Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Five Things You Will Notice About The Veranda Bar

I always thought it was called the Hotel Figueroa Bar until a week ago when I was reading about the Top Ten Nightlife Spots in Downtown Los Angeles in Los Angeles Magazine. For the past two years, I thought that was the name of the bar. I was mistaken. It's actually called the Veranda Bar. Despite the name change, though, this bar is still one of the best hidden gems in L.A.

I first went to this bar around the illegal drinking age of 19 years old with my cousin Tony. Tony knows all the places to go in L.A.--he's "That Guy." And thank God for him, because without his vast knowledge of nightlife hotspots and mixology, well, I'd probably still be at the 9-0 near USC (not that there is anything wrong with the 9-0, I fucking love that place, but it's not the only bar in L.A.--hear that Trojans?). Technically, the Veranda Bar was the first legitimate bar I ever went to, and what a first bar it was! The place exudes classiness. It exemplifies sophistication. It emanates the mood of chill.

The first thing one will notice is that, unless it is Friday or Saturday, there is no door man to check IDs. Before I turned 21, there was many a time that I would simply walk in and just order a drink, just as if I owned the place. That's partially the key to getting drinks as a minor--confidence. Doormen can smell fear--it's like their 7th sense, right behind the 6th sense of differentiating a fake ID from a real one.

Now you know my rule: if it has a good dirty martini, I'm going to have a dirty good time. The dirty martini here is choice. Like all the drinks at the Veranda Bar, the dirty martini is stiff and strong with sweet sweet alcohol. This particular martini is muddied with olive juice--that's extra dirty, just the way I like it ("That's what she said.")

The second thing you notice is the old Angeleno architecture of the lounge and bar area. It reminds me of Spanish deco with its acrylic patterned walls and stain-glass doors. Only one bartender at a time mans the bar. The bartenders are perhaps one of the best features about the bar--they are just so goddam friendly. They wear the old floral . . . I'm not sure what they're called actually. They're like dresses, but they're not dresses because men can wear them too. It's like ancient Spanish ritual shit or something. But I dig it.

Each time I go to Veranda, I ask the bartender how they got to be a bartender there. Each one has provided very interesting insights and stories about the world of bartending. One bartender said she worked her way up at TGIFriday's as a bartender, then started dating the manager of Hotel Figueroa. He hired her, they broke up, he got fired, and she got promoted. Funny world, huh?

Another guy wanted to be an actor (in L.A., surprise, surprise), but obviously it didn't work out. He was friends with a club promoter, who got him a job as a barback at Area. He then started practicing making drinks after hours with the bartenders. One of the bartenders landed a gig at the Veranda Bar. When he got sick, he called up this guy, the guy filled in. He did such a great job that they hired him two weeks later. Funny world huh?

The third thing you'll notice about the Veranda Bar, and perhaps its best feature, is the outside lounge by the pool. It is quite a sight to see. Although the area is relatively small, it evokes a cozy feeling of comfort and warmth. The small pool is the centerpiece of the outside patio as the tables surround it on all sides. Chinese lanterns hang from the trees, single candles adorn each table for 2-4 people, the pool's light glows different colors (blue to green to purple to pink to blue again, etc.). All this plus the bright lights of the visceral L.A. skyline give off a sheer romantic and chill atmosphere.

The fourth thing you will notice is the crowd. This is not a party bar. It's a bar for great people and great conversation. Groups can range from 2 to 30 people. They usually are a mix of hipsters, tourists, intellectuals, hotel guests, and sports fans coming back from games at the Staples Center. It's a really good crowd, just laidback, no drama. And there's always a story. Last night, for example, I was with, well, let's just call her Wonderful, and we saw various groups of people, as I always do here. So there's this group of around 15 people--kind of a sausage fest with 4 girls and 11 guys. Wonderful offers to buy the next round and walks to the bar. Meanwhile, a woman is carefully holding the hand of another girl, who seems to be stumbling and slurring her speech. They walk right by me, and I catch wind of their conversation.

The Slurrer: Oh ma fuggin gawd, I can't buhlieve I gots so drunk toonite.
Other Girl: It's okay, honey, it's your birthday. You're supposed to be drunk.
Kage: Hell yeah you are!
The Slurrer: Hellz ya! Wait, it's ma birfday?

I won't lie when I say I laughed the whole time it took Wonderful to come back with the drinks.

The fifth thing you'll notice is something that you won't notice for a while because it is "so unL.A." The bar is hidden behind the three buildings on Figueroa and Olympic that always have a three-piece advertisement. Currently, they have a huge advertisement for Tropic Thunder with Jack Black, Ben Stiller, and Robert Downey, Jr. on each building, respectively. So you're sitting outside, hidden behind these large buildings, it's an open area, and all the sudden, it hits you: you're in the middle of Downtown Los Angeles. How does this oasis thrive in the most urban of jungles?

Well, that's the thing about Los Angeles. It's not your typical beauty. Where some would say that natural beauty derives from forests and nature and grass and flowers and rivers, I say fuck that. Los Angeles is beautiful in its own industrial right. The architecture and lights of the buildings, the color the sky turns because of the chemistry of smog and sunlight, the hidden alleyways, the rows and rows of traffic on the freeway, the vegetation that pokes its head out for some air, the people alone. Los Angeles is a place where different ideas, no matter how contradictory, can come together in synergy and make something lovely out of something ugly. It's befitting that this alcoholic Garden of Eden would hide among the giant towers, crescendo police sirens, and starless sky.

Each time I go to the Veranda Bar, each experience is more enjoyable than the last. The second time I went was for my buddy Internal's 21st birthday. We and two other pledge bros spent the night smoking cigars and drinking whiskey. We talked about the future and the possibilities that awaited us with this whole new world of 21 year old manhood at our fingertips. The third time I went was on a blind date--I can happily (hopefully) say that she was mighty impressed. The last time I went, last night, was with Wonderful, and well, the night was wonderful.

If you ever wanna get drunk at heaven, all you have to do is find the secret spot on Figueroa and Olympic.

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