I Did the Vanderpump Rules Bar Crawl So You Don’t Have To

I decided to visit the three eateries still woven into the series’ plot to see the impossibly hot wait staff and impossibly small goat cheese balls for myself.

I Did the Vanderpump Rules Bar Crawl So You Don’t Have To
From left, the menu at Schwartz & Sandy’s, me with SUR manager Peter Madrigal, and the entrance at SUR. Photo:Alyssa Mercante

Thanks to #Scandoval, 2023 will be remembered as the year of Vanderpump Rules. The Bravo reality TV series about a gaggle of hot, young, wannabe actors who work in one of several Los Angeles restaurants owned by Bravolebrity Lisa Vanderpump became the network’s biggest draw this year after Tom Sandoval finally proved himself to be the insecure little man-baby we all assumed he was. In March, it was revealed he’d been cheating on long-term partner Ariana Madix with newcomer Rachel “Raquel” Leviss, and everyone went batshit over it—especially after Bravo chess master Andy Cohen sent cameras to film the aftermath and extended the season.

The scandal skyrocketed the show’s cultural clout: Vanderpump Rules’ tenth season raked in over 11 million average viewers, and the first part of the reunion was the most-watched episode of a Bravo series in more than nine years, according to Variety. Madix became America’s sweetheart, finishing third place on this season of Dancing with the Stars, and recently announced an upcoming stint on Broadway as Chicago’s Roxie Hart. Leviss started her own, bland podcast, Rachel Goes Rogue, while Sandoval spent a few months doing his best lead-singer-of-a-wedding-band impression before starring in the latest season of Special Forces. Sandoval and Madix will be on the next season of VPR. Leviss will not.

The initial premise of Vanderpump Rules (which first premiered in 2013) is now a distant memory, buried under cheating allegations, drunken fights, and the shenanigans of pot-stirrer/DJ James Kennedy (who once dated Leviss himself). The bars and restaurants at its center have changed–Beverly Hills’ chic dining room Villa Blanca closed in 2020 and WeHo’s Pump Lounge shuttered its doors earlier this year. But there are still three eateries woven into the series’ plot: SUR, TomTom, and Schwartz & Sandy’s.

While the show has become even more notorious, the desire to see what actually goes on once the Bravo cameras shut off remains just as fervent. And I’ve wanted to recreate this infamous 2015 Vanderpump restaurant crawl by former Jez senior writer, Kara Brown, for years now. So while on a recent visit to Los Angeles, I decided to bar crawl through all three and see the impossibly hot wait staff and impossibly small goat cheese balls for myself. Maybe I’d get a cameo in the next season as an unnamed woman whose rubbery facial expressions stole an entire scene. A girl can dream.

It’s Not About the Pasta

I start at SUR—the central hub of the series since its inception—for dinner. Most of the show’s stars have worked here at some point (Leviss, Sandoval, Madix all did SUR stints, as well as Stassi Shroeder, Scheana Shay, Kristen Doute, Katie Maloney, Jax Shepard, Brittany Cartwright, and more). At the time of writing, it has a four out of five-star rating on Google with over 3,000 reviews–the more positive ones laud the value of the experience for VPR fans, while the more negative ones lament the dingy bathroom, mediocre food, and apathetic servers. The most famous dish is probably the fried goat cheese balls, which originated here but spread to other Vanderpump eateries, and are often ordered on-camera by the cast. I’ve wanted to eat here for ten years, to piss in the bathroom, to examine the molding, to cheers a martini glass with aplomb. In the words of Scheana Shay’s tattoo, “it’s all happening.”

Like most restaurants in LA, there’s a host stand positioned outside; I tell a beautiful brunette woman that I’ve made a reservation for three. She languidly gathers a few menus and floats towards the neon “SUR Rules” sign hanging in the entryway. I see the first (of many) decorative nods to Eastern locales, which is fascinating considering this is an “international” restaurant and Lisa Vanderpump is British (there are several Buddhas in this space).

We’re led to a table in the front dining area (not the beautiful garden where many Bravolebs have sat for dinner before, much to my chagrin), right next to a massive piece of wall art breaking down SUR’s name: Sexy. Unique. Restaurant. My friend sits on the side of the table that has a view of the rest of the space. You’d expect it to be a booth since it’s up against the wall, but it’s a couch. She sinks in amongst several throw pillows.

I’ve wanted to eat here for ten years, to piss in the bathroom, to examine the molding, to cheers a martini glass with aplomb.

A server comes over and does not introduce himself. As we order our drinks, SUR manager and consistent background character, Peter Madrigal (who very, very briefly dated Leviss in 2022 in an incredibly awkward attempt at a new storyline), stalks through the dining room. He is very tall and very buff, wearing a button-down that’s struggling to remain intact against his pectorals. I try to follow his path in the mirror but get distracted when I realize the TV behind the main bar is playing Vanderpump Rules. They’re really leaning all the way in, huh?

