Tweaking the traditional pub

Times Staff Writer

For some L.A. thirtysomethings, the last place they want to meet for drinks is anything that resembles a “sexy” lounge. Instead, sizable swaths of drinkers, specifically beer fans, are flocking to contemporary pubs with just enough of a modern twist to feel like something fresh.

Case in point: Studio City’s just-opened Laurel Tavern (formerly a trendy late-night lounge called Sapphire), which offers 16 microbrews and serves upscale bar food such as pork belly skewers with a maple glaze.

The 100-person-capacity bar, with high ceilings, gray metal drafting stools, matte-finished woodworking, exposed brick and large windows that open up onto Ventura Boulevard, is a far cry from traditional English-style pubs in the area such as the Fox and Hounds.

“We like to fuse rustic with modern,” says Laurel Tavern co-owner Will Shamlian, between sips of a Craftsman 1903. “If we get too slick, it won’t work. . . . We’re not having any ‘theme nights’ or DJs.”

If crowds at the watering hole this month are any indication, it looks like the radical revamp of the former Sapphire space has already turned some curious neighborhood gawkers into regulars.


But whatever you do, don’t call this new hang a gastropub.

“We’re not restaurateurs,” Shamlian says. “We’re not trying to compete with Gordon Ramsay. . . . We’re just doing solid food that goes well with a drink.”

Though it’s safe to group Laurel Tavern with consistently busy and analogous destinations (on a design level, anyway) such as Melrose Avenue’s Village Idiot or Culver City’s Father’s Office, Shamlian says his latest venture is more influenced by East Coast pubs. (He also co-owns downtown’s Library Bar, Silver Lake’s 4100 Bar and others.)

“This is a distinctly American take on the pub,” he says. Indeed, drinking inside the warm environs, with wooden floors salvaged from a 1920s-era Nebraska warehouse, somehow feels uniquely American. The design may mimic the smart pubs in neighborhoods like London’s Primrose Hill, but the food choices, written on a chalkboard, and beer selection, all on tap, are quintessentially Yank.

“Every single beer on the menu is American,” says 36-year-old beer sommelier and consultant Christina Perozzi, who was chosen to create the beer menu. “It’s a nuanced mix of microbrews,” she says, adding that the bar’s offerings mirror what you might find at other area pubs that offer up more pricey Belgian or English ales. “I didn’t want there to be anything too extreme. They wanted an American-style pub. I took that concept and ran with it. These beers [such as Anderson Valley Boont Amber and Bayhawke Honey Blonde Ale] are economical, and nothing is over $6.”

It makes sense that Shamlian and his partner, Mark Leddy, hired Perozzi, who runs the website Laurel Tavern is the kind of destination where a woman new to the beer scene might feel comfortable, as opposed to some brew pubs, traditional English-style pubs or sports bars, where you’ll likely find mostly male brew enthusiasts

“Beer drinkers want a sense of discovery, not only with new beers, but with venues,” Perozzi says. This fall, it looks as if Laurel Tavern is the new promised land for lager louts of all genders -- until the next smart pub opens up, that is.


Laurel Tavern, 11938 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-2 a.m. Sat.-Sun. (818) 506-0777.