Seven Grand is a manly man sort of place. The kind of bar that would pay a chick to sit in the window dressed in 1950s pinup garb, pretending to be a cigarette girl on an Esquire cover, but instead looking trapped like a June bug in a Mason jar, or like a red-light-districtAmsterdam whore. The eternally vacant stares of long-dead 17-point stags and elks, the prize conquests of better men, gaze on you from above. And looming overhead is a towering wall of Maker’s Mark — drippy red wax as far as the eye can see.
My host, who leads me up the kilt-plaid carpeted steps, laughs as he shares a quip that the bourbondisplay makes the place look like “Mark Twain’s dorm room.” I think Hunter S. Thompson or maybe even Tom Wolfe might have been a better choice, but these literary mind games are interrupted by the museumlike diorama of a hunting scene — one more manly man in full hunting plaids, hunting hat, hunting rifle. Freudian penis substitutes abound. Speaking of which, Seven Grand sells cigars — Romeo y Julieta, Macanudo, Torpedo, Churchill — which you can smoke on the outdoor patio that faces an obscenely large vacant building.
Upstairs there are more bucks — in the lighting fixture, on the wallpaper, and stuffed and mounted. There’s more studded leather here than in the Castro District — on seats, benches and tables. It’s opening night and the bartenders look prerequisitely Irish — handsome devils, their smirks daring you to try to drink them under the table. But instead of taking up the challenge, I order a mint julep from the bourbon, Scotch and whiskey list, feeling like Daisy Buchanan. There is definitely a bookish, masculine vibe to the place, a glossy version of the kind of joint you’d find in Fitzgerald, Hemingway or Miller (Henry, not Arthur).
For the next round, to take on the bartender’s silent dare, I order a Maker’s. Neat, of course. With a black and tan back. While we wait for the B&T to settle, the bartender shows me his tattoo of the Seven Grand logo — an impressive buck— on his forearm.
“That’s fake,” I say, as my friend Miss Gullible tugs on his arm.
“It is not,” the bartender protests. “Go on, tug on it. Try and rub it off. You can’t. It’s real.”
I’m not sure if he’s trying to have a laugh, so I smile and say most disbelievingly, “I believe you.”
To be honest, it looks authentic, but who would do that? He tries to scrape it off; it doesn’t budge.
“Do you own stock in the bar?” I finally ask, bewildered.
He doesn’t answer; he’s been called away to pour a drink for one of the cocktail waitresses whose uniform is of the male-fantasy Catholic-schoolgirl variety — short plaid skirt, tight white button-up top and knee socks. The crowd, mostly men, is mixed — hipster boys with moppish hair playing pool and well-dressed older gentlemen ogling the Playboy contingent, a few surgically enhanced trophy-wives-in-waiting who have trickled in.
At one point we introduce ourselves to Cedd Moses, part owner and successful venture capitalist. He’s tall and handsome in a crisp pinstriped suit, looking very distinguished. He brags about the bar’s beer-delivery system, The Nitrogenator NX — it keeps the temperature consistent from the keg to the spout and prevents bubbles from entering the line, making, he claims, the best pint of Guinness in the city. Seven Grand is the first bar in L.A. to have one.
But we can’t hold his attention long enough; a woman with a pair of double-Ds approaches, and he is understandably distracted. My friend and I exchange glances and excuse ourselves. We want to catch the 12-member Pogues-esque Celtic rock band that is about to start, anyway. The mysterious presence of moppy-headed indie boys is explained when we discover that all live music acts are handpicked by Spaceland Productions.
Is Seven Grand an escapist testosterone-plumped joint? Sure. But even with the dead animals, the naughtily dressed waitresses and the too-polished man-by-numbers design, it’s a great place to drink bourbon, puff on a cigar and pretend to be in an imaginary boys club. Even if you’re a girl.
Seven Grand, 515 W. Seventh St., Second Floor, downtown, (213) 614-0737; Mon.-Fri. 4 p.m.-2 a.m., Sat. 8 p.m.-2 a.m., closed Sun.