If you'd rather drink Drano than spend an evening at one of Hollywood's increasingly bombastic Vegas-style nightclubs -- such as Playhouse (where tawny girls wearing tiny pieces of fabric preen on trapezes) -- then you might find solace at a new restaurant and bar called Essex Public House.
Located right in the gaudy gut of Hollywood proper, at Hollywood Boulevard and Las Palmas, Essex offers all the people-watching benefits of a regular Tinseltown haunt, without bringing the freakish aspects inside.
Executive chef and partner Chris Ennis has cooked at Asia de Cuba and Charlie Palmer's Astra, among others. Still, for his first collaborative venture -- with nightclub and snazzy-restaurant luminaries Gregory Link and Hunter H. Hensley -- he's chosen a more low-key approach to drinking and dining. "It's the place I always wanted to go to after work at around 11 p.m.," says Ennis. "Cool and unpretentious, with food that is a little more thoughtful than your average pub."
The two-room space was designed by Hollywood go-to man Kristofer Keith, and while he generally specializes in richly detailed creations, he's demonstrated a lighter touch at Essex.
The main dining room features accordion doors that open to the street, which creates an open-air feel. There's a polished brick floor, exposed brick walls, a 19-foot ceiling, a huge chalkboard with specials neatly printed on it, lots of stately black paint and a wrought-iron bar.
Although it's only 3 weeks old, Essex makes fast friends of its customers -- a phenomenon likely attributed to the high volume of spirited rock music blaring from the speakers, which causes guests to lean in toward each other with the kind of familiarity usually reserved for pillow talk.
Ennis' menu of rustic American fare is well-rounded and seasonal (he goes to farmers markets twice a week). Dishes -- including clams casino smothered in a savory mixture of bacon and piquillo peppers, perfectly seared Ahi tuna with chili and soy-soaked soba noodles and papaya, and hearty roasted chicken and biscuits in a slightly smoky gravy with sweet English peas -- are stripped to their essential flavors and served without frills.
The beer list, which features more than 50 offerings, with a heavy focus on West Coast breweries, was curated by the "Beer Chick" Christina Perozzi, and the cocktails are served with chipped block ice and made using fresh fruit and house-made syrups.
And if you ever get tired of Essex's relaxed version of Hollywood, the completely berserk version is mere steps away.
Essex Public House Where: 6683 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood When: 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m., daily. Kitchen closes at 11:30. Price: Soups, salads and pizza, $7 to $13; entrees and pub grub, $11 to $23; beer and cocktails, $4 to $12. Contact: (323) 460-6608; www.essexhollywood.com