Photos by Apollo Staar
We don’t go to bars to pick up (we’ve got a man) or to get drunk (we draw the line at comfortably buzzed, but sometimes that line does get a little, uh, blurry). Still, we love planting ourselves in the middle of one of our favorite drinking grottoes at that precise instant (usually midnight or so) when the air turns electric. It’s when everyone in the place seems to be riding the same intoxicated current, inhibitions suddenly melt like butta, potential romances — and possibly regrettable one-night stands — begin to bud, strangers act like old friends and the entire room bustles with expectation and 80-proof-fueled bliss. At that moment, music is everything. Bar bands? Nah, facing the stage makes for less interaction. Jukeboxes? Sure, they offer choice, but ever had to wait all night for your selections, while the group of frat boys next to ya goes through the entire Bon Jovi catalog? Not fun. Thankfully, some of our favorite local bars are wising up and enlisting the help of DJs to provide the soundtrack to their crowd’s gumption for consumption. No giant dance floors, no chaotic disco lights — just good tunes mixed together by a pro (or even a real rock star) who understands the ebb and flow of a room and knows just what works, whether you’re there to guzzle or just sip up the scene.
A lot of people were really bummed when this cavernous Los Feliz cocktail cabin stopped showcasing live bands last year, but the characters behind the decks have always been just as interesting as the ones who strutted on the stage. DJ Lee Joseph (the man behind Dionysus Records) is the place’s godfather of sorts, spinning a wonderful, sometimes wacky mix of ’60s-heavy grinds and obscure punk rave-ups, a combo that really took off at his now-defunct monthly jam-slam Club 66/77. These days, Lee can be found buffing the wax every Wednesday at London Calling, his U.K.-sounds gathering, where you can sip Newcastle and Guinness while the sounds of the Who, the Sex Pistols, Sham 69 and lesser known limeys shake in the background. (If you’re down for a drive, check out Lee’s exotica DJ night at the Lucky Tiki in Mission Hills too!) For an even broader beat-blend, pop in on a Tuesday night, where rotating themes and promoters include Sinking With Sea Level, with Todd from the record store of the same name spinning an eccentric selection, along with guests from local bands; Mixtape, a gathering that’s all about crafting that perfect blend of music in the perfect order, just like back in junior high when we’d make our crushes cassettes that told ’em just how we felt through the songs (sigh!); a punk-night Lurk and Chug; and Girlskool, a slumber party–esque affair where the self-proclaimed “best worst girl DJs” spin cheesy ’80s dance and garage rock as well as music from, according to Bigfoot’s Web site, “local bands they’ve slept with.”
3172 Los Feliz Blvd., Atwater, (323) 662-9227.
In the space that used to be Raji’s (not the famous rock club Raji’s but the dive bar that came some years later), The Bar is pretty inconspicuous from the outside, but inside it’s a comfy, candlelit room that’s just short of classy. In this neighborhood, where the Old Spaghetti Factory down the street was about as fancy as things got, it’s a hidden gem. The vibe shines brightest on Wednesday nights when DJs spin an ’80s rock and new-wave-heavy mix for hordes of multihued heads in Converse and metallics. The skinny, bamboo-covered smoking section outside is popular, as is the front-door area where you can watch as Hollywood riffraff drive by. But it’s the booths inside that provide the best view of both the DJ and the inebriated trendoids who inevitably attempt to gyrate, though there is absolutely no room in the place to do so. Drinks always end up getting spilled, but who cares when Bow Wow Wow’s bouncing in the background?
5851 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 468-9154.
Okay, these are two totally different spots that are nowhere near each other, but they have more than a few things in common. Both are trendy restaurants with a bar area that could be three times larger and still get packed, and both are owned by a bunch of people but only get attention for their celebrity investors — Ashton Kutcher and Justin Timberlake, respectively. We ate dinner at Dolce not too long ago and purposely chose a table near the bar so we could ogle all the designer bags and shoes. Dunno if most of the cosmetically enhanced crowd was actually waiting for a table or just to be discovered, but they seemed to be having a good time, especially when a pretty blond DJ got behind the decks and started spinning high-energy rock from AC/DC and ironic stuff like John Cougar — great for the bar-area vibe, if a little weird to eat a pricey meal by.
At Chi at the Hyatt on the Sunset Strip, there is a tiny, makeshift dance floor, and perfectly manicured gals — and guys — pack it when the bewitching hour hits. Mondays are most popular here, with DJs playing funky hip-hop from a laptop perched above the decks. The dark, exotic outdoor bar area offers the DJ action on one side and the excitement and chaos of the traffic-jammed Strip on the other, not to mention a steady flow of celebs and assorted perfect people rubbernecking each other all night. Now that’s entertainment!
