On a clubby stretch of North Las Palmas, in the heart of gritty Hollywood, a smiling bouncer perched on a stool is ready to check IDs outside of Nighthawk Breakfast Bar. Apparently, his task is important on the weekend. But at 9:30 p.m. on a Thursday, it’s unclear why carding is necessary. It’s also unclear what exactly Nighthawk Breakfast Bar is. Is it a diner? Is it a bar?
It certainly has shades of both. No one greets you inside, and a DJ in the corner is spinning ’90s hip-hop at Vegas dance-club volume. But the room is set up like a diner, with newspaper place mats and coffee cups laid out on each table. The crowd, which seems young and casual, is mostly lingering in the bar area, though one couple is seated at a table next to the blaring DJ booth. Maybe they don’t like to talk?
You start to imagine the conversation that happened when the idea for this place was conceived. Possibly drunk and stoned people sitting at a diner late at night had an epiphany: "Dude, what if we combined going to the bar and eating diner food afterward into one place?" In reality, nightclub expert Jeremy Fall's concept was loosely inspired by the Edward Hopper painting of the same name.
As ridiculous a concept as it is, Nighthawk has a menu that's impressive. Spago alum Greg Schroeppel's fried chicken and biscuits and his breakfast burgers with crispy potato strings, fried sage, black truffle cheese and pepper aioli are better than what you’d find at any nearby diner. And barman Giovanni Martinez's drinks are even more intriguing.
“Do you remember going to Orange Julius at the mall?” a waitress asks. She then refers you to a section of the cocktail menu titled Julius Maxiumus. She recommends the Pink One, a blended concoction of fresh-squeezed orange juice, strawberries, gin, milk and orange flower water. It tastes chalky and dessert-sweet, just like the ones you had at the mall as a kid. Except this time there’s gin, and a woman in leather pants is grinding, pole-dance style, with her date at the bar.
The Spiked Cereal Milk section of the cocktail menu is equally nostalgia-inducing. The Honey Nut-Bourbon tastes exactly as if you'd poured a shot of bourbon into the leftover milk from a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. It’s served in a vintage glass milk bottle with a thick red straw. After a few sips, the vibration from the DJ booth jiggling your seat seems less annoying, as do the screaming drunk people and the whirring of the blender behind the bar.
If for some reason you want dessert with your sweet drinks, order the Drunken French Toast. Challah bread is made crispy with a coating of Rice Krispies — like almost everything at Nighthawk, it’s a tribute to childhood. Soaked in pear brandy and served with red pear compote, mascarpone mousse and real maple syrup, it’s hard to not finish.
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The dishes themselves aren’t the problem at Nighthawk (unless you have a problem with lactose or excessive sugar calories). Yes, eating greasy breakfast food after drinking is great. But the key word is “after.” Nothing pairs well at Nighthawk. Creamy sweet cocktails don’t cut through the greasy food.
You start to wish they’d turn down the music and turn up the lights … kind of like the diner up the street. You wish you could come in the morning, when it’s actually time for breakfast. But Nighthawk is open only from 8 p.m. until 2 a.m., Wednesday through Saturday.
If you’re looking for a place to grab a bite, Nighthawk is probably not for you. But if you’re curious about Hollywood’s newest gimmick and want to taste all of your favorite childhood breakfast flavors in one place — while simultaneously getting drunk — it’s worth checking out.
Nighthawk Breakfast Bar, 1638 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood; nighthawkbb.com.