Posted by Glenn Gritzner on March 27, 2009
Below this post, you’ll find a short post on what this blog is all about and why I’m doing it. But after vetting it with a couple friends, they wanted CONTENT. So be careful what you wish for, because once I got started … well, you’ll see what I mean below.
I will likely blog about almost all these places in greater depth in the days, weeks, months, years, decades ahead. But to start out, I thought I would do a roundup of Downtown’s drinking establishments – actual reviews will come later, and these comments are about BARS. I’m not including any restaurant bars, which are mostly good for happy hours and impromptu gatherings anyway – though I may do something on those later.
So … print this out and post it on your bulletin board at work – you’ll always know where to go. (Links to all these places are on the right hand side of this page). And for those of you who think “Gee, I’ve heard Downtown is getting better, but I’m not so sure” … read on.
In no particular order:
Where: 7th & Grand. Duh. (actually it’s on 7th, closer to Olive. Look for the black gate and go up the dark stairs.)
Vibe: Neighborhood bar where everybody knows your name. With a light hunting motif thrown in. Pool tables, green plaid carpet, and benches along the back – but why would you sit anywhere besides the bar?
Pros: Seven Grand is, in many ways, ground zero of the cocktail renaissance. It’s known as a whisky/scotch place, but they do so much more. Seven Grand brought quality ingredients, creative drinks, and amazing bartenders to Downtown really for the first time. Many of the “all stars” are gone, but the quality is still great. And they won’t look at you funny if you just order a vodka/tonic (though you shouldn’t).
Cons: Few, if any. It gets very crowded late, which makes it tougher to get one of their better drinks. They’ve also had to cut back the drink menu, but you can still get the old favorites if you know to ask for them. Also, try not to get a bartender-in-training – you’ll notice the difference.
Order this: A manhattan. A classic (rye) whisky drink for a classic whisky bar. Or, go off menu and order the Elder Fitzgerald – you’ll like it.
Where: 2nd & Main. Entrance a little ways down the alley on 2nd. You’ll see the door guy standing there.
Vibe: A classic boiler room in a historic building, which hasn’t been changed much – many of the ‘boiler room’ elements have been integrated into the bar itself. Until the Crocker Club opened, this was hands down the coolest interior of any bar in Downtown (or just about the entire city) – and it still might be.
Pros: Look around you – you’re looking at it. Plus, it’s big with lots of nooks and crannies to get lost in – find the somewhat secluded narrow room near the big central bar. Try to avoid the temptation to do something in public that could get you arrested.
Cons: When it gets crowded, their capacity to serve drinks doesn’t match the capacity of the room – it can get verrrry tough to get a drink. (Tip: the side bar is often less crowded)
Order this: El Diablo. Tequila mixed with ginger beer? Sign me up. That, or one of their signature absinthe drinks. Don’t be scared.
Note: Go late on Wednesdays to see Lucent Dossier, the Cirque-like performance troupe that takes over the place. Plus, all the bartenders get sprayed and painted and glittered up.
Where: 5th & Spring. Enter on Spring.
Vibe: Old school. It’s a former bank vault, with shiny vault door still intact. Lots of little hideaway rooms with buttons that summon the wait staff. Or, grab a drink and head to the vault itself, which gets very dark in the back. Hint, hint.
Pros: It’s a great setting, and the rooms (which are easy to get if you get there early) are fun. You’ve never been in a bar like this.
Cons: THE DRESS CODE. Nonsense about collared jackets, no t-shirts, etc. But I guarantee that you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between somebody they let in and somebody they wouldn’t. Plus, the whole “being judged by a door guy” thing is for Hollywood, not Downtown. They claim they’re trying to keep out the riff raff, but just hire door guys with some common sense and leave it at that (like the Edison does). Also, they have decent drinks, but they don’t have a drink menu yet – ask your bartender for descriptions.
Order this: The Golden Yen. Not on the menu (because there isn’t one), but a good drink. Or, the Heist.
Where: 6th, just past Main. Entrance on 6th. Look for the unmarked black door (a replica of 10 Downing Street, if you care) with a guy standing out front down some stairs, just before the entrance to Cole’s.
Vibe: Dark but welcoming, lots of seating, very neighborhood-y. This is one of those bars where it’s easy to hang out three times longer than you intended.
