Cole’s, Library Bar and Redwood Bar and Grill from CityBeat:
PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES
It was a burger that first broke ground: a high-concept creation sweetened with caramelized onions, smeared with an applewood-bacon compote and glued together by Gruyere and Maytag blue cheese. Father’s Office’s self-titled Office Burger stormed the culinary world, causing drunken late-night crowds to queue up in claustrophobic scrums and kitchens to plow through patties in hopes of reproducing that success.
But if Father’s Office revived the formerly fossilized concept of the gastropub, downtown is where the best bar food has taken hold. It’s in part due to concentration – within a few disorienting blocks are dozens of restaurants and bars (and all those permit-dodging places in between) that care just as much about their food as they do their drinks. Because of that, the best way to absorb all that bar-bound cooking is the crawl, stopping in for a boutique beer here and a carefully constructed slider there.
You could craft an entire alcohol-only night out from Cedd Moses’ rehabbed relics – Broadway Bar, the Golden Gopher, Seven Grand – but Cole’s is his culinary centerpiece. It took a few months for the renovated restaurant to find its way, but the (co-creator) of the French dip is back to being an essential piece of downtown, thanks to a menu of manly sandwiches stuffed with either lamb, turkey, beef or pork. The accompanying mustards can add some heat (though the so-called “atomic” is hardly nuclear) but the French dips still slide down wonderfully easy.
Cole’s has an admirable bar of its own, but it isn’t without competition, including the Association (a signless space next door) and the Varnish, the new backroom bar inside Cole’s that mixes its drinks inside Prohibition-era ambience. Bounce between all three and you’ll drink as well as anywhere, alternating between sips of Spaten and proper Sazeracs.
Straight up Sixth Street is Library Bar, a smart but not bookish spot near the Central Library. There’s a wall of clothbound tomes for academic authenticity, but the bar doesn’t bother adhering to Dewey-decimal decorum; it’s crowded instead with after-work eaters outfitted in blazers and halter tops.
Library Bar feeds that natty swarm well with a perfectly pink burger that benefits from its crisp house-made pickles. The standard fries are fine – straw-sized potatoes cooked fresh – but you’d do better to up your order to the steak fries, canoe-like wedges tossed in pork fat and sea salt. The pork belly skewers are the kitchen’s most memorable meal, crunchy cubes of fatty pork that land in your stomach with all the necessary heft. The pork’s maple-based sauce is sweet but not overly saccharine, cut with a couple slices of lime and a sprinkling of cilantro for a balance that’s chased best with a Belgian brew or a Moscow Mule.
If you’re not already suitably soused, stumble up to Redwood Bar and Grill, which endured a conversion a few years back from a reporter’s retreat to a pirate-inspired hideout that has exponentially upped your chances of an encounter with Kim Fowley. If your timing is right, you might also catch a set by near-resident Mike Stinson, whose tear-in-your-beer country regularly soaks the bar’s seafaring space. If not, however, finish up with some Stella and a fudge brownie, an incapacitating combination that will top you off until you’re ready to walk again.
Cole’s, 118 E. Sixth St., downtown Los Angeles, (213) 622-4090, colesfrenchdip.com. Library Bar, 630 W. Sixth St., downtown Los Angeles, (213) 614-0053, librarybarla.com. Redwood Bar and Grill, 316 W. Second St, downtown Los Angeles, (213) 680-2600, theredwoodbar.com.