The One Who Keeps the Book Los Angeles
How to Score a Table at Élephante in Santa Monica (Even During Sunset)
In a lot of ways, Élephante is a transporting experience. For one, you take an elevator to get to the rooftop restaurant. You quickly forget that you’re on top of the Laemmle theater and a quick stroll away from the Third Street Promenade. When you walk through the entryway, any remnants of city life completely disappear. The beautiful ocean views, vibrant coastal Italian food, and a loungey vacation vibe all beckon long hangout sessions without a care in the world. It’s no wonder tables are booked weeks in advance.
Luckily for you, you’re reading The One Who Keeps The Book, our regular series that aims to answer the most important of questions: How do I get in? The first answer is Resy, of course. But every restaurant manages its tables differently and there are always tips, tricks, and shortcuts to be discovered. So here, we go straight to the source to get them for you.
“Élephante is supposed to feel like your favorite holiday spot, wherever that may be,” says Rob Chislett, partner at Wish You Here, the hospitality group that opened Élephante in 2018. “We have guests come in and say it reminds them of Tulum or Mykonos or Ibiza. All of those places are so incredibly different, but the idea is that the design is this universal resort holiday feeling. So it can kind of be whatever you make of it.”
Chislett is the rare hospitality executive who runs day-to-day operations at one of his restaurants. Here, he reveals how to get a table at the hot spot, the best seats in the house, and more.
Resy: How many seats are there at Élephante?
Chislett: We kind of separate the room into two areas. We call it the Sunset Room and the Cactus Garden Room. The Sunset Room is the one with the direct ocean view. And then the Cactus Garden Room is the completely outdoor patio when you first enter the restaurant. Between the two spaces, we’re at about 160 seats.
Did the pandemic make you adjust your philosophy for indoors vs. outdoors? Or is it more like you had this beautiful space and you went with what you have?
We’ve always, as a group, had a philosophy of really encouraging outdoor dining. So Eveleigh, our restaurant in West Hollywood, has a huge outdoor area. 80% of that restaurant is outdoors. And I think that’s one of the benefits of living in Los Angeles. That’s why we all want to live in Los Angeles, because it’s always beautiful outside.
The Élephante space was originally designed to be predominantly outdoors, and that worked for us during COVID. Half the restaurant is a patio that’s completely outdoors. And then the interior of the restaurant all opens up completely. The whole restaurant has this pocket-door system. All the doors slide into one another to give you that ocean breeze, give you that open-air feeling. So it wasn’t designed with any future pandemics in mind, but the whole restaurant was kind of always encouraged to be as outdoor as possible.
When do reservations drop on Resy?
30 days before.
You’re open seven days a week, from morning to late-night. You typically have more availability during the day and later at night on weekdays. How quickly do prime-time reservations tend to get booked?
Honestly, the prime-time Friday, Saturday nights, they’re booked up at least two to three weeks in advance. They go very quickly. Same with Saturday and Sunday brunch.
Are there seats held for walk-ins?
We don’t hold any seats for walk-ins. So if a guest asks about the walk-in policy, we advise them to go on the Notify list on Resy. And as soon as a cancellation goes out, we do fill a lot of reservations that way. So if we don’t have anything available at the time, we always advise people to just sign up for the Notify list.
Is there a certain day of the week that somebody would be most likely to get a prime-time reservation off of the Notify list?
Early in the week, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesdays.
How long is your Notify list on average?
On a weekend, Saturday, Sunday, it gets up to a thousand people.
Are there other ways to get a seat?
Our first direction’s always just check Resy. Whatever’s available on Resy is the same as our internal reservation systems. So there’s no additional seating held back. It’s all put up online, all of the inventory. What’s available online is what’s available. If people don’t see what they’d like available, we just advise them to hit the Notify list because it’s Los Angeles, and you get cancellations at every restaurant. So tables often become available the day of. So maybe you can’t book the Saturday night on Tuesday, but if you check back Saturday afternoon, there may have been some cancellations. So we advise people to continually check Resy.
