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New to the neighborhood: NoHo's Federal Bar

The Knitting Factory's CEO has transformed an old bank building into a friendly local place with craft beer and comfort food on tap. Next on the menu: live music.

March 11, 2011|By Jessica Gelt, Los Angeles Times
  • Patrons relax at the main bar inside the Federal Bar in North Hollywood.
Patrons relax at the main bar inside the Federal Bar in North Hollywood. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

It was in the course of taking his kids to martial-arts classes in North Hollywood that Knitting Factory Chief Executive Morgan Margolis first laid eyes on the 1926 red brick bank building that was to become his obsession.

Nearly five months later, he turned the cavernous two-story space into a comfortable bar, restaurant and live performance venue called the Federal Bar. Initially, he wanted to open a new Knitting Factory to replace the Hollywood location, which closed in 2009. But something about the stately New York-style building caused him to go in a brand new direction. Plus, opening just such a place had been on his mind for decades.

"I really built this around the neighborhood and being a family-oriented bar and restaurant," says Margolis. But that doesn't mean the space doesn't feel grown up. Exposed brick, an imposing brass-framed terrazzo entry, warm lighting and a back room with leather booths, antique lamps and pressed-tin accents lend the Federal Bar the Prohibition-era style that has come to define L.A.'s drinking scene.

For now, however, craft cocktails are not the focus at the Federal — craft beer is. The list is primarily composed of hearty domestic brews, with 20 on tap, including Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, Allagash Black, Telegraph White Ale and Stone IPA.

Good, strong beer certainly complements the gastropub comfort food on the menu. Mac 'n' cheese with jamón serrano, Manchego cheese and poblano peppers is thick and tangy; hot wings sing with a creeping heat; the house burger with aged cheddar and balsamic onion comes on a fluffy, eggy bun; and soft lamb meatloaf pairs nicely with peppy Moroccan tomato jam and creamy mashed potatoes. For dessert, try the vanilla black pepper milkshake. Its weird balance of heat and sweet makes it compelling.

The situation with the live performance space upstairs is still being worked out, but the idea is to use it for a mixture of music, DJs, comedy and film. The vast space, which boasts city views and has a large outdoor patio, along with decorative arches, hardwood floors and a well-equipped stage with digital sound, will also be the site of a variety of Knitting Factory Presents shows.

This is a coup for NoHo, which has nothing else quite like the Federal Bar in its vicinity. And since the Knitting Factory is the second-largest music venue chain in the country (after the House of Blues), it's likely that the Federal will host some important touring acts. Plenty of local music is also on the wish list, as are dance nights.

However, says Margolis, if the restaurant becomes really popular (the kitchen is already much busier than they thought it would be), he won't hesitate to make the upstairs area a dining room on key nights.

"I could book every night up there if I want to," says Margolis. For now, though, he's just enjoying getting to know the regulars.

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