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Ye Coach & Horses fans, say hello to the Pikey

It's not exactly in keeping with the old dive bar, but the Pikey channels the spirit of a bustling, British hang.

April 20, 2012|By Jessica Gelt, Los Angeles Times
  • Some members of the Facebook group "Brits in LA," meet up in the Maharaja room of The Pikey, on Sunset Blvd.
Some members of the Facebook group "Brits in LA," meet up in the… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)

A new British pub and restaurant called the Pikey opened on Easter in the space that used to house the more than 70-year-old dive bar Ye Coach & Horses. When that relic closed nearly two years ago due to a controversial eviction, a spirited Save the Coach & Horses campaign ensued, followed by a flutter of press. Then it was over — the bar closed and the city moved on.

When the curtain was again raised on the latest incarnation of the historic room — where famous British ex-pats Alfred Hitchcock and Richard Burton were known to tipple — it became clear that a new era had dawned for the place: A cleaner, brighter era without the questionable bathroom facilities and lager-drenched industrial carpet.

In fact, if you were a Coach & Horses fan and in possession of fond memories, including watching a besotted homeless man mumble into his beer while you sipped watery whiskey and listened to Coach & Horses regular Quentin Tarantino talk in his excited falsetto to a slightly nerdy film guy at the end of the bar, then it's important to keep in mind that the Pikey is not Ye Coach & Horses.

That's not to say that owners Jared Meisler and Sean MacPherson, who also own Roger Room, Bar Lubitsch and Jones, didn't do their all to keep the best of the smoke-stained old room. It's just that their brand is too of-the-moment to conjure up the spirit of a place that was trapped in time somewhere between the 1940s and the '70s.

"The integrity of the room is still intact," says Meisler on a recent weeknight over creamy potted chicken liver topped with butter made by former Spotted Pig chef Ralph Johnson. Meisler is sitting in the restaurant side of the bar, which has a bustling open kitchen and used to be a down-on-its-luck Indian curry house. "The layout is the same, the wood paneling is the same. I spent nearly two years shopping for paintings, photos and objects to match what was on the walls to photos I had of the old bar."

Part of the difficulty with the eviction of former owner Jane Grant was that it ended bitterly and Grant took everything inside of the bar, even the sconces. In addition, Meisler and MacPherson didn't own the name Ye Coach & Horses, so they had to give the place a new moniker, which was something they would rather not have done.

They chose the Pikey because it's slang for gypsy in England.

"I really dig that outlaw culture," says Meisler. "They live in caravans and camp. They're heavy drinkers, fighters and gamblers."

The new name is a bit ironic because the Pikey type was more likely to be found in the old Ye Coach & Horses. The new Pikey is attracting a decidedly more upscale crowd, who appreciate the fresh-squeezed juices and house-made syrups used in mixologist Damian Windsor's cocktail menu and can afford to pay $25 for a plate of mashed potatoes and braised lamb shank so tender it falls off the bone.

Although the Pikey is a British pub, the menu is more eclectic than that would imply. Fish and chips make an appearance, but Johnson says he crafted the menu to reflect good bar food as well as classic seasonal dishes that err on the indulgent side. House-cured bacon swimming in horseradish and peas, for example, or Arctic char crudo with fresh California citrus. Hype surrounding the opening and the strength of Johnson's reputation have brought in a steady stream of diners, and Meisler says that so far food and alcohol sales have kept pace with each other.

Happily, the full menu can be ordered in any one of the three rooms inside the Pikey from opening until close at 2 a.m. Besides the main bar and the restaurant, there is a cozy space called the Maharajah Room based on its preponderance of old paintings of, yes, Hindu princes.

The general vibe can easily be described as upbeat and buzzing, with popular music playing at a reasonable level and lots of pretty young people winking at each other over Manhattans. If Burton were around he would probably hit on a number of them.

At the end of the day it's that part of the bar's history that isn't going anywhere.

"I loved the Coach & Horses and so did Sean. I had a drink in here when I was in high school," says Meisler. "I love the neighborhood and I love the history."

jessica.gelt@latimes.com

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