We don’t hold a line or anything like that. If someone comes up to the door and inquires about a table and there’s not one available, what we do is we put them on the remote waitlist on Resy and we say, “Look, if anything opens up, we’ll text you right away.” So if someone runs late, someone cancels, things change, the hosts have the ability to use that list to be able to fill the table.
Can you share a good story that’s gone down at the door?
Pre-COVID, we did have a strong bar crowd, and you were running more based on occupancy. We were always very conscious of not letting it become a club. So we tried to hold back the drinking crowd a lot because if the drinking crowd becomes too big, it really impacts the dining experience. And then you’ve lost your whole brand.
Back then, we actually had people trying to sneak up fire exits, we had people coming through the cinema, buying a movie ticket and then trying to come up. We definitely had people always trying to sneak in, but it was always relatively well-intentioned. It was all harmless fun. I don’t think it was ever a significant problem for us.
During COVID, we’re not having any bar crowd, we’re having no standing. We don’t mind it. Bar crowds are great and they create an energy, but they also create problems that you have to deal with. So when you don’t have that, it makes it an easy operation to run.
Most people are very understanding. And we start that message from the moment they call the restaurant. The host team, the reservations team, our office team, they’re always communicating to them that, “Look, guys, you’ve got to look at Resy. We don’t have anything separate from Resy. There’s no special favors or secret tables that are held away.”
How many people can fit in the elevator? And do you have any good elevator stories?
Pre-pandemic, it was eight people. Now we’ve limited it to four and we try to keep it to one party at a time.
We had lots of elevator stories pre-pandemic. The elevator was designed for the Laemmle cinema, which is a beautiful boutique cinema that didn’t have a particularly high volume of guests. And we’ve had to constantly upgrade the elevator over the years just to deal with the volume we have. There’s been a couple of times that the elevator’s gone down on a particular service.
One of the most memorable ones was when John Legend and Chrissy Teigen were coming to the restaurant. The elevator went down about 10 minutes before they arrived. So we had to wait at the front and tell John Legend that he had to walk up the stairs. He was completely fine with it. Just started running up the stairs. He took it completely in stride.
So what do you see once you make it to the rooftop? What are the first moments like?
Fortunately, we’re busy every night of the week, so it’s always a nice environment. When you exit the elevator, you immediately see the host stand and a lovely rattan screen. You don’t actually get the view right away, but that was a deliberate design choice because it was supposed to feel like a reveal. It’s supposed to feel very transportative. So pretty much as soon as the host greets you, you walk outside of the rattan screen and instantly see the ocean, the palm trees, the beautiful blue sky. it’s supposed to make you feel like you’re in a different place. It’s supposed to feel like, wow.
When we were building the restaurant, the original goal was to try and create a Soho House without the membership. We wanted a place that gave the level of high design, but we wanted it to be available to everyone. You don’t have to pay $3,000 for a membership. You can just book a reservation. So we put a lot of effort into the design and the details of the space. And then the way the menu is designed, and the furniture, we call it a supper-club vibe. The idea is that it’s a lounge environment where you can spend two, three, four hours.
When’s the best time to visit for a great view?
It’s definitely sunset. Sunset every day is spectacular. So about an hour before sunset is when I would try and sit at the restaurant. You just get this beautiful colored sky, red, purple. It’s my favorite time at the restaurant.
Our busiest period is always around sunset. You get the beautiful sunset every day hitting the west-facing view.
What’s the weekend like during sunset?
Friday night, sunset, it’s a room full of people enjoying meals. It’s all different ages. So you have young families, older couples, groups of friends. The ticket machine’s going off every three seconds, the bartenders are putting out great drinks as quickly as they can, great music’s on in the background, and you’re looking out over the most beautiful sunset on the West Coast. Santa Monica has a beautiful sunset every day, and we’ve got palm trees and water and just a environment to hang out in.
