What's the safest night-life bet in 2009? For downtown dwellers, it might just be inside an old bank.
The loft-leasing crowd has had its eye on the old Crocker Citizens National Bank Building (at 5th and Spring streets, now the Spring Arts Tower) ever since word leaked out years ago that the basement of the building would eventually become a lounge.
Beginning next week (after private parties this weekend), drinking inside an honest-to-God bank vault will finally become a reality at a regal new bar that invokes the name of one of California's most historically prominent families, the Crocker Club.
"This has been a labor of love," says the basement lounge's owner, Vincent Terzian.
No kidding. Terzian has spent the better part of two years inside the 6,000-square-foot lounge; obsessing over every detail of the historic location in order to dazzle patrons with its multiple bars and spaces.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, January 25, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Crocker Club: An article in Friday's Calendar about the Crocker Club in downtown L.A. said Vincent Terzian is its sole owner. Thomas Turner is a co-owner of the lounge.
"If anyone can find a detail I missed, drinks are on me," the 35-year-old joked while inside the Crocker's Mosler Lounge space, which lies behind a massive 1960s-era stainless steel bank-vault door manufactured by the Mosler safe company.
It would have been nearly impossible to remove the vault, so Terzian built around the chamber, joining a growing number of bars and restaurants nationwide that have taken over old banks, such as Manhattan haunt Trinity Place, Minneapolis' B.A.N.K. restaurant and San Jose's Vault Ultra Lounge. But the transformation did involve a long struggle.
"The challenges we faced in terms of construction stem from the fact it was a basement project," he said.
It remains to be seen whether the Crocker Club can emulate the success of nearby rivals, such as the still-popular Edison on 2nd Street and the Association on 6th Street, but Terzian's timing appears good: Retro cocktail culture, which fits the Crocker and its design scheme perfectly, is blossoming all over L.A.
"This bar is all about nostalgia, but with an edge," Terzian said.
Deep inside the club, at the bottom of Crocker's staircase, patrons are greeted with a handsome mahogany bar that echoes several other area nightspots, such as the Doheny and the Edison.
But what immediately catches the drinker's eye is the club's piece de resistance: the Mosler Lounge. Dramatically set inside the old vault, the Mosler is like a bar within a bar.
"The vault door still closes," Terzian says. "We even brought a specialist in to make sure it can function. He was blown away, especially when he saw the floor job we installed inside the vault." But rest assured, Terzian won't be locking anyone in, or out, of the Mosler Lounge.
Just outside the vault, a series of semiprivate booths that used to be for examining safe deposit boxes lines a hallway, little hideaways for parties of two to 20. Behind that series of booths lies the entrance to the Crocker's Ghost Bar, featuring hand-painted ceilings that evoke the grandeur of a 1930s-era bar. And, if you believe Terzian, this part of the Crocker is haunted.
The manager of the Spring Arts Tower, Kevin Taylor, backs up Terzian's claim, saying many in the building, including himself, have seen spirits all over the building.
"I get reports of haunting periodically," says Taylor. "We get a lot of 'transparent man' sightings on the ninth floor, and I've heard a lot of stories about the basement from production companies that have shot down there." (The first two "Rush Hour" films and several commercials have been shot in the Spring Arts Tower.)
But it's likely most patrons of the Crocker Club will be making the trek to the Bank District watering hole for spirits of a different kind in 2009. It's a sophisticated experience, right down to the custom ice cubes. But whatever you do, don't compare the Crocker Club to a New York bar.
"I'm a native, and this is an Angeleno bar," Terzian says. "Everybody more or less seems to think that this is what a bar would be like in New York or other parts of the country, but the Crocker Club is a Los Angeles establishment."
And you can take that to the bank.
The Crocker Club
Where: 453 S. Spring St., L.A.
When: 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays
Contact: (213) 239-9099, www.thecrockerclub.com
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