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A Hip Bar With a Twist of Cozy

At Vine in Hollywood, newfangled cocktails and old-fashioned fondue attract an eclectic crowd.

January 17, 2002|KASTLE WASERMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Fondue's star is on the rise. Not long ago, dented pots and stemmed forks were a garage sale bargain. Now the melted-food fad is back on the party map at Vine.

One of the new bars-with-a-twist to open in the booming Hollywood area, Vine is a relaxed yet hip oasis for the club-weary looking to unwind over flame-warmed concoctions. And the trendy partyers need not worry--this fondue has been updated out of the shag carpet and wood paneling era.

A clientele of rock 'n' rollers, dance club strays, fashionistas and bar hoppers regularly checks into Vine to sip newfangled cocktails and dip bread to the beat of resident deejays. The eclectic crowd may be a reflection of the bar's owners, two couples with credentials as L.A. fashion and night-life impresarios. Rose Apodaca Jones, West Coast bureau chief of Women's Wear Daily/W Magazine and her husband, Simon Jones, a former special projects manager to designer Richard Tyler, are half the team. The other half represents two of the hot projects on the Cahuenga corridor: designer Liz Khader is co-owner of the boutique Blest, and her husband, Samir, is co-owner and manager at Beauty Bar.

Rose Apodaca Jones and her partners were looking to provide a little nourishment and a relaxing club alternative. "I love that sweaty punk rock feel," she says. "But we wanted someplace where you can come and kick back, talk and eat."

Fondue had a cozy appeal, and fostered the kind of intimacy that's been missing on L.A.'s night scene. And while the menu is a bit retro, the vibe is quite contemporary. The only kitschy throwback touches are beanbag chairs in the upstairs lounge and some '60s-inspired hanging lamps. A cadre of in-house deejays spin up-to-the-minute grooves of soul, jazz, rock, ambient and hip-hop. The owners also plan to book live acts in the near future.

This fashionable take on fondue is a far cry from its origins. Fondue--which means "to melt"--was a common dish among struggling peasants in the French-speaking areas of Switzerland, who were trying to make use of hardened cheese and stale bread. At Vine, chef Dave Northrup develops new interpretations on the classic cheese (and chocolate) standards. Veggies, cubed potatoes and bread pieces carry the savory offerings such as bacon, cheddar and ale, bleu cheese and truffle or spicy salsa. For meat eaters, skewers of marinated chicken, beef and shrimp were recently added to the menu.

Dessert fondues are served with strawberries, banana slices and cubes of poundcake and brownies. Choices such as marshmallow-and-caramel-layered rocky road, white chocolate and raspberry swirl or peanut butter cup satisfy the sweet tooth.

Northrup's constantly evolving menu occasionally borrows a few ideas, such as the Perfect Ten Fondue (a Swiss cheese blend named after actress Bo Derek who lent her recipe to the bar).

The drink menu also gets creative. At present, the bar has only a beer and wine license, which has forced the bartenders to experiment with new taste sensations. They came up with their own drink list of "sake-tinis"--martinis made with a flavored sake-style beverage called Soju. The cocktails taste almost like the vodka version except with a dry sweetness--think Jolly Ranchers hard candy in a glass. According to Simon, the vanilla hazelnut martini and very berry martini are the big sellers but customers have been known to work their way down the drink list. "It takes awhile to get people to try new things because they're fairly set in what they drink. But once they've had one or two of these, they want to try more," he says.

Though the owners plan to expand the bar, for now they enjoy the vibe of being a beer-and-wine-only establishment. "The crowds that we get here don't get wasted and tear things up," says Simon. "People are still having a nice time, getting a good buzz but it's not drunken debauchery."

Sunday afternoons the bar opens at 2 p.m. for those looking for a hair-of-the-dog and darkened setting.

And Jones says that even though they serve food, she wants Vine to be seen as a bar. "We thought maybe we would get an early crowd who wants to eat," she says, "but we tend to do most of our fondue sales from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. I suppose it beats Taco Bell."

Vine, 1235 N. Vine St., Hollywood. Tuesday-Saturday, 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Last fondue orders at 1 a.m. No cover. Fondues, $8 to $20. (323) 960-0800.

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