It started with a single bar in Atwater Village almost 20 years ago. Bigfoot Lodge brought childlike whimsy back to the bar scene and turned the neighborhood into a drinking destination. Since then, the 1933 Group has been reshaping and elevating nightlife in Los Angeles with its venues, now numbering nine, that buck the trend of tearing down old buildings and erasing the city's history and instead celebrate the beauty of old so we never forget. Their newest project, a reverent renovation of the famous Formosa Cafe in West Hollywood, is expected to open next year.
The 1933 Group is owned by Dimitri Komarov, Dmitry Lieberman and Bobby Green. Komarov and Lieberman were childhood friends who started a clothing company together. They were introduced to Green in 1998 when he was looking for investors to help open a bar in Los Angeles. “We were young, probably foolish. I looked at the business and, against everybody's advice, we decided we wanted to take a risk,” Komarov says. “I had a condo in Santa Monica that I mortgaged, and we told Bobby that we'll come in as partners with him but we don't want any other partners besides the three of us. We took the plunge and it worked out.”
Komarov explained that it wasn't too hard to decide what kind of bar they wanted to create. “It was 1999, it was really before the cocktail scene. There really wasn’t much in the city besides a few kind of old famous bars, sports bars and dive bars, so we wanted to kind of elevate the whole element,” he says of the woodsy vintage vibe at Bigfoot. “We were kind of the precursor to the cocktail lounge.”
So what ties all of the 1933 Group's establishments together? “There's definitely a strong tie to vintage Americana nostalgia, to what things were like. Bobby Green, the designer, is like stuck in the '30s and '40s. It's a beautiful era and there's definitely a strong sense of vintage with everything we do,” Komarov says. “Almost all the bars and everything that we do is all original vintage, all repurposed and recycled. … Old Los Angeles [is] definitely a little bit of a theme for [us]. [But] we're also trying to create bars that have timeless designs and will stand the test of time.”
It's not just the decor and design that make 1933 Group bars stand out from the rest — it's also their signature cocktail menus, which are seasonal and are created by their own bartenders. “[Our bartenders] are the creative forces behind the drink menus. … As long as they fall within our guidelines, we let them create. It also gives them a sense of ownership; they're the ones who are there every night,” Komarov explains. “As long as it fits our realm and our theme, we actually want to give creativity to the next generation.” The 1933 Group even makes its own ginger beer and syrups, which are distributed to all locations.
So how does one navigate through the many establishments that the 1933 Group owns and operates? We've packaged them into a few categories to help you out.
The Homey Log Cabins: Bigfoot Lodge and Bigfoot West
Bigfoot Lodge, also known as Bigfoot East, is the 1933 Group's flagship bar and its first opening (1999). Described by Komarov as “a very homey environment” and a “very family kind of neighborhood bar,” it didn't even have a sign for its first five years. “We were trying to open up in emerging neighborhoods and kind of be an anchor in that place and then watch the neighborhood grow around us,” he says. Ten years later, Bigfoot West opened on the other side of town. While still maintaining the same forest-y feel, its decor is a bit more Western-flavored (antlers on the wall as opposed to Smokey the Bear greet you).
Bigfoot Lodge [East], 3172 Los Feliz Blvd., Atwater Village; (323) 662-9227.
Bigfoot West, 10939 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 287-2200.
The Urban Style Bars: La Cuevita, Thirsty Crow and Oldfield's
La Cuevita, the 1933 Group's second bar, is described by Komarov as an “urban tequila and mezcal bar.” First opened in 2003 as the Little Cave, the small bar has DJs almost every night, which makes the experience there different almost every time you go. “What I like the most about La Cuevita is that you can be who you are with no fear of judgment. You don't have to dress up, but if you do that is great, too,” says bartender/bar manager Sol Luongo. “You can be excited about trying a new mezcal, while your friend on the left has a classic cocktail and the one on your right is having a PBR and a shot of whiskey. I feel that it's a good place to make friends.”
La Cuevita, 5922 N. Figueroa Blvd., Highland Park; (323) 255-6871.
Described by Komarov as a “saloonish style urban bar,” the Thirsty Crow has become a Silver Lake staple since it opened in 2010. “It kind of reminds me a little bit of an urban saloon and a Viennese coffeehouse mixed together,” he says. The small bar is the perfect place to enjoy some great whiskey, as should be the case in any good saloon. Thirsty Crow, 2939 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; (323) 661-6007.
Formerly Saints & Sinners, Oldfield's officially opened in 2011. Komarov says the bar has a “Lower East Side New York kind of feel. [It's a] very city-style bar that has a pretty elaborate cocktail menu. It's one of our stronger mixology bars that we have.” Bartender Robin Jackson, who has created many cocktails for the menu (she's especially proud of the one called Another Year in L.A., for mezcal lovers), says the drink menu is “an eclectic mix of cocktails with a little something for everybody.” Some drinks showcase the character of the base spirit. “I always encourage people to try something if it looks interesting to them. If it doesn't suit them, I always say I'll make them their usual,” Jackson says, adding that ambiance is as important as the libations. “I'd like to think that when a guest comes in they can have a well-made drink with friends in a casual, neighborhood setting with no pretension.” Oldfield's, 10899 Venice Blvd., Palms; (310) 842-8066.
