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GOING OUT | A NIGHT AT THE BAR

Good karma, great vibe

It's sort of like a New York club, without the hassle.

September 09, 2004|Heidi Siegmund Cuda | Special to The Times

Adecade ago, there was no greater Hollywood dive than the Ski Room, the gritty bar at the corner of Sunset and Bronson. You could shoot a game of billiards at its lumpy pool table, knock back a shot of watered-down liquor and drop a quarter in its well-worn jukebox to hear Neil Diamond wail, "I am, I cried, I am, said I ...." Its cast of characters was straight out of "Barfly," and the place was so nappy that if you excavated it, you'd probably find Jimmy Hoffa's body.

Fast forward to 2004. The once-seedy spot is now a lovely new venue called the Bar -- a simple, elegant lounge attracting a crowd of fresh-faced club kids.

"Our plan was to create an intimate, very cool bar for people to go any day of the week," says Laurie Mulstay, a Bar co-owner, who met her partners while they were all working at Avalon. "We wanted a place with a New York vibe but without the ropes and the trendiness."

But it almost didn't happen.

To score the location, Mulstay and her partners, Sky Reiss (one of the people behind Las Palmas) and Ronnie Marino, had to jump through some hoops -- including getting their karma checked by a fortune teller from Thailand.

In recent years, the building had become home to Raji's, an offshoot of the famed Raji's nightclub that was destroyed in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Raji's Thai owners had no desire to sell, so Reiss proposed a lease agreement that would enable him and his partners to remodel the place. The owners agreed only after Mulstay, Reiss and Marino passed muster with the family fortuneteller.

Says Reiss: "We all sat in a room and drank Thai tea and I guess we checked out because when it was over, we shook hands and they said we could do what we wanted."

The first order of business was tearing down its crusty low ceiling, adding another 12 feet in height.

"Needless to say, I ate of lot of rat poop when I was ripping it down," says Reiss, who with Marino and Mulstay designed the changes.

"The funny thing is, we all went in our separate corners and made drawings of what we wanted the place to look like, and when we brought it all together, we all had the exact same thing in mind," says Marino, a New York transplant who got his start in the club biz working for Rande Gerber's Whisky Bar.

The result is a classic style lounge. Only a "Cocktails" sign outside lets you know you're in the right place.

Upon entering, you'll find a row of seats to your left and multiple booths to your right. A long bar fills out the room, which is cooled by multiple ceiling fans. The warm vibe is enhanced by deep burgundy vintage wallpaper and sconces illuminating the room with amber hues.

The trio maximized the small space by adding a narrow outdoor smoking area and second-level DJ booth, which they fill three nights a week.

"It's one of the coolest places I've come across in a long time," says Kathy Jeung, a makeup artist who DJs at the Bar. "It's just instantly comfortable. It has a great ambience without being pretentious. And on the nights I'm working, I'm inspired by the requests because the people who go there have a great musical history. I spin everything from glam rock to trailer-park rock to punk rock and I get great inspiration from the crowd."

Although such stars as Heath Ledger, Kirsten Dunst, Spike Jonze and Gwen Stefani have popped into the Bar, it's more a spot for people who want to escape the celebrity glare rather than those who want to be seen on the scene.

"I like this place because it's so easy," says actor Sean Sweeney, who stopped in on a recent Saturday to hang with friends. "There's no cover, no list, no one harassing you at the door. And the location is cool. It's like the fringes of Hollywood."

To be sure, the Bar butts up against a seedy motel, but the neighborhood grit is part of the appeal.

"I'm sorry, but I can't do Cahuenga anymore, it's too much of a scene," says Amber Veole, a Bar regular. "This place opened up and this is my spot now. I can park on the street, walk right in and everything's chill."

Heidi Siegmund Cuda can be reached at weekend@latimes.com.

*

The Bar

Where: 5851 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood

When: 8 p.m.-2 a.m. nightly

Parking: Free street parking after 7 p.m. or $5 parking in adjacent lot.

Info: (323) 468-9154

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