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Feb 11, 2010 07:09 PM

La Descarga: The Hottest Spot West of La Habana, LA's First Rum Bar Shakes and Swizzles.

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La Descarga, LA's first rum bar unloads its mystery, and lusty scent as you slowly descend into its clutches. La Descarga, the "discharge", oozes the jazz of the cabarets, bars, and clubs in La Habana, both past and present. The daiquiris at El Floridita, the mojitos from La Bodeguita del Medio, the raw undulations of the Tropicana, the rumba guaguanco(dance) of the malecon, the Afro-Cuban sounds of club La Zorra y El Cuervo, and the all night party of La Casa de La Musica.

La Descarga,a transparent speakeasy, operates on a reservation system which keeps this instant scene bar a place you want to be, where service and style are foremost. The vintage dressed beauty greets you and eases you into the bar through a secret entrance where there is a crowd, but room to drink, dance, and mingle. An attentive staff keeps an eye on everyone and even if you are not for want, the enchanting Deandra may ask you how you're doing. These people want to ensure that your time at La Descarga is special.

A quartet perched on a balcony above the main bar starts to play and a curvy babe starts to dance, "ay no ma'", yells the conga player blistering out a cumbia beat, which is Cuban for "that's the spot girl!" "Baila,mamasita!"(dance,hot mama)

At the bar, Pablo Moix makes heritage rum classic cocktails. Pablo is the portfolio mixologist for Bacardi, and has put his passion for rum and a good party into this place, along with Steve Livigni from the Doheny.

The short list of cocktails exists for know as they properly train staff these straight-forward classics. The mojito,made just as as Hemingway would have requested at La Bodeguita, is so refreshing and balanced.

A recipe for Papa's daiquiri, from La Cuna de Daiquiri(the cradle of the daiquiri), El Floridita, calls for white Bacardi rum, Maraschino Liqueur, and fresh squeezed grapefruit.

The Cuba Libre is given an added sugar rush from Mexican Coke.

We all enjoyed the Tropical Holiday, made with rhum agricole,a fresh sugar cane juice rhum exclusive to Martinique. Velvet falernum(an indispensable liqueur in rum mixology),lime, sugar, soda and bitters comprise the balance of the ingredients.

There is a house daiquiri, a favorite drink of Pablo's, and other quite reasonably priced rum cocktails, between $9 and $13.

On opening night the club was in full swing. this is a place to drink but don't for get to buy a round for the welcoming eyes across the bar, celebrate with your set, or strike up a conversation with a perfect stranger. Dolled up beauties in vintage clothing reach in their purses for a cigarette, a guy with in a bow tie knocks back a drink, and the adult amusement park that is La Descarga stirs in the rhythyms and spirit of Cuba and rum.

It didn't take long, but by the first weekend the dance floor began to take shape. The various cultures and flavors of Los Angeles began to swoop, twirl, and step to the sounds of son, cumbia, and rumba.

But La Descarga is first and foremost a rum bar, and if you aren't diving into the hand selected rums from Pablo and co. then you are missing something unique. The rums are from all over the world of this legendary spirit. The selection of rums will expand as Pablo carefully adds bottles, not to just litter the bar in unfamiliar booze, like other places around town, but to deliver excellence.

There are the rums for all like Ron Zacapa from Guatemala, that will charm both novice and rum fanatic. It's as sweet and smooth as Salma Hayek's curves, which were a fine addition to the smoking lounge this past weekend at La Descarga.

Ron Zaya, another charming Guatemalan will also do just fine in anyone's glass. The rhum agricole, le Favorite, from Martinique has wonderful earthern flavors and that delicate sweetness from the distillation of fresh sugar cane juice. Or, try a Pusser's rum, famed as the British Navy's daily ration of courage until the practice was abolished in 1970.

In the cigar bar, you will find only neat spirits, can bring your cocktail if you must. Here, quality hand-rolled Dominican leaf cigars for all tastes from mild to wild are provided. The presidente figurado(torpedo), is an excellent full bodied smoke, and already a favorite. The slender lancero is an elegant sight to behold, and of a medium flavor. This rum and smokes bar is part boys club and ladies den of iniquity where nymphs fashionably drag on cigarettes. A Marlene Dietrich styled blonde rattles of her keen knowledge of rhum agricoles, yes she adores Le Favorite.

