Cedd Moses stands in front of Coles, one of the 10 bars and two restaurants… (Bethany Mollenkof, Los…)
The gig: Founder and chief executive of the 213 Nightlife Group, which operates some of hippest cocktail lounges in downtown Los Angeles, including Seven Grand Whiskey Bar, the Golden Gopher and the Broadway Bar. The bars owned by Cedd Moses, 52, are typically converted from dilapidated empty buildings. They have contributed to the revitalization of the downtown area and helped promote an emerging craft cocktail culture in Los Angeles. "People thought I was crazy," Moses said. "I was making a good living at the time, but I left to go pour drinks on skid row."
Background: Moses was born in Bristol, Va., a town in the Blue Ridge Highlands of southwestern Virginia on the border with Tennessee. But he was raised in Venice during the burgeoning art scene of the 1960s, and most members of his family are artists. His father is the famous Abstract Expressionist painter Ed Moses, who taught him to be fearless in professional life. "I saw how successful my father was at doing something he loved," Moses said. "I wanted that in my career."
Investments: After graduating from UCLA with degrees in mechanical engineering and computer science, Moses worked as a money manager for Portfolio Advisory Services, a Los Angeles investment management company. Living in Venice in 1996, Moses and a friend from his high school grew tired of running to Hollywood to hit nightspots. "There were no decent bars on the Westside at that time," he said. "They were either complete dive bars or hotel bars that felt too snooty."
Quiz: How much do you know about business news in 2012?
First step: Moses and his buddy decided to fix the problem themselves. With $25,000 each, they opened Liquid Kitty in West L.A. Moses refined the bar into what he liked: low-key lighting, robust underground music selection and martinis that nearly knock customers off their bar stools. "Even back then, I wanted a bar that's less trendy and more timeless," Moses said. It was an immediate hit.
The leap: The success of Liquid Kitty enabled Moses to open a lounge in Beverly Hills, a swanky martini spot called C-Bar. He was still working as a money manager but by then he had moved to Silver Lake and began to look eastward. "It felt like the Eastside was more of my home," Moses said. "I went downtown a lot and saw huge potential."
Major cities such as New York and Chicago have sprawling downtown neighborhoods flush with hip nightspots, but downtown Los Angeles was downtrodden and barren, he said. So in 1999, after the city approved the Adaptive Reuse Ordinance, Moses set up 213 Nightlife Group with the intention of establishing 10 bars in the downtown area. "I wanted to create downtown as more of destination spot," he said, "Somewhere people could bar hop and go from one place to another."
The payoff: Moses quit his day job and dedicated himself to running his latest venture, the Golden Gopher, a former biker bar with a liquor license that was first issued in 1905. His formula proved true once again. The Golden Gopher has muted lighting, exposed brick and glossy black tile, giving it a gritty dive-bar feel. But the drinks are made from top-shelf liquor, drawing a clientele that can afford them.
Today about 200 people work at the 10 bars and two restaurants that comprise 213 Nightlife Group, which Moses owns with Mark Verge and Eric Needleman.
Word to the wise: "A good bar has to feel like it's been there a while. It has to feel like it's part of the fabric of the neighborhood," Moses said. "If you're gearing toward making something cool, you're probably going to fail."
With Cole's French dip restaurant, Moses took a place that had been housed since 1908 in the basement of the Pacific Electric building, once the nerve center of the Pacific Electric railway network. It had fallen on hard times, but Moses restored the original glass lighting, penny-tile floors and 40-foot mahogany bar to get the place back on its feet. "Seeing a place get restored is a great feeling," he said. "That was part of my vision when we first started."
Spare time: When he's not inside a bar or boardroom, Moses can be found playing squash or at the horse racing track. He's also on the board of directors of the Los Angeles Conservancy and chairman of the American Arts Documentary Foundation, a nonprofit organization that documents contemporary art
Next leap: Moses is taking one of his best-known downtown spots, Seven Grand Whiskey Bar, and expanding the brand. The bar, with its hunting-lodge decor and first-rate whiskey selection, has already opened a location in San Diego. Another one is expected to open at Los Angeles International Airport sometime next year.
"You can't be afraid to take risks," Moses said. "In business in general, you must follow your passion. You'll have a better chance of being successful."