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NIGHT LIFE

Rockwell VT

September 25, 2009|Scott T. Sterling

Freshly minted bar and restaurant Rockwell VT is not the easiest place to find. Plug the address into any Internet mapping service, and one is led straight into the refurbished dining room of the long-standing Los Feliz dining establishment Vermont.

Getting into Rockwell VT (which is located at the back end of the building) requires going around the building, past the bank and coffee shop to the discreet entrance in the alley.

Inside hides a deceptively large, multilevel space that's equal parts woodsy and L.A. cool. It's an open-air setting, with everything centered around a massive coral tree that reaches toward the sky in a dramatic fashion.

The place isn't officially open yet, but they are serving, and more area residents are braving the alley behind Vermont Avenue to find it.

A recent Tuesday evening found the space quietly busy, with a line of people bellied up to the bar and more than a few parties scattered throughout the downstairs patio area under the shadow of the coral tree. The cool, efficient staff, clad in matching black T-shirts emblazoned with Rockwell VT's owl logo, buzzed around the floor.

"We thought it would be best to do a soft opening and work out any kinks before any kind of grand opening, which doesn't happen until October," said owner Chris Diamond, who, along with partners Wayne Elias and Tom Whitman, took over the building that houses both Vermont and Rockwell.

"We opened the doors for the first time last Friday and had a packed house by 11 p.m.," Diamond added.

Rockwell VT also hosted a surprise special guest on that opening Friday night, when Grammy-winning singer Christina Aguilera called to say she was stopping by to check it out.

"We had, like, 20 minutes' notice that she was coming," Diamond said. "But she came with her husband and some friends, and they stayed all night. We've already had the cast of the 'Legally Blonde' stage production come through, as well as the crew from the new 'Fame' movie."

Located in the heart of the Los Feliz shopping district on Vermont, Rockwell is hoping for a crowd that reflects the area's diversity.

"The idea is to have a good mix," said Whitman, the self-described "night life guy" of the three principals, pointing out the DJ booth tucked into a corner. "We're going to clear out the patio on the weekends for a clubbier scene. . . . I'll be promoting Friday nights, which will lean more toward a gay scene, while Saturdays are going to be more of a laid-back neighborhood party."

Whitman is proud to show off the upstairs area, a sprawling patio that leads to Rockwell's crowning jewel: a large, sequestered booth with a fire pit in the middle that offers views of both the Hollywood Hills and downtown L.A.

"The first night we opened, people immediately gravitated to this spot," Whitman said.

Guest Susan Parker, 24, approached a passing server about hosting her birthday party in that space.

"I've only lived in this neighborhood for a couple of years, but we've needed a place like this around here," she said. "It's going to be great to have a place to go dancing so close to home."

Downstairs, a bartender ("Just call me Josh," he said with a wave. "I'm not going anywhere.") shakes up house cocktails, like the SouthEast, a potent blend of tequila, ginger and agave syrup over ice.

The wide-ranging food menu offers simple but enticing options, including a spicy, pepper-laden take on calamari and grilled shrimp served with a pesto dipping sauce that's just begging for a crusty bread accompaniment.

"We've still got work to do," Diamond said. "We're going to add lanterns to the tree, and there are a couple of chandeliers that need to be hung. But everything will be ready when we officially open on Oct. 1. But this is one heck of a dress rehearsal."

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scott.sterling@latimes.com

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Rockwell VT

Where: Back entrance of 1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles.

When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., Mon. to Fri.

Price: No cover.

Contact: (323) 669-1550, www.rockwellvt.com.

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