I wend my way back to the bar for a more bold adventure, Trinidad and Tobago's Scarlet Ibis($16), a strong and spicy small production rum made in copper pot stills, blended with 3-5 year old vintages.

From Barbados, the 12 yr. Cockburn evokes fruit and orange peel flavors with a luscious mouth feel. The folks at the rum bar are getting to know their selection of rums, but instead leading you on, they kindly offer to give you a taste, don't mind if I do.A rum paired with a nice cigar is about as good as it gets.

The executive treatment continues as the cigar attendant cuts and attentively lights your stick.

When it's show time you are ushered into the main bar to get a glimpse of a night at the Tropicana, where Cuba's racy cabaret show became legend. The dancer teases and provokes the crowd.

The percussionist draws nearer, trading bongo breaks for rump shakes, while the band stops time. Some "Salt Peanuts, Salt Peanuts" rings out from the skins, and the dancer obliges with pelvic thrusts.

Later she slinks down to the floor, then walks the bar to hoots and hollers from both sexes.

The show is becoming the talk of La Descarga and has a deeper vibe than the forced burlesque scenes that have come and gone in recent years around LA, LA Descarga feels like you've left the country.

A much as we admire her form, the grace and heat in her dance intrigues.

This is La Descarga,a little bit of Old Havana, New Hollywood, but all-American. A bar that celebrates the heart of Cuba in song, dance, and backdrop, but the drink, rum, is afterall the drink of the American Revolution.

La Descarga is LA's first rum bar, for both aficionados and newcomers. Explore the Caribbean's kill-devil, the pure classic rum cocktails of Pablo Moix, K-Town's modish speakeasy, in an ambiance of style and correct service.

There are other bars around town that are known for their spirits lists, but when you arrive, you feel as they never really intended for you to actually enjoy them. Tequila bars with shelves of fluff that mostly sell average margaritas, a whiskey bar that's more pool hall with the dull tone of a frat party.

Steve Livigni and Deandra Miranda of La Descarga.

The real "rum junglers", Julia and Samantha on Opening Night at La Descarga.

La Descarga is a serious bar that has as much pulse as it does substance. The cocktails around town have been fun my friends, but enough already, give us a sip of unadulterated spirit, and let's indulge in sweet vice, latin rhythym 'n heat, and consort amidst luxurious rings of smoke.

La Descarga
1159 Western Avenue
Hollywood, California 90029
(reservation strongly suggested)
(323) 466-1324 or
at their website

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  1. Wow, great review. It's places like this that really make me wish I lived in LA and not (mostly) boring old white-bread OC....

    4 Replies
    1. re: mikester

      LOL, my thoughts exactly when I read this earlier.

      1. re: JAB

        Well, I had to hold back when I wrote this fellas. I can't even tell you how much I love this place. I was there last night until they closed, my third time since they opened.

        It is a PAAAAAARRttty. It's worth the drive. The place is so service oriented, there's even a guy that goes around letting people know when the show is, and it's one of the few mingle friendly places in LA . I wanna be there every night.

        1. re: streetgourmetla

          _LOVE_ your passion! _TOTALLY_ agree with you about it being "drive-worthy", too.
          One note: descarga is to discharge in a ballistic sense, as in "discharging a firearm", just to be clear, lest any uninitiated take pause there. '-)
          I wouldn't want anyone confusing it with discharge as in a suppuration (ewww. Just: ewww)
          Your post are legion here. Love 'em! Keep 'em coming, please. :-)

          1. re: SusanaTheConqueress

            Thanks SusanaTheConqueress, that's great!

            Well, I do mean an oozing, rumba, and booze. Ever been to Havana?

            Will do! So, you went already? What'd ya think? Drink?

    2. I am celebrating my bday this sat and wanted to get out of Venice... So I tried making reservations here, but they were fully booked. Do you have any recemendations for a bday celebration(dinner and/or drinks) in Hollywood. Not interested in places that are all fluff. Thanks!

