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Night Life: A toast to Los Feliz's new bar scene

New watering holes such as Covell, Rockwell and the soon-to-open Big Bar are reinvigorating an area still getting over the loss of the shuttered Tangiers and the Derby.

July 23, 2010|By Margaret Wappler, Los Angeles Times

On a warm Tuesday night, Covell, the new softly lit wine establishment in Los Feliz, enjoyed a healthy crowd, every seat at its jagged, 31-foot bar occupied by couples and small groups of friends chatting away between sips of offbeat, small-batch wines.

No matter what adjectives — crisp, sweet, earthy or dry — get tossed at owner Dustin Lancaster, a longtime Café Stella bartender, or manager and wine director Matthew Kaner, a Silverlake Wine alum, they thrill at the challenge of finding the right wine. Part of the sport of Covell is to send them dashing for an intriguing choice, maybe two or three if that's what it takes to please a palate.

Hairstylist Aviva Perea, 33, walked to Covell from her apartment. "People in Los Feliz were ready for this," Perea said, smoking a cigarette on the front patio with two friends. "It's more mature than a regular bar. It's not just mindless drinking; there's an education of sorts."

Los Feliz is in need of fresh blood. In the last year or so, two of Los Feliz's nightlife landmarks closed their doors: Tangiers and the longtime swing-dancing standard, the Derby.

There's not much left of the old Los Feliz scene now except for the Dresden, a stalwart of '70s décor down to its lounge stars Marty and Elayne, such permanent fixtures they might be retrofitted for the Big One.

But a few new and upcoming establishments are oxygenating the neighborhood, tapping the sweet spot of urban professionals, increasingly affluent but far from shedding their East-of- Hollywood cool.

Besides Covell, which opened earlier this month, there's Rockwell, a polished but rustic outdoor space that opened last fall behind the restaurant Vermont. Coming soon is Big Bar, which Alcove owner Tom Trellis will debut in September in a shared space with his always-bustling cafe and bakery.

At Rockwell, the biggest star is the coral tree, planted in the middle of a serene space off an urban alley. With two levels of open-air seating, Vermont owners Chris Diamond and Wayne Elias opened the bar in October as a way to celebrate the Golden State but through the eyes of New England.

"There aren't many places to sit outside in this neighborhood and that's what California is all about," Diamond said. Rockwell is named after painter Norman Rockwell, famous for his nostalgic renderings of New England, and Northeastern touches abound, like the canoe affixed to the ceiling near the bar that glows with ethereal light.

Serving light fare and a boilerplate program of wines, beers and cocktails, Rockwell transforms on Saturday nights to a club atmosphere, but Los Feliz style — there's no cover charge and everyone gets in. "A velvet rope would be over the top in this area," said Elias.

Trellis, who's lived in Los Feliz for more than 10 years, wants Big Bar to recall the classic era of the handcrafted cocktail. Instead of soda guns and prepackaged juices, Trellis and bar manager Juan Sevilla, previously of Soho House, will offer micro-distilled liquors, fresh-squeezed juices, house-made syrups including a zesty ginger one, and boutique sodas.

The name of the bar is a play on its Napoleon complex — at a petite 400 square feet, 10 barstools and a few tables, Big Bar will also serve the entirety of Alcove. Though inspired by the speakeasy scene, with its mahogany cabinetry, antique mirrors and vested bartenders, Big Bar colors that retro vibe with an earth-toned California twist.

"It's a hybrid informed by the community," Trellis said. "Everyone in this neighborhood has a passion for something — it's creative but respecting of traditions."

That artistic spirit also informs Covell. Devoted Los Feliz resident Lancaster, an actor who graduated from CalArts, used his own thrift collections to decorate the bar, which was formerly inhabited by a traffic school. Antique cameras sit on little shelves on one wall, while another is plastered with pages of an Argentinean dictionary.

"Though I'm doing this now and I love it," Lancaster said, "I still consider myself an actor, an artist."

Costume designer Jade Suazo and musician Noah Lit, who said Covell is the only bar in Los Feliz worth the drive from the couple's Echo Park home, were relaxing at the bar, discussing the next stages of their respective careers. It's the kind of conversation that goes best with a little bit of the National playing on the stereo and a glass of Moscato Secco Frizzante — papery dry, slightly effervescent — in hand. "It's comfortable but stylish here," Suazo said. "I feel at home."

margaret.wappler@latimes.com

Big Bar

Where: 1927 Hillhurst Ave.

When: Thur.-Sat., 7 a.m. – 1 a.m.; Sun.-Wed. 7 a.m.-midnight

Info: (323) 644-0100

Covell

Where: 4628 Hollywood Blvd.

When: Sun.-Thu. 5 p.m.-midnight; Fri.-Sat. 5 p.m.- 2 a.m.

Info: (323) 660-4400; barcovell.com

Rockwell:

Where: 1714 N. Vermont Ave.

When: Daily 5 p.m.-2 a.m., plus weekend brunch from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. "Yappy hour" for dogs and their owners, 4-6 p.m. Sat.

Info: (323) 669-1550; rockwellvt.com

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