A single red door stands out along a wall dyed yellow by the bright lights on Vermont Avenue in Koreatown. There’s no signage to ensure you’re at the right place. To the right, Stall 239, a new walk-up restaurant serving international street food and artisan sandwiches, has closed for the night. A person looks through a peephole after two knocks on the door.
The door opens into a small, dimly lit waiting room with an expansive wall of doorknobs. As a hostess welcomes you to Lock & Key, she points to the dozens of doorknobs, “Try out a knob to get in.” (The hostess will give you a hint if you're too far from the mark.)
Only one doorknob gives you access to this 1920s-era, Hollywood-meets-Koreatown speakeasy. Once inside, a large white marble bar showcases fresh drink accoutrements from a local farmers market. Riveted green leather chairs and banquettes are inviting, while dark wood, black walls patterned with stencils of gold chains and moody jazz music create a mellow atmosphere.
A menu of 10 craft cocktails developed by Christophe Namer, formerly of the now-shuttered Pastis, sits framed at the bar between crystal punch bowls filled with fresh fruit. A bartender promises, upon inquiry, that the Torpedo "will take you on a journey."
The pear vodka, ginger, sesame oil and black pepper concoction doesn't disappoint. Artichoke, serrano peppers, coriander seeds and egg whites are other savory items that make their way into Lock & Key’s signature cocktails.
A few young professionals fill the bar seating while a group of hungry diners snap pictures of Stall 239 offerings like galbi, fried chicken and garlic fries that are served inside the bar until 10 p.m. during the week.
The kitchen plans to stay open later on weekends, which means you won’t have to step away from the bar to indulge in a drunken street food binge.
239 S. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 389-5625.