“There’s nothing out there like this right now,” says chef Kayson Chong of new karaoke lounge and restaurant the Venue. Chong, who grew up in L.A.’s Koreatown, seems excited to be opening a high-end hangout in the neighborhood he has watched transform since he was a kid in the 1970s.
Chong’s lengthy résumé includes everything from working with Wolfgang Puck at Bellagio Las Vegas to a variety of Sunset Strip steakhouses (BOA, BLT) along with sushi spots, burger joints and Mainland Poké. The menu at the Venue, which Kayson describes as “California cuisine,” reflects his culinary path pretty accurately. There is a little bit of everything.
The main dining room serves a full dinner menu with items such as beet and goat cheese salad, yellowtail crudo, short ribs with horseradish cream, roasted chicken and steaks. Guests who head straight for the private karaoke rooms can order from a smaller bar food menu, which features towering platters of chipotle maple chicken wings, beef sliders and fried mac and cheese. But Chong’s family-style comfort-food menu is only one of several features, and the others are perhaps more likely to attract throngs.
“We have Devon doing our cocktails, bringing in the Hollywood crowd,” he says, referring to head barman Devon Espinosa. Espinosa has made headlines by shaking and stirring innovative cocktails in L.A. at spots including ink., the Church Key and the Tasting Kitchen. In line with the concept as a whole, the drink menu at the Venue is playful, fun and full of options. Giant copper pineapple mugs hold fruity tiki-inspired crushed ice–and-vodka drinks, while spicy Serrano chili tequila concoctions and classic whiskey cocktails also are available.
“The Koreatown customer base is going to come regardless. But we are aiming for everybody else,” Chong explains, “because it is gentrifying here.”
When asked what kind of changes he’s noticed in the neighborhood, Chong says, “You see people jogging in the morning. You couldn’t do that. It was a little dangerous here before. The nightlife was a dangerous scene as well. But now we have things like Normandie Club, Terra Cotta, Here’s Looking at You, and I hear that a lot of bar groups are looking for spaces here.”
The Venue's biggest draw, of course, is the multitude of karaoke rooms available for diners to sing their hearts out after dinner. The expansive concrete space in the basement of a high-rise was converted from storage units. Its location on Wilshire and Irolo, kitty-corner to the Line Hotel, couldn’t be more prime.
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Chong says that high-end karaoke is not a trend in Korea. “It’s either/or. You’ll have your barbecue joints, your hot soup joints, noodle places, and then you’ll have your karaoke. But then it’s that loud, purple, pink colored rooms. You know that kind of stuff.” As for the Venue, “This is an adult playground. It’s going to be crazy.”
3470 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown. (213) 221-1251, thevenuela.com.