Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Best and Worst Speakeasies in Los Angeles

Before I continue with today's regularly scheduled post, I would like to take a moment to talk about yesterday's nightmarish experience.

It started when I came home to find our front door wide open. Our experience with Jonathan was a real wake-up call, and Andrew and I agreed to begin locking the door. (We never bothered to previously because of the dog, but since the dog knows Jonathan and not much about betrayal, we decided it was time to trust in something more... inanimate.)

Puzzled, I stuck my head in and called out, “Andrew?”

That's when I noticed the dogs weren't there. He must have taken them on a walk, I reasoned. But no—there were their leads, hung over the hook on the back of the door.
Also the hook looked like this so I knew something was up.

Suddenly chilled, I realised Andrew wouldn't be home at this time (about 3 pm). Being blonde and having lots of horror films, and having already broken the cardinal rule about entering a seemingly abandoned house after calling out “hello,” I decided I needed to nut up. Grabbing the baseball bat next to the shoe rack, I began a circuit of the house: dining room, living room, kitchen, utility room, bathroom, and finally bedroom. 

Like all blonde girls exploring haunted/invaded houses with baseball bats, 
I first stripped down to my underwear.

When I opened the bedroom I was immediately attacked... by Seamus.

Pictured here being too cool to guard the goddamn house.

Relief flooded through me, followed my confusion.

The dogs hadn't escaped because they'd been locked in the bedroom, but the front door was wide open. What the hell?

I checked to make sure our valuables were accounted for, and they were. Even more flabbergast, I called Andrew and told him to come over because I was pretty sure someone had entered our house.

He arrived remarkably quickly, confirmed that he'd left the door unlocked like an idiot but had most certainly not locked the dogs into the bedroom, and went through the circuit again with me.

We found one single thing different than we'd left it, other than the doors:

The toilet was clogged.

I was going to put a funny caption here, but I don't think I need to.  What the hell is she smiling about?  I bet this is the same psycho bitch who came into my house and clogged my john.

That's right. Leaving our front door unlocked in South Central, we had a vagrant wander into the house, casually put the dogs into the bedroom (presumably so they wouldn't bother him/her), and use the toilet.

So. Creeped. Out.

We considered calling the police, but since nothing was taken, we opted out. Our current top theories are:
  1. Some sort of service technician (a Comcast guy, maybe) came over, used the toilet, looked around for the telly, realised he was in the wrong house, and left in a panicked hurry.
  2. A drug user, older person with dementia, child, or other person of compromised mental health came in to use the toilet and forgot to close the door when they left.
  3. A person stopping by another person's house, perhaps answering a Craigslist ad, came over, waited, and when they realised they had the wrong address, bailed.
  4. Andrew forgot to let the dogs out of the bedroom and to lock the door. The wind blew the door open, no one entered, and it was happy coincidence that the dogs didn't escape. This doesn't explain the clogged toilet, though it should be noticed that our toilet is so shitty that it clogs if you even mention burritos to it.
In any case, it was frightening, and we're EXCEPTIONALLY lucky that nothing was stolen and the dogs are okay. I hope it was also a wake-up call for Andrew. (I said, not bluffing, if anything like this ever happens again, I am moving out. I can't live in a home that's unsafe for me or the pooches.)

Also I think this is a typical weird Los Angeles story. (Stoner Takes Dump and Nothing Else.) (Hobos Find House Wide Open, Give a Shit.) (Crap Not Worth Taking, But Crap Taken.)  

(I could just keep going, but I won't.) 

Los Angeles is a pretty weird city in a lot of ways. For example, neighbourhoods merge into each other in a weird tapestry of interwoven socioeconomic levels. It's not uncommon to take a wrong turn and end up on the set of Game of Thrones, or a meth lab, or both. You have to take the 10 to get just about anywhere, and everyone calls it The Ten instead of I-10, and it's one of the few real divides in the city; below the 10 is clearly poorer than north of it. Getting on a bus you see divas and druggies, hipstas and gangstas, and getting off it you are almost guaranteed to trip over a chihuahua in a sweater, unless their owner is holding him in a BabyBjorn.

But perhaps one of the strangest things (for me) is the ridiculous accessibility of liquour.

Now, maybe I'm biased, having spent the last six years in the middle of Pennsylvania.

But here, you can get booze at liquour stores, grocery stores, markets, convenience stores, book stores, gas stations, barbershops, thrift stores, and probably Toys R Us for all I know. And it's not like they don't have bars; Los Angeles is practically swimming in them, pun intended.

One of the big “themes” around here is the speakeasy. A lot of bars are themed like 1920s speakeasies, complete with a douchey bartender in a waistcoat and cummerbund on his arm. Personally I sort of like the vibe, but after four months I have found that some bars more than others pull it off.

