New cocktail bar and happy hour restaurant in downtown Sacramento

David English, chef/owner of The Press Bistro and inaugural chef for Ella Dining Room & Bar, returns to the Sacramento restaurant scene with a new concept centered around cocktails and small bites.

English Juju Kitchen & Cocktails opens June 1 at 1501 L St. , as confirmed to The Sacramento Bee. It will be open from 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, replacing the hotel bar on the ground level Residence Inn by Marriott Sacramento Downtown.

More simple would Juju than The Press Bistro, a French and Spanish-inspired fine-dining bistro that attracted rave reviews from 2010 to 2019 and helped make the Handle District in downtown Sacramento the destination it is today.

English wants to keep the limited bistro staff free to focus on existing customers, so he’s not planning to book or even have a phone line. All plates will be $7, with a weekly rotation based on what you find English at the Sunday Fresh Market in the Arden Fair Mall parking lot.

One could order enough of these to make a full meal, but English chef and chef Ramon Medina (right hand cooking man of 13 years) expects more people to stop by for happy hour, as Juju is a kitty corner of Capitol Park. It’s also two blocks from the SAFE Credit Union Performing Arts Center and Memorial Auditorium, and small plates can be quickly prepared for pre-show intake.

“We wanted a nice space, but we also wanted it to feel comfortable and not clogged,” English said. “We want it to be sophisticated, but at the same time fun and a little fun.”

Favorite Sacramento

Expected opening dishes include harissa-coated grilled chicken with tzatziki, crispy asparagus salad with bacon and caramelized onions, and corn-and-parmesan arancini and beef barbacoa tacos, the latest of which is a Medina family recipe.

Hop in a few Press Bistro favorites, including fennel-filled meatballs in marinara sauce and patatas bravas. The youngest son of the Englishman was diagnosed with celiac disease a year ago, so nearly all Juju items are gluten-free and ready to prevent cross-contamination. Even the fudge cake uses almond flour, although dairy-free products may want to skip the scoop of Vic’s ice cream on top.

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Bartender Alex Walker creates a Rose Rouge cocktail made with gin, pomegranate, and bubbles at Juju Kitchen & Cocktails in Sacramento on Thursday. Juju Kitchen & Cocktails is a small new dishes and drinks location designed by David English in downtown Sacramento. Paul Kitagaki Jr. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Bartender Alex Walker, formerly of Kitchen 747 and 105 Noshery in Roseville, will craft cocktails like the Rose Rouge (a gin concoction that includes pomegranate juice, sparkling wine, and egg whites) around the two-sided octagonal bar. The house Old Fashioned included a jujubee, a play on the cocktail bar’s name.

A wine fridge stocked by General Manager John Russo runs along the back wall of Juju. Homemade beer will also be available.

Inside the new Happy Hour hall

English wife and co-owner Kelly English designed Juju’s interior in shades of olive green and pink, comfy leather stools and sconces shaped like hands with lights hanging from their fingertips.

Greenery from Propagate Plants & Gathering in downtown Sacramento illuminates the space, as does coral plant wallpaper from Placerville’s PhD Wallpapering. The outside patio seats 28 plus 60 inside, and large windows can be opened to bring the two setups together.

“(She is) attractive, but rude. (We) definitely wanted her to feel comfortable,” said Kelly English. “Come as you are, stop for a drink, stay longer, meet friends. A place where you want to come with others.”

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David and Kelly English sit inside their new establishment, Juju Kitchen & Cocktails, on 15th and L Streets in downtown Sacramento on Thursday. David is the owner and former chef of The Press Bistro which closed in 2019. Paul Kitagaki Jr. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

David English, a native of Davis, cooked in Spain, France, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Maine, Wisconsin, Florida, and the Bay Area before moving to New Orleans, where he and Kelly met. New Orleans magazine named the city’s best new chef in January 2006. Then Hurricane Katrina came along, and the English returned to David’s home area.

The English will supply ingredients, develop the menu and handle some prep work early in the day, after Marriott’s chefs have finished preparing breakfasts for hotel guests in the communal kitchen. While on duty, it will be Medina and Russo (a veteran of The Press Bistro, Roxy Restaurant & Bar, and Scott’s Seafood on the River) who run the show.

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A gluten-free brownie with ice cream was photographed at Juju Kitchen & Cocktails in Sacramento. Paul Kitagaki Jr. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

This story was originally published May 24, 2022 5:25 am.

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Benjy Egel covers local restaurants and bars for The Sacramento Bee as well as general breaking news and investigative projects. A native of Sacramento, he previously covered business for the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas.

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