Fifty percent of what makes a bar romantic is the same thing that makes a relationship successful – timing. One day can turn your quiet weeknight hideaway into a bustling weekend meat market. And while I realize that by revealing a list of my favorite bars for courtship, I run the risk of ruining them on the good nights too, at least for a few months, I’m willing to take the hit under one condition: Bring the right person with you. No matter how flattering the lighting, cozy the seating and conducive to quiet conversation a bar may be, the responsibility of taking a drinking experience from a simple cocktail to a smoldering night of passion rests solely in your hands. Don’t waste these bars on someone you don’t really like just because you don’t want to sit home alone on a Saturday night. Save these spots for someone you can’t keep your hands off, someone you just might want to have breakfast with the next morning. My boyfriend, David, light of my life and usual drinking accomplice, was more than willing to be my partner in crime on my drunken-romance tour of Los Angeles. With the promise of getting buzzed, then getting busy, we set out to road-test some old favorites and try some new places.
Casa Del Mar. I’m a fan of hotel bars because they give you license to use your imagination — turn off your cell phone and pretend that you’re on vacation, in some remote place, with no reception. There’s nothing like a vacation to get you in the mood, so should you find yourself testing the bounds of PDA, and feel that a “get a room” shout from a nearby patron is imminent, you can always do just that. I have thoughts of island breezes and vacation sex (isn’t it the best?) on my mind as we enter Casa Del Mar on a Sunday afternoon around 5 in the evening. With a martini for the lady and a Maker’s on the rocks for the gent, we retreat to a cozy table next to the windows that overlook the beach. As the sunset grows in intensity, so does our buzz. And the whole classy-yet-relaxed beach thing has moved us closer together without our notice. We can actually hear ourselves talk — the good kind of talk — about travel, books, hopes, dreams, not laundry. After the sun sets, we cuddle in a spot near the fireplace, and I secretly hope someone yells “Get a room!” 1910 Ocean Way, Santa Monica, (310) 581-5533.
Bar Noir. Keeping up the hotel-bar theme, we visit Bar Noir at Maison 140. The bar is small — really small. Allow me to translate: That means, “intimate and very private.” I swear, it feels like the whole place is winking at me with its sexy Mandarin-French décor and saying, in a non-creepy version of Maurice Chevalier’s voice, “If you’ll only step inside I guarantee you will be made love to before the night is through.” How could I refuse? I grab David’s hand and in we go. We find quiet seats in a corner. Definitely a seductive location, and, at 9:30 on a Saturday evening, there are only three other patrons. Enchante, I’m sure. 140 S. Lasky Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 281-4008.
Café des Artistes. Maybe the French thing rubs off a little, but suddenly I have a yearning to take David to Café des Artistes, not for dinner (though the food has rocked my world on many occasions) but for an early-evening glass of wine on the patio. Where we can sit in a sort of modified-spoon arrangement on the sofas, and face the cluster of charming little round tables, each decorated with a flickering votive candle. Here we can sit and unwind and maybe not talk at all for a minute. The patio has a secret-garden kind of magic to it, and we both feel slightly transported, although to where, I’m not sure — some blissful Shangri-la. We don’t even notice the diners beginning to trickle in. 1534 N. McCadden Place, Los Angeles, (323) 469-7300.
Broadway Bar. To really test out the romance meter, I take my “freshly returned from a hectic business trip” boyfriend to the Broadway Bar in downtown Los Angeles on a Monday night at 9. We drive past and it doesn’t actually look open, but eagle-eye David spies candles through the windows. The interior is absolutely lovely — lavish without hitting you over the head. And it smells good, like leather and craftsmanship and history. Yes, you can smell the history. The perfect gentleman of a bartender explains the drink special — a happy hour that lasts all Monday, which turns a slow day for the bar into an enticing opportunity for couples who want to liquor each other up for less. This is the kind of place you can’t bring a platonic friend, unless it’s some When Harry Met Sally kind of “true love disguised as friendship” thing, in which case you should totally come here. The Broadway Bar and its all-day happy hour might be just what you need to push you out of the “friend zone” and into the bed zone. 830 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, (213) 614-9909.
Dear John’s. A romantic drink doesn’t require a luxurious setting. Sometimes you want to go where everyone knows your name, but is happy to leave you alone. That’s how we ended up at the easygoing neighborhood supper club/bar Dear John’s, which has been the site of some of our most spontaneously romantic moments ever. There’s a tiny fireplace that’s lit during the winter. On the weekends they have a pianist or guitarist having a crack at the standards. The bar isn’t sexy, pretentious or stylized. Its charm is that it isn’t trying too hard. And isn’t that the way romance flows best — viewed from a red-leather booth, cocktail in hand, with someone special rubbing your leg suggestively under the table? 11208 Culver Blvd., Culver City, (310) 397-0276.?