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TRENDS

Dine Here Often?

On the social scene, restaurant bars are heating up.

December 09, 2007|Monica Corcoran | Times Staff Writer

On a recent Thursday night at AOC, two women in their 30s chatted about books and split a bottle of Fume Blanc. When their small plates -- a prosciutto brioche and assorted cheeses -- arrived, a couple of guys to their right made their move. First, they inquired about the brioche. Then, they introduced themselves. Some lively back and forth followed, along with another round. Thirty minutes later, the women asked for the check, and one guy asked for a phone number.

A lot can happen at a restaurant bar. Elbows nudge, plates get passed and conversations spread like a spilled martini. "You can engage someone sitting next to you and then someone else joins in and suddenly, you're all talking," says Jay Carlile, a regular at Dominick's and AOC. "Or you can say 'hi' to the bartender and not be social at all."

The growing appeal isn't lost on restaurateurs either. The bar area at the Foundry on Melrose just tripled in size, and Fraiche in Culver City now has an in-house DJ. At the two Mozzas, there's a different species of bar dweller for each eatery. The sophisticated Osteria attracts more couples and first dates, while the low-key but plenty noisy pizzeria plays the Clash and caters to singles.

"Restaurants are either expanding their bar seating or creating menus for people who don't want to commit to a full-on meal," sys restaurant publicist Vanessa Kanegaisays. The beauty of sitting at the bar is the fact that your only commitment is to pay the bill. Herewith, the best stools in town:

The Foundry on Melrose

7465 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 651-0915

The setup: Eight seats at the bar, with scattered couches and tables in the brand new adjacent lounge.

Crowd: Young couples with a sitter at home, thirtysomething guys who sleep on beds (not futons) and women catching up on gossip.

Attire: Men can wear blazers or berets -- the crowd is eclectic. Women opt for tunics over skinny jeans and high-heel boots.

Order: The short rib sandwich oozing cheese is the one to beat. Great dirty martinis too.

Best night: Friday and Saturday, when a jazz trio plays.

Mozza, Pizzeria and Osteria

641 N. Highland Ave., L.A.; (323) 297-0100

The setup: A wine bar seats 12 and the pizzeria bar seats eight; a mozzarella bar seats 13 in the Osteria with a back bar for 10.

Crowd: Entertainment industry types, financial players and fashion publicists who ogle each other in between bites at Osteria. Next door, the crowd is almost as powerful, but less inclined to network.

Attire: Wear a suit and you'll blend in with the talent agents; otherwise, jeans work too. Women eschew the Louboutins -- you could be standing for an hour.

Order: Pizzas and Piemonte Barolos rule the bar scene; raise a glass of Prosecco at the Osteria.

Best night: Mondays or Tuesdays are the easiest nights to nab a seat.

Fraiche

9411 Culver Blvd., Culver City; (310) 839-6800

The setup: A long, lively nine-seat bar that spills into the restaurant, with one of the best shows in town: "bar chef" Albert Trummer and his endless stream of flaming, sputtering creations.

Crowd: Considering the outgoing Trummer, less chatty than you'd expect. Of course, that may change when the DJ starts spinning.

Attire: Anything goes, from suits to jeans and tees.

Order: One of the most inventive cocktail menus in town -- check the chalkboard. Ask for a demo.

Best night: Thursday and Saturday nights, when a DJ spins mixes from the '80s and '90s.

Dominick's

8715 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 652-2335

The setup: A convivial square bar that seats 11 and promotes cross-pollination of conversations; six seats at the outdoor patio bar.

Crowd: Cool, artsy younger crowd that is loyal to bartender Susan Brink, who makes introductions like a proper hostess.

Attire: Guys wear hoodies with jeans that cost more than a bottle of Dom; women show cleavage or legs -- never both -- in mini-dresses or bustiers and fedoras.

Order: Italian reds are the specialty, served with traditional pasta dishes or grilled artichokes.

Best night: Tuesdays are "flight nights" and oenophiles descend.

Jar

8225 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; (323) 655-6566

The setup: A long L-shaped zinc-topped bar that seats 16 intimately.

Crowd: Established industry types and writers with desert getaways.

Attire: Women wear chic Helmut Lang separates and muted lip gloss; guys usually don oxfords with slacks or casual blazers.

Order: Sharing a steak or a chop and ordering a few a la carte sides to split is the way to go.

Best night: Mozzarella Mondays.

AOC

8022 W. 3rd St., L.A.; (323) 653-6359

The setup: A sleek cherry wood bar that seats 14; a smaller charcuterie bar seats nine.

Crowd: Foodies who share small plates and bicker over the nuances of a Viognier.

Attire: Scarves worn European-style with Mike & Chris leather jackets for women; guys sport cashmere sweaters and minor stubble.

Order: Stinky cheese plates, charcuterie platters and small dishes get passed left and right.

Best night: Tuesday and Wednesdays are for regulars.

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