Customers enjoy drinks at the 31Ten in Santa Monica. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
When it comes to bars, Santa Monica is home to one of the best local scenes in Southern California. From the walkable watering holes of Main Street to the destination haunts such as Casa Del Mar's classic Veranda Bar or Santa Monica Place's busy Sonoma Wine Garden, Westside residents are not lacking in options for conversation over drinks.
But finding an upscale lounge that has space for conversation, crafted cocktails and a DJ for dancing? There are fewer of those. The new 31Ten, in the space at 3110 Main St. that was previously Cache and before that Hidden, hopes to fill a void not being met by many of the city's 246 licensed venues that serve alcohol.
"You have to make people want to stay and enjoy all night long," 31Ten's co-owner, Paolo Cesaro said early Saturday as he surveyed the rapidly building scene inside the lounge. "People want to have dinner and then stay all night for drinking and dancing."
Cesaro knows a thing or two about what people in Santa Monica and Venice want. As co-owner of Ado, the popular Venice restaurant just a couple of blocks south, the 46-year-old knows the rhythms of Main Street. He was an investor in the bar when it was called Hidden and was working on Ado when Cache was in business. That bar closed in August.
"They wanted me to help at Cache to build the bar.... I said no and told them, 'If you close, I'll buy you out,' which is what I did," he said. Now he relishes his chance, as co-owner and managing partner, to improve on the Cache experience. Think more music, low-to-the-floor candlelit seating options and a simplified menu more geared toward well-off singles in their 20s and 30s.
Barely open two months (31Ten soft-opened on Christmas Eve), the bar is steadily winning over those who may have frequented the 5,500-square-foot space in the past (the address is well known to night owls, having once also housed Schatzi's On Main).
Last Saturday, few seemed to care about the ghosts of the past as smart-looking young professionals sank into cozy couches to snack on seared scallops and sip on gin cocktails near an open gas fire pit.
"It's a good balance of a little bit of dancing, but it's not a real club," said Tessa Stevenson, who was celebrating a 30th birthday at the bar with 30 or so of her friends.
"It's much better than Cache," the Santa Monica resident added, because Cache was "trying too hard to be a restaurant and now it knows what it is: a bar."
Lead bartender Jonathan Vink features a few unique gin drinks and tries to keep it simple. "So many cocktails now are so complex, but I wanted to bring it back to clean spirits," he said while mixing a blueberry pomegranate mojito. His most popular drink right now, however, is the sexier-sounding Californication (vodka, St. Germain, Thai basil, black grapes, lemon, pomegranate juice, Prosecco and agave syrup).
To that end, Cesaro, along with partner and executive chef Antonio Muré, have sexed up the space to encourage flirtation and maintain an edge over rivals in the area.
Carpets have been stripped, revealing wood floors. The ceiling has been sandblasted, exposing original bricks. Cocktail waitresses are now decked out in short red dresses. Lighting fixtures are gone, replaced with candles in the back, where couches coax tipsy types into a little incidental touching.
"Early in the night, I'll play lounge-y stuff … older songs that Kanye West samples or similar," said DJ Mark Iacone (DJ Sir Marcus), a familiar face on the Westside bar scene. "Later, I'll play progressive house or stuff people hear on Power 106 or KISS FM," he added, just as he dropped Jay-Z's recent anthem, "Empire State of Mind."
Greg Shahbazian, who owns the adjacent Hollywood Smoke cigar shop, has seen all the past iterations of the space and thinks 31Ten has finally got it right.
"It's more a lounge experience, but the food now is incredible, whereas Cache was formal and Hidden was all over the map," he said this week.
Last Saturday, Cesaro seemed very pleased. "I just opened the doors, and I'm doing great," he said. "This is what people here want."
Where: 3110 Main St., Santa Monica
When: Wednesday-Saturday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Price: No cover, DJs Thursday-Saturday
Info: (310) 450-5522; http://www.31tenlounge.com.