Bar Angeles, the Restaurant That Tore Up the Elliott Smith Mural, Explains Itself
“You can kind of see the layers of paint from over the years,” says Russell Malixi, pointing to the red, black and white mural attached to the back wall of his and Wade McElroy’s new Silver Lake haunt, Bar Angeles. In the lower left corner the words “I’m never gonna know you now, but I’m gonna love you anyhow ... love forever Elliott” are scribbled.
The mural, made famous in the Elliott Smith album cover photo for Figure 8, turned into a memorial to the singer after his death in 2003. Covered with many similar notes along with extensive graffiti tags, the mural’s creator has had to touch it up over the years, hence those layers of paint.
“He painted it 30 years ago. It’s an S for Solutions. It’s a sign for his funky stereo shop,” says McElroy, explaining the mural's origin as a handmade sign created by the owners of the decades-old stereo repair shop next door.
“They’ve been wanting to rent it out for a while and they’ve been timid,” McElroy says of the owners' hesitation to rent the space he and Malixi now are using as a casual spot for pizza and bar food. “They’d been waiting 12 years, and they’ve been kind of afraid of Elliott Smith fans or people being mad at them for changing anything.”
Pizza at Bar Angeles
McElroy and Malixi, who opened Horse Thief BBQ in 2013, followed by Highland Park’s Cafe Birdie last year, have had their eyes on the space for a while.
“I think Starbucks was interested in it,” says McElroy of the highly coveted Silver Lake real estate space on Sunset Boulevard. But until now, the location served primarily as a storage room for Solutions.
“But they wanted to find somebody who they had a rapport with. They care about the neighborhood. They didn’t want it to be too jarring,” says McElroy, pointing out how important it was to the building owners and to him that the incoming project be respectful and sensitive to its history.
“We didn’t want it to be exploitative toward any of the Elliott Smith legacy. But we also didn’t want to be theme-y.” The restaurant, designed by Jake Rodehuth-Harrison of ETC.etera (Cafe Birdie, Hotel Covell) achieves this with a low-key interior that suits the neighborhood and lo-fi details like plywood shelving, metal-framed windows and vintage chairs. Most importantly, the portion of the mural that Smith used for his album cover has remained intact and untouched. The other side was carved out and moved to the back wall of the restaurant, allowing for a large glass window to open the space up to the community.
McElroy mentions that during the process of moving the wall, passers-by stopped to ask if they could have pieces of it to keep. Despite their extensive effort to honor the space, there has been some inevitable backlash.
“There’s just a certain amount of people that you just can’t really make happy,” McElroy admits. That said, most reactions have been very positive.
"There’s been a certain amount that are curious, and then when they meet us and they come in and see what we’ve done, it makes them really happy."
The menu was created by Joey Booterbaugh, chef at Cafe Birdie, and features "Cal-Italian" dishes such as bone marrow with fried herbs and celery leaf, Roman-style pizzas and salads.
"We just hope that anybody who wants to come pay the mural a visit feels comfortable coming in and having a beer," McElroy says.
4330 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. (323) 741-8371, barangeles.com.
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