You could re-read Luc Sante's Low Life, or you could take a trip to the outer edges of downtown Los Angeles and, for the price of a cocktail or two, pretend to live in it. There will be no real danger. No blind tigers, no crooked bartenders to slip you a mickey, no chance you'll wake up in the cargo hold of a boat bound for Shanghai. You will be safe, probably, ensconced amid the “grit nostalgia” in which bars like The One-Eyed Gypsy and its cousin, Villain's Tavern, trade.
[Photo gallery after the jump.]
Bordello, with its wall-to-wall decor of bleeding red, is no more, but the new bar, perhaps in homage, feels halfway between a 1930s circus tent and a fin de siècle brothel. Which century? 19th, presumably. The One-Eyed Gypsy's thematic mishmash might see an old Love Meter (we're Naughty But Nice, for the record) next toy a toy grabber stocked with Ugly Dolls.
Dana Hollister (who also owns Villain's) knows what she's doing. She has kept the airy space dark with beaded chandeliers drooping over the glistening, black bar and nooks filled with Skee Ball machines and a photo booth. Beaded wooden curtains separate the small ante-chambers from the main saloon.
The bar is spacious but oddly located. It sits on the on the northeast edge of downtown amid drab industrial buildings, a Buddhist temple and a Japanese mortuary. Bordello put on plenty of good shows in its day, but never developed much of a daily clientele. That will be the challenge here too: making One Eyed Gypsy intriguing enough to become a destination bar while cultivating locals who want a neighborhood pub.
The One Eyed Gypsy: 901 E. 1st St., LA.