Wherever you stand on the downtown-gentrification debate, there is no denying that the revitalization has brought better dining options. Among them is Osso — the month-old restaurant and bar from Dana Hollister and Pierre Casanova, co-owners of Cliff's Edge, and partner Ami Lourie — which has taken over the former One-Eyed Gypsy space on First Street.
Some might remember that this location's original incarnation, Little Pedro’s, had one of the more colorful histories in downtown nightlife. Built in the late 1800s, Pedro’s later played host to legal prostitution (it allegedly had a brothel license) and beatnik jazz nights, attracting L.A.’s miscreant underbelly — a crowd that only got rougher as the years went by.
The loft-dwelling arts community revitalized the venue in the early 2000s, throwing epic parties that often ran from day to night and back to day. A host of promoters followed, and the venue soon was sold to Hollister, who renamed it Bordello as a nod to its past and turned it into more of a theater space, with burlesque shows and vaudeville-inspired comedy revues. After a few years, the place was reborn again as the One-Eyed Gypsy, its focus on fried bar food and quirky drinks.
Osso has a lot of Gypsy’s whimsy, and thanks to Lourie (whose background includes running restaurants for Mario Batali and David Chang) the food also goes back to the basics in a way that recalls Gypsy and even the original Pedro’s. Chef Nick Montgomery's menu at Osso (Italian for "bone") is relaxed and casually Southern; the star dish is a flaky fried chicken presented in a metal bucket and accompanied by potato salad, an array of hot sauces and some very necessary moist towelettes.
Other bites include onion rings, mussels and a nutty bean salad.
The cocktail program by Darwin Manahan has a playfulness that almost outshines everything else here. The Hola Chingon! is a must-order — a sipper's symphony of Cimarrón tequila, blueberry cordial and sparkling wine — as is the Padre, a light mix of gin, kalamansi and lemon.
On our visit, they were trying out live music on the stage for the first time, and it contributed to a vintage feel not unlike Hollister’s other downtown hangout, Villains Tavern. The stage here remains ornate, if less colorful than it was in the Bordello days. Lourie says more music is in store and, as much as possible, the performers will be locals.
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Some of the decor, such as the beaded lamps, are remnants from the Gypsy days. On the ceiling is a leftover curious stretch of wallpaper. The design features beavers and Medusa heads, which lent inspiration to a drink: the Beaverdusa, featuring bourbon, scotch, rye, St. Germain and tea. It's a surprisingly sweet hybrid, much like Osso itself.
Osso, 901 E. First St., downtown; ossodtla.com.