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Meet Tobin Shea of Redbird | Vibiana in DTLA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tobin Shea.

Tobin, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I am currently the Bar Director of Redbird and Vibiana in Downtown Los Angeles. My foray into the restaurant industry began humbly, at a local bar near my college campus in Pennsylvania. My focus beyond academics was playing rugby, but my father gave me a copy of Mr. Boston’s: Official Bartender Guide at the time and told me to be the best I could be, even at a side job. I read and read and was hooked. After graduating and attempting a brief stint in the corporate world, I realized my true passion still lived behind the bar. Two decades later, here I am. The knowledge that I cultivated over the years has helped me create a beverage program that pairs with chef/owner Neal Fraser’s globally-inspired menu and owner/operator Amy Knoll Fraser’s eclectic approach to design and the couple’s commitment to their very particular guest-first philosophy of hospitality.

But, previously, upon my arrival to Los Angeles, I opened two long-standing Silverlake favorites – The Garage and El Cid. After ten years there, I moved South to Orange County to assist with the cocktail program for the restaurant group P&D Concepts. After that, I relocated to Manhattan Beach to work with Julian Cox and Josh Goldman, of the Soigné Group, on a novel draft and bottled cocktail program at Circa restaurant.

When I decided to join the Redbird | Vibiana team, it couldn’t have been a more organic fit. I naturally gravitate towards the classic cocktails from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, resurrecting forgotten recipes while adding a modern twist – a style that parallels the history and restoration of the buildings that house Redbird and Vibiana. Our extensive cocktail menu features well-balanced, bespoke renditions of the classics and has garnered the team awards such as Time Out’s Best Restaurant Bar Program in 2017 and as a finalist for Tales of the Cocktail Best American Restaurant Bar award several years in a row.

Has it been a smooth road?
Early on, during the college days, an obstacle was reading about, experimenting with and then wanting to make more complex cocktails encompassing fresh juices and unique ingredients when bargoers didn’t have a deep interest level in these flavors like they do now.

Please tell us about Redbird | Vibiana.
Chef | Owner Fraser and Owner | Operator Knoll Fraser’s flagship restaurant Redbird features Modern American cuisine that is refined yet approachable and highlights the multi-cultural influences of Fraser’s native city – Los Angeles. Fraser’s menu features seasonal plates ranging from snacks or “kickshaws” to entrees meant to be enjoyed by the whole table, complemented with desserts by Pastry Chef Kasra Ajdari. As mentioned, the cocktail menu features well-balanced, bespoke renditions of the classics and has garnered the team awards such as Time Out’s Best Restaurant Bar Program. Wine Director Josh Wibbenmeyer’s wine list is well rounded with great finds from both established and emerging wine regions throughout the world and has also received many accolades, including “Top 100 wine restaurants in the United States” by Wine Enthusiast and the “Best of Award of Excellence” from Wine Spectator.

Located in downtown Los Angeles, Redbird is carved into one of the city’s most historic architectural gems, inside the former rectory building of Vibiana – the cathedral-turned-event-venue also owned and operated by the Frasers. Designer Robert Weimer and Knoll Fraser created a dynamic space that pays homage to the cathedral next door and the existing timeless architecture by inserting simple modern forms to complement rather than overtake the feel of the rooms. The result is a warm and comfortable considered space. Redbird | Vibiana received the Los Angeles Conservancy’s 2019 Preservation Award Chair’s Award, the organization’s highest recognition celebrating the persistence, creativity and ultimate success of the revitalization for adaptive reuse of the cathedral, rectory building and surrounding property, host to over 700 events annually.

With all this being said, I am most proud of being part of something bigger- the history of the property, the spaces as they currently exist in the present, the growth of the restaurant overall and the wide range of events that are constantly evolving. I love being able to expand what the team does at the bar during regular restaurant service to the private dining rooms for special events. Currently, the restaurant is operating with three different outdoor dining rooms, which means three different bars for the team. The program is steadily growing in a very humble, authentic way, even during these unique times. We have not lost sight of finding the best products possible, creating our own housemade ingredients, adapting new techniques, remaining approachable and available for guests and keeping the experience elevated, even if that means at home while enjoying Redbird bottled cocktails with labels created by Knoll Fraser. Before the restaurant reopened for outdoor dining, I was missing the daily interaction with guests at the bar. As a response, a weekly Instagram Live Happy Hour and cocktail kit series was born @redbirdla which I loved hosting, often with special guests and lots of education along the way.

We recently launched private virtual cocktail classes on Zoom, customizable to the guest’s liking, which have been a lot of fun.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
In working with Redbird | Vibiana owners Chef Fraser and Knoll Fraser for over five years, creativity, openness to new opportunities and constant evolution is ingrained in us. The next 5-10 years will be no different. Since 2020 commenced, being wherever the guest is – whether that is at home (i.e., bottled cocktails for delivery), online (Instagram lives) or in the restaurant – with Redbird’s bar offerings and additional content has certainly been a change. I predict this will continue. Since small spirits brands are often discovered by guests through their favorite bartenders, I especially want to support them through all messaging channels as the industry continues to shift and change.

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