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Dark, atmospheric, vintage hidden gems

We troll the back streets of LA's suburbs looking for that hidden gem (at least in the way we define it)... Dimly lit, atmospheric bar/restaurants that are off the grid and undiscovered by most. We'll go anywhere from the ocean to Rancho Cucamonga; Chatsworth to Yorba Linda. It doesn't matter. The thrill of the hunt to find a new experience is what fuels us...

Some past finds:

The Dal Rae / Pico Rivera
The Safari Room / Devonshire
La Paloma / La Verne (For the bar)
Parisienne / Duarte
Lowenbrau Keller / Mid City/Downtown
Villa Sombrero / Highland Park (OK, doesn't meet all the criteria, but we like it, nonetheless.)

We don't care if its full of blue hairs, long hairs, just no velvet ropes.
We eat at the finest restaurants, and some of the most questionable.
In other words, we're open...

Does anybody have any suggestions that we may not know of?

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    1. re: Servorg

      What about the Buggy Whip in Westchester by LAX? And the North Woods Inn -- is it out someplace on the north east side of the greater LA area. You have undoubtedly gone to Musso & Frank but what about The Sherman Room in the San Fernando Valley?

      1. re: Servorg

        There are two North Woods Inns. One in San Gabriel and the other in Covina.


        1. re: Velvet Elvis

          Add another location to the list - La Mirada/La Palma off the 5 Fwy.

        2. re: Servorg

          Also Dan Tana's in WeHo and Micelli's in Hollywood and even Taylor's on 8th Street in Koreatown.

          1. re: Servorg

            Adding Taylor's on 8th (?) near downtown. I LOVE the Buggy Whip during stone crab season (now). I don't eat meat so can't vouch for the steaks. The atmosphere is very old school-naugahide (SP), waitstaff (some clearly past their prime but fun) with bowties and a singer/pianist set up in the bar room called Peter that takes requests. Oh and they have oysters!

            1. re: Densible

              imho, at the buggy whip, the rest of the food is meh

              1. re: Densible

                ooo stone crab? steamed with butter?

              2. re: Servorg

                The Sherman Room has got to be one of the diviest places in the Valley, beyond those that are downright scary. The place is small and dark, the food comes in three colors, brown, dark brown and white. No veggies here other than potatoes. But I love it. For what it is, the food is decent, and you feel like you've stepped back to a time when the Valley was all a bunch of new suburbs. Mostly blue collar people sitting in those red booths, eating steak, and washing it back with Miller High Life. The other places listed here are good, but the Sherman Room is pretty unique.

                Sherman Room
                16916 Sherman Way, Van Nuys, CA 91406

                1. re: writerinla

                  Nice paean to the type of place that is rapidly vanishing from the dining scene in LA. Here is a link to a previous review / thread on Sherman Marching to the Sea (via Van Nuys).


                  1. re: Servorg

                    That's a great post, describes the place well.

                    One thing that gets mentioned is the prices - it's rare (no pun intended) to get a good steak that's under $20 in LA, much less 15.

                    I mostly go there for the bar - the great bloody mary, the martini - the drinks are cheap and strong.

                    You're right, it is the kind of place that's vanishing...

                  2. re: writerinla

                    Well said, and now I am obsessed with going.

                  3. re: Servorg

                    Been to all but the Sherman room, which is a highly appreciated suggestion... I am definitely going within the week (I also saw the description below...)You are certainly on the right path with North Woods in, Steak and Stein, Thanks.

                2. Vito's in Santa Monica? It's not as good as The Dal Rae, where I have just returned from, but it's got a lot of tableside preparation, lots of blue hair, dim lights, and all the other things you associate with a forgotten time.

                  1 Reply
                  1. You might try La Cave in Newport Beach. http://lacaverestaurant.com/ It's like stepping back to 1955. Traditional continental cuisine, almost pitch dark atmosphere, and live jazz/standards in the evnings. Love the place.

                    13 Replies
                    1. re: socaldiner

                      Another old-school Newport Beach restaurant is The Arches. Dimly lit, been there for ages, great old-shool dishes like Lobster Thermidor.
                      May I also suggest Centro Basco in Chino. It's an old Basque restaurant, doesn't look like much from the outside, you go inside and think you're in the year 1960 (at least). Dark, murals on the wall, a great bar. Great Basque food, you can either dine family-style at long tables (Basque style), or in the Dining Room.

                      1. re: aurora50

                        Last time 2 or 3 times I've driven by The Arches, it was surrounded by storm fences, plastic sheeting and sandbags...in other words, CLOSED! I was shocked...I've been going there for about 30 years and it's been threre for about 80. Please somebody post that it's reopened!!!

