Mandrake hypnotizes Culver City art crowd

Special to The Times

OF all the watering holes in town, Mandrake is possibly the only one where you can find a framed Raymond Pettibon (“I thought California would be different”) hanging by the restroom door. Since it opened late this summer on a scruffy stretch of La Cienega Boulevard in Culver City, the cozy, makeshift bar has become a hub for arts operatives in the area.

The fripperies of Hollywood’s velvet-roped attractions are absent here, and on most nights patrons attired like extras in a Wes Anderson movie repair to the rear patio to suck on cigarettes and discuss the state of contemporary art.

“There are about 800 people in the L.A. art world,” Chinatown gallerist Daniel Hug said on a recent Thursday. “Internationally, we figured out there are about 20,000 of us altogether.”


“That’s less than the viewership for a hit HBO show!” Norwegian artist Torbjorn Rodland said as he nodded pensively.

Tim Blum, co-owner of the trend-setting gallery Blum & Poe located mere steps away, was also on hand. “My partner and I always wanted a bar in the neighborhood, but we don’t have time to run it,” he said. The solution? Blum and several other nearby gallery owners became the silent investors behind the first bar on Culver City’s sparse arts corridor.

Justin Beal, currently enrolled in the master of fine arts program at USC, splits ownership duties at Mandrake with filmmaker and curator Drew Heitzler and dancer and fashion designer Flora Wiegmann. Beal refurbished what had been a run-down space. His architecture degree from Yale came in handy when he set out to build the bar, hand-craft all the cabinetry and install blond wood paneling in the front room. He also fashioned tiny tables out of lacquered tree rings.

The unassuming place has enjoyed stints as a gay leather joint and an Irish pub. “I used to come here 10 years ago -- long before anybody cool came,” photographer Josh White said the night he threw a bash at Mandrake. Pointing to a corner of the bougainvillea-framed patio, he added, “I slept in that corner several times. But now that they classed up the joint, there are no more slumber parties.”

The Mandrake also has a barren back room dedicated to readings, performances and rotating exhibits, but on most nights DJs spin Alice Cooper and M.I.A. at a set of turntables in the corner.

Regulars hope to maintain the venue’s under-the-radar status. But, Hug said, “I was here one recent Saturday and it was packed full of Hollywood hipster people. I think it’s already been discovered.”



Where: 2692 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City

What: From $3 for Pabst and Tecate beer to $14 for fancy tequila; espresso drinks and a small selection of appetizers from $5 to $10.

When: 2 p.m. to midnight Tuesday through Thursday and Sundays; 2 p.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Info: (310) 837-3297