Entering Roxanne’s Lounge on Wardlow Road is like stepping back to the future.
An illuminated onyx stone bartop stretches towards the back of the building’s historic brick interior. Ornately textured gold ceiling tiles hang over a well-used red pool table. And vintage accessories–from an old apothecary scale to a 1940s telephone booth that was once installed at the Los Angeles Coliseum–are found throughout the two year-old bar and restaurant.
But this isn’t some overpriced, bougie joint that has been mistakenly dropped in working class Long Beach. It’s a neighborhood bar that has become unlike any other, one that respects its community’s rich history, acknowledges its local owner’s Central American roots and, with a newfound love of all things craft, seeks to bring more much-deserved attention to California Heights’ main drag.
In addition to rallying nearby business owners to form the “Wardlow Strip” corridor, Roxanne’s owner Robert Molina constantly offers his space for community get-togethers, neighborhood meetings and weekly events from trivia to blues jams that are inclusive of everyone in his diverse surroundings.
“We could easily be passive business owners and just serve whoever comes in, but our interest here is much more than that,” says Roxanne’s owner, Robert Molina. “We’re here to bring the area more into the limelight. Bixby Knolls has a great following and everyone knows of the Atlantic corridor, but Wardlow was more abandoned–at least compared to back in the ’40s and ’50s. Back during the whole Boeing-Douglas era, they used this as an artery [to the plants] from the freeways, but it kind of got lost and we’re here to liven it back up.”
When Molina opened Roxanne’s in early 2011, his main goal was to dissociate the new project from the dingy, sports bar that had previously occupied his 1944 structure. He pulled out the low-slung drop ceiling, initiated a simple weekend dress code and told his bartenders not to be afraid to turn off the TVs and force people to talk to one another instead.
Over time, as the diverse members of the surrounding community began to discover and accept Roxanne’s good intentions, he put more of himself into the bar.
In the last year, the menu has gone from bar foods to abuelita-crafed Latin favorites. The macro drafts are now mostly craft beer. And big changes have been made to the bar’s cocktail program, which eschews the Long Beach standard of scantily dressed ladies dousing sodas in Absolut and Jack Daniels for vest-wearing mixologists, who expertly shake fresh juices and small-batch spirits into an affordable pinkie-out worthy cocktail.
Molina calls his transformed hangout “The New Roxanne’s,” a longtime work in progress that is finally ready for its close up.
“This is the place to step into the world of craft and expand your palate,” he says. “It’s entry-level here at Roxanne’s. We made the switch over from the big-name alcohol brands to the more small-batch, craft spirits and want to help people learn that there’s all these great flavors and here’s the reason why. It’s just about using the better products.”