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SOCIAL CLIMES / UP ALL NIGHT

The Wurst Kind of Mecca

July 03, 1994|HILLARY JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For 34 years, the Red Lion Tavern in Silver Lake has been serving up beer and bratwurst to a loyal clientele of immigrants, families, dressed-down neighborhood hipsters and fraternity boys in search of the ultimate beer experience.

The Red Lion is a dark, cozy place, with wood paneled walls, burgundy carpeting and black vinyl booths. A collection of German beer steins lines the rafters, and the walls are hung with yellowed paintings of monks and peasants drinking beer. In the movies, this is the kind of place where the villagers band together to hide out from vampires.

Steve Evans is one of the regulars. "It's kind of hard to explain the Red Lion. It's sort of a mecca. Silver Lake has an artsy thing going on, and this is just a nice little neighborhood bar. I spent my youth in Europe, and it's great coming back here."

The barmaids are dressed in lederhosen and many have German accents. For years, most orders were placed in German.

"When I started here eight years ago, it was very different," says barmaid Sophia Payne, who grew up in Munich. "The girls all worked here for 20 years and it was wild. They used to dance on the bar. Now you don't see anyone flashing their boobs or anything like that."

Helmut Gebhard, also from Munich, sings and plays the accordion Wednesday through Saturday. "I've been playing here 10 years now. We have an early dinner crowd that splits by around 10. Then the younger crowd comes in. I never yodeled in Germany. I learned here. In Germany, I was a pop singer."

Indeed, there are shades of Tony Bennett in Gebhard's polkas, and his repertoire includes such lost treasures as "Knock Three Times (on the Ceiling if You Want Me)," a number that inexplicably inspires several people to stand up between the tables and do the funky chicken.

Many brave and foolhardy souls come here to get the infamous "Boot," which in this case has nothing to do with having too many parking tickets but might still prevent you from driving home. The Red Lion's boot is a towering two liters of ale served in a vessel the shape--and size--of a substantial piece of footwear. A forest of boots towering over the heads of a gaggle of college boys is an awesome and terrible sight.

More modest drinkers, or those with weaker forearms, can order by the half-liter. The brews on tap have such names as Konig Pilsner, Dortmunder Ritter Brau and Warsteiner, and the bar staff will happily try to match you up with the one that suits your personality and temperament.

If you're having trouble choosing among the 10 varieties of schnapps, Payne might recommend the Jagermeister, an herbal concoction that tastes like medicine. Dinners include such German familiars as bratwurst, knackwurst, schnitzel and potato salad.

*

Where: The Red Lion Tavern, 2366 Glendale Blvd., Silver Lake; (213) 662-5337.

When: Open daily 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Cost: Beer on tap is $4.50 for a half liter. The Boot $17.

Jagermeister $2.75. Dinners $6.95 to $10.95.

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