Tall Drinks, Short Hops

With fuel prices at three bucks a gallon, now’s a good time to put on your walking boots and explore your neighborhood watering holes on foot — even if your neighborhood happens to be Hollywood and Western. “Isn’t it kinda ghetto ’round there?” asks my drinking buddy Richard. Truth be told, yes. This intersection is known more for its crack dealers, cheap Thai barbecues and adult bookstores than its hot bar scene. But look beyond the shabby motels and abandoned lots, and you’ll find an eclectic cluster of hangouts where the friendly patrons and the measures — not the bar prices — will knock you out.

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Richard and I go east on Hollywood toward the Stone. Last time I came here, an Asian rave was in full swing, with young Thai boys and girls dancing maniacally and waving glow sticks to the sounds of pumping techno. Tonight, things are more sedate. It is gay night, and young shirtless Thai boys are pouring drinks for a white and Asian male clientele. One of the barmen takes a shine to Richard and takes a buck off his Ketel One. “I charge less if I like customer,” he says with a smile. In the background, a musclebound go-go dancer, wearing tight plaid knickers, gyrates to the sounds of European trance. The Stone is not actually a gay bar. As the Web site states, “It’s not gay or straight, it’s a fun bar for all and everyone!,” with open-mike nights, karaoke and the occasional lesbian S&M night. Viroj, a small Thai man with an infectious smile, is the owner and tonight’s DJ. He has been living in Hollywood for 20 years and took over the Stone three years ago. “A lot of people come here to make friends, very nice people,” he says. “People don’t be scared to walk along the street anymore. Twenty years ago, it used to be very scary, all dark corners. It is safe now.” The Stone, 5221 Hollywood Blvd.; (323) 466 6061.

* * *

We leave and head back west on Hollywood and go north on Western to a little dive called the Study. We pay a $5 cover and walk in to the sight of an ebony-haired drag queen in an electric wheelchair, lip-synching energetically to Olivia Newton-John’s “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” She’s wearing a sparkly red ball gown and diamond teardrop earrings. Afterward, she wheels up and down the room, collecting dollar bills from her appreciative fans — mainly Lycra-clad drag queens who look like Lil’ Kim, and their well-groomed sugar daddyz. They pay us little attention, some smiling or nodding politely. Fridays are drag nights; Thursdays are Mandingo, the gay black strip show; and Tuesdays are Blatino, the black and Latino leather night. Ray, the gentle giant of a doorman, says the venue — all blond wood and reminiscent of a Holiday Inn lounge bar — is drawing more straight people of all ethnicities, thanks to the laid-back vibe and the drinks, which are cheap and STRONG. (Richard paid $8 for what looked like a quadruple Ketel One — suck on that, West Hollywood.) The Study, 1723 N. Western Ave.; (323) 464 9551.

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We turn the corner to the Blu Monkey, the closest thing to a “trendy” bar in the vicinity. So far we haven’t been carded at a single joint, and again we waltz in without question. Last time I was here was on a Monday, when a DJ was playing aggressive drum & bass to a couple of dancing bums. But tonight it is crowded with girls and boys in their early 20s, grooving self-consciously to supersmooth house music. It is way too loud to talk unless you go out back to the smoking patio, which is also crammed. This is definitely a “how yooo doin’ ” kinda joint. At the bar, the two attractive bartenders ignore me for quite some time. The frat boy in the bad shirt next to me advises me to “be more aggressive.” Aggressive? In my neighborhood bar? No, thanks. Sorry. Blu Monkey Bar and Lounge, 5521 Hollywood Blvd.; (323) 957 9000.

* * *

We get the hell outta Blu Monkey and head for the White Horse, on Western just north of Sunset. We walk in and are immediately hit by the strong smell of popcorn. Like your rich best friend’s rec room, the White Horse boasts amusements like a pool table, a rock & roll jukebox, a dartboard, and hundreds of good-times photographs on the wall. Victoria, a middle-aged and formidable Hungarian woman, is matriarch of the bar, provider of free popcorn and hot dogs to a starving Gen-X crowd who come for her selection of beers, which includes Boddingtons, Beamish Irish Stout and Newcastle Brown Ale. One of the patrons, a young, bespectacled filmmaker called Matt Bastard (his claim to fame is getting dissed by Chuck Palahniuk for supposedly once failing to see strippers as human beings), tells me he likes the White Horse because it feels “real” and because there’s a nice vibe. My friend Richard is having fun, too — he’s getting digits from a tall, attractive woman. “This place is my favorite,” he says as we leave, walking past a homeless man passed out on the curb. Lying on his back with his mouth open and holding his crotch, the man looks peaceful. We pass a Lil’ Kim–alike from the Study, who calls out, asking if we can notice her receding hairline. Her eyes light up as we assure her she looks beautiful. “See? This is the shit you miss out on when you’re in your car,” I tell Richard. “Yeah,” he replies. “Thank God.” White Horse, 1532 N. Western Ave.; (323) 462 8088.

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