You’re downtown. It’s about 6 o’clock in the evening, smack-dab in the middle of the happiest hour, and you find yourself walking on Main Street. You turn down a dark alley, slipping between two brick warehouses. You see a door, nothing special, just a black door. You open it and walk inside. You hear the faint squeaks and squawks of a ’20s-era brass band. It’s dark. The russet sunset fades behind you. To your left, behind glass, is a group of guys and gals, smoking cigarettes from which gray, wispy clouds rise and swirl like the inside of marble. They sit in old leather chairs as they talk; any conversation that permeates the glass is registered as a low hum. You take the staircase down a flight. It’s a grand staircase despite its industrial I-beams and receding cement. Chandeliers strung with replicas of the world’s first light bulbs dangle close as you descend. The jazzy horns get louder. At the bottom is a giant iron furnace. Nearly the size of a small home, it towers ominously over you. A poolroom is just beyond the main bar, where you stand. You order a lavender bourbon, a special of the house. You have arrived at the Edison.
This is the kind of modern take on the old speakeasy that makes you want to run gin, bob your hair and do the Charleston. But not too long ago, this boiler room where you now sip your bourbon was covered by 8 feet of water after years of neglect let the rain in. The Edison is a part of the Higgins Building, now filled with residential loft space, but once the first development in downtown Los Angeles to have electricity. When Thomas Higgins opened the mammoth building it was the most modern of its time, with the city’s first electric elevators, water purified through a filtration system in the basement and a brand-new convenience — light. It was the first privately owned power plant in the country, and much of it survived — a giant furnace with coal bins, doors where the coal was shoveled to feed the flames, and pipes by which the steam was sent throughout the floors to heat the building. The current owners pumped out the water and began a restoration/design project that lasted six years. Whatever could be salvaged from the original was used; many objects became reconstituted light fixtures, like the temperature gauges in the boiler room, now lit from within. Some lamps and accent lights were found on eBay, and most of the furniture was created to look as if it came from the ’20s. New murals designed by RuthAnne Gibson were added and then aged to match the rest of the space. You’ll see lots of copper (Higgins was a copper baron), and the lighting fixtures, raw-bulb chandeliers and projections of vintage film reels pay homage to Thomas Alva Edison.
Despite the deep, dark recess of the Edison’s location below street level, it’s cozy with oversize club chairs and swanky leather sofas dotting the room. Old-fashioned food like deviled eggs and oysters Rockefeller are meant to fully transport you (though they do sneak in a fried-banana sandwich called the Elvis). Cocktails include a Charlie Chaplin, a boilermaker, even a fresh gimlet and two menu pages’ worth of single-malt scotch. The Edison’s signature, though, is infusing liquors with lavender.
On Wednesday nights, guests are treated to a mellow and soothing live jazz band. On Fridays and Saturdays, the tempo picks up with a little burlesque, and the Edison’s house dance troupe shows off to music from the ’20s and ’30s, with the ominous furnace becoming a platform for their moves. There’s a dress code — no torn jeans or ratty tennis shoes; if you’re going to play the part, you should look it too. It’s a small price to pay to enter a time machine.
The Edison, 108 W. Second St., dwntwn., (213) 613-0000. Wed.-Fri. 5 p.m.-2 a.m.; ?Sat. 8 p.m.-2 a.m.
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