Is there another good time for a view if sunset hours are booked?
We do brunch seven days a week. We started that during COVID. When we had reduced seating capacities, we needed to be open for more hours. So we tried that as a test, and it actually worked really well for us. We have people coming in, having their morning coffee, after the gym, right through to lunch.
I actually love the place during the daytime. If you’re coming during the morning and lunchtime and early afternoon, you’re getting uninterrupted views of the ocean. You’re seeing sailboats floating by. It’s a very peaceful and beautiful place to have lunch.
How do things change at night?
Later in the night, the view becomes less relevant. It’s more about the scene and the vibe and the energy in the room and our lively music and cocktails. And it becomes more of a self-contained environment because you’re not as reliant on the views and the outdoor feeling.
The way the menu and drinks are designed, you’re supposed to sit back and relax. It’s more of a lounge experience than traditional dining in a lot of senses because we want people to really enjoy their time there.
In your opinion, what’s the best seat in the house?
It kind of depends. If I had a big group, there’s some lounge areas in front of the bar that are fantastic for a group of six to eight people. If you’re going on a date and you want a two-person table, along our balcony on the ocean side are all two-top tables. That’s fantastic for a date.
But then it’s also seasonal for me. If it’s coming into winter, I actually really like the cactus garden room, which is our non-ocean-facing view. But we put a lot of energy into that room knowing that it would be, naturally, the slightly less desirable room because it didn’t have the ocean view. So it’s got beautiful warm features, it’s got a big open fireplace. And when it’s a colder day in Los Angeles, it’s really nice to sit out there on one of the couches. It feels like you’re at a Montauk holiday house. It’s a beach house in winter with a big open fire. It feels very cozy.
Music is a big part of the vibe at Élephante? What can guests expect to hear?
Pre-COVID, we had DJs Wednesdays through Saturday nights. At the moment, we’ve only been doing it on holidays, like July 4 and we’ll have one on Labor Day. As a vibe, our music is very… we call it world house. It feels very much like Tulum DJ vibes. So it’s lots of African music, Caribbean music, house. You’re not playing top 40 hits, you’re not playing R&B, you’re not playing hip-hop. It feels very tribal.
Two of our partners are quite big DJs, Steve Aoki and Matt Handley from Yolanda Be Cool. So we always have a good team collaborating on the internal playlist. And we have our own Spotify channel, Élephante Beach House, and we try to make it something that people can enjoy at home as well. If you like the music there, we want you to follow us on Spotify and listen at home.
What are the best things to order for first-timers?
The whipped eggplant. It comes with a housemade puccia bread. It uses the same dough as our pizza, just with extra aeration. And it comes out as a big fluffy pillow of dough. You open it up, there’s steam coming out. Combined with the eggplant dip, it’s my favorite thing on the menu. And then I always recommend people try the pizzas. The soppressata pizza is one of our standout hits as well. And then I really like the pasta. All of our pastas are handmade in-house. Probably my favorite is the gemelli with crab. We put a lot of time into the pizza and pasta program.
What are you most excited about right now?
I’m just excited to be able to get our staff back, honestly. It was such a tough time during 2020. We had a great crew of people who’ve been with us from the opening. When COVID hit, we had 100 people that we no longer had a job for. So we went from having a staff of 130 to 15, 20 people trying to do takeout pizza and delivery pizza. And it was just a really tough time.
The exciting thing right now is not only did we get to bring back all the people who were still in Los Angeles who were with us before, but we also got to bring on some new people. And it’s just nice having that energy back. It’s nice working with a team.
We went to work every day during the pandemic and just tried to run delivery programs. But that’s not why we got into hospitality. We love working with big groups of people and teams. You have a common goal and you have a busy night, and there’s people and energy. What I’m excited about is getting back into that.
Andy Wang has written regularly about restaurants for publications including Food & Wine, Los Angeles magazine and Robb Report. He was previously the real estate and travel editor at the New York Post. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram. Follow Resy, too.