Getting Caught Up
Posted by Glenn Gritzner on April 3, 2012
Hello Enthusiasts –
Well, sometimes life sneaks up on us, doesn’t it? We’ve been meaning to try that new place or we’ve been curious about somewhere we’ve heard about … yet, something always gets in the way of actually going there. But sometimes you just gotta do it. I was recently asked about finding work/life balance, and was asked whether it means “saying no”. I said it does, but that it also means “saying yes” – saying yes to the things you normally wouldn’t do, or to places that normally wouldn’t be your first choice. So, maybe it took a bit, but I’ve been “saying yes” to more places recently
So I apologize if this particular post has been awhile coming. That’s OK. While I would certainly like to have a trust fund that would allow me to do nothing but write, play music, make the world a better place, and try new restaurants and bars … I don’t. Therefore, sometimes I just get to places when I get to them. Besides, trying a place after it’s been open for awhile gives you a better indication of how it “really” is. As fun as it is to try new places right when they open, it’s not fair to judge them based on that. They don’t have their service quite right, they’re still tinkering with the menu, figuring out what works and what doesn’t … so, trying them later helps me, your loyal Enthusiast, give you, my when-you-get-around-to-reading-me audience, a better read on what a place is really like. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
So this week, we try a few places that have been open for at least a little bit. Yes, maybe you’ve already tried them. But, while many of you read this little vanity project for news on the latest and greatest, my ego would like to think that you at least partly read it to get my particular pearls of wisdom about places, even if you’ve already been there. Just go with me here. And if you actually read the whole thing, you just might find a couple of surprises.
In rough order from oldest to newest, we start with Silo Vodka Bar. On 7th, between Broadway & Spring. This place has been open for probably 8 or 9 months, if not longer. Why did it take me so long to go there? Perhaps the answer can be found in the name: it features vodka. That blandest of spirits. Heck, there’s a cocktail bar in San Diego that refuses to even serve vodka. So, why a vodka bar? Because apparently the owners figured Cedd Moses would never open a bar featuring vodka, so they would have the market to themselves. True story, if my sources are to be believed. Fine – they specialize in vodka. But … I liked it. At least more than I thought I would. Why? First, it’s comfortable. Check it out:
It’s what a Downtown, neighborhood-y bar should feel like. Second, they serve actual cocktails, made with things other than vodka. And, while I cringe when I see a “martini” menu, expecting all sorts of silly -tini drinks, I guess you have to do martinis in a vodka bar and these are (mostly) real variations on a martini and not just concoctions served in a martini glass. They do need some help with drink naming – it’s unfortunate that they serve a “Gin”nie the Pooh, and even more unfortunate that they serve something called a Marshmellow S’More Martini, complete with misspelling. And the ice room upstairs is de rigeur and gimmicky – cold vodka is cold vodka. Besides, wearing communal jackets with communal fur lined hoodies is a little icky.
That being said, it’s a comfortable place with more options than I expected and a good selection of vodka. But WAIT, there’s more. Just when you’re thinking “yeah, so what. I’ve been to Silo a bunch of times,” I bet you didn’t know that next door, they just opened a slider bar. Silo Slider Bar. Menu here. Yep, a restaurant that specializes in nothing but sliders, that most predictable of bar food. Which is what’s so genius about it: it’s a restaurant that serves nothing but sliders. They have ahi sliders and truffle sliders and short rib sliders and, of course, regular ole’ sliders. Perfect combination with chilled vodka shots (though you’ll be cooler and order the “Doctor’s Orders”.) See? You always learn something new from me.
On to … Monty Bar. Monty is on 7th, just past Lucas – yes, across the 110, in a neighborhood known as Westlake. I have a hard time getting my head around Monty’s. Not surprisingly, given the neighborhood and the simple big yellow sign out front that says “MONTY”, it used to be a dive bar. They have spruced the place up a bit, but made some interesting design choices. Let’s start with the fact that there’s a really cool bar on the right – see?:
And between the two is a cavernous, empty space that’s good for … dancing? Mingling? Standing around awkwardly? Hard to really capture in the picture, but the best one I could find is below and to the left.
I was there on a quiet (read: dead) night – and it was a Thursday, so I wouldn’t have expected it to be THAT quiet – but I didn’t get a full read on the place. Though partially owned by Cedd Moses, it’s not a cocktail place – when the bartender brags about his Manhattan, and proceeds to shake it vigorously … well, let’s just say it’s not a cocktail place. (and no, I’m not a cocktail snob … stop laughing … but that’s just not how you really make a Manhattan. It would be like somebody bragging about how good their omelets are and then serving you scrambled eggs.) But it’s got a great beer list, and certainly a comfortable, Downtown vibe.
I’ve frankly been hesitating to write about Monty for awhile because I’m just not sure what to say about it. Hard to wholeheartedly endorse it, but I certainly don’t “not” endorse it. Apparently, it goes off on weekend nights, when they bring in a DJ, project movies on the wall, and get the popcorn machine going (free!) . So, if y’all could head over there to check it out on a better night and report back, that’d be great. Thanks.
The final entrant on our list is Blue Cow Kitchen. Blue Cow is on Grand Ave. in California Plaza, in the space formerly occupied by the late, lamented Casa. Knowing that Casa & Mendocino Farms were owned by the same folks, the minute I heard they were closing Casa, I said “they’re doing a sit down Mendo”, and that’s basically what they did. For those of you who don’t know, Mendocino Farms serves the best sandwiches in the City of Los Angeles. They essentially bring a fine dining/farm-t0-table mentality to the world of sandwiches. Pork Belly Banh Mi, Braised Lamb Sandwich, Prosciutto and Roasted Chicken – just some of their offerings (click on the link for more). So why not leverage your purveyors to provide the quality of Mendo in a casually inviting setting?
First of all, you should have figured out by now that I’m a big stickler for design – I want the “vibe” of the place to match what they are trying to do food and drink-wise. On that front, I think they succeeded really well. Check out the interior:
See? Whimsical. The food, unsurprisingly, keeps the same farm-to-table, “gourmet casual” approach that Mendo has. The lunch menu feels a little more literally like you’re just being waited on with Mendocino Farms menu items – but perhaps that’s as it should be. Dinner branches out a little more, with things like Duck Wings, Vietnamese Chicken Salad, and something called “A Cuban Marries A Madame” – you’ll have to click the link to check it out.
Finally, near and dear to my heart, Mario (the owner) “went cocktail”, and hired Steve Livigni of Doheny/Harvard & Stone/La Descarga fame (plus a couple Westside places) to put a list together. They actually have Old Fashioneds on tap, they have a Gin & Tonic Experiment which is exactly what it sounds like and is delicious, and even a Rum Manhattan. That, plus an interesting beer and wine list, and it’s just as easy to pop into Blue Cow for happy hour or a nightcap as it is for some good, easy, better-than-it-has-to-be food.
So there you have it. Three more spots to put on your list. Even if you’ve already been there.
P.S. – you should especially appreciate this post because after writing it the first time, I lost the whole thing. So I had to RE write the whole thing. I’m sure the first version was much wittier.
P.P.S. – Look for another post in the near future about a place a little outside of Downtown – OK, it’s in Silverlake, where I live – that I think should be on your radar.
221 W. 7th (b/w Broadway & Spring)
1222 W. 7th. (just past Lucas)
350 S. Grand Ave. (Two California Plaza, on Bunker Hill)