Tenants of the Trees is an ambitious new Silver Lake bar arriving on the scene with freshly planted trees and tea cocktails. Occupying the place where neighborhood gay bar MJ’s used to be, Tenants is a complete renovation of the space in an eclectic style that could be described as midcentury modern meets historic Poland. After years in the works, Tenants of the Trees is gearing up for business with a few weeks of private parties before its official opening on Sept. 15.
The business partners behind the venue, Reza Fahim and Jason Lev, both went to film school and drew on their love of cinema in creating the space. The influence is evident, from the actual film projection in the bar to the audio art playing in the bathroom. “Confessionals,” created by Joe McKee, is an audio loop of people confiding their real secrets in their real voices; it will be permanently installed in the bathroom to add another layer of narrative.
The bar is divided into three spaces. The front of the building is a small performance venue called Out of Order, where private parties and invite-only music shows with big acts will be unannounced, intimate events. Like a bathroom stall that the cool kids have crammed into and marked “out of order,” this space is meant to be fairly invisible from the outside, but it means most people will not enter the building through the front door. The entrance to this area includes a set of lockboxes where invited guests lock away their cellphones to help them focus on the experience (and prevent recordings).
Tenants of the Trees, the main bar (with its entrance in the alley), is a larger space with indoor-outdoor flow between a covered bar area, an open patio and a glass-walled, midcentury sunroom. The bar program was created by Proprietors LLC (Honeycut and Death & Co.) and features Kombucha Dog and Stumptown coffee on tap. While the drinks at Out of Order’s bar are classic cocktails with music-inspired names (its take on a Collins is called Days Go By, named after the song “Days” by The Drums, and its Manhattan is named Teenage Love, after a Slick Rick song), the cocktails at Tenants of the Trees are more elaborate tea- and juice-based drinks. A renovated Citroën milk truck on the patio provides an additional bar space, where batch-made cocktails are served in milk bottles.
Behind Tenants of the Trees is an outdoor food court called Concession, which will open later in the fall. This area will feature a rotating collection of food trucks and films projected on the back wall, a twist on the typical movie theater concession experience.
Fahim’s design for the bar complex was influenced in several ways by Polish films and architecture. One direct inspiration can be seen in the way Out of Order resembles an image in the recent film Ida (2015 Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film), a beautiful road movie about post-WWII Poland, set in the 1960s. (The shot can be seen near the end of the film's trailer, and much of the bar's aesthetic, as well as the way the doorway frames the view from the stage to the bar, is easily recognizable in the image.) Creating an intimate, private bar as a performance and event space came partly out of Fahim’s experience in Rozbitek, Poland, watching Julian Sands perform Harold Pinter in the cramped attic of a castle and noting the way the space enhanced the show. Fahim is in love with Poland, he readily admits.
Fahim previously worked closely with the Houston brothers on several bars, and Lev works as a developer on architectural homes with his company groundup.la. Summing up their creative chemistry, Fahim explains, “We complete each other’s pictures.” It seems an appropriate twist on the old saying for this pair of friends, whose attention to visual detail in their bar extends from the herringbone ceiling to the mix of candles they use. The candles are made and maintained by a friend of the partners, and other friends have been drafted to contribute elements such as a mural of a wolf and a horse doing cocaine on the wall of Tenants.
If the whole scene sounds terminally hipster, Lev and Fahim are aware of that impression — and they’re earnest in their enthusiasm for the bar’s many special touches. In response to some ribbing they’ve received for choosing a “pretentious name” like Tenants of the Trees, Lev smiles shyly and notes that they did actually excavate the slope in the back and plant some trees. (The name is taken from the book of the same title by Clarence Hawkes.) Discussing the charming entrance to Out of Order, which was inspired by storefronts in Poland and which is hidden behind a plainer exterior wall, Fahim shrugs. He explains, “I didn’t want to be gimmicky, making you think it’s one thing and then turning out to be another thing. I just … wanted to hide everything.” He adds, “You say more with what you don’t show,” a minimalist filmmaker’s mantra.
The attempt at restraint has paid off. Though this bar is practically bursting with ideas and references, the end result is clean and inviting. A hint of age and oppressiveness in the color palate and design choices suggests Old World cities and black-and-white art films, and the effect makes the space more mysterious and intimate. So, Silver Lake, get ready to party like it's 1969 Poland … but with kombucha and food trucks.