Salvage is a new bar that has opened in downtown Los Angeles on the ground… (Michael Robinson Chavez…)
Five years ago, a downtown bar operator's biggest worry was getting a steady stream of customers to drink in the city's historic core — especially on a weeknight. In 2011, the problem isn't getting people downtown; it's getting the right mix of drinkers to become regulars.
"We're not looking to become a fly-by-night hot spot, but to become a long-term fixture wherein local residents can seek an oasis of refuge," Salvage Bar & Lounge partner Solomon Mansoor said after an opening party earlier this month.
Luckily for the former club promoter turned interior designer, the smart-looking lounge already has a built-in audience. Salvage is located on 7th Street between Flower and Hope streets in the same building as the Roosevelt residences. In fact, Mansoor worked for the company, Milbank, that once owned the loft building and he helped design its lobby alongside architect Karin Liljegren.
"We believe that we can make Salvage home to varying crowds, and cater to them all equally," Mansoor added in a still-heavy English accent, despite nearly three decades living in L.A.
Mansoor, who is also the founder of the Nocturnal Entertainment Group, noted that this endeavor hinged on developing a regular audience of thirty- and fortysomethings. Just pulling the weekend crowd probably won't do it. Other bars in the vicinity, such as Cedd Moses' Seven Grand just a block away, are thriving — albeit with a very different crowd these days than the early adopters who made the whiskey-soaked scene a must when it opened in 2007.
The design is a point in Salvage's favor. Many materials used in the dimly lighted drinking den are discarded items reclaimed from the Roosevelt building's basement, some dating to the 1920s. Hand-blown crystal glass with a slightly deco feel hangs above the main room, stained glass salvaged from a local yard stares back at drinkers at the bar, 96 low-wattage light bulbs suspended from wires hang like stars in the chateau-like patio facing 7th Street. White Carrara marble slabs from the building's basement greet patrons as they walk into the lounge.
"It seems like they're after more of an upper-crust crowd.... Already I see a few people here from the fashion business," said downtown resident and fashion designer Victor Wilde as he surveyed the place. "They are aiming to be something more like the [nearby] Pattern bar."
Mansoor is a longtime night life scenemaker in L.A. (he was in the now defunct local band Zen Cowboys and briefly owned the Dragonfly in the 1990s) and knows the importance of building a following, but he's not about to deploy a velvet rope.
Instead, the 49-year-old and his partners will rely on strong word-of-mouth and a network of friends. Earlier this month saw the germination of a scene at the opening kickoff event as a DJ played tracks from artists such as Massive Attack, a low-key trip-hop group. Mansoor says he'll try to enforce a no hip-hop rule at the lounge.
Candace Moreau, a 21-year-old from Newport Beach, was more interested in the drinks than the scene at the opening.
"I really like the atmosphere and the drinks are really good," she said, sipping on a $10 Dragon Lemonade.
But many patrons who have stumbled upon the place seem drawn in by the design, elements of which are visible from the street.
"Everywhere you look it's re-use," Mansoor said excitedly about the furnishings, gesticulating toward a back area with upholstered ottomans flanked by booths with modular cushioning. "There's not a single thing here made by machines."
Though that may not be 100% true (for example, a few handsome faux leather chocolate-colored chairs that pivot come from design store H. Studio) the overall look and feel of Salvage feels wholly repurposed and original — giving Salvage a sense of soul.
"These doors are original elevator doors from the building," Manor cooed while running his hand over the bar top, which features clear resin over handsome wooden doors laid horizontally.
"We ended up pouring 18 gallons of resin on top of the bar," he said, adding that the doors weighed around 500 pounds.
To be sure, Salvage does not compete with the jaw-dropping themed design of other downtown destination bars such as the Edison. But for nearby financial district workers and artists looking for a post-work cocktail in a grown-up environment, Salvage may be just the kind of cozy lounge the neighborhood never knew it needed.
Salvage Bar & Lounge
Where: 717 W. 7th St., L.A.
When: 3 p.m.-2 a.m. Monday through Friday; 6 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
Price: No cover
Info: (213) 688-7755; http://www.salvagela.com