The Place: The Harbor Room, 195 Culver Boulevard, Playa Del Rey; 310-821-6550
The Hours: 10 a.m.-2 a.m. Daily.
The Digs: Shaped like a ragged wedge of cheese hacked carelessly from its wheel, this endearing heap is a collection of acute angeles, its profile from the outside thinner than a cracker. The Harbor Room is truly small, a bathroom-sized bar slung like a purse along the side of a dreary Italian joint in Playa del Rey. The bathroom itself is hardly larger than a phone booth. There's a faded 80s Lakers poster and a wheezy jukebox where you'll find classic rock greatest hits packages, 20-year-old pop compilations, and a few country albums. You'll find no taps here. Beers are bottled only but cocktails are the thing. It's a joy to watch the bartender work. He has been doing this for longer than you've been alive, or at least we'd like to think that. Vested and white-haired, he is big, looming over to take an order as if he's floating, but he moves with the sort of casual grace only practice produces, a feat considering he can barely turn around behind the bar. He'll make you a great Manhattan and you'll drink it and marvel at the collection of dusty characters drifting through.
The Verdict: The Harbor Room is almost good enough to warrant not telling you about it. While it's unlikely our discrete fanfare could spark a stampede, it is only our unwavering faith in your disinterest in driving down foggy Culver for a Manhattan that we share -- and we still do so with trepidation. The Harbor Room is no secret, nothing like the unmarked dives we were lucky enough to be shepherded through in Kyoto and Tokyo. It's been hugging that Italian restaurant for decades, less a hidden gem than an old friend -- even if it's one you haven't met yet.
Overall Grade: A