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THE GUIDE : NIGHTLIFE

A pub for downtown dwellers

The Association puts an English spin on an L.A. lounge. Think low-key, not trendy nightspot.

December 05, 2008|Charlie Amter | Amter is a Times staff writer.

Savvy downtown denizens who have taken a stroll down 6th Street near South Main Street recently may have noticed a familiar-looking black door leading to the basement of a residential loft building.

"This is an exact replica of the 10 Downing door," said London-born bar owner Ashley Joyce, referring to the official residence of the British prime minister at 10 Downing Street in London. The L.A. version, replete with brass lion head door knocker, is actually the entrance to his latest venture, the Association. "It's a little cheeky, and I can imagine this is what goes on at 10 Downing Street . . . very austere outside, and inside they're all drinking and having a laugh."

But Joyce's new lounge, which opened with little fanfare Wednesday to friends and family at 110 E. 6th St. is no joke -- nor is it a cheesy homage to England. It might just be his best Los Angeles offering: high praise indeed for the man behind some of Hollywood's most beloved and enduring low-key hangouts such as the Burgundy Room.

"This one is what we call in England a 'proper boozer,' " Joyce said inside his sleek lounge Tuesday. The dimly lighted subterranean space has a "members only" vibe and feels like a cross between West Hollywood's Crown Bar and Cedd Moses' Seven Grand.

"I come from a culture where everyone deserves to have a proper local [bar] as part of their lifestyle," he said. "I think that's beginning to happen here [downtown]," he continued between sips of a Ardbeg Scotch whisky.

Joyce and longtime partner John Lasker's timing couldn't be better. Despite a recession, this particular stretch of 6th Street looks like it will be hot this winter.

Several notable additions to the neighborhood are forthcoming, and a revamped Cole's opens to the public this weekend right next door, leading some to liken this loft-filled central part of downtown to neighborhoods such as Manhattan's East Village in the mid-1990s.

But make no mistake, the Association is not your typical trendy nightspot. Instead, Joyce hopes to offer those in the neighborhood a warm, inviting "local" they can call home. Call it an updated take on the pub, with DJs on weekends.

"Our goal is really to connect with the downtown community, so they feel we're a part of their lifestyle," Joyce said. "The bars that I do are based on the simple philosophy of looking after people and giving them a quality experience."

That simple philosophy has served the 44-year-old well over the last 15 years or so at his other bars, and the Association follows a well-worn path of understated-yet-stylish destinations such as Winston's, the Well or even Joyce's own the Room in Hollywood. These are spots that feel appropriate for the best of economic times, or the worst.

There are no "theme" elements here; just smart-looking brown leather banquettes, mirrored light fixtures in the ceiling, brass accents everywhere and a regal-looking carpet. And unlike some Hollywood clubs with over-the-top design, no promoters.

"We won't work with promoters," he said. "We will simply be the reliable spot where you will get a quality drink. You're going to know the bartender here."

Bartenders at the Association are actually an integral part of the bar's experiential feel. Joyce tapped San Francisco-based spirits aficionado Kent Howard to design the drink menu, which is heavy on classics such as the Brown Derby, one of L.A.'s contributions to the cocktail canon.

"In San Francisco, there's a huge culture for classic cocktails," Howard said Tuesday, in town to oversee the opening. "We'd like to introduce that here in L.A., but we're not going to be pretentious about it and we will engage the drinker." Howard is on loan from the San Francisco restaurant Nopa.

With a simple design scheme and a reverential bar menu seemingly squared away, the only challenge that remains for the Association, aside from parking concerns and a still-edgy neighborhood, may be its odd name.

So what's behind the cryptic moniker?

"I love the generic nature of it," Joyce said. "It could be English, it could be for private members, it could an underground social thing, it could be a lot of things, and that's what's exciting about it. Ultimately, the bar is about how you define it, it's not up to me to define it . . . customers will figure it out."

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charlie.amter@latimes.com

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The Association

Where: 110 E. 6th St., Los Angeles

When: 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays through Fridays, 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays

Price: No cover

Contact: (213) 627-7385

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