There are precious few bars in Los Angeles that are welcoming, upscale and have a legitimate claim on pre-1950s Hollywood drinking history. This weekend sees the return of a great one, the Writer's Room, a space that once belonged to the famed Musso & Frank Grill. In its early days it was referred to as the "back room," where writers such as Raymond Chandler and F. Scott Fitzgerald were rumored to toss back gimlets.
"We want to bring the room back to life in a way that reflects the past, yet offers something new that inspires creative types living in L.A. now," said managing partner Abdi Manavi.
To be clear, the Writer's Room is not in any way affiliated with still-popular Musso & Frank (which declined to comment on the Writer's Room), the oldest restaurant in Hollywood. But there's little doubt the dimly lighted lounge is a homage to the grill's original back room.
"We want to really try and re-create a little old-school Hollywood feel with the room based on the history and bring some class back," said another of the lounge's partners, Nur Khan, via phone from New York.
"No one is going to be dancing on top of tables at the Writer's Room," he relayed.
Perhaps that's because the 1,000-square-foot bar is not designed for dancing — it's designed for drinking, socializing and perhaps a bit of furtive celebrity spotting as guests enter via a discreet back entrance away from Hollywood Boulevard's bright lights and harsh hustle.
Nestled between Supperclub at the Vogue Theater and Musso & Frank, the new lounge greets guests via a small garden patio around the back, which leads to a wooden staircase. High-back booths line one wall opposite the bar, softly lighted via sconces with a slightly Art Deco feel.
The cozy bar's most curious feature is an antique 1920s Parisian-style copper elevator cage sourced from a building in New York. Velvet cloth curtains conceal a daybed inside the regal-looking cage, where VIP patrons can sip craft cocktails in private.
The interior, as put together by Manavi and well-known local club designer Gulla Jonsdottir, is clean and understated, but the overall vibe of the lounge is nothing Angelenos can't already find at several other spots from Culver City to downtown.
For bicoastal scenemakers, however, the real note of interest may be the involvement of Manhattan-based bar owner Nur Khan. The 44-year-old is behind some of New York's best-known bohemian hangs, including (now closed) mid-1990s Haunt Wax, Soho's Sway, the Rose Bar at the Gramercy Hotel and freshly opened Chelsea hot spot the Electric Room.
"We draw a musically literate crowd from the film and music world," said partner Khan, who considers the Writer's Room his first L.A. venture. Of his Manhattan properties, he said, "We don't play Top 40 music.... We create a niche vibe and people who come to my bars know what to expect."
For starters, that means guests may hear the Black Keys, the Kills, Phoenix and "anything that Jack White does," Khan said. Later at night, "the music will pick up."
Actors Jason Segel, Jack Huston and film producer Holly Wiersma are also on board to help spread the word. James Franco, once connected to the bar, is no longer a partner. For cocktails, they have drafted former Doheny bartender Daniel Nelson.
But don't expect a classic-heavy cocktail menu drawn from the 1930s here — instead, the flame-haired bar manager says he'll be using fresh local ingredients and "draw on the diversity of L.A.'s different ethnic neighborhoods" for libation inspiration. Think clever variations on classics such as the Gin Rickey. "I hate the word 'fusion,' but I like the idea of using classic bar technique but introducing modern flavors," Nelson said.
Manavi is aiming to lure guests from analogous nearby scenes at Hemingway's, the Roosevelt Hotel's Teddy's and the Spare Room, or Chateau Marmont.
Khan echoes the sentiment that the venue will simply be a low-key meeting place for a connected crowd.
"A friends and family vibe in a small room … that's what we're shooting for," said the New Yorker, who frowns upon bottle service.
And as to the lineage of writers actually writing in the room? It may have been a stretch for one famous writer.
"I never came across a specific reference anywhere in Chandler's archives to the 'back room' at Musso's," said Judith Freeman, author of "The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved," via email. Though she notes that he did drink and did frequent the restaurant, she said it was unlikely he was there sipping whiskey while writing.
"It doesn't quite sound like Chandler.... I can't imagine him writing anything in a bar, except maybe a couple of notes on a napkin," she said. "He was really a homebody, tethered to his wife and their predictable routines."
Manavi and Khan are hoping a new generation of scribes and scene makers won't be nearly as predictable.
The Writer's Room
Where: 6685 Hollywood Blvd (back entrance only)
When: 9 p.m.-2 a.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday
Price: No cover, but subject to guest-listed/private eventsCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times