                        1. re: onedrummer

                          Your lucky day: The owner opened a new place, also called "The Arches," in the old Aubergine space in Cannery Village.

                          1. re: onedrummer

                            they have opened at another site and from what i have read are remodeling the old site. they are included in this week's newport restaurant week too!

                            1. re: justagthing

                              OMG I just read your posts!!! The old Arches -
                              - What happened???? Did it get flooded, damaged, what???
                              Anyone know???

                                1. re: New Trial

                                  Thanks, New Trial. That really blows my mind, the Arches was at that location forever. So the owner just decided to reopen in another, smaller place - ?
                                  And if I'm reading correctly, the Aubergine people are now planning to open in the old Arches place??????

                                  1. re: aurora50

                                    I am dubious whether the Goodalls ever followed through; however, the owner of The Arches has opened a second location, I think where Le Quai used to be, called Arches on the Water: http://www.thearchesrestaurant.com

                                    1. re: New Trial

                                      The Goodell's DID follow though and their place is called A Restaurant (in the old Arches space) I hear it's excellent.

                          2. re: aurora50

                            Centro Basque? Right ON, we'll check it out. That is EXACTLY what I wanted to find out through this posting

                            1. re: popeyejackson

                              Great! Let me know when you've gone, I'd like to know how you liked it!!

                          3. re: socaldiner

                            The Alley on PCH & Balboa is another great red leather booth place. The barkeeps rock. Fun local place without all the plastic surgery victims you usually find in the OC.

                            1. Colombo's on Colorado in Eagle Rock

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: martyR

                                Have to agree here. Great Live Jazz and Salsa. Old school Martini's and my Fav. Burger in town. Other good things, the calamari and the rolled lasanga

                              2. Kelly's on 2nd Street in Naples (Long Beach). Red naughahyde booths and the whole 60's feel. A step back in time.

                                1. I had a very bizarre dinner at Dear John's in Culver City near Sony a few years ago. There was an older couple who played keyboards and sang... but oddly, the food (American steakhouse-y) was kinda good. It had the booths, the old people, etc. It sounds like something you might be interested in.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Lmo1823

                                    can't vouch for the food, but the string of off-key singers that i've heard there give it an 'odd' vibe-- 'odd' in a good, kitschy way.

                                    1. re: Lmo1823

                                      Re; Lmo / Dear Johns... You are right, we love that place. Bizzare in all the right ways.

                                    2. Chez Jay in Santa Monica might be another option. It's a dimly lit (is it even lit?) dive bar, but the food is surprisingly good. People don't believe me, but the kitchen turns out decent food. Their sand dabs are especially good.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: glutton

                                        Great idea. I took my dad here (we both love seafood, he also loves beer) and we had a great time. I had a really delicious swordfish that I still remember. And this place is definitely interesting and still, for some reason, off-the-beaten path.

                                        1. re: glutton

                                          Chez Jay is a great option. I love the La Jolla Potatoes and the sand dabs

                                        2. I haven't been there in years but The Dresden in the Los Feliz area would fit your bill.

                                          2 Replies
                                            1. re: RoachCoach

                                              And I'll 3rd it. We were there recently and while it's nothing special, it certainly fits your requirements to a T. It may be the ultimate dark, vintage place in the LA area. Food isn't as good as Dal Rae, but then again Dal Rae is hardly dark.

                                          1. In Pasadena, I would go to Monty's on Fair Oaks. Red Naugahyde booths, bar fly at the counter, I am fond of the peppercorn steak. Pie and Burger on California, in addition to their obvious burger and pies, I like their cobb salad.

                                            In South Pasadena, Gus's BBQ.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: Minimang

                                              Unfortunately, Monty's closed a few months ago.

                                                1. re: MaryT

                                                  gus's is remodelling, and should open under new ownership in the next 30-60 days.

                                                2. re: hpcat

                                                  OMG!! This was a part of my growing up in Pasadena. My dad's fave place. I think the first time I went I sat in a high chair. When dad visits we would still go there occassionally.

                                                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                  I've always wondered about La Boheme...What's it like?

                                                2. I assume Tam O'Shanter is too obvious.

                                                  And isn't Lowenbrau Keller also closed?

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: mlgb

                                                    Lowenbrau Keller is closed and I miss it.

                                                        1. re: mollyomormon

                                                          Wow. The original owners were amazing, it was always empty, and something about it being run down appealed to me... But as long as the new owners keep the vibe, its better thatn losing it. Kind of like "The Prince"...

