New flavor to retro hangouts
By Betty Hallock
Times Staff Writer
September 27, 2006
At Little Pedro's, where old L.A. noir meets new down-low hip, bar patrons knock back shots of vodka dropped in Red Bull. At the just-opened pirate-themed Redwood Bar and Grill, the ahoy-matey paraphernalia and a DJ booth dress up the former hangout of journalists and judges. Meanwhile, MySpacers make the scene at the decades-old flamenco supper club El Cid.
Suddenly, everything old is hip-ified again.
There's much that's gloriously retro about these new-old landmark hot spots; their latest owners are preserving atmosphere, details of décor and even some of the entertainment. But updated menus are central to the strategy in bringing them back to life.
Despite the Jolly Roger hanging over the bar, downtown's Redwood still looks like the place that once hosted the likes of Mickey Cohen or Richard Nixon, a place where — in another newspaper era — an editor might have found a stray reporter nursing a Scotch. It's all dark wood and low lighting.
Co-owners Christian Frizzell and Dev Dugal have kept the name and preserved a watering-hole feeling. "We wanted to appeal to the former clientele too," says Frizzell. "As soon as we got the lease on this place we knew we would keep the name Redwood." But the menu has been transformed: grilled stuffed squid, skirt steak and seared scallops over risotto — which will be offered promptly after final inspections.
Across the 1st Street bridge just east of Little Tokyo, Little Pedro's — one of L.A.'s oldest bars — was built in the late 1800s and is said to have once housed a brothel. It has been drawing the cool crowd at least since designer and restaurateur Dana Hollister, who is also an owner of Cliff's Edge in Silver Lake and the Brite Spot, revamped the place this year. She's planning a new menu by chef Michael Borassi — which might include such dishes as fennel-encrusted sea bass, grilled shrimp salad or a cheese plate.
"I just walked in and it had that vibe — that it was just on the edge of being completely brilliant," Hollister says. Now a stuffed polar bear hangs over the bar and there's a 13-foot shuffleboard in the corner. Friday's Punky Reggae Party draws hipsters while jazz singer Mickey Champion (an L.A. fixture for decades) still belts 'em out on Tuesdays.
And why keep the name Little Pedro's? "Because that's what we ended up naming the polar bear."
At El Cid in Silver Lake, the plastic fake plants are gone, but not the flamenco dancers, some of whom have been clicking their castanets for more than 20 years.
"I didn't want to offend the flamenco gods" by changing the place too much, co-owner Tobin Shea says. But he has added an ever-changing roster of rock bands, comedy acts and cabaret shows. And much of the décor — call it circa-1961 medieval Spanish opera house — is intact too.
Crab-stuffed mushrooms are a holdover from a bygone era, but the tapas menu is new and diners are offered such fare as Spanish tortilla, spicy albacore crostini, pan-roasted shrimp with red-pepper butter or seared beef tenderloin. "We've been putting more emphasis on the food. The food has gotten so much better," Shea says. Maybe that's what's appeasing the flamenco gods.