Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Face of LA Nightlife Is Changing. Welcome La Descarga, East Hollywood Cuban Rum Paradise

For the past five or so years, I've had the dream/near reality of creating my own restaurant/lounge. In the past few weeks, I've taken steps to begin this process. It's ironic, just RECENTLY a few gifted and talented people around us, have begun to create what I have long envisioned, what I want(ed) to give Angelenos. An experience. A theatrical and memorable nightlife escapade. Pretty much nothing like anything that has went on in Los Angeles in the past almost ten years, if really ever! For me the last time I felt anything like that, aside from my own 1920s (ERA) themed parties was at Las Palmas in say 2000/2001~ Again, recently this has began to change (thank God). The few experiential places I can say are on par with my passion and vision include; Voyeur (my original concept/idea), the Tar Pit, The Edison, and most recently, LA DESCARGA!

Opening about three weeks ago in east Hollywood, La Descarga is definitely located in a stretch of town most socialites/hipsters/Hollywood types wouldn't necessarily venture into, the 1100 North block of Western Avenue, wedged between the 101 freeway and Santa Monica Blvd. Definitely a lower income neighborhood booming with culture and crime alike, its fitting, its raw and gritty, it makes for the perfect backdrop as you begin your uncertain & exciting journey to CUBA!

You would never know it was there, if it weren't for the word of mouth mentions from nightlife aficionados, ok and some pretty amazing press has surfaced, but this quaint multi-roomed and multi-leveled bar is quite the hole in the wall, definitely not broadcasted as the next Hollywood hotspot, which makes it all the better. From the front, its actually all gated up, as it should be...You feel kinda on edge and curious from the outskirts, just as one might feel if really setting foot into old Havana. A tall dark and a handsome gentleman of Caribbean English decent greets you. His name is Vladamir. He asks who you are there to see or if you have a 'reservation' In my case he expected us, I, being the party planner, and my guest Dean, being the birthday man of honor. He then radios upstairs, gets word back, and then asks us to follow him up the stairs. We are a little confused what is going on, thou excited where he might be taking us, up a steep and dingy staircase. Then we're transported into a beautiful room, almost a mix between a foreign hotel room and a passport office, but its sexy, its brimming with culture and a mysterious allure. Its very Cuban, as is the beautiful lady, seated at a vintage desk cum phonograph record player, who takes our names and introduces herself. You can't help but notice the intense and sudden onset of HEAT, its intentional, its authentic Cuba all around! She then pushes apart some garments that seem to be part of an antique wardrobe's decor and WA-LA...we are making a grand entrance down an aged spiral staircase entering the depths of CUBA a la LA DESCARGA!. Its like your staring in your own movie, a guest star in the live show! Bravo folks bravo. The initial awe and wow factor is unparalleled in LA nightlife, that I'm aware of. If anything feel similar, its "The Edison" thou of a different place and time, my forever favorite, 1920s Los Angeles!

The decor is charming, authentic, and beautifully vintage (thou again 3 weeks new). The custom mixologist designed drinks (a la Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix) are clever and tasty. Also innovative and breaking the mold to see a rum bar, after many a wine bar, even the vodka bar (Lubitsch) and the tequila bar (Scorpion), the Houston brothers enter some uncharted territory here, but it goes with the theme and locale ever perfectly! There are over 70 rums available, many aged or super hard to find, even a rum flight is available, how exciting, and oh-how-drunk one came become after a 'rum-tasting' LOL! After trying the daiquiri, the punch bowl (unique, but super hard to serve with its giant ice cube and tiny ladle), and the famed mojito, the daiquiri, which is a mix of Diplomatico anejo rum, lime and sugar, remains my favorite! The staff are friendly, attractive and definitely in character! There are even a few real Cubans on the staff or in the cast rather...and a few that could pass for it! I loved that.

The highlight for me is the live entertainment, a very unique and highly skilled quartet of Cuban jazz musicians play on the mezzanine above. Its very eloquent how they are positioned on a second floor high above the audience or bar rather, while the dancers come down the stairs, interact and dance with audience members and even perform on the bar (Coyote Ugly esuq isn't it). Its quite the spectacle, yet so unexpected, subtly can indeed be key! They were just phenomenal; performing a set every hour, accompanied by two fabulous and very interactive dancers, one of which ended up adding fire throwing/eating/twirling to her Meringue salsa samba-esque routine!

Every detail was planned and executed to a T. Owners/designers; twin brothers Mark & Johnnie Houston impressed me as they themselves know, no one ever really does. There are two lovely rooms, very different, but tied together so perfectly. The first is the two story room you arrive at upon entry, its small holds about 100 people, and then you walk thru a short narrow candle-lit hallway to arrive on the cigar room to accommodate about 50 guests, which is a (barely) open air smoking room, complete with rolled Cuban cigars available for purchase! From the authentic Cuban wall paper in the restrooms, to the pieces of the wood beamed ceilings unevenly exposed, to the vintage lamps and deco pieces strategically placed throughout the bar, to the distressed paint, to the antique scones and chandeliers from various eras, and not to forget the show-box of Cuban memorabilia on the patio AKA cigar room, it's just a work of art! The vibe is perfect, the experience seems real, the sights and sounds of this scene truly transport you to another time and place, to me, the way nightlife should be; experiential and talent/music based!

I feel inspired and affected, quite enamored if you will; by what I and almost every guest in attendance would agree upon first walking into the bar, left us awestruck. To affect people, to surprise them, to move them as they would by a piece of art, a song, a film, a dance me that's nightlife. That's the nightlife I will create and a few others are raising the bar in Los Angeles. Its a must see. Rated 9.7 from yours truly LA's KEY!

La Descarga
1159 N Western Avenue
Hollywood, CA 90029
323 466 1324