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Little Leaf Expands Tea Room to Bar

Feb 07, 2016 03:55PM ● Published by Kevin

George Widjaja, Little Leaf’s owner and sole bartender, flanked by his artfully displayed liquor inventory

The season’s first cold rains ushered us into the intimate warmth of Little Leaf Bar at Palm and Bullard avenues on a chilly, autumn evening. The deep sheen of cherry-stained tables, the sleek, black bar with cobalt under lighting and a mellow music soundtrack wrapped itself around us like a gentle hug. 

There’s a seat at the bar and a welcome from owner/bartender George Widjaja (pronounced “We-jī-ya”), who recalls that your drink is his inventive variation on the classic Moscow Mule. Spontaneously, the day’s stresses dissipate in a deep exhalation.

Little Leaf Bar’s evolution from its parent tea room, also named Little Leaf and accessible through the always-open connecting door, was an organic development. Widjaja, a native of Indonesia, detoured from a plan to continue his education in Los Angeles after college in Seattle, and decided that Fresno was the ideal place to cultivate his expertise and interest in tea. When the previous tenant at Little Leaf Tea’s space, a coffeehouse, closed in 2009, Widjaja thought a tea room in the Bullard area “might work out.” And when the coffeehouse’s companion bookstore, Holy Child, moved across the parking lot last year, Little Leaf Bar was a natural extension. 

Perfect for winter: Widjaja’s
Pumpkin Chai Latte, a comforting
concoction of butterscotch
liqueur, Fireball whisky and
chai tea, garnished with
frothy whipped cream,
maraschino cherry and cinnamon.

 The bar, which matches Widjaja’s description of his clientele (“mature, modern, classy and looking for something unique”) exudes a chill, Asian vibe and specializes in classic liquors including small-batch bourbons, whiskeys and Scotch, while embracing the craft-beer movement with a changing array on tap. Widjaja enjoys inventing tasty, new libations of his own, such as the hot, luxurious Pumpkin Chai Latte, or his unique twist on the Mule: he uses ginger tea.

He’s succeeded at building that elusive establishment that so many watering holes try, and fail, to create: the neighborhood bar.

“People can sit here and talk,” he said approvingly. “It’s very private. You don’t have to deal with a lot of noise.” 

But patrons can easily strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to them, as a couple did one night on their way to the airport and their new home in Atlanta. 

“Someone told us about this place, and I wish we would have known about it sooner,” said the traveler, a 30-something sports marketer, regretfully. 

Customers can order tea from the adjacent tea room and appetizers from Widjaja’s global-inspired menu with roots in French, Italian, Korean and Japanese cuisine. A generous portion of kimchi and spicy sauce adorns fries. Jewel-green seaweed glistens with sesame oil atop baby greens. But if a patron is looking for the classic bar sliders, he’s got those, too.

Little Leaf’s Moscow Mule:
Vodka, ginger tea, IPA on tap
and lime juice, served perfectly
iced in a gorgeous, sweating
copper mug

“We’re a specialty bar,” he said. “If we’re going to serve burgers and fries, they’re going to be really special.” Little Leaf also recently began offering lunch through its tea room and happy hour is daily from opening until 7 p.m.

Not interested in a flash-in-the-pan business, Widjaja said he’s planning for the long term. He enlisted the talents of his sister, a Europe-based interior designer, to create Little Leaf’s intimate, comfortable ambiance. And he applied what he learned about architecture and design on the many trips he took with his father as a youngster in Asia.

Like a carefully crafted cocktail, the classic and unique elements of Little Leaf come together just as Widjaja intended: “Something special you can’t find in other places.”

Written by Janelle Schneider.

LITTLE LEAF BAR

6011 N. Palm Ave. Fresno 93711
(559) 261-2699
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday, 5-11 p.m.
Happy Hour: Daily, 5-7 p.m.

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