A red carpet leads the way past a cluster of spotlights, and two large lacquered doors grant access to a low-lit room. Conversation buzzes, layered over the underlying thumping of music that emanates throughout the space. It's the quintessential modern nightclub, but Sunset Room is alive with old-school Hollywood glamour; it's decorated with crystal chandeliers and dark wood, aesthetic touches that are the very antithesis of stale chain restaurants or picnic tables set up in a cave. In the dining room, white tablecloths rest beneath the light of flickering candles, and small plates encourage sharing bites of flatbread and steak sliders. Reserved seating can make guests feel extra special, and live bands and DJs start dance parties on the dance floor. A team of mixologists also arrives on the scene to shake and stir a variety of craft cocktails and drinks at the towering bar.
The elegant mixture of cuisine, libations, and decor that constitutes Sunset Room is the brainchild of Chris Breed and James Ashford. Since 1990, Chris has been improving nightlife in Hollywood, first with the Roxbury Supper Club and now with Sunset. Chris teams up with James, who has a background as an LAPD officer and a real-estate man.
Start a romantic evening with a Dungeness crab cake with aioli, caper, lemon, and coleslaw ($15) and a bowl of the soup of the day ($10). Eye entrees like the soft and succulent roasted half chicken with fingerling potatoes, haricots verts, mixed wild mushrooms, and pearl onions ($24) and the braised short ribs with polenta, Swiss chard, and salsa verde ($25). Complete the circle of life by burying your fork in a slice of key lime pie with guava puree and mango sorbet ($10) or the chocolate chocolate chocolate trio ($16), whose richness is so deadly it was, until recently, banned by nonproliferation treaties. If you've recently cycled through Fraiche and think you've tasted it all, try the new lunch menu. The chopped salad with Italian cured meats, tomato, provolone, and chick peas ($13) and the Moroccan lamb sausage sandwich with harissa aioli ($13) offer just the right noontime spice-kick to erase your morning malaise.
Common crooners and undercover celebrities belt out ballads all evening long at The Gaslite. Karaoke commences promptly at 7 p.m. every evening, provided that the bar's nine widescreen TVs are not showcasing the latest sporting events or insightful weather reports. While providing Tina Turner imitators with backup harmonies, patrons can sip on a variety of mixed drinks ($7–$12), beer ($4–$6), and wine ($7) to keep whistles in peak performing form. Stop in during happy hour from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and prepare for songs about buckets with $2 off all drinks or a bucket toting a quartet of domestic ($10) or imported beer ($12), then reuse the emptied container to douse championship-winning singers. The Gaslite is open from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily and makes up for its lack of kitchen by providing a lengthy list of local eateries ready to deliver directly to your table.
Gonpachi fashions its menu of authentic Japanese fare and Edomae (Tokyo-style) sushi from locally sourced ingredients, as well as authentic foodstuffs purchased from Tokyo's Tsukiji Market. Gonpachi hand-pounds its soba noodles daily from buckwheat flour threshed and milled on the premises. These freshly noodled noodles can then be served chilled with a dipping sauce as seiro ($8) or in a hot broth as kake soba ($8–$9). Gonpachi in Beverly Hills also practices the slow-cooking robata-style, preparing delicacies such as Chilean sea bass ($6) and bacon-wrapped cherry tomatoes ($3) over the gentle firelight of a traditional oak-charcoal pyramid. On the other end of the cooked spectrum, sushi fans can trap spicy tuna rolls ($5) between the bamboo chopsticks in their hands or the insect pincers on their faces. Chopsticks also protect hands from the flavor explosion of the dynamite roll ($16).
Mixologist Vincenzo Marianella scours the Santa Monica Farmers Market for fresh and local produce. Then he lets his customers decide how to use them. With Copa D’Ora’s make-your-own cocktail program, guests choose from a long list of spirits (Plymouth gin, Buffalo Trace bourbon, Hardy’s V.S. cognac), fresh herbs (basil, mint, sage), jams, organic juices, and vegetables. Then Vincenzo, who studied his craft in Sydney, New York, and London, takes care of the rest, blending it all and filling tumblers, martini glasses, and highballs full of a libation wholly personalized to each patron. He also offers an extensive list of pre-designed cocktails that also bear the mixologist’s distinct liquid signature.
The farmers market doesn't only play a part in the cocktail menu—Copa D'Oro's food is also prepared with the local ingredients. Panini sandwiches on LaBrea Bakery’s sourdough bread and platters brimming with artisanal cheese and Nostrano salami mirror the sophistication of the space. As the LA Times notes, there are no “shrill sorority sisters or high-fivin' sports fans…no DJs, no television.” Rather, plush leather banquettes and lounge chairs gather regally amid soft lighting, exposed brick walls with tasteful works of art, and exposed beams that zigzag above the dining room.
Less than a block from the Santa Monica Pier, Chez Jay Restaurant is a refreshing change of pace from its busy stretch of Ocean Avenue. The friendly regulars come here for the potent cocktails and delicious seafood, surely, but they're also drawn to the cozy environment. Throughout its 55 years, the charming lounge has appeared in several feature films and also served as a hideaway for locals, celebrities, and extras from Cheers.