                                                    1. You probably know of it already, but I have to put a good word in for Gualeguetza.... no atmosphere (although slightly more at some locations than others) but a festival of mole so good it could make you cry. Not to mention the goat burrito, the carnitas, the tamales.....

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: danikm

                                                        Just make sure you go to the Olympic location, not the 8th street one. I haven't been to the one on the Westside.

                                                      2. the bounty on wilshire - a classic

                                                        1. Columbo's in Eagle Rock for sure, totally old school and killer drinks!! The first time my husband and I went there, we had to walk home, inexpensive, booths, old guys at the bar, you can't beat it!!

                                                          1. HMS Bounty and The Prince, both in Koreatown.
                                                            More bars than eateries, but Casey's pub and (gasp) Hank's Bar at the Hotel Stillwell, both Downtown.

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                                                            1. re: neobite

                                                              I love The Prince. Great Korean fried chicken in a large space with red vinyl booths and kitchy Brit decor.

                                                            2. On the subject of Hidden gems - here's a find we made years ago! On Hwy 395 on the way to Mammoth there is a little treasure of a french bistro called the Still Life Cafe. Not really dark but definitely fun find very off the beaten path and the food is exceptionally good. Used to be in Olancha but it moved to like the next town over...Independence, I think. Anyway - add that to your list and next time you are coming back from a ski weekend -plan to have dinner! ;)

                                                              1. In that same vein, you should check out Taix in Echo Park, The Galley in Santa Monica, and Damon's in Glendale.

                                                                I'm guessing that Dan Tana and Musso & Frank's don't fit the bill of "undiscovered by most," but they should be included in any list of atmospheric vintage gems.




                                                                1. Hardly "off the grid," but here are a few of my favourites all the same:

                                                                  1. Damiano Mr. Pizza on Fairfax
                                                                  2. Ye Rustic Inn on Hillhurst
                                                                  3. King Eddy Saloon on E. 5th.

                                                                  Three points on a spectrum, somewhere between "High Rec Room" and "Hef's Grotto."

                                                                  Or, between "Dump" and "Sh*thole," as the case may be. <smile>


                                                                  1. How can you forget Guido's in West LA??

                                                                    Near perfection.

                                                                    1. You would have to go during non-peak hours, but I finally ate in the back room that must have been the original Arsenal before it expanded and it was awesome. As you come in the front door it's off to your right. I've never been there (although keep meaning to try) but I wonder if Billingsly's down the street on Pico would fit the bill.

                                                                      1. Well, if you like garlic... No, if you LOVE garlic, try the Stinking Rose! It's very dark and eclectic. Definitely worth the trip to Beverly Hills, which I usually try to avoid like the plague.


                                                                        The Red Lion Tavern in Glendale is also another fun stop on the dark and dingy road. Although, the beer may be considered a bit more tasty than the dinner entrees.

                                                                        1. The San Franciscan on Sepulveda in Torrance
                                                                          Antes in San Pedro - excellent "Slav" food
                                                                          The Bull Pen on PCH in Redondo Beach
                                                                          Kelly's 2nd Street in BelmontShores/Naples

                                                                          All old school, Bull Pen and San Franciscan have live entertainment

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                                                                          1. re: gaylenwaydelich

                                                                            wow- 4 places I've never been. (Dont get to South Bay much...) THANKS!

                                                                          2. Haven't been there in years, but Los Toros in Chatsworth used to be a gem. Good Margaritas, bean dip, Pine Sol frangrance....

                                                                            1. You must visit Bahooka in Rosemead http://www.geocities.com/bahookaresta...
                                                                              Dark, retro, downscale Polynesian food. This is what Trader Vic's would have become if it had been allowed to decay instead of being shuttered.

                                                                              It's quite near the Huntington Gardens...visit the Huntington for some proper culture, and then head to Bahooka to relax.

                                                                              1. Thanks to all the replies. I'd say I knew of a good chunk of 'em, but some I'd never heard of at all, so thanks, and keep em comin'.

                                                                                We went to Club Los Globos on Sunset in Silverlake last weekend. Its a club, not a restaurant, but picture Charo's band playing at the Madonna Inn if it were in Tijuana... AMAZING.

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                                                                                1. re: popeyejackson

                                                                                  Three other thoughts. Have you ever been to The Pines Cafe out on the Pearblossom Hwy in the high desert? Worth the drive. Have you been to Pann's up near LAX? One of the last and best examples of googie architecture and a great old time rock and roll musical track plus some of the best fried chicken in LA and great grits. Finally Encounter just reopened at LAX. Worth dropping in for drinks some night.


                                                                                2. Does Neomeze in Pasadena fall into this category? http://www.neomeze.com/

                                                                                  20 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91105