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NIGHT LIFE

Santa Monica's Copa D'Oro appeals to patrons of a certain age

February 06, 2009|Charlie Amter

For bargoers of a certain age, finding anywhere to enjoy a cocktail outside of a hotel lounge that's not a trendy club (or a dive bar playing music so loud you can barely hear yourself think) is becoming increasingly difficult.

Enter Santa Monica's Copa D'Oro.

The name is a nod to the California poppy, which Spanish explorers referred to as "cups of gold" (copa de oro), but the real gold for Westside drinkers might just be a quiet-yet-still-hip bar without shrill sorority sisters or high-fivin' sports fans in the middle of a TV-induced male-bonding moment (Copa D'Oro has no DJs, no television and instead boasts artwork-laden exposed brick walls softly lighted by antique-looking bulbs).

"If you look at pictures of California poppies, they look like golden martini glasses," explained the understated lounge's founder, Jonathan Chu, inside his debut night-life project. "That's the whole idea -- we make treasures, one glass at a time."

Accordingly, Chu has tapped former Providence (and Doheny) mixologist Vincenzo Marianella as his main provider of liquid gold, riding a cocktail culture wave that has been bubbling all over Los Angeles for the last five years.

"This is a distinguished bar," Chu says of his 125-person-capacity space, formerly 217, located on Broadway near the busy Third Street Promenade and around the corner from well-liked lounge Chloe.

"We are catering to a slightly older demographic that is maybe a little more educated, a little bit more traveled, a little bit more literate. My friends are always complaining that they have nowhere to go [for drinks], so I opened Copa to help fill that void."

Tuesday evening, the 2,000-square-foot space was humming with a post-work assortment of smartly dressed urban professionals intently eyeing colorful concoctions such as Marianella's take on a cucumber julep. There were still a few tables available behind the busy stretch of patrons intently watching Marianella create exotic drinks, such as his apple peach fizz, at the bar.

Outside on Broadway, a well-dressed doorman stealthily runs interference steps away from the sedate scene inside; all part of an effort to keep "undesirables" out of the carefully curated bar. Despite the fact that there is no "velvet rope," Broadway's cast of characters (including a backpack-toting tourist from a hostel asking to use the restroom and a seemingly homeless man) could threaten to upset the carefully constructed balance at Copa D'Oro on an hourly basis.

"We hired a professional service [X-Zero security] to handle our door," said Chu, who also owns the Buddha's Belly restaurant next door. The restaurateur and freshly minted bar owner anticipates a busy summer after the weather improves.

And although crowd control is not yet a problem for the first-time bar owner, as word spreads about the fantastic cocktails (between $8 and $15 for elaborate creations featuring fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs), the doorman will likely earn his keep come summer when Santa Monica's population swells.

"I handle every person who comes to the door artfully," says doorman Matt Weinglass, who worked the door at Bar Copa for years.

"The primary rule is first come, first served," Chu said.

Call it a reverse door policy from most Hollywood clubs: Almost everyone is welcome here, from couples on a date, older shoppers in the area or just about anyone and everyone who doesn't look threatening.

Case in point: Thirtysomething marketing executive and Santa Monica resident Nancy Gutterman, who hit up Copa D'Oro with a pal Tuesday. "It's missing something . . . maybe a little peppier music," she said of the just-opened bar, which is still working out the kinks this month. "It's very nice, but it just needs a bit more atmosphere."

Her friend Mike Rotman, however, liked the "darkness and lounge feel" of the bar. And he wasn't the only one impressed with Copa D'Oro on Tuesday.

Casey Walsh, who heard about the bar via a co-worker, was upbeat about her experience earlier this week.

"I'm having a great time," the hotel events coordinator said between sips of a gin bramble overflowing with blackberries and crushed ice. "They make great drinks here. I mean, it's a Tuesday night and there's not a seat open at the bar . . . that should tell you all you need to know."

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charlie.amter@latimes.com

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Copa D'Oro

Where: 217 Broadway, Santa Monica

When: 5 p.m. to midnight Mondays through Wednesdays, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Closed Sundays.

Price: No cover

Contact: (310) 576-3030

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