For their recently-released latest offering, Fog + Smog Films, the California-based team behind such music videos as “Whole Foods Parking Lot” and “Berkeley Enough,” have set their targets away from yuppie grocery story shoppers and onto Los Angeles’ bar scene and the artisanal cocktail craze. Bars such as Hollywood’s Cuban rum-and-burlesque-dancers spot La Descarga and downtown mescal bar Las Perlas make cameos as the dudes rap about entering a bar through a trap door and being served by a very serious young lad in a pork-pie hat and a lab coat.
The video itself is fine, but the funniest bit actually comes in the cocktail recipes A typewriter spews out the mixologist’s artisanal offerings, from the “Avon Barksdale” (Hennessy, soda, free-range heroin foam) to the “Moist Yoga Mat” (Hemp vodka, 12-year kombucha, wheatgrass with a coconut water back) to the amazingly-named but nausea-inducing “Chewbacca’s Jacuzzi” (Kashyyyk champagned, muddled slim jim, carbonite rinse).
Last night, I saw the future of Los Angeles bars, and it was good. Harvard & Stone held a pre-opening party in advance of their public debut tonight, and it was pretty much perfect. The party was for music video director Dean Karr and just about everyone in attendance swooned over Harvard & Stone’s smart design — exposed brick walls offset by warm woodwork, lightbulbs with exposed filaments, and industrial-looking iron — which comes across as a more rock & roll version of San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch.
The Houston Brothers, the twins behind the bar, went to great lengths to ensure that their latest endeavor lives up to their reputation (the two won over just about everybody in Los Angeles with their still-popular Havana-meets-L.A. themed La Descarga, which opened over a year ago).
So what makes Harvard & Stone so special? To start with, the bar has a soul. Long before hipsters flooded the area, 5521 Hollywood Blvd had history as The Stone. While the design of the Stone was 100% dive, the walls seem to have soaked up years of debauchery that can’t easily be washed away, and the Houston Brothers smartly left the lineage of the sleaze roiling under the surface — exposed piping juts out from the walls and a concrete smoking area inside the bar near the back should still entice a few former Stone patrons.
But most will end up coming to Harvard & Stone (inspired by 1940s American industrial icons such as Rosie the Riveter) for the kind of cocktails on which The Stone would have turned a whiskey-blind eye. Think classics such as the bar’s “American Smash” (applejack, rye, honey syrup, lemon and mint) mixed by a stellar team of bar fiends, some of whom you might also find at Soho House on different nights of the week. Most drinks are reasonably priced at around the $10 mark.
The icing on the cake, however, is the bar’s live music permit, allowing Harvard & Stone to host the occasional big-name band wanting to play for friends (keep an eye on this spot during Coachella). Last night, Mark Houston said he would not be having bands nightly (even though a band played Monday evening at Karr’s party, organized by Jenn Laskey) as he said he wanted a scene to be able to develop organically. Expect Harvard & Stone to dominate 2011, at least for the Silver Lake set.
Last year, it felt like everyone in Los Angeles finally realized the dream of opening their own bar. But nightlife being the fickle beast that it is, not all of them will last. The bars that made the most noise in 2010 will likely survive to see 2012 and beyond, but they’re not necessarily the best of the bunch. Brent Bolthouse and Guy Starkman’s Trousdale (pictured above) had a very successful year and recently paid back all its investors (a coup in under 12 months). Across the street from Trousdale on the Sunset Strip, Soho House had an equally successful 2010.
On the other side of town, Echo Park and Silver Lake saw the opening of a few new bars that made a bit of buzz, albeit of the low-key variety. The truck-stop chic of Stinkers gave way to the whiskey-soaked sophistication of The Thirsty Crow in Silver Lake, while Echo Park gained a great new cozy drinking den in 1642 bar. Los Feliz got a new wine bar, Bar Covell, which was a hit with first-daters the second it opened.
Downtown saw an explosion of new finds in 2010, the best being the simplest: Spring St. bar. Cedd Moses’ Las Perlas tempted tequila fiends while ex-Lava Lounge owner Michelle Marini opened up a smallish haunt called The Falls nearby.
Drai’s, Supperclub, Colony, and Premiere all douched up Hollywood, yet all three seem to still be doing well. Hemingway’s did better than all three of the aforementioned spots, at least in terms of drawing a fairly diverse crowd.
So what’s in store this year?
Tonight in Hollywood, The Spare Room at the Roosevelt officially debuts after hosting private holiday parties last month. The cocktail lounge features a gaming parlor and two vintage bowling lanes. Friday, David Judaken’s revamp of Opera debuts, dubbed Eden.
Beyond Hollywood, look for the Houston brothers to make noise once again with several new bars. The two had a huge hit in 2010 with the smart Havana-aping La Descarga, and the brothers will revamp the Stone Bar near Los Feliz this spring with a dive bar for those who are too hip for dive bars. Similarly, Roger Room overlords Jared Meisler and Sean MacPherson are set to make a bit of low key noise with their revamp of the classic Coach & Horses on Sunset Blvd, which recently closed.
For smokers in Los Angeles, big changes are on the way. A new ban on lighting up on restaurant patios is expected to go into effect as early as February of 2011, according to laist.com, and last week, a new, stricter ban on smoking in all public places (that includes bars) passed a preliminary hurdle by a 13-0 Los Angeles City Council vote. What does this mean for those who like to smoke with a cocktail in hand? It’s too soon to tell. There may well be exceptions for some bars, especially in Hollywood. It all depends on how strict the new L.A. ordinance is (only an early draft to prepare an ordinance passed last week—actual language is forthcoming), yet early signs point to a severe ban that could be universal. But, for the next six months or so, thanks to a current loophole that allows some bars to qualify rooms as “outdoor” patios, savvy Angelinos will keep on puffing inside at a few select bars. Here are the top 5 bars in L.A. to sneak a smoke.
● La Descarga: This Havana-meets-L.A. favorite has a fantastic back room where cigar aficionados and cigarette smokers relax in a decidedly smoky and sexy environment. Just don’t expect your designer dress to smell great after a night here.
● Bardot: Hollywood’s Bardot has long been a go-to spot for those who wish to light up under the stars, while surrounded by them, too (Ryan Gosling and Jeremy Piven have been known to occasionally light up here). The bar’s main room feels like an indoor area but is technically outside, so puff away.
● MyStudio: Another Hollywood find where a major room inside the club feels like a cozy indoor area, yet is technically outdoors. Perhaps more than any other club in L.A., smoking inside MyStudio really feels like breaking all the rules.
● Tiki Ti: This tropical drink haven, recently voted one of the best cocktail bars in America by GQ magazine, has long been a Silver Lake staple. The tiny slice of Tiki paradise even has ashtrays, so smoke ’em if you got ‘em.
● Dinner House M: Sorry, hipsters, but the secret has been out for years. Dinner House M is a great Tokyo-style jazz bar that is technically a “members club,” which allows them to charge a small fee – and to allow smoking inside. One of the best finds in L.A. for those who still smoke (there aren’t many of you left).
● Delphine (Hollywood) – Pseudo-French pseudo-bistro in Hollywood’s latest ‘It’ hotel. ● Forage (Silver Lake) – A deli case that actually looks appealing. ● La Descarga (Hollywood) – There’s no shame in drinking like a sailor, apparently.