Opening Saturday, November 11, at Atlanta Dairies, El Malo is a sexy-as-hell cocktail bar, where design, cocktails, food, and music converge and you’re encouraged to pursue pleasure and lose all sense of time and place.
“We wanted to create something fun and sexy, a place for people to feel good and feel good about themselves,” partner Omar Ferrer says of El Malo. “We want to see all walks of life from Atlanta in here, and created El Malo specifically for closeness and intimacy and for people to just let go.”
Ferrer, who is also a partner in East Atlanta restaurant Pollo Primo, sees the vibe and design of El Malo as a cross between places like listening bar Dante’s Hi-Fi in Miami and cocktail lounge Serpent A Plume in Paris, mixed with a bit of New York City after hours.
El Malo is a little subversive, a little dangerous, definitely decadent, and sensual, Ferrer says, built around a colossal sound system showcasing DJs, food spotlighting Atlanta’s culinary talent, and cocktails centering the original spirits of the Americas: agave and rum.
For beverage director Gabe Bowen (formerly Umi and Restaurant Eugene), cocktails nod to these spirits in imaginative and modern revamps of classic drinks and milk punches and other clarified cocktails. A few of these concoctions are also available on draft.
“It’s really about showcasing the terroir of agave and rum and shooting for something that Atlanta really hasn’t done in terms of craft cocktails before,” says Bowen. “It’s our chance to pay homage to the places that led up to El Malo, too, like Karl Injex at the Sound Table and bartenders like Paul Calvert.”
Food plays an integral role at El Malo, which features dishes and desserts from Fishmonger chef Brad Forsblom and Miller Union pastry chef Claudia Martinez. Look for king crab with butter tinged with Tajín, Murder Point oysters garnished with guava pico, rock shrimp ceviche, and a Caribbean pulled pork sandwich served with plantain chips and dip. For dessert, there’s guava and cream cheese pastries, chocolate and passion fruit custard, and seasonal sorbets done as champagne floats.
The Holy Trinity at El Malo, as Ferrer describes it, is rounded out by the music pumping through the sound system, all orchestrated by DJs in the booth. Disco, funk, and 1990s house music meld together with Brazilian funk, old salsa and Latin tunes, and Caribbean rhythms.
“We’re music heads, and coming from the school of Sound Table, it’s going to be interesting. And bringing in DJs from across the country, we definitely want El Malo to be a DJ’s bar,” says Ferrer.
On opening night, Injex will revive the Sound Table through music in the DJ booth at El Malo, something Ferrer and Bowen say pays respect to the venerable bar where many of Atlanta’s best bartenders and DJs made their marks in the early 2010s.
People enter El Malo through hulking double doors and into a long narrow hallway lit by red neon. The El Malo experience begins here, before entering into a room devoid of windows yet filled with verdant greens and royal reds and purples, bold patterns, and textures from velvets, leather, and disco balls.
Ferrer and Bowen were active participants in designing El Malo, guiding Atlanta-based Square Feet Studios in color selections, lighting placement, and even the design for the monochromatic private lounge area boasting a green velvet sofa slithering around the upholstered walls. Ferrer says the lounge area is a hat tip to one of the rooms at Serpent A Plume in Paris.
Half-moon booths with red velvet cushion seats and lush tropical wallpaper line one wall, serving as cozy alcoves for small groups to gather. Armless dark green velvet couches interconnect and undulate along another wall, enveloping cocktail tables within the curves. In-between spaces are purposefully left empty, meant for mingling and dancing when the mood strikes.
“I’m excited for the mix of people we’ll hopefully get. It’s going to be really eclectic,” Ferrer says. “El Malo isn’t a specific thing, like a restaurant, a bar, or a club. We wanted to create something singular and elegant, but also a place that encourages people to lose themselves for a while and just enjoy being in their community.”
Look inside El Malo, opening at Atlanta Dairies on Memorial Drive, Saturday, November 11.
Open Monday - Wednesday, 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. (kitchen closes at 10 p.m.); Thursday - Saturday, 6 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. (kitchen closes at 11 p.m.)
777 Memorial Drive, Atlanta. elmaloatl.com.