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Comfortable Glamour

The new C Bar features vodka and caviar in an Art Deco setting in Beverly Hills.

January 08, 1998|HEIDI SIEGMUND CUDA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Los Angeles, circa 1994. Swingers--the restaurant--was at the height of its trendiness. The customers were divided into two camps--those in the club and those angling to get in ("the club" being a metaphor for what's known in high-schoolese as "the in crowd").

While the Beautiful People were striking the poses that come so easily when you're, well, beautiful, the Aspirants were trying to look as if they belonged inside the Warhol-inspired walls of this truly great L.A. diner.

Like those four years spent undergoing puberty in public, it was all pretty cutthroat and scary, but in the middle of the chaos was a waiter called "Johnny C." Johnny C was nice to everyone, in a sincere way that made you feel good about yourself--like, L.A. isn't entirely a hellish abyss and maybe there's hope for a geek like you, too.

This is a significant point, because Johnny C, or Camacho as he's now known, went on to the auspicious task of managing the Sunset Strip's uber-popular Bar Marmont--no small feat when you're an amicable person and you have to turn Parker Posey away from Leonardo DiCaprio's Bar Marmont birthday party.

Now, after putting himself through college in the restaurant biz, he's opened C Bar, and it's a marvel in more ways than one.

Located in Beverly Hills in an Art Deco structure perfectly suited to a caviar and vodka bar and sharing the former location of Chrystie's, a well-heeled club from the '30s, it's well-equipped to usher a new comfortable glamour element into Beverly Hills, which really should have more night spots of interest.

Camacho teamed with the owners of Liquid Kitty, a Westside bar that exists because partners Cedd Moses and Christian Kneedler decided that "there were no bars on the Westside," and the marriage is a good one. Moses, the son of artist Ed Moses, benefits from having lived L.A. from both sides of the class spectrum--poor and wealthy. Kneedler cut his teeth working at the Olive, El Colonial and the Good Luck bar. The three are interested in making everyone who comes to the bar feel comfortable.

"Attitude hurts everybody," says Camacho. "If you're treated badly at one club, it'll make you hesitant to try other places. We've got no room for it here."

Sure, it's a caviar and vodka bar, but, at the end of the day, what it's really all about is a place to get a drink and maybe something to eat, and the young owners know this.

"We wanted a sexy little place that's not so fussy and not so intimidating, no white linen, just plenty of celebration," says Camacho.

Having done their research well in advance of opening the club in November, they determined that caviar bars are quickly becoming a strong trend in London and are angling their way into New York, so that L.A. was primed and ready.

And what could be sexier than caviar? "They call it Aphrodite's eggs," Camacho says. "Bars used to give it away in the '20s and '30s because caviar supposedly prevented hangovers."

Whether that's truth or fiction, it makes a good story, and the menu offers (at modest prices, by the way) such sensual delicacies as Gravlax rolls, a combo order of caviar and champagne and even a salmon pastrami reuben. Then there's the vodka selection, which culls the best of the beverage from 14 countries.

But it's the space itself that's C Bar's biggest strength. It's small, chic and smartly designed, with Art Deco curves. The bar is shaped in an oval, which allows guests to walk in a circle, passing each booth and allowing a good glimpse of one's neighbors.

The tin ceiling, which they had trucked in from the East and which changes colors from amber to pink and burgundy depending on the light, adds a warm sensuality to the space.

The C Bar is lined with windows that have been sandblasted with fabulous etchings and murals, some inherited from Chrystie's and some newly designed. It's a terrific touch, because at night all you can see are silhouettes and shadows, adding just the right touch of mystery and romance.

The waitresses wear a costume that's somewhere between a French maid's outfit and a Catholic schoolgirl's uniform.

The cherry on top of this creamy slice of clubland pie is in the music, which comes in softly over the sound system and is loaded with heaps of Stevie Wonder, Isaac Hayes, Barry White and Curtis Mayfield.

Clubs are all about the souls of their owners--who either have them or not--and C Bar's got a whole lotta soul. Which brings us to the moral of this story: Sometimes, even in the shark-infested waters of Hollywood, nice guys do finish first.

BE THERE

C Bar, 8442 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (213) 782-8157. 21 and over, no cover. Noshes served from 5:30 p.m. till 1:30 a.m.

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