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Here Is Now

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Firehouse was red-hot then. Here is Day-Glo now.

It didn’t take long for West Hollywood lounge denizens to notice the major face lift at 696 N. Robertson Blvd. The response so far? Long lines on Friday and Saturday nights for up-close-and-personal viewings.

Open barely eight weeks in its striking yellow building, here lounge has the buzz that its four investors previously earned at the similarly cool-and-lowercase g lounge in New York City’s Chelsea district. The sleek ‘60s-style haven produces a regular stream of conversation--not shouting--a major distinction from the old Firehouse, which closed 19 months ago. There, dancing was a main draw, despite little room for it. Here, it’s more about talking and listening. And, of course, looking.

For now that means no dance floor and no go-go girls or boys. (It’s worth noting that the ladies do attend here given the Boys Town location.) Blue and purple neon casts a sexy glow, and six rotating house DJs provide the soundtrack. But someone’s set reasonable limits on the volume knob, and you won’t be distracted from a tete-a-tete by video monitors.

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On a recent Saturday night, a maximum 246-person occupancy moved smoothly through the club’s two rectangular lounge areas and the huge magic forest of a patio. The first room entered features wall banquettes for intimate sit-down chatting. The main room in the rear, with its sizable and well-tended square bar in the center, encourages the stand-up approach.

Many people on that night seemed pleased (no small feat), and some expressed surprise that such fresh surroundings created such an old-fashioned good time.

“It’s the only bar in L.A. that I’ve been to in a long while where you can have a real conversation,” says Paul McAvene, 39, a costume designer and visual effects artist. “People don’t have to yell to each other, ‘What gym do you go to? What car do you drive?’”

Leigh Gernert, an entertainment travel director, summed it up: “It’s a very comfortable bar.” He’s more attracted to brains than brawn, and so appreciates the ambience at here.

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“I call this the ‘Seinfeld’ bar,” said owner Tony Ross, because it has no gimmick, is about nothing.

Ross, 35, the youngest of here’s four co-owners, says the slick rooms in the high-traffic location might be intimidating, “but we go over backward to make people feel comfortable.”

And there was Ross, later on, handing out free drink tickets to folks who had been patiently waiting in a line that usually does move fast after 10:30 p.m.

And just know too that in addition to its civilized lines and clean, smooth design, here also has a bit of sass to go with all that chat. As Ross circulates the lounge, he greets a group of strapping drag artists wearing Christmas tree balls as hats. They don’t have to say a thing. They just keep walking.

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Here, 696 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood, 4 p.m.-2 a.m. daily; happy hours 4-8 p.m. 21 and older. Valet parking available across the street in Moomba’s restaurant lot. www.herelounge.com.(310) 360-8455.


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