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One-Eyed Gypsy a lift for loft crowd

The former downtown site of Bordello has become a neighborhood hang for the artists, writers and musicians who enjoy its dark, stylishly low-key vibe.

November 04, 2011|By Jessica Gelt, Los Angeles Times
  • Patrons enjoy a night out at One-Eyed Gypsy.
Patrons enjoy a night out at One-Eyed Gypsy. (Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles…)

Like concentric circles radiating outward from a pebble thrown into a pond, nouveau bars in downtown Los Angeles have spread from the safe confines of 4th and Main streets to the still-rough edges of the Arts District and beyond. The current maven of downtown's outer limits, Dana Hollister, has added a revamped holding to her growing bar fiefdom. It's called One-Eyed Gypsy, and it replaces the former Bordello, just a 500-meter dash from her successful Villains Tavern.

However, where Villains — with its Moulin Rouge-inspired opulence — is very much a destination bar, pulling in weekenders from all over the Southland, One-Eyed Gypsy aspires to a less glitzy vibe. It's a neighborhood bar now. Gone are Bordello's cover charges that alienated those in search of a friendly Scotch and a bite to eat. There are still bands, but they're not the same ones you'll run into at indie havens in Silver Lake and Echo Park. They're more eclectic, more grown-up. And so is the crowd, which consists largely of artists, writers and musicians who live in nearby lofts, many with rich life stories to burn.

Among them is Victor Rodriguez, who is already a regular and who hosted warehouse parties in the then-apocalyptic downtown landscape of the 1980s. He recently relocated from Palm Springs to the Million Dollar Theater on Broadway with his mother, who has Alzheimer's disease.

"The first day she got here, she perked up," he says, smiling and swirling his drink. "I should've known. When I was a kid my father took us to Yosemite and we were staying in huts, and my mother appeared in her high heels and said, 'Uh-uh, I am from Havana, I don't stay in the country.'"

As tony downtown bars and restaurants draw in partyers from nearby USC and across L.A., the dark little room is playing a useful role in providing a place for locals to congregate in a space very much their own.

"This is a place to roll up for a beer and to talk to your neighbor or the person you didn't know was your neighbor because you're always cooped up in your artist's loft," says manager Dave Young on a recent Wednesday night, while the band Capgun Hold-Ups plays melancholy acoustic country at a sane volume. A swarm of smartly rumpled customers buzzes around Young, sipping crafty cocktails spiked with rye, honey and bitters.

Hollister is among the city's most well-known interior designers, and she spared no expense when it came to decorating the Gypsy. Massive, gilded mirrors from the 19th and early 20th centuries back the long wooden bar. Two vintage Skee-Ball machines, a claw machine from 1932, an old fortuneteller machine and a rickety jukebox filled with 45s complete a scene defined by dark nooks and crannies — just right for private chats and covert kisses.

"This feels like the bar I grew up in when I was in arts school in Chicago," says Hollister, referring to the Rainbo Club, a revered Ukrainian Village dive bar.

And true to dive-bar form, Hollister hopes to never again charge a cover for entertainment at any of her bars. "I want to be the big give-back. I want to provide that kind of experience."

Drawn to that idea is a photographer who goes by Jisel who lives at the far-flung Brewery artists community east of Alameda and the Gold Rail tracks. She's come with a sizable group from her building to support the band, who are friends of hers, and check out the Gypsy's new digs.

"The scene is livelier than I thought it would be," she says. "Plus, if they were playing in WeHo or something I'd be like," she raises her arm and wags her index finger back and forth scoldingly, "Uh, no." Meaning: This is a convenient place for locals to enjoy their own scene.

The same goes for Gypsy enthusiasts Charlie Altuna and Charlie Pomykal. The friends live in neighboring downtown lofts and rode their bikes to the bar together. Pomykal left a job in sales and marketing to launch a sweater line called Santiago Knits, and Altuna is a fashion stylist.

"The deep-fried Oreos remind me of home," says Pomykal, fingers in a basket-full. Also on the menu, super-thin housemade pizza with creative toppings, salty sliders and crunchy-cased tater tots.

"Everybody mingles with each other downtown," says Altuna. "Gay, straight, whatever, everybody wants to be friends."

As if to illustrate the point, a couple at the end of the bar signal to the bartender to lay a shot down in front of manager Young, who sits nearby.

"Thank you, neighbors," says Young, saluting them with his fingers and a tip of the hat.

jessica.gelt@latimes.com

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