Dinner and a show used to be the norm of Los Angeles nightlife – epitomized by the old Ambassador Hotel's Coconut Grove – and there remains a smattering of establishments that combine the city's passions for food and live entertainment.
Some these current venues have great live music, but unimpressive dishes or limited menus, while others have the perfect combination of both. Leaving aside the countless mariachi restaurants around town – which could form a list unto themselves – here's a rundown of the top five places to dine amid diversion.]
5. Sterling's Upstairs at The Federal Bar
The Federal's classic American menu includes some twists on the usual staples such as the crispy chicken croissant sliders and a falafel vegan burger. But not every dish transfers to the Upstairs menu because of the limited time window for dinner-theater guests. It's the same kitchen and same chefs on both levels, just more streamlined food up top. Still, the entertainment Upstairs is decidedly classic. It ranges from burlesque dancers to a stage show that's become known as the city's musical theater version of American Idol. 5303 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; (818) 980-2555.
4. M Bar
This venue's line up is as varied as its menu is basic. Owner Joe Reynolds describes the offerings as “safe” Italian-style cuisine, with pizza and pastas such as cappellini checca the most popular dishes. Entertainment runs from spoken word poets to comedians such as Margaret Cho. “It's so diverse, you have to find the show you want to see,” says Reynolds.1253 N. Vine St., Los Angeles; (323) 856-0036.
3. The Hotel Cafe
As it grew from an indie artist launching pad into a music mecca, the Hotel Cafe hosted artists ranging from Bruno Mars to the Lumineers. For much of its 14-year history, the venue also served bar food. But last year, it pared its offerings back to just empanadas made by Johnny Pacific. Still, that's enough to snack on while being serenaded by a singer who could be the next Adele, or possible Adele herself. 1623 1/2 North Cahuenga Blvd, Los Angeles (323) 461-2040.
2. The Magic Castle
The Castle is a members-only establishment, but entry can be gained by buying tickets directly through a magician or being invited by a member. (There are also a few open-to-the-public events each year when it's possible to get a peek inside the century-old Victorian mansion.)
There are several performers and multiple shows at the Academy of Magical Arts every evening. Some will roam the dining room between performances providing tableside entertainment, while others will take up in the side venues around the Castle's many bars. On special occasions, there are eat-in shows held in the Séance Room. The menu is fitting for a venue requiring men to wear a suit and tie: rack of lamb, beef wellington and grilled salmon are popular items. For pre or post-dinner drinks, visit the Hat & Hare pub in the cellar of the mansion. 7001 Franklin Ave., Hollywood; (323) 851-3313.
1. The Edison
The once-flooded basement of downtown's Higgins Building is the paragon of L.A.'s dinner-entertainment scene. The 14,000-square-foot venue, which was launched seven years ago, still has the features of the boiler room it once housed. “The food and music and the mixology all kind of line up with the architecture,” says G.M. Barbara Jacobs. The venue prides itself on its democratic door policy: If a dress code of chic vintage is met, you'll get in. Moreover, it doesn't allow bottle service, which is a symbolic contrast from similar Hollywood-based establishments.
“Every single night we have different performers,” says Jacobs. “And sometimes we have performers no one knows are going to be there. It could be tap dancers, aerialist dancers, bands, contortionists, you name it.” The menu is riddled with guilty pleasures like the bacon-maple beers nuts and Kobe beef sliders. The desserts are fit for a king: The Elvis, for instance, is a grilled brioche sandwich stuffed with bananas and peanut butter served with a caramel apple dipping sauce. And per request, they'll replace the caramel with Nutella. 108 W 2nd St., Los Angeles; (213) 613-0000.