In Silver Lake, the crafty crow evidently trumps the skunk. The neighborhood's defunct watering hole Stinkers may still be stuck in some barflies' noses, but the skunk-inspired homage to canned beers, truck stops and white-trash Americana has been closed since February. Having undergone a face-lift, the joint officially reopens Friday as the Thirsty Crow. It's a well-manicured whiskey bar suited to a more refined demographic that the 1933 Group (the company that also owns Bigfoot Lodge, the Little Cave and Saints and Sinners) hopes will better suit the increasingly upscale neighborhood.
While the smell of nostalgia remains, the new scent is more akin to class than kitsch.
As in the Aesop fable from which the bar borrows its name, the Thirsty Crow is the product of necessity mothering invention: "Our selection at Stinkers was so limited, people were asking for better stuff than we were carrying, so we just decided to completely revamp the place," said Bobby Green, creative designer of the 1933 Group, which he owns and operates with partners Dimitri Komarov and Dmitry Liberman.
"We were getting such a more gentrified and better quality of customer than I thought we were going to, and their taste level was much higher than we were providing," added Green. "So after a year of hearing, ‘Oh, this place is great, but I wish you had this, I wish you had that, we just decided: Let's give the people what they want."
So they stripped Stinkers of its faux-dive bar décor and auctioned it off to charity, setting about a complete remodel that flipped their sense of nostalgia to a more traditional page. Inspired by the longstanding history of American bourbons and ryes, Green began the redesign with a 1930s-‘40s United States in mind.
"A timeless vibe that really kind of glamorizes what it must have felt like in the early days of America," he said.
He spent about six months digging through rummage sales and antique shops for decorations and the last few months reconstructing it all, including tearing back a front wall to reveal a massive window that faces the street. The walls are now stained wood and exposed brick, more windows were opened to peek through to the outside smoking patio, and the immense circular bar that dominates the main room was refinished with a light marble countertop. Now a working jukebox from 1935 plays 78 rpm records by Hank Williams, Dizzy Gillespie and Spike Jones, greeting guests as they walk through the front door; a 1950s "Booz-Barometer" sobriety testing arcade game sits on the end of the bar, and a few vintage crow figurines perch cockeyed on ledges overhead. From the lighting to the furnishings, the setting is undeniably more relaxed and pleasant.
Of course, the menu underwent a massive overhaul too, featuring a list of more than 60 whiskeys that ranges from common name brands such as Jim Beam and Jack Daniels to rare small-batch and reserve bourbons such as Pappy Van Winkle, sold only by the bottle in limited runs. Whiskey education classes will be taught each Sunday by the Crow's "Bourbon Baron" bartender Brandon Ristaino, who designed 10 flights to demonstrate the differences among various whiskeys, bourbons, ryes and Scotches. The PBRs, Colt 45s and Bud Lights are still around but are now competing with microbrews such as California's Anderson Valley and Napa Smith on tap as well as a decent selection of bottles.
The Thirsty Crow plans to double or triple its stock of spirits in the months to come, Ristaino noted, saying he'll be "getting hold of some really rare, hard-to-get stuff and offering that on a temporary basis, sort of seasonally."
"We're going to keep exploring and digging until we find that we're probably the only bar west of the Mississippi to have some brands," added Komarov.
Perhaps just as noteworthy as the bar's high-end hooch selection is how the drinks will be served: with a 2-inch spherical ice ball custom made in a one-of-a-kind device that uses warm water to form the shape from a slightly larger block. According to Komarov it could take three hours to melt one of these balls, offering an optimal chill without dilution. This is, after all, precious stuff.
"It's the water of life," said Green, laughing. "And it's really the root of drinking. It was what America was built on. It's what the cowboys drank, the coal miners, the silver miners, the gold miners, the prostitutes, profiteers. When you go back in history it was rye and whiskey."
The Thirsty Crow
Where: 2939 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles
When: 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily
Price: No cover, drinks $4 to $45
Info: (323) 661-6007, http://www.thirstycrowbar.com