The Restorations: Idle Hour and Highland Park Bowl
The 1933 Group often designs buildings to look like they're from another era, but sometimes they actually are. This started with Idle Hour, which Komarov describes as a “programmatic architecture building in the shape of a barrel with a big bulldog cafe in the back [and] an open spacious patio with barbecue.” Opening in 2015 as one of the first 1933 Group bars that also served food, Idle Hour was actually the same name the place had in the 1940s, when its famous barrel was first built. According to Komarov, a woman named Dolores Fernandez bought it in the early '70s and turned it into a flamenco club called La Cana. After she hurt her hip and could no longer dance, she closed the bar and ended up living there in a tiny upstairs unit in the center barrel. In 2012, when she was moved to an assisted living facility, the place was landmarked. Other barrel buildings around the city had been torn down, so the NoHo locale was the last one. 1933 bought it in an auction and restored it to its 1940s splendor, something that had become part of the vision as a company. “We realized that we kind of became interested in preserving historic buildings in Los Angeles and saving L.A. to a certain extent,” Komarov says. Idle Hour, 4824 Vineland Ave., North Hollywood; (281) 682-2280.
On the heels of Idle Hour, the 1933 Group turned to Highland Park Bowl, which opened in 2016. Described by Komarov as a “big, industrial space, vintage-inspired with a Neapolitan pizza program,” Highland Park Bowl was a bowling alley that first opened in 1927 during Prohibition. According to Komarov, the building also was home to a music store, doctors' offices and a pharmacy. During Prohibition, people would get a legal doctor's note upstairs, then head downstairs to the pharmacy, “which allowed permissible boozing and bowling.” In the 1960s, the building was purchased by Joseph Teresa and became Mr. T's Bowl, a bowling alley that turned into a punk club in the 1980s, showcasing acts such as Beck and The Beastie Boys before they made it big. “They closed off the lanes, put a stage on top of it and used the place as a venue. Basically the bands played on the lanes. Fortunately they were well covered and we just restored it,” Komarov says. Staying true to its roots, Highland Park Bowl also features live music a couple nights a week. For those who can't make it to Highland Park Bowl to taste the delicious pizza, the 1933 Group also operates a wood-burning oven pizza truck called the Highland Park Bowl Food Truck. Highland Park Bowl, 5621 N. Figueroa St., Highland Park; (323) 257-BOWL.
Old World Meets New World Bars: Harlowe and Sassafras
Komarov says that Harlowe, which opened in 2014, has “a little bit of a brasserie feel. It has a pretty delicious food menu also with a very strong cocktail menu.” A throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood, both the cocktails and the decor provide a nostalgic “old Los Angeles” elegance. While the place can be a relaxing option to grab a drink or a bite on weeknights, on Friday and Saturday nights it turns into a bustling nightclub.
Harlowe, 7321 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; (323) 876-5839.
Moving from old-world Hollywood to old-world New Orleans, Komarov says Sassafras feels like “we took a Savannah townhouse and resurrected it in the middle of [Hollywood].” Sassafras, which opened in 2012, features craft cocktails and delicious New Orleans–inspired food created by chef de cuisine Alexander Wolters; it also features live entertainment. “We offer a sample of a New Orleans house party. Live entertainment is offered nightly rotating with burlesque, jazz, brass, blues, rock and hip-hop, food, drinks and good old rambunctious fun,” says general manager B.C. Hoffman. “The drink menu at Sassafras changes every four months but is sticking with the theme of a New Orleans house party, so while we have fun craft cocktails done in Solo cups and frozen Irish coffees paying tribute to the famous Erin Rose Bar in NoLA, you can still get your classics done perfectly: sazerac, old-fashioned, hurricane, Vieux Carre or Ramos.” Sassafras also has a fun food menu featuring Southern fare like Nashville hot chicken sandwich, fried chicken and waffle slider on sweet potato waffles with bourbon maple glaze, crawfish mac and cheese, or shrimp and andouille sausage in brown butter over cornbread. Sassafras, 1233 N. Vine St., Hollywood; (323) 467-2800.
Back to the Future: Formosa Cafe
Up next for the 1933 Group is another restoration: the Formosa Cafe in West Hollywood. Calling Formosa “the most iconic bar in L.A.,” Komarov says his goal is to reopen it next year. “Construction is currently underway at the Formosa, though you wouldn't know it from the outside, and we don't plan to touch the façade.” He says that since they've started work on the landmark, construction crews are “finding some deeper layers of history — literally, by seeing the progression of wallpaper hung up since the 1920s.”
Collaborating with the family of the original owners on the design, Komarov says they're still digging through some of the boxes and storage units, and they've already found treasures such as autographed celebrity photos, Chinese lanterns and other memorabilia (yes, Komarov says they'll be keeping the lucky Buddha and Elvis decanters).
Staying true to the original cafe is a big priority for the 1933 Group. “We will be restoring the main bar to the best of our ability, back to how anyone who had been loyal here would remember it,” Komarov promises, adding that they'll restore the original 1920s Red Trolley train car to match the right side that faces Formosa Avenue. “We have to do a bit of handiwork in the kitchen, restrooms and patio but our plans are to have it encompass as much of the original design and materials where possible.”
“Our vision in restoring the Formosa is to become a living museum of old Hollywood. We hope to revive all of the stories, details and artifacts we are collecting and bring back to life the most memorable details throughout the decades,” Komarov says. “In essence, we are transforming the space into a living memoir, and once complete it will really pay homage to Hollywood's most infamous and long-running celebrity stomping grounds.”
A Formosa Cafe memoir book will be released at the time of reopening, complete with history and anecdotes of things that happened at the famed bar and restaurant. It will showcase the famous autograph collection that was kept behind the bar, featuring signatures from decades of celebrities and other notable figures, plus pages of celebrity sightings — and their secrets — being spilled for the first time. Komarov also hopes to get locals to share their own notable Formosa memories and moments to add into the book. People can submit their stories online at theformosabar.com now.
More about 1933 Group's bars (including menus and schedules) at 1933group.com.