It's late in the afternoon Thursday and L.A. nightlife veteran Johnny Zander is squinting in the bright sunlight, standing in the doorway to his latest Hollywood venture, Grandpa Johnson's. From the street it looks like a closed vintage jewelry store with two empty glass display cases, but a couple steps inside, through a red velvet curtain, of course, there's a "Gatsby"-esque cocktail lounge.
"It's my version of Art Deco, with a nice twist, and modern meets the Stanley Kubrick bar," said Zander, wearing dark shades and a gray hat. "I wanted to create something different, something you don't really have in town."
The bar, named after his grandfather, is Zander's first solo project. Known for conceptualizing, designing and opening the Green Door, Hemingway's and Teddy's, Zander designed every detail of Grandpa Johnson's himself.
The smooth wood floors feature black chevron stripes that run across the floor, up the walls and onto the ceiling. The furniture is straight out of a 1920s Hollywood starlet's powder room with plush red and gray chairs and white banquets. Guests sip their drinks at honey-colored wooden tables all stamped with the letters GJ, and in the back, two private rooms with mirrored walls.
But the highlight of the bar is the actual bar itself. Inspired by an old photograph of a bar made of a giant redwood tree trunk, Zander created a curved brass bar with a marble top, inlays and sides. It's what Zander calls a "leaning bar," which contours to the curve of a patron's body waiting to order a drink.
The space is dimly lighted, mostly by two copper-dipped, rectangular lighting fixtures hanging above the bar. And on the DJ turntables, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Interpol, Led Zeppelin and the Stones.
Zander's grandfather isn't the only family member who receives a hat tip at the new venue. All of the signature cocktails, created by the Bon Vivant's Alex Straus, are named after Zander's family members, close friends, and an old Chevy dealership his aunt and uncle owned in the '30s called Crockard. The dealership is reincarnated as a cocktail that includes Atlantico Reserva, Cardamaro, Cognac, curacao and black walnut bitters, garnished with a lemon swath.
The T-Bizz, named after his grandfather's nickname, features Angel's Envy Bourbon, ginger syrup, apple cider, amaro, lemon juice and Angostra. All of the cocktails are $14.
If you're looking for the bar, make sure you pay attention to the address. Zander plans on having rotating artwork out front in place of any signage.
"It's just a little bar," said Zander. "I hope this kick-starts the neighborhood."
Grandpa Johnson's is open Monday to Saturday from 9 p.m.
1638 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles.