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A distinct Perch above downtown L.A.

Stylish relaxation without the airs is on the menu at the new rooftop restaurant-bar on Hill Street.

August 12, 2011|By Steven Armstrong, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • The view from Perch.
The view from Perch. (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles…)

Perch is a new rooftop bar and restaurant that's making downtown L.A. rethink the way it does night life. Unlike downtown's most famous rooftop bar — the ostentatious poolside lounge crowning the Standard Hotel — Perch doesn't have a pool or red Astroturf or gaggles of scantily clad partiers. It doesn't have a million-dollar lighting system or a make-believe speak-easy either.

What Perch does have is a fine cocktail program, an impressive selection of French wines and spirits, a French-inspired dinner menu, panoramic views, live music and a palpable lack of pretension. This is a place where you go to relax in style — either inside on a plush blue sofa, or outside on a vintage, powder-coated, wrought-iron patio chair — sipping a Maverick & Goose (gin, lemon, simple syrup, Lillet and muddled gooseberries), sucking on a succulent frog leg and watching the sun set over Pershing Square.

It's a place where downtown's business community, its nocturnal visitors and its residents coexist, where the atmosphere is casual and the dress code is free — with one exception.

"No Ed Hardy," Perch co-creator Coly Den Haan says with a smile, referring to the gaudy tattoo-inspired T-shirts created by Christian Audigier.

Perch is the second venture for Den Haan and business partner Rachel Thomas — their first project since opening the Must on 5th Street in late 2008. The Must's laid-back vibe, good food and affordable wine selection (glasses of high-quality wine — hand-picked by Den Haan, an AIS certified sommelier — went for $3 during happy hour) made it a favorite neighborhood hangout among downtown loft dwellers. But despite its waxing popularity, the Must disappeared after only 18 months.

"Most new restaurants have to worry about getting people in the door and making money," Haan said. "But we had to worry about people out to destroy us."

Haan and Thomas did indeed endure several nasty blows. But the worst of it came in the wee hours of July 3, 2010, when the new owner of the space they were occupying suddenly cleared out the Must and padlocked the door.

Meanwhile, local real estate developer and property owner Jeffrey Fish was finishing a massive retrofit and construction project that he'd undertaken at the Pershing Square building on Hill Street — a project that culminated with an unprecedented structural addition that transformed the historic 13-story building into 16 stories. By the time major construction drew to a close, Fish might not have been entirely sure what he wanted the new space to be, but he knew exactly what he didn't want it to be.

"I didn't want it to be a club, and I didn't want it to be some pretentious place that's hip for a second," Fish said. "I wanted it to be a downtown institution."

Now that Haan and Thomas are involved, it seems poised to become just that.

"[Fish] gave us a clean slate to work with," Den Haan said. "We saw what downtown was lacking, and we thought it would be cool to bastardize French food and make it approachable."

Den Haan and Thomas also plan to make dinner at Perch more economically accessible by adding a number of affordable menu items. And in the coming weeks, Den Haan — who oversees the food and beverage programs — plans to expand and simplify the cocktail program.

"We love the cocktail revolution," Den Haan said. "But we want to go back to three-ingredient, traditional cocktails."

Thomas posited a less philosophical rationale for the change.

"We don't want people waiting 15 minutes for a cocktail," she said.

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