If your favorite bar gets rid of its beloved popcorn machine, can you ever forgive the new owners? What if, instead of popcorn, they now serve high-quality, homemade Thai and American comfort food?
Many regulars were vocally upset when the Roost, an excellent dive bar in Atwater Village, changed hands a few years ago. That famous popcorn machine (which was famous just for existing; it was the kind you'd find in any vintage movie theater or SkyMall catalog) was taken away and the decor was updated just a bit. Not too much. It is still undeniably a dive.
That new owner who upset so many people by updating the space is a woman who goes by the name Sai, who had been bartending at the Roost for many years. Soon after she bought the bar, she realized that the previous owner had been creative in interpreting the bar's liquor license. It's a conditional license, and the establishment must serve food to be compliant. Popcorn alone does not, technically, cut it.
Sai is a real take-charge type — if she doesn't like your order, she'll tell you what you're having instead — and she enlisted a friend, Jan Nakkaew, to start cooking.
Nakkaew was a career bartender who had only been at the Roost for a couple of months when the request was made. She had always been a good home cook, and she decided to try something new. She bought all the kitchen equipment herself and got to work. "Going to school to learn something costs too much money. Better to just do it and learn on the job. It's a quicker profit," Nakkaew says.
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The restaurant is technically a separate business from the bar (that's why you can use a credit card for food, while drinks remain cash-only). The restaurant is called Dragonglass Kitchen, and it serves a mix of American bar staples like chicken wings, burgers and onion rings, and familiar Thai dishes like fried rice, pad thai and pad see ew.
There's an emphasis on quality at Dragonglass that is fairly unusual for a dive bar. Nakkaew says nothing is frozen: She makes her own dumplings and French fries, and onion rings are even sliced to order. The wings, in a sauce more Western than Thai, might give those famous ones at Ye Rustic Inn a run for their "best in L.A." crown. The pad thai is better than that at most Thai restaurants and the pad see ew is flavorful and complex. A standout is the beef salad, with its abundance of fresh herbs.
You won't miss the popcorn.
3100 Los Feliz Blvd., Atwater Village; (323) 664-7272, roostcocktails.com.