I order an Aperol Spritz and my friend gets a “Hippie Bliss,” which turns out to be just a raspberry mojito. For appetizers, we order the infamous fried goat cheese balls and gamble on some oysters—they end up being fine, but the goat cheese balls, though tiny and only in a collection of four, are divine.

SUR’s pasta alla norma. Photo:Alyssa Mercante

For dinner, I’m at a loss–I know nothing about the restaurant’s signature dishes aside from the aforementioned balls. Nothing stands out, so I order the pasta alla norma, a Neapolitan classic that I’m sure will be somewhat butchered. My friend takes an even bigger risk, going for the bouillabaisse. Both are perfectly acceptable, though my pasta is a bit too far beyond al dente. I duck away to the bathroom, determined to see the infamous back alley where everyone smokes their cigarettes and throws their cunty barbs, and find Peter sitting at a table near the kitchen, shoveling food in his mouth, clearly on a break. A few women are waiting to take a picture with him.

I use the restroom, snap a picture of myself, and then duck out the back door to see the alley. Several motorcycles are parked next to the entrance, undoubtedly belonging to the muscular waitstaff, but there’s no crackling feminine bitch energy here without Shay and Schroeder hurling horrific insults at each other. I head back inside and see Peter finished his meal and his photo ops, so I crouch down next to him to chat him up. He’s gracious and kind, and we take a picture in front of the back bar that Ariana used to work at. His dress shirt has four buttons undone.

By the time I get back to my table, dessert is waiting. The blueberry cobbler inexplicably has coconut ice cream on it—it tastes like soap. But my espresso martini imbues me with the energy I need for the next stop: TomTom.

GoneGone at TomTom

TomTom is just a short walk up the road from SUR and onto Santa Monica Boulevard, the main strip where all of WeHo’s best bars and restaurants reside. Since it opened in 2018, TomTom has become the main hot spot for the crew, the site of book launches and arguments, and the place where acid-tongued cast member James Kennedy had to DJ a Daily Mail party from inside a closet while sitting on rolls of toilet paper. TomTom’s greatest sell is its cocktails, with Sandoval making grand promises in the lead-up to its opening and delivering on, well, some of them. (LVP nixed the shot-freezing machine, which devastated him.) But aside from the promise of needlessly pricey craft cocktails that could taste like soap, I’m unsure what to expect. It’s got 4.5 stars and 918 Google reviews, with customers loving the food, drinks, and vibes.

Upon arrival, there are gaggles of hot, Botoxed gay men everywhere, wearing fur coats and gripping little handbags. There’s no wait to sit at the bar, so we pull up three stools and are immediately humbled by the bartop’s height. The stools at TomTom are several feet too short for the incredibly tall marble bar, so sitting at them evokes the same feeling as when you’re a toddler spending a few minutes at the grownups’ table during Christmas dinner. The bartender does not appreciate it when I jokingly ask if he could lower the bar for me.

Pump the restaurant is gone, but the infamous Pumptini cocktail remains (plus LVP announced in August that Pump would live on in TomTom’s garden), so I order one. TomTom’s decor is, to put it lightly, anachronistic. There are massive cogs and gears behind the bar denoting a sort of steampunk vibe, purple and pink velvet stools that feel like SUR leftovers, and trees growing straight through the room. It’s a pastiche of gaudy interior decorating styles, somewhat haphazardly thrown about the rather large space. The back garden is more cohesive, but the front bar is as if Pier 1 had multiple personality disorder. Just as I’m about to get up and wander towards that back garden, a Barbie pink drink in a martini glass is placed in front of me.

Rimmed with sugar and containing vodka, muddled raspberries, grapefruit juice, simple syrup, and orange liqueur, the Pumptini is sweet as hell and deceptively strong. I realize the severity of its alcohol content halfway through, right as a DJ steps up to the booth normally reserved for Kennedy and starts playing an aughts-era Pussycat Dolls joint. I whip my head around to catch a glimpse of this record-spinner, and see stars. “Woof,” I say to no one at all. I’m well on my way to being very drunk.

Me and my Pumptini. Photo:Alyssa Mercante

For the next hour or so, my sobriety is routinely called into question. Sure, I’ve had two spritzes and one Pumptini, but is the DJ really refusing to let songs play for more than 45 seconds? Is he truly shifting from Fergie to a dance remix of Nirvana’s “Lithium,” with Missy Elliot’s iconic “uhoh” sound byte connecting the two like a tenuous, rickety bridge? This is what’s happening and the erratic soundtrack is urging TomTom’s clientele into a frenzy—the beautiful gays at the table behind me are moving their bodies with the beat, while a freshly arrived group of young queers are violently grinding against each other in the small space between the bar and the high-top tables. Within an hour, TomTom has gotten rowdy. It’s barely 9 p.m.

I head to the bathroom, where there’s broken glass all over the floor and inside the accessible stall sits a strange half-door leading to what I’d like to imagine is the room they shove Sandoval in when he starts to breakdance for 20-year-old tourists. I snap a few pictures before heading back to the bar and switching back to a spritz. I won’t last the 25-minute drive to Schwartz & Sandy’s if I have another Pumptini. My friend can’t finish the trek, she’s had too many and flat-out refuses to climb into the Uber and head to Franklin Village. Bravely, I neck my drink and venture out into the semi-cool night, my ankles giving out underneath me. To Schwartz & Sandy’s I go.