Pros: This is the only non-Cedd Moses-owned bar downtown doing real, classic cocktails. It’s got a long bar and good bartenders, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Cons: Crowds and lines if it’s late. It’s hard to believe a place this big at this location gets to be standing room only, but it does. And it takes awhile for them to make a drink, but it’s worth it so that hardly counts as a ‘con’.
Order this: An Aviation. If a place takes pride in making classic cocktails, order a classic cocktail.
Where: In the back of Cole’s, on 6th between Main & Los Angeles. You literally walk through Cole’s towards the back, and look for the door with a small cocktail glass on it. Open it up, and be transported.
Vibe: Speakeasy all the way. It looks smaller than it is, but that’s part of the charm. The place practically begs you to talk to complete strangers. No barstools, decent floor space, but enough privacy … if you want some.
Pros: The drinks. Ahhhhh, the drinks. There’s no compromises, and then there are NO COMPROMISES. Only the best at the Varnish. If you’d actually have the audacity to order something as simple as a rum and Coke at this place, they’ll serve it to you with the Dutch formulation of Coke because it tastes better with rum. Seriously. And the Varnish’s bartenders are L.A.’s all stars.
Cons: Thinking … thinking … thinking. Oh, OK – it takes awhile to concoct perfection.
Order this: Remember the Maine. If you don’t like the black licorice taste of absinthe, have them swap it out with chartreuse. This is also the perfect place to just put yourself in the bartender’s hands.
Where: I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. (there’s no web link to the Doheny because, while they have a website, it only allows you to submit a form to inquire about membership. That’s it.)
Vibe: Shhhhh. Secret. Private. Only for those in the know – this is a membership place, and it cultivates an aura of mystique. The bar itself is very small, but the outdoor area is very cool, with the ‘bones’ of Mrs. Doheny’s old greenhouse over your head, a fireplace beckoning you to stay awhile, and Shepherd Fairey-painted mirrors on the wall.
Pros: Vies with The Varnish for best drinks in Downtown – another no compromises place. If you get in, you feel “cool enough to get in.” They also sponsor lots of fun tastings, “secret” music nights, and even get the Kogi BBQ truck to come by from time to time.
Cons: Well, it’s mostly that you can’t just drop in. Find a member, or someone who knows the right people.
Order this: Blood and Sand. Just a great drink – but you can really order anything. Order the Blue Blazer if you want a show.
Where: 6th & Hope, next to Wolfgang Puck’s.
Vibe: An old, wood paneled, book lined library. The kind of place that writes its happy hour specials in white ink on a mirror. Very neighborhood-y and welcoming – almost a European pub, in a good way.
Pros: This is the classic “let’s grab a drink after work” place – and, as if to prove the point, it opens at 3 pm! It’s pretty small, but that adds to its charm.
Cons: The happy hour specials blow – Stella and Washington Apple drinks for $5. Plus, they have too much space set aside for the couches and tables – for a place that’s already small, they should be maximizing the space they have (though I LIKE sitting at the couches, but still…)
Order this: A pint of beer on tap. With that chick from Logistics you’ve been eyeing.
Where: Flower, just past Wilshire. Look for the “Rx” sign. Or, walk through the back of Provecho, which you can enter on Wilshire around the corner – they’re connected.
Vibe: Hollywood club meets Downtown accessibility. Very red, with the bar smack dab in the middle. The area up the 4 or 5 stairs screams VIP, but anyone can hang out up there.
Pros: Centrally located, really friendly staff.
Cons: The drinks. You go here if it’s easy or you want something other than the “dark, cool Downtown vibe”. You don’t go here for the cocktails. They have a drink menu, and they try, and they’re really nice … but they just haven’t quite figured it out.
Order this: The Sixty-Five. It’s as close to decent as you’re gonna get.
Where: Flower & 11th, across from Liberty Grill near Staples.
Vibe: I broke my own rule – this is a restaurant with a bar. But they are clearly making a point of serving good cocktails so I’m including them. This place says ‘accessibly upscale’ to me. They also have cool sunken leather chairs that are attached to each other, which makes carrying on a conversation a little awkward but they’re comfy and different.
Pros: Great drinks, with a restaurant bar that is definitely not an afterthought. It’s also a little more civilized than many other places.