Dolce, 8284 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 852-7174; Chi, 8401 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3884.
Barkeeps keepin' on atthe Burgundy Room.
STAR SHOES/BEAUTY BAR/BURGUNDY ROOM
Somebody coined “the Cahuenga Corridor” for the stretch of Hollywood where these three bars are planted, but those who bar-hop here on the weekends call it “the Cahuenga Clusterfuck.” A new dance club, restaurant or coffeehouse seems to pop up along the ’Wenga (we coined that one) nearly every week, but you can’t beat this trio of bars for their free DJ nights, many of which also function as after-parties when local rock shows get out. Mix-meister Cut Chemist can be found scratching and patching on Friday nights at Star Shoes (around the corner on Hollywood Boulevard), but in general, we prefer the area’s weeknight promotions. Radio at S.S. on Wednesday night rules with wild conceptual eves (such as monthly truth-or-dare games and skinny-boy burlesque shows), and you never know who you might see behind the decks: Peaches, Carlos D. from Interpol, members of Ima Robot and Junior Senior. The turntable talent at Beauty Bar can be equally stellar. One night it’s Yeah Yeah Yeah’s bassist Nick Zinner spinning obscure garage, the next it’s the Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner with a set of ’50s and ’60s doo-wop after his Spaceland shows. A star of another breed, local designer-photog-It-boy Apollo Staar lives up to his name across the street at the Burgundy Room with his Thursday-night shindig, Rock ’n’ Roll High School. Tattooed kewpie-doll gals and guys rocking sunglasses at night (which at the darker-than-dark Burgundy equals totally blind) revel in Staar’s sleazy mixes of glam, punk and metal. The bar’s New York–dive vibe makes it a refreshing alternative to the polished poshness of Hollywood’s new slew, and it’s still one of the best spots to get your rocks off.
Star Shoes, 6364 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 462-7827; Beauty Bar, 1638 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 464-7676; Burgundy Room, 1621 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 465-7530.
THE STANDARD (DOWNTOWN)
The amazing rooftop view. The groovy Austin Powers décor. The White Stripes–esque worker uniforms. The so-shallow-even-drunkards-can-take-a-dip (though we don’t suggest it) pool. What’s not to love about this downtown version of the Hollywood hotel hang? Well, the super-mellow music that the DJs spun when it first opened, for one. Sure, spacey lounge and ambient-chill grooves are fitting in a spot with waterbed pods and a fireplace, but we always longed to hear the rawk, or even some booty-grinding dance jointz amid the skyscrapers. Looks like the Standard is coming around to our way of thinking. They’ve really been mixing it up musically lately, with a new Monday-night rock bash and especially on Sundays, when the purveyors of irony and indie-ness from Cinespace Tuesdays throw their daytime party called Sunday Fundays. Resident Steve Aoki and Frani Chan, along with guests like Peaches, spin everything from Cheap Trick to Hot Hot Heat to the Sugarhill Gang to Michael Jackson (which is still ironic to spin, though in a couple of years it’ll probably just be “old school” again), keeping hipsters in gigantic sunglasses and choppy haircuts shakin’ and bakin’ till sundown.
550 Flower St., downtown, (213) 892-8080.
When Fred Eric (of Fred 62 on Vermont) reigned over this Hillhurst restaurant, it seemed to have identity issues. Was it a hoity-toity boîte serving expensive cuisine or a raging nightclub where Mohawked maulers traded rants at “Punk Rock Karaoke”? Well it was both, but sometimes you can’t have it both ways, ya know? Since he sold the restaurant last year, the place seems a lot more laid back. It still serves food, but the delicious DJ nights are what keep ’em coming. Wednesdays, Tamar Michelle of Love Drug promotes Happenshack, with DJ AveB Blair spinning rock & roll for Silver Lake’s stylin’ vintage-clad scene, while the first Saturday of each month the place becomes the after-party hub for Echo Park Boulevard’s monthly art-show block parties, hosted by the jewelry boutique Han Cholo. The last Saturday we popped in, our pals sunk into a comfy booth to sip martinis in the more mellow main bar while we went into the DJ room, where the curiously named DJ Pube$ spun some sick mixes of funk, rock and hip-hop that were just too irresistible not to move to. The Rolling Stones and Sir Mix-a-Lot mixed, not mashed, into each other followed by some crazy ’80s robot jam. It’s these kinds of all-over-the-place DJ sets that make la Vida truly loca. And we love it.
1930 Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz, (323) 660-4446.