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The new Cole's: 100 years in the making

December 3, 2008 |  7:24 pm

Colescollage_2We're running a story on the new incarnation of Cole's in downtown L.A. in Monday's Calendar section, but I couldn't resist leaking a bit of the information I got at a media preview this afternoon. First of all, as a die-hard Cole's fan, I have to admit I was a bit worried about Cole's (which originally opened in 1908) being remade into a fancy-schmancy version of its former, weathered and lovable self. But I should have known better since the man doing the remaking was Cedd Moses, who has demonstrated time and again his devotion to maintaining the historical integrity of the downtown spaces his bars occupy.

In the case of Cole's, he worked in lock-step with the L.A. Conservancy to make sure he was remaking Cole's into, well, Cole's (more on that in Monday's story). After all, it wasn't always a spectacular dive --before Prohibition it was one of the most popular bars in Los Angeles. Over the years it hit hard times, as did much of downtown. It still laid claim to a devoted fan base, but those who frequented Cole's knew to expect a faint smell of urine (Cole's is situated a bit below sidewalk level and its doorway was a handy place for wandering drunks to relieve themselves). They also knew to expect rats. Big, gray, scuttling rats. I was once enjoying a martini at a front booth with my father when one ran across my feet and rounded the corner toward the kitchen. In those days I just shrugged.

After all, it was Cole's -- the quirky, age-old, capital "I" institution -- that prompted Tony Lovett and Matt Maranian to write in their quintessential guide to the "obscure, the absurd, and the perverse in Los Angeles," titled "L.A. Bizarro":

"Cole's has always reminded me of a filthy stinking Parisian public urinal trough, the kind you can't flush. If you like the acrid aroma of real honest-to-goodness dive, you'll absolutely love Cole's...Cole's atmosphere is unique on many levels. The ambiance is like 'The Iceman Cometh' meets 'Cheers' on morphine."

This is a rather long way of saying that Moses appears to have kept what was grand and marvelous about Cole's while losing the things that made you not want to eat there. Because now that Neal Fraser has designed the menu, eating at Cole's should be something that you should want to do.

For now the menu is short and sweet: Beef, pork, turkey and lamb French dip sandwiches with homemade au jus (single, double or triple-dipped), bacon potato salad, cole slaw, tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches and seasonal pies.

For more of the scoop on Cole's, check back here Monday, when we'll link to the story in Calendar.

--Jessica Gelt

Photo credit: Francisco Arcaute