Worm Patrol

The ride is a sobering experience in every sense of the word. It’s quiet and lonely in my Uber, and it takes so long to get to my destination that I sense my body metabolizing the alcohol and worry I won’t make it to Schwartz & Sandy’s, the newest spot in the Vanderpump Cinematic Universe co-owned by Tom Sandoval and Tom Schwartz. Schwartz & Sandy’s is in a totally different part of LA (the small, but hip, Franklin Village) and it’s meant to be a kooky cocktail lounge. It’s the worst-reviewed eatery of the bunch, with an average of three stars across almost 700 Google reviews—however, in the immediate aftermath of #Scandoval, the spot was review-bombed by Sandoval detractors, so you should take its stars with a grain of margarita salt. Still, I’m unsure what to expect here. It’s a crap shoot, kids.

When my Uber pulls into the strip mall containing Schwartz & Sandy’s, a giggle escapes me. There’s a pet store and a laundromat here, and the lack of any windows into the bar makes it impossible to know if it’s dead or popping, though I suspect the former. I thank my Uber driver before pulling open the massive door to the space, my body quivering with anticipation—who will I see?

The parking lot at Schwartz & Sandy’s. Photo:Alyssa Mercante

The answer is: A few random people. One group of six or seven sit at a table near the front of the lounge, which feels more like a movie set than a real place thanks to its high ceilings and windowless walls. The “starry night ceiling” Sandoval couldn’t stop talking about on the show is a small, hanging feature that is dwarfed by the space. A pleasant mix of varying wallpaper patterns and booth finishes (some yellow velvet, some patterned leather) and large, tropical plants feel vibey and hip—it’s by far the best-decorated eatery of the three, though it’s also definitely the smallest.

A couple more people are sitting and standing at the bar in the back. I head to the bathroom to give my poor bladder a break, splash some water on my face and neck, adjust my boobs, and sweep back out into the space, doing my best impression of Lala Kent. I slide into the leftmost stool and flash the bartender my glitteriest, toothiest grin. He’s tall, buff, and sporting a soft, perfectly coiffed mullet. (Definitely an actor.) He slides me a menu, but its contents threaten to crack my composure—not only are half of the cocktails blocked out by haphazard pieces of tape, but the wine list spells “chilled” wrong (“chiled”). I hold back my laughter and demurely order a spritz.

When the very handsome man hands me my drink, I close out (I’m tired) and try to ply him for information about how Schwartz & Sandy’s is doing. “Is it crazy here?” I ask, nodding my head back towards the group that’s clearly here because of the lounge’s connections to the show…as if I’m not doing the very same thing…as if I’m better than them (ha). He shrugs, but then tells me he can’t talk because his boss is here. My stomach flutters—it’s time. I’m about to meet one of the Toms, am about to brush elbows with a slightly famous man-child that I would still, shamelessly, sleep with. The bartender’s eyes flicker swiftly to the person seated next to me; their back is broadly turned my way, and a newsboy cap sits jauntily on their head. Wait a Giggy-loving second—this isn’t a Tom. It’s a Greg.

Greg Morris, to be exact, is the co-owner of Schwartz & Sandy’s. He’s chatting with a woman and spares a few moments to talk to me, but I’m too drunk and shell-shocked to retain much, aside from an overall air of grumpiness exuding from him that feels a lot like how he’s portrayed on the show. I turn back to my drink just as another employee emerges from the kitchen. He’s more willing to chat, and after a few minutes, offers me a cigarette. I graciously accept, and we walk out the front door together.

This is how my night ends, smoking not one but two cigarettes back-to-back with a Schwartz & Sandy’s employee, leaning against the empty outdoor patio. I volunteer to take several pictures of Vanderpump fans in front of the lounge’s neon sign while out there. Halfway through my second cigarette, the nicotine hits so hard my head starts swimming. I call myself an Uber.

As I’m waiting, a member of the kitchen staff bursts out of the front door. “The cook quit,” he says, reaching his hand out to receive a smoke himself. My cigarette friend shrugs, “Makes sense.”

Though I completed the crawl without throwing up bubblegum pink Pumptinis or slipping on a piece of broken glass in the TomTom bathroom, it feels a bit like a fever dream, like I watched myself doing this all on TV.

SUR was an over-decorated Disney restaurant, with characters walking by me as if I paid for the special continental breakfast so I could meet Pluto. TomTom was WeHo on Bravo poppers, and Schwartz & Sandy’s was just…sad. But I met a few second-tier VPR celebs, I smoked too many cigarettes, and I tried my hardest to serve LA cunt, hoping that maybe, just maybe, a Bravo producer would step out from the shadows and ask me to join the next season.

They didn’t, but the offer is on the table. I’ll have to come back and do this all again once Madix and Maloney’s sandwich shop (Something About Her) finally opens, anyway.

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