November 2017 to regulate cannabis businesses and land uses (see our story on Northern Lights Music Festival). The City Council created eight cannabis business licenses in five categories for which they received more than 300 applicants. Lowell Cafe, which is owned by Lowell Farms, received the first license, giving the restaurant a title it wears proudly: “The original cannabis cafe.”
“The first step was making it for sale, and now it is to give the public access to a safe, communal space where cannabis can be consumed without stigma,” Lowell Cafe executive chef Andrea Drummer said. “The unanimous approval by the West Hollywood Business License Commission solidifies cannabis’s space in California, helping further its normalization.”
So how does a cannabis cafe work exactly? Once you’re comfortably seated, a flower host will come over and walk you through the cannabis menu options.
The flower hosts serve as canna guides during your time at Lowell Cafe. They begin by asking questions about your cannabis experience to get an idea of the type of strains and method of delivery you’re looking for. Offerings range from CBD honey shots and low-THC pre-rolled joints to higher-potency edibles and concentrates. The range of options help to ensure there’s something on the menu for everyone, from the canna-curious to the canna-connoisseur, according to Ami Gan, head of communications at Lowell Herb Co, parent company of Lowell Cafe and Lowell Farms.
The products on the menu are from Lowell Farms, as well as other brands such as LA Kush, Maven Genetics, 710 Labs, and 22 Red LA. Customers can also bring their own cannabis to smoke for a “tokage fee.”
The food at the restaurant isn’t infused with marijuana, but the dishes are meant to complement the different kinds of cannabis being served. For appetizers, options include jalapeño mac and cheese bites and sticky tamarind wings. For fresh greens, there’s the baby kale salad with toasted walnuts and local figs or the signature Lowell Cobb. Sandwiches on the menu range from the bahn mi to a smash burger. And for dessert, enjoy a Mexican chocolate sundae or a milkshake.
Because Lowell Cafe is the first of its kind, the company recognizes its need to pave the way for future businesses. The other seven applicants that received cannabis business licenses in its category are slated to open in the next year or so. Lowell Cafe has worked diligently with officials at the City of West Hollywood to ensure all rules are followed. They’ve also set up state-of-the-art ventilation systems to make sure the marijuana smell doesn’t bother its neighbors.
“We are excited to set the example, one we do not take lightly, and demonstrate how it can be responsibly integrated into society,” Drummer said. “It’s gratifying to open a space that will foster educational and responsible consumption.”
Above the building that houses the restaurant sits a large billboard sign with an illustration of a bull—Lowell Cafe’s signature logo. The bull holds a farming tool and stands in front of a large pasture. Above the photo, the sign reads “Prohibition is almost over … @LowellCafe.”
Does that mean prohibition is almost over in West Hollywood? California? The entire United States? Only time—and more pre-rolled joints—will tell.
Story by Barbara Platts, LA-based journalist and SWEET JANE contributor. Photography courtesy of Lowell Cafe and Barbara Platts.