At dinner recently with a skeptical out-of-town friend, I tried to explain the appeal of the restaurant-as-circus, and the Church Key in particular. The Church Key in West Hollywood, which is the subject of this week's restaurant review, embodies so much of what people think they hate about eating out in L.A. “But sometimes,” I told my jaded New York friend, “you just have to marvel that you live in a city where a thing like this can exist and thrive.”

The Church Key is insufferably flashy. It comes with fistfuls of gimmickry, including dim sum carts, tool boxes used as food platters and women in flight attendant uniforms pushing Pan Am carts from which they serve booze-infused popsicles made by throwing around liquid nitrogen.

If all this makes you roll your eyes, then yes, you'll probably hate the place. But there are two main reasons people go out to eat: to find good food and to be entertained. While the Church Key doesn't sell food that's ground-breaking, much of it is pretty good. And in terms of entertainment, this place wins. It's the silliest of spectacles, but it's also pretty fun.

More than anything, I found myself made quite giddy by the fact that this fantasy is actually real, and that you can go sit in the midst of the international tycoons and boy bands and women wearing leather jumpsuits. On the weekend, the clientele alone is worth the price of admission. It's like cultural anthropology, but with cocktails.

Want a more detailed look at the food, drinks and atmosphere? For that, you'll have to read the full review.

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LA Weekly