Wednesday, Sep 23 1998

Akbar. Open only since New Year’s Eve 1996, this friendly enclave with Moorish décor and a jukebox full of local faves (Extra Fancy, Kristian Hoffman, Glue — plus cool "oldies" like Bowie, Siouxsie, Blondie, etc.) has fast become a Silver Lake institution. The bartenders are friendly and pour mean libations — check out their blue margaritas. The place is always packed with cute young folks — from club trash to Eurotrash, alternative rockers, drag queens, entertainment-industry types, babeliscious boys and girls with shaved heads and tattoos. Happy hour is from 6 to 8 p.m. every night, with dollar-off drinks, but every hour in here seems to be happy. Akbar has a "drink of the month" and also sponsors events, such as its Day at the Races (a bus to Santa Anita). Although it seems to be the hot bar of the moment in the Silver Lake scene (on one night, we spotted El Vez, Canadian singer Rufus Wainwright, Hole’s Melissa Auf Der Mauer, Jay Johnston, David Cross and members of the cast of Heliotrope Lane 90026), this place is cool enough to weather any trendiness, because there’s no "hipper-than-thou" attitude or bogus door policy. You probably really could spend 1,001 nights here — there’s never a dull moment! 4356 Sunset Blvd.; (213) 665-6810. (Pleasant Gehman)


Opium Den. Nothing like a good ol’ gritty, dingy Hollywood club, a place you can wander into, order yourself a bottle of American swill and check out a little-known band playing its collective heart out. Like the Opium Den. Now there’s a place to hang your skull cap. In the space once filled by Hollywood’s late, great Gaslight, the 2-year-old Opium Den doesn’t just retain its predecessor’s muy casual, cavelike vibe — it builds on it. There’s now velvety color and gothic tones spread warmly throughout; plus someone got smart and did a bit of demo work on a wall and expanded the stage — finally, you can see the band! But the highlight, for me, is the Far Eastern–statue thingy on the back counter of the bar. You know the kind — busty, shiny and curvaceous, with enough arms to handle a 12-pack? (Hindu? Buddhist? Moonie?) The totem watches over the room, looking out for folks who have come in from the mean streets in search of the next saving grace of rock & roll. 1605½ N. Ivar Ave., Hollywood; (213) 466-7800. (Neal Weiss)


Billingsley’s. Owner Drew Billingsley’s mother, Barbara, may have played June Cleaver on television, but there are better reasons than a brush with "The Beav" to visit Billingsley’s restaurant and lounge. Reminiscent of a ’60s-era ski chalet with its wood paneling and cathedral ceiling, Billingsley’s also sports glass walls overlooking the Van Nuys golf course. It doesn’t get much better than feasting on meat and martinis while watching some poor duffer fight his way out of a sand trap. But the crowning jewel of the place is organist Graydon Wayne, who actually did some time with the legendary music group Three Suns before becoming the house lounge act some 17 years ago. 6550 Odessa Ave., Van Nuys; (818) 785-7457. (Joe Sehee)

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Chess at 5th Street Dick’s. It isn’t easy being a chess junkie, especially when you’re suddenly smitten with insomnia and need a late-night fix. Of course, there’s always that well-known doughnut shop in the Silver Lake area, but for variety and atmosphere, you can’t beat this jazz club that’s right in the heart of Leimert Park. Tables and chairs are set up outside, and there are always players hanging around ready to match wits over the board. Java and pastries are available at the counter, and there’s music to soothe the pain of that humiliating defeat. 3347½ W. 43rd Place, Leimert Park; (213) 296-3970. (Lovell Estell III)


Argyle Patio Bar. I don’t know about you, but standing ass-to-ass with a bunch of self-involved beautiful people at an overglorified, guest-list-only-policy Sunset Strip bar (see "The Big White Ride") is not my idea of cool. I mean, with your designer martinis and bootlegged Cuban cigars, thinking that because you’re in the same room as some pretty-boy actors you’re somehow more important — get over yourself. Walk away from the Sky Bar (I know, it takes some free thinking and a little self-esteem — maybe your therapist can help) and head on down the street to the Argyle. Have a seat on the back patio, overlooking the pool and the twinkling lights of the L.A. basin. You’ll be surrounded by the hotel’s Deco beauty, illuminated by the most happening metal-palm-tree lamps around. You’ll have room to stretch out, feel cosmopolitan, drink Cosmopolitans, and actually be in a position to have meaningful conversations with your friends — maybe your therapist can help. 8358 Sunset Blvd., W. Hollywood; (213) 654-7100. (Neal Weiss)

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