Are L.A. restaurants back to having bouncers? Would-be patrons who have tried to get into Rick Bayless' month-old Red O restaurant on Melrose without reservations wondered after they were turned away at the door by a burly man in a suit holding a clipboard. Except, reportedly, it's not with a "Sorry, there's no room at the bar," but rather with barely concealed condescension and, for some, worse.
LAist writer Sam Kim and a friend stopped by the restaurant last Saturday night in the hopes of grabbing a drink. But the two were denied entrance and told the bar was full. However, a glance through the window showed seats were available at the bar and the tequila lounge was empty. Regardless, the doorman wouldn't let them in and instead handed them a business card for the restaurant because "they weren't getting in tonight." When they laughed in disbelief at the gesture, what followed escalated into insults and declarations that they would never ever get in the restaurant.
Apparently this was the worst of the accounts about interactions with the doormen of Red O. "My guess is that things like this don't happen [usually] because the bouncers kind of try and intimidate you and most people don't want to argue/spend time calling them out on it," said Kim.
But those trying to get into the hot venue without first locking in a reservation are finding that they have to come up with alternative plans on the spot. So strict is the door policy, even for the bar and lounge which is first-come, first-serve but won't accommodate overflow. Fortunately the valet will hold their car while they first check at the door if they can get in. In turn, comme Ça, located down the street, has welcomed a steady stream of Red O rejects.
Wagstaff Worldwide, which handles the publicity for the restaurant, said it felt bad to hear about Kim's experience. "The owners of the restaurant want to make sure people have the best experience from the second they walk in the door," said Wagstaff. And because of that they don't want people to wait in the entrance as that would interfere with the food-focused experience of their patrons.
The PR firm also wants to make it clear that the man with the clipboard guarding the door is not a bouncer; he is a "door host." In fact, he will soon get his own host stand out front to make that distinction more obvious. The door host controls the flow of traffic into the restaurant which has been so popular even before it opened that it booked up in the first month. Therefore, the door host would first make sure the guest has a reservation before letting them in the door. The actual hostess inside the restaurant would, again, confirm they have a reservation and then take the guest to their seat.
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Dan Cox of Dan Cox PR, who handles publicity for the Edison downtown, also had been turned away at the door but agrees with the restaurant's door policy. "Although [Red O] might have intended to open as a serious restaurant with a menu by Rick Bayless, the bar crowd has clearly chosen them as a cool place to hang out, and they are forced to deal with this huge influx of people as best they can."
However, L.A. restaurateur David Haskell, who has been in the restaurant industry for 17 years and has had his own encounter with the Red O doormen, disagrees, saying that if the West Hollywood eatery had a proper door person, someone trained in hospitality, it wouldn't need bouncers. "The [door host] could have easily asked us to wait outside for 15 minutes because the bar was too full at the moment and it would have been fine," Haskell said. "But instead he showed no desire to accommodate us." Haskell, himself, has handled unexpected guests at his own restaurants by giving them champagne.
Unfortunately, as long as Red O is popular, its door policy won't change any time soon, much to the chagrin of spontaneous diners and even those who live in the neighborhood. Cox won't let that deter him. "Although it did throw a wrench into our plans a bit this weekend, I'll definitely be back when I am smart enough to plan in advance by making a reservation, or when that bar crowd moves on to the next hot spot. It's just how it works in LA, and it likely always will."
Red O: 8155 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 655-5009.