There’s Venice... and then there’s Abbot Kinney. The strip that stretches from Brooks to Washington seems to get haughtier by the minute. An increasing trickle of sequined tops and stilettos among the flip-flops and surf shorts signals more and more Eastsiders are hopping on the escape route known as the 10 West and coming to the beach for some fun, without sun. And if you do it right, it can be an evening of epic proportions — starting with appetizers and two-handed martinis at Beechwood, a meal at Primitivo and a whole lotta boozin’ down the line. By the time you get to The Brig, you’ll be ready to throw in the towel and hail a taxi home. Beechwood
Everything about Beechwood from the outside tells you it’s going to be one of those places: valet, bouncer, lack of signage. It’s Scenesville. The space itself is composed of two rooms: Inside are low ceilings, lots of Eames-era wood and Japanese-style lanterns, and outside you’ll find a fire pit and mod cement walls with plenty of bamboo — attempts at tranquility. The atmosphere can best be described as a high school dance in a sushi restaurant. And unless you go there early to snag a table, forget about ordering food. The place is loud and packed and there’s no flow; everyone appears to be stuck in their own little pool, like fish gulping in a drying riverbed. On the other hand, we had killer martinis, so perfectly dirty, with the extra-large, extra-fancy olives, which would have been better enjoyed with more elbow room. Bottom line: Come early, or during the week. 822 Washington Blvd. (310) 448-8884. Primitivo Wine Bistro
This place is kind of like the Cheers of Abbot Kinney; it has a cult following among locals — some of whom go every night. It’s a mild-mannered restaurant during dinner service — dark with antique chandeliers that give it a dapper 1920s feel, but afterward, it’s a wild free-for-all where the bartenders double as entertainment as they kick up their heels on the bar. Sometimes it reminds me of that oddly thrilling zoo ride where the animals go free and you drive around, praying the monkeys don’t throw poo at your car. There are plenty of bar nibbles to be had off the Mediterranean-inspired tapas menu. Inexpensive wine by the glass is the real draw — that and they’re always glad I came. 1025 Abbot Kinney Blvd. (310) 396-5353. Roosterfish
I asked the bartender what his specialty was and I swear he said “a get the hell out,” but he could have just been trying to tell me something. Roosterfish is a windowless gay bar about halfway down the strip. You can’t miss the turquoise building — it stands out like Pam Anderson at a comic-book convention. It used to be more of a neighborhoody place with a mixed crowd, operative word being “crowd,” but at 10 p.m. on a Saturday, my friend and I were the only people in the place except for a trio of identically dressed middle-aged men and a couple of guys playing pool. I love the decor, with its photos of shirtless men dotting the walls and cowboy paintings over the boarded-up windows. The place is very clandestine, very Eyes Wide Shut, a great place to not be seen, if you know what I mean, nudge, nudge, wink, wink. 1302 Abbot Kinney Blvd. (310) 392-2123. The Otheroom
This is a bona fide New York City wine bar near the beach. It’s the well-dressed chick in a sea of terry cloth jogging suits. Craig Weiss, owner of New York’s The Room and Another Room, did a fine job of bringing some of that exposed-brick-and-tin-ceiling magic to Abbot Kinney. The large, almost floor-to-ceiling windows are lined with cushioned benches and drinking tables. Two enormous blackboards above the bar boast the all-star lineup of wines and brews from around the world. There is no food, no peanuts, no pretzels, no nothing, so come on a full stomach or ask the bartenders to order you something off the stash of delivery menus they keep behind the bar. But the best thing is the layout — there are all sorts of nooks and crannies to explore and get lost — and found — in. 1201 Abbot Kinney Blvd. (310) 396-6230. Hal’s Bar & Grill
Although Hal’s was more comfortable before they replaced the loungelike sofas in the front and jammed the space with bar tables, it’s still a fantastic place to listen to live jazz on Fridays and Sundays, hang out with a diverse crowd (increasingly rare and refreshing in Venice these days) and sip a mean Bloody Mary, like mean, but in a good way. 1349 Abbot Kinney Blvd. (310) 396-3105.
If you think the boxer on the illuminated sign out front seems incongruous to the scene inside, stay for a few minutes and the urge to uppercut someone just might overtake you. (If there were a bridge and tunnel in Los Angeles, this crowd would have taken them to get here.) It’s usually the place that’s still hoppin’ long after the lights have come up in the other places on the strip. As a result, The Brig has become a catchall for those who refuse to give up the good fight. They are determined to get laid, but, failing that, are content to stay and dance to “It Takes Two.” It takes a lot of drinks to get me to stay here on Saturday night, but during the week the kitschy dive-bar-turned-Valley-trap is pleasant and airy. You can actually see the retro-’50s, IKEA-ish décor, maybe even play pool, and avoid having someone dance with you against your will. 1515 Abbot Kinney Blvd. (310) 399-7537.