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L.A. defines happy hour

The drinks are cold, the food is good and cheap, and the scenery isn't bad, either.

November 07, 2002|Julia Gaynor | Special to The Times

This is a post-work crowd; bankers, lawyers, other local business people come with their ties loosened to kvetch about work, wait for traffic to die down, or feast on the incredible $1.95 burgers, quesadillas or other outrageously cheap food on offer from 3 to 11 p.m. Men are in suits or business casual, women wear twin sets and slacks. This could be anywhere in America at this time of day.

The waitress brings a beer to a regular who didn't even have to order first.

Edmund Sumner, a 25-year-old sales consultant for Minolta who's sitting with his boss, looks the picture of a future corporate raider, kind of a Mini-Me of the man sitting across from him. He says they like to kill time here between work and Clippers games. "We talk about work and women. I have to gain wisdom from my elders," he says, smirking. Then he adds, "The canvas here is always painted well." Translation: The women are hot.

They're not the only ones who feel that way. Inside, six attractive women in their 20s sit at a round table. They're being checked out and chatted up by a gaggle of men in suits.

"He just asked me out," a brunet mouths excitedly to her friend. "Should I go out with him?"

"Which one is he?" her friend mouths back.

"The one with the blue tie."

"Definitely."

One of the women at the table, Michelle Rodriguez, is a film publicist who lives and works in Hollywood. She says they take the subway here on Friday nights because they're tired of the Hollywood scene. "It's the most social happy hour in L.A.," she says. "More people will actually talk to you here than anywhere else."

One final note on McCormick & Schmick's: There are several branches of this chain, and the one in Beverly Hills does not have the "Cheers" factor. The staff is dismissive of the happy hour crowd, practically ignoring them in favor of the full-paying customers, and you can't special-order your burger. In Beverly Hills, you get what you pay for.

6 p.m. Wednesday

It's time for the beach and Chaya Venice. The place is packed, and the rule here is that you must be seated at the bar or a table to enjoy the generous sushi happy hour. But hey, this is Venice, man, the laid-back capital of the world, and your hostess, Chanel, does her best to make it easy for you.

The crowd here is well-heeled, very good-looking, 30s and 40s, mostly locals who seem to know one another or want to get to know one another better. Most people are chatting with friends, but several sit alone, reading or talking to the bartender.

Chrissie Wilson, a writer and resident Venetian, is tall and striking, with a mane of mussed long blond hair. She's perched at the sushi bar, a $3 bowl of miso soup to her right, a glass of chardonnay to her left. She says she stops by several times a week and doesn't have any problem showing up on her own. "This is my local. When you're in a city and live alone, there's always that sense of being out of the loop a bit, and it's nice if there's a place you can go and feel at home. I'm never awkward coming by myself." Plus, she adds, people on the staff treat regulars like friends. This is evident by the number of times Chanel hugs entering patrons.

There are no drink specials here, but you can order $3 sushi or scallops from one of the best restaurants in L.A. and enjoy a few hours of very civilized chill time, Venetian-style.

7 p.m. Thursday

At Meet Me Cafe, four slightly self-conscious bongo players play enthusiastically in the corner; stylish girls in ultra-low cut jeans sprawl on comfy couches; and beautiful boys in black sip $3 beers and munch on $2 falafel with tahini, eyes darting to see who's arrived.

This funky Beverly Hills restaurant is a popular lunch spot with the entertainment industry folk who work around Robertson and Wilshire boulevards, and once a week it opens its doors for industry happy hour, cashing in on the glut of agents, models, actors, and writers who visit or work at one of the acronyms in this 'hood: CAA, BMG, ICM and the like.

"The idea of Meet Me is just that," owner Ronit Mory says. "Customers get a chance to hook up in an informal setting. Last week, a regular who's a model met a producer, and who knows?" The question lingers with that special Hollywood brand of optimism until you see what truly sets this place apart: two books, one red and one blue, that are part of the in-house dating service.

Each book includes customers' personal profiles -- red for women, blue for men, anonymous of course -- for other patrons who are single and looking. If you like what you see, give a waiter the corresponding code number for the desired personal and Ronit will do the rest, arranging a date at the cafe. For those not in the market for a model or agent to date, the books are an entertaining read.

7 p.m. Friday

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