Cons: It’s a little out of the way. The service can be a little indifferent. Plus, you’ll be tempted to order the food, and the food is really good, but you can quickly run up a pretty significant tab.
Order this: Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Red pepper & rye deliciousness.
Where: 8th, near Hill.
Vibe: A little rotten, but in a good, non-threatening way. The outside patio is very cool, and there’s lots of room to frolic. Plus, it feels like the historic bar that it is.
Pros: Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap! Need I say more? Plus, you can actually order liquor to go here – the old Gopher had the license and it never lapsed. (Just in case you’re leaving with someone and need a little more liquid courage.) Plus, tabletop Ms. Pac Man and Galaga for drunken 80s video game duels. Oh, and the jukebox rocks.
Cons: I love the Goph, but it’s hard not to feel a little bit like it’s younger brother, Seven Grand, has somewhat cannibalized it. Still, it’s good to stop in for a little Gopher love every now and then.
Order this: PBR!
Where: Broadway, between 8th and 9th.
Vibe: Old school fabulous. Kinda 40s, Art Deco, reminiscent of the historic Broadway theaters that are nearby. The kind of place that makes you feel like you should have a cigarette … in a holder.
Pros: The central, circular bar is very cool. And the upstairs mezzanine is fun, when it’s open.
Cons: The neighborhood outside doesn’t really match the vibe inside. But once you’re in, you’re in.
Order this: Something classic, like a Gimlet.
Where: 1st, between Vignes & Santa Fe. Yes, 1st between Vignes and Santa Fe. On the site of the late, much lamented Little Pedro’s, Downtown’s oldest bar.
Vibe: The name says it all. It’s red and rococo and has a stage and puts on all sorts of interesting/strange performances. Given what I was seeing one night, I kept waiting for midget twins to walk out with David Lynch.
Pros: It’s probably Downtown’s most unique place. If you like feeling you’ve stumbled into a subculture, this is your spot.
Cons: Not a place to go “just to grab a drink.”
Order this: I’m actually not sure if they have absinthe but if they do, this is the place to order it and pretend you’re Toulouse Lautrec in turn of the century Paris.
Where: Wilshire between Fig & Flower, across from Provecho. Up on the 21st Floor.
Vibe: Rooftop Asian/hip with cool views. The roof is very high, and there are no windows, so it’s sorta the best of both worlds – rooftop feel, but no sun (or, rarely, rain) beating down on you. It’s going for “clubby” (in the Hollywood sense), but they somehow pull it off without seeming (too) pretentious.
Pros: It’s fun feeling like you’re on top of Downtown.
Cons: There’s really not room to stand, and the seats fill up.
Order this: Sake – when in Rome… I don’t love sake, but when I drink it, I prefer it cold.
Where: Inside the Bonaventure Hotel. Entrance to Suede itself is on the Flower side at 5th.
Vibe: Achingly hip. The Bonaventure’s interior is tired, and this newish place is overcompensating. They are trying to draw hipsters, but they often draw poseurs.
Pros: When it’s not crowded, it can be OK – you can feel a little fabulous after a couple drinks.
Cons: Do you really want the “thumping club” thing inside the Bonaventure.
Order this: Vodka/Red Bull. At this place, why not?
The Standard rooftop
Where: 6th & Flower.
Vibe: Depends on when you go. During the day, it can feel like you’re playing hooky with people who don’t have a job and just sit around the pool all day. During happy hour, it’s people in suits trying to be cooler than they are. At night, it’s Hollywood comes Downtown. Inexplicably, this was the “in” place for the Hollywood clubgoers for awhile, and it still definitely has the ‘velvet rope’ thing at night.
Pros: You’re on top of the world! Being at the Standard makes you really feel like you’re part of a City. A real, honest to God City. The covered waterbeds near the pool are fun and it’s one of the few places Downtown where you can actually dance, if that’s your thing.
Cons: The hipster/Hollywood thing can be tiresome. The drinks are terrible, and you drink them out of plastic.
Order this: Whatever you drank in college.
Tip: go there for lunch. It’s empty, the food is decent, and you feel like you’re having a little midday vacation.
There you have it. This isn’t comprehensive (and restaurant bars deserve a whole other post), but I figured I’d start with a bang. (I hope I have something left to say after all that). Comment away.