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The Enabler: Tony's bar and the tale of the mighty Manhattan

September 11, 2009 | 10:00 am

Tonys-bar Bar designer Ricki Kline, a Vietnamese general and Miss Senior America walk into a bar. Or rather, Kline walks into a bar — Tony’s, his 3-month-old Cedd Moses collaboration in downtown’s warehouse district — effusive about the story of how he had recently met both of the latter at a party.

“It was in deep Orange County,” he said, and his drinking companion nodded knowingly. Kline pulled out his digital camera to show off a giddy picture of himself with Miss Senior America, a silver fox if the Enabler ever saw one.

The Tuesday night scene was surreal in that distinct L.A. way in which various strains of humdrum collide into something majestically weird. But it befits Tony’s, which is surely the only nightspot serving quarter-cask Laphroaig Scotch within earshot of the Amtrak lines running along a desolate stretch of the L.A. River. Tony’s is a far-flung province of Moses’ downtown archipelago — the walk from the historic core quickly turns from noirish to genuinely spooky, and except for nearby American Apparel employees and the Downtown Rehearsal rabble, it’s a lonely hike.

But as anyone who’s fought through packs of handsy USC bros at the Golden Gopher lately can attest, its remoteness could be an asset. It also might be Moses’ best bar yet. A barely-lighted Chandlerian fever dream of unpronounceable whiskeys and wood trim, Tony’s renders the recent spate of hyper-male bars as pimply, furtive teenagers by comparison. This may be in large part due to bartender Skyler Reeves. With his close-cropped black hair, 10 o’clock shadow and jungle-cat muscular form, he cuts a visage that could melt the rocks in your bourbon. He knows his whiskey and Scotch lexicon, and can recommend something “peaty and earthy” or “sweet with a quick finish” faster than you can say “Um, both please, if you’re serving them.”

Reeves makes what might be the very best Manhattan that the Enabler has tasted in all of L.A. And the Enabler has tasted a lot of Manhattans — most gently seasoned with tears. Reeves’ Manhattan has an extra dash of Angostura bitters, and he leaves the liquor on ice for just a touch longer than most, before stirring it vigorously, pouring it into a classic cocktail glass and daring you to remember one better than his.

On the night of the Enabler’s first visit, the Station fire rendered the moon a bloodthirsty orange and cast a ghostly pallor on the bar’s pitch-black façade. Inside, a lone drinker held court by the long wooden bar, with its big Old West-style mirrors. The deep red booths on the back wall sat empty beneath chalkboards covered with the lengthy drink list. The unplayed pool table was lonely as only unplayed pool tables can be.

The emptiness at this end of town rang true and seemed ripe for whiskey. But in a short time, Kline swaggered in with his red shirt open over an undershirt and white hair all a mess. “I’m expecting Ulysses S. Grant to walk in here any minute,” he said, after explaining how his daughter made the bar’s decorative bunting. It seemed an eminently reasonable possibility.

-- August Brown and Jessica Gelt

Photo: Colin Young-Wolff / For The Times