Along with the many things that Michael Leko and Will Shamlian got right about Spring St., their new beer-centric pub in downtown’s historic core, there was one small detail they got wrong.
It’s a point of decorum for bars centered around exotic stouts and IPA’s to offer at least one option for good ‘ol American watery beer. Leko and Shamlian went with Busch for theirs. Turns out they overestimated downtowners’ appetites for anything less than serious ale.
“We put it on the menu for the PBR crowd, but we can’t sell it,” Leko said. “It’s coming off. Our people want something nice.”
In a downtown bar scene with a devilishly short window for establishing new spots, “something nice” may be an underserved niche. For collar-popping USC fraternity brothers, high-rolling ingredient snobs or steampunks with handlebar moustaches who ride unicycles home from sazerac night, downtown’s got them covered.
But for scene-unaffiliated neighborhood civilians who want to curl up to an Old Rasputin Russian imperial stout, a worthy conversation and only one visit to the ATM, the easygoing minimalism of Spring St. could be their solution. Leko, who steers a similarly low-key venture a few blocks west at Library Bar, and Shamlian, founder of Silver Lake’s 4100 Bar and several New York spots, saw a schism in downtown’s bars between those catering to a big night out and those frequented by tattooed, tear-in-your-tequila regulars. That left out a core crowd — namely people who actually live there but who don’t beat you over the head with a fixed-gear bike wrench about it.
“We’re here for the neighbors, that’s our total focus,” said Shamlian. “I love Cedd Moses’ places, but they’re more weekend, destination spots, like mini nightclubs. Our goal is to get people in three nights a week. Wednesdays are killing for us now.”
One may need three nights a week to make the rounds of their 26 on-tap beers, which run from a popular Dogfish Head IPA to a Heavenly Hefeweisen and a Firestone Hemp Brown ale, all domestically brewed and hovering in the $5 to $7 range per pint. A small sandwich menu plays up classic New York deli fare with a Californian eye for boutique ingredients — rarely is truffle oil available as drunk food.
A small, curated wine list is available and a full liquor license is pending, but the kaleidoscope of brew is clearly Leko and Shamlian’s main interest. At $10 for a sampler flight, they encourage it to be yours too.
That singularity of purpose carries over to the décor, which hits an unlikely note of industrial-rustic severity. Elemental, unfinished surfaces abound — concrete, metal, ceramic tile. On first glance, it’s a bit like drinking in a train station (any memory of the space’s old tenant, the cozy wine bar 626 Reserve, has been obliterated).
But after a few pints the spatial logic sets in: Spring St. isn’t a haven from downtown, it’s made of the stuff of downtown. What feels like a chilly, impersonal stance is intended as a bit of a litmus test. So many nightlife impresarios have tried to use downtown’s once-blank canvas to realize their private club fantasies. For Leko and Shamlian, who each lived in or skulked about the historic core for years, the city’s center has a spine all its own. And they’ve discovered that a big swath of its people will politely decline Busch, and the bar-scene equivalent thereof.
“There’s a new smash-and-grab place opening up every week down here, and yes, our regulars will go check them out,” Leko said. “But they come back to us and say, ‘Nope, I’m staying here.’ ”
Where: 626-B S. Spring St., L.A.
When: 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays through Fridays; noon to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
Price: most beer is $5 to $7
Info: (213) 622-5859