And so, for your consideration, here are some noteworthy speakeasies, both famous and infamous:

The Speakeasies of Los Angeles

Best Speakeasy: 
R Bar

Overall Rating: 5 Stars

The R Bar is a corner bar situated in Korea Town, and so far I have never been disappointed. You need a password to get in and once inside you'll find the atmosphere to be perfect. There are nooks with comfortable couches, low lighting, and curious decorations that have a geek chic sort of feel without being too overbearing. The food and drinks are all reasonably priced and fantastic. Sometimes the music is too loud, but the areas in the back are quieter and very comfortable. This bar is never empty but rarely packed. Last time we went, “The Big Lebowski” was playing on the television. Drink specials change daily and always have inexplicably nautical names like “Siren's Call” and “Jolly Roger.” Their bartenders are really down-to-earth. Ask for Dan; he makes a pizza shot with basil vodka that literally tastes like pizza. There is no parking. This is probably one of the only cons.

Most Historically Accurate Speakeasy: 

Overall Rating: 4 Stars

Varnish is a bar downtown located in the back of a restaurant called Cole's, which also has a bar. Varnish is a tiny one-room bar entered through an unmarked door that strives to be accurate in its appearance as a 1920s speakeasy. The bartenders are in costume and there's usually someone playing a jaunty tune on the piano. Their drinks are limited and take forever to craft, but are very well done. They're expensive but worth trying. Seating is very hard to come by and it's often crowded. There's also usually at least one jerk wearing a fedora in the crowd. Parking is on the street, but not hard to find. If you have time and money and don't mind waiting and standing for a table (or waiting for your drink), I would actually recommend this place. I think it says a lot that the atmosphere is so cool I was willing to wait for $13 drinks. Also, despite being expensive, you get your money's worth: the drinks are LOADED and taste great.

Least Historically Accurate Speakeasy, but Great Hole-in-the-Wall Dive Bar: 
The Living Room

 Pictured: The exact opposite of what it's actually like.

Overall rating: 2 ½ Stars

I'm not even sure if the Living Room is a speakeasy. Located on Crenshaw Blvd. below the 10, The Living Room is a small dive bar. You need to buzz in to get in and it's easy to miss. Once inside, it's often crowded (but rarely packed). There is always live music, mostly jazz and blues. The people are fun and friendly. My bartender's name was Summer and she was the nicest person I ever met. I went back and she was there hanging out, but not working, and she actually made me a drink when I had trouble ordering. The bartenders are just super accommodating like that and will make just about anything. Everything is good and affordable, and more than anything, the bartenders here are outstanding. If you're on a budget but want a place with music and atmosphere, this is probably your best bet.

Worst Speakeasy: 

Over-all rating: 1 ½ Stars
(Because Ernie the bouncer was nice. He was the coolest guy we met all evening.)

So I went to Villains earlier in the week and here was my experience. First let me state the pros: they have a parking lot. Now let me state the cons: everything. The atmosphere is great if you can get past all the hipsters. This bar is struggling very, very hard to be cool. The front is just open and everyone's smoking, which I hated. When I went to order, I asked for a couple standard drinks (like a Bloody Mary, Dirty Martini, et cetera) and was told they didn't have any of them. They said they didn't make liqueur drinks. (You might notice that a Bloody Mary is a vodka drink.) When I asked for a suggestion, I was handed a menu of 6 mixed drinks, ranging in price for $13-20. I asked for one and was told they didn't have the right ingredient for it. (The drink was a peach something or other and they didn't have the peaches.) Look, assholes, if you're only going to have SIX drinks, you could at the very least ensure you are stocked with the right ingredients. We were told the prices were expensive because all the ingredients were high-quality and natural. Apparently, the reason my peach drink couldn't be made was the orchard hadn't been planted yet. That's how fresh their over-priced crap is. Did I mention they serve it in Mason jars? For $20, I expect anything other than a fucking jar. That's not “hip.” That's tacky. So I asked about wine and found that their least expensive wine was $18. You know the difference between an $18 bottle of wine and a $5 bottle of wine? $13. A fucking PBR was like five dollars. This place was so insanely expensive and the bartenders were adamant about refusing to make recommendations, offer suggestions, or deviate even slightly from their 6-item (de facto 5-item) menu. When I finally ordered a different drink, the bartender mixed it and then tried it with a straw. Listen, asshole, you're not a mixologist if you can only do five drinks. And if you can only mix five drinks then you damn well better be able to mix it without tasting it. You should be able to get into a car accident and have irreversible brain damage and still mix a weak drink in a Mason jar if you have only 5 choices and make hundreds of them a night. I had two drinks, both of which were disappointing, and a side of chick peas, which were decent. Our bill was $50. There was no music, but it was loud because of the hipsters playing Jenga and Connect Four, which Villains has enormous novelty versions of so that you can be even more of a dickhead there. This bar is clearly meant for upper middle-class university twats who recently turned 21, are spending their parents' money, and are studying liberal arts.

 Pictured: Tries too hard.

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