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There’s Venice… and then there’s Abbot Kinney. The strip
that stretches from Brooks to Washington seems to get haughtier by the minute.
An increasing trickle of sequined tops and stilettos among the flip-flops and
surf shorts signals more and more Eastsiders are hopping on the escape route
known as the 10 West and coming to the beach for some fun, without sun. And
if you do it right, it can be an evening of epic proportions — starting with
appetizers and two-handed martinis at Beechwood, a meal at Primitivo and a whole
lotta boozin’ down the line. By the time you get to The Brig, you’ll be ready
to throw in the towel and hail a taxi home.

Beechwood

Everything about Beechwood from the outside tells you it’s going to be one
of those places: valet, bouncer, lack of signage. It’s Scenesville. The
space itself is composed of two rooms: Inside are low ceilings, lots of Eames-era
wood and Japanese-style lanterns, and outside you’ll find a fire pit and mod
cement walls with plenty of bamboo — attempts at tranquility. The atmosphere
can best be described as a high school dance in a sushi restaurant. And unless
you go there early to snag a table, forget about ordering food. The place is
loud and packed and there’s no flow; everyone appears to be stuck in their own
little pool, like fish gulping in a drying riverbed. On the other hand, we had
killer martinis, so perfectly dirty, with the extra-large, extra-fancy olives,
which would have been better enjoyed with more elbow room. Bottom line: Come
early, or during the week. 822 Washington Blvd. (310) 448-8884.
Primitivo Wine Bistro

This place is kind of like the Cheers of Abbot Kinney; it has a cult following
among locals — some of whom go every night. It’s a mild-mannered restaurant
during dinner service — dark with antique chandeliers that give it a dapper
1920s feel, but afterward, it’s a wild free-for-all where the bartenders double
as entertainment as they kick up their heels on the bar. Sometimes it reminds
me of that oddly thrilling zoo ride where the animals go free and you drive
around, praying the monkeys don’t throw poo at your car. There are plenty of
bar nibbles to be had off the Mediterranean-inspired tapas menu. Inexpensive
wine by the glass is the real draw — that and they’re always glad I came. 1025
Abbot Kinney Blvd. (310) 396-5353.

Roosterfish

I asked the bartender what his specialty was and I swear he said “a get the
hell out,” but he could have just been trying to tell me something. Roosterfish
is a windowless gay bar about halfway down the strip. You can’t miss the turquoise
building — it stands out like Pam Anderson at a comic-book convention. It used
to be more of a neighborhoody place with a mixed crowd, operative word being
“crowd,” but at 10 p.m. on a Saturday, my friend and I were the only people
in the place except for a trio of identically dressed middle-aged men and a
couple of guys playing pool. I love the decor, with its photos of shirtless
men dotting the walls and cowboy paintings over the boarded-up windows. The
place is very clandestine, very Eyes Wide Shut, a great place to not
be seen, if you know what I mean, nudge, nudge, wink, wink. 1302 Abbot Kinney
Blvd. (310) 392-2123.

The Otheroom

This is a bona fide New York City wine bar near the beach. It’s the well-dressed
chick in a sea of terry cloth jogging suits. Craig Weiss, owner of New York’s
The Room and Another Room, did a fine job of bringing some of that exposed-brick-and-tin-ceiling
magic to Abbot Kinney. The large, almost floor-to-ceiling windows are lined
with cushioned benches and drinking tables. Two enormous blackboards above the
bar boast the all-star lineup of wines and brews from around the world. There
is no food, no peanuts, no pretzels, no nothing, so come on a full stomach or
ask the bartenders to order you something off the stash of delivery menus they
keep behind the bar. But the best thing is the layout — there are all sorts
of nooks and crannies to explore and get lost — and found — in. 1201 Abbot
Kinney Blvd. (310) 396-6230.

Hal’s Bar & Grill

Although Hal’s was more comfortable before they replaced the loungelike sofas
in the front and jammed the space with bar tables, it’s still a fantastic place
to listen to live jazz on Fridays and Sundays, hang out with a diverse crowd
(increasingly rare and refreshing in Venice these days) and sip a mean Bloody
Mary, like mean, but in a good way. 1349 Abbot Kinney Blvd. (310) 396-3105.

The Brig

If you think the boxer on the illuminated sign out front seems incongruous
to the scene inside, stay for a few minutes and the urge to uppercut someone
just might overtake you. (If there were a bridge and tunnel in Los Angeles,
this crowd would have taken them to get here.) It’s usually the place that’s
still hoppin’ long after the lights have come up in the other places on the
strip. As a result, The Brig has become a catchall for those who refuse to give
up the good fight. They are determined to get laid, but, failing that, are content
to stay and dance to “It Takes Two.” It takes a lot of drinks to get me to stay
here on Saturday night, but during the week the kitschy dive-bar-turned-Valley-trap
is pleasant and airy. You can actually see the retro-’50s, IKEA-ish décor, maybe
even play pool, and avoid having someone dance with you against your will. 1515
Abbot Kinney Blvd. (310) 399-7537.

LA Weekly