As Angelenos look for added value in a night out, restaurants anchored by well-developed bar concepts (or vice versa) are being crowned king. Places such as Craftbar, Cole's and BoHo draw, and keep, customers for a long evening of drinking and dining.
The newest contender to emerge in this sensible landscape (why drive across town for your after-dinner cocktail when you can have your cake and drink it too?) is West Los Angeles' Westside Tavern. Opened nearly four weeks ago by chef and partner Warren Schwartz (Saddle Peak Lodge, Patina, Whist at the Viceroy), the sprawling mid-century modern restaurant (it seats 220) welcomes diners with a 50-foot walnut bar touting ingenious and classic cocktails created by well-respected mixologist Ryan Magarian.
The division between the bar and the restaurant is minimal, with a waist-high wooden divider the only indication of shifting space. Polished wood is everywhere: in the floors, tables, slatted ceilings and thick support beams (Schwartz calls it masculine and materialistic, but to me it feels like an upscale ski lodge). The space is tucked into the side of the Westside Pavilion with giant picture-glass windows looking out on a pedestrian-friendly portion of Pico Boulevard and makes for an ideal place to meet for drinks before heading to a movie at the neighboring Landmark Theatre.
At the bar, all juices are fresh-squeezed, a defining detail of the city's exploding craft cocktail scene.
Thick, earthy carrot juice makes a carrot and cilantro caipirinha sing, and the lip-pursing tang of grapefruit juice adds a pleasing zing to a vodka Rickey.
Just as bringing back classic cocktails like the Corpse Reviver No. 2, the Sazerac and the Moscow mule is the hallmark of modern mixology, using sustainable, locally sourced ingredients is the de rigueur choice of chefs everywhere. And Schwartz is no exception: He says that more than 70% of the restaurant's produce comes from within 300 miles of the building.
He describes the restaurant as a "grill, tavern, pub, even Jewish deli on some level." His goal is to deconstruct modern California cuisine into a sort of gourmet but bare-bones rusticity. He calls it California tavern cuisine.
"We've identified the iconic dishes and applied a minimalist point of view, where form and function coincide," Schwartz explains.
To that end he's clocked countless hours tasting and re-tasting all the food and drink on the menu.
"This is very good, but was it great?" he asks. "Is someone gonna wake up in the middle of the night and say, 'That was so great, I've gotta go back for that'? "
If they've tasted Schwartz's warm sticky toffee cake with light-as-air Tahitian vanilla cream whipped topping, they just might.
Other noteworthy dishes include a savory James Ranch lamb French dip sandwich with caramelized onions, horseradish cream and rosemary au jus (it's messy but worth it); a spit-roasted lemon and mustard chicken; and the hot smoked salmon filet with creamy dill yogurt, fried capers and bagel crisps. Most of the meat, including the short ribs, are cooked sous vide and then finished off on the grill.
All of the specialty cocktails at the bar run $9, which is a steal for involved, handcrafted cocktails that will set you back nearly $15 at many other mixology-focused bars, including Copa d'Oro, the Association and Varnish.
Another selling point for Westside Tavern is its stellar soundtrack. It's impossible to place too much of a premium on the volume and quality of music played in a bar or restaurant, and Schwartz had a musician friend put together a unique list of tunes that you'd be hard-pressed to find at a comparably classy joint. The Afghan Whigs, Modern Lovers and the Pixies are just the start, and all played at a volume that won't interfere with your digestion.
Westside TavernnWhere: 10850 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles When: 5 p.m. to midnight Sundays through Wednesdays, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays Price: Appetizers, $9 to $13; sandwiches, $9 to $18; entrees, $19 to $24; cocktails $9; beer $5 Contact: (310) 470-1539; www.westsidetavernla.com