GOTG Profile: Whitney Johnson, Bottle & Barlow
By Kelly Conroy and Chantel Elder
There’s nothing I can say to make Whitney Johnson sound any cooler than she already is. Her designs have been pushing our city forward with new and innovative spaces for years and her latest project is the first of its kind in Sacramento. Even if you haven’t heard her name, you’ve seen her work – Shady Lady, Hook & Ladder and now, Bottle & Barlow.
In 2013, five years after she originally dreamed up the idea of a bar-barbershop combo, Whitney brought together a dream team of collaborators and got to work turning the idea into reality. During weekly Tuesday night meetings, they developed a business plan over cocktails and laughter, and what they came up with was more than a business, it’s a lifestyle – “Get loose. Stay sharp.” Bottle & Barlow’s tagline appeals directly to the growing population of young professionals in Sacramento (We know we’re grown ups, but we’re not ready to act like it all the time.).
Bottle & Barlow boasts a two-sided business model. The Bottle side – a bar with cutting edge details, an almost hidden mezzanine that’s perfect for a quiet date night, and creative cocktails including the Big Johnson, named after Whitney herself. And the Barlow side – a vintage style, reservation only barber shop that provides shaves, haircuts and, of course, a cocktail during your appointment. The place is almost paralyzingly cool. But, as Whitney shows me around and points out her favorite design details (including columns wrapped in old climbing rope from Pipeworks), the bar quickly becomes welcoming and friendly. It seems like a part of Sacramento that should have always existed.
As I question Whitney about her creative process, her work-life balance, and her undeniably influential success, the humility in her answers is both pervasive and exceedingly honest. “Respect is something that’s earned,” she explains, “Sometimes you earn it in two minutes, sometimes you earn it in two years.”
Despite her incredible success as a designer and businesswoman, she will be the first to tell you that it’s not always easy to follow your passions. “There are days when, if I get yelled at one more time, I’m going to lose it. But, that’s why it’s important to leave my emotions at home. This is a job. This is a business. Nobody forced me to show up.”
She explains how important this perspective is on projects like Bottle & Barlow when everything went wrong. “Something was supposed to be silver but it came gold. It was the right wallpaper but the wrong color. You have to just make it work. Sometimes, you have to throw your plans in the trash and see what you get.”
When she’s not creating Sacramento’s new, favorite space to eat, drink, and play, she’s visiting her own favorites. From Mother to Fish Face to getting nostalgic at Monkey Bar, Whitney loves contributing to the local businesses that continue to build Sacramento’s culture. Being part of this growing culture herself, Whitney says she has a constant internal struggle, “I try to balance the growing pains of my own business with the growth of Sacramento as a whole. What kind of infrastructure will local businesses need to build moving forward to meet the demand? I never want the quality of my work to go down with expansion. I’m really blessed to do what I do.” I would argue that Sacramento is equally blessed to have Whitney Johnson.
photography credit: Chantel Elder