      15 Replies
      1. re: skinnyfatso

        Oh that's a drag! I don't have a suitable substitute for La Descarga, and these days it's hard for me to even consider another bar. In Hollywood?

        I'd probably do Korean BBQ and some bar in K Town as an alternative near Hollywood.

        1. re: streetgourmetla

          now i'm saddened to hear this is yet another velvet rope kind of place. is it easier during the week to get in?

          1. re: linus

            Well, once you get in you will cheer up with ease. It's not a velvet rope, a place that selects from a crowd, this place is without bias, and Vladimir, the doorman doesn't care if you're Salma or Linus, you just need a reservation.

            The dress code is standard Cali, no flip flops, or shorts, etc.

            The club isn't that big and they don't want the place to be so packed you can't enjoy the bar. THere is no line out front of people waiting because you have a reservation. There is breathing room, usually places to sit, unlike SevenGrand that has a beautiful bourbon list, but is really a pool hall for college kids who could care less about the booze.

            The place is very popular and certainly weekends are primetime, but just plan in advance and you'll be fine. During the week should be better.

            Cocktails are a bargain, rums are priced to slam, great entertainment, and a cigar lounge.

              1. re: streetgourmetla

                How is the Cigar selection... love J Lounge, but they are ALWAYS out of the Cigars I like... BLEH!


                1. re: Dommy

                  They have hand rolled cigars with Dominican leaf, rolled by a little company here in LA, I'm had the presidente, the lancero, and a friend ordered the robusto last night.

                  So far they've all been very nice cigars. They're all around $15-$20, not bad at all.

                  1. re: streetgourmetla

                    No not bad at all... I'm still sketchy about making a reservation at a bar (I don't even make them at restaurants!) but It's just got put higher on the list. :)


                    1. re: Dommy

                      Well, the clubs policy is "reservations encouraged". Give it a shot, and if you get denied just show up, I wouldn't worry too much about it. Just go!!

                      1. re: streetgourmetla

                        Do you think reservations are needed on weeknights?

                        1. re: Senor Popusa

                          I would "encourage" reservations, because, why not? But, if feeling the rumba calling, just head over, weeknights are should be less hectic. I was in on Thursday and it got pretty full, even ran into CiaoBob taking in the rum festivities.In other words, don't sweat it. Make sure you are properly dressed.

                          1. re: streetgourmetla

                            It was full Thursday but not bodies-of-strangers-pressed-together, which was nice. I imagine it'd be fuller on weekends.

                            Great writeup streetgourmetla. I need to do one but you have the honours on Chowhound. :)

                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                              Looking forward to your review. Guess we'll have to go back a few more times so you can............research!

                              1. re: streetgourmetla

                                That's true. I don't feel like I know enough about 15-year-old agricole rums from Martinique. Further research is definitely warranted.

                            2. re: streetgourmetla

                              What a cool and fun place -- thanks so much for the write up, and the sip of rum, SGLA! I plan to go back soon. Actually tried to make a reservation on Sat. with a group of 4 but they were fully booked.

                              1. re: Ciao Bob

                                Hey Ciao Bob, sorry to hear that. Well, at this point I'm not letting that stop me, just have a plan B. I would just go down anyway. You're welcome.

          2. Checked it out on Thursday night with some friends and we all loved it. What a great space! A little Disneyland meets Old Havana but we enjoyed every detail.

            Pablo makes some great drinks. It was funny to see him dressed up in his bartender gear as its so different from his style when he goes out elsewhere.

            I tried the honey swizzle, the Hemingway daiquiri, the Descarga daiquiri, and a mojito. All were quite good.

            The place filled up over the course of the night and by the time the first show started at 10, it was full. The drums playing and the dancing on the balcony, it was a real fiesta. Ran into two other groups of folks I know, which made the night even better.

            It made me want to plan another trip to Havana. La Descarga was more fun than being in La Floridita! I am just figuring out my next excuse to be in that part of town so I can try some more of Pablo's elixirs.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Senor Popusa

              That's funny that you mentioned Disneyland. That's exactly what I usually tell people when I bring them for the first time. The place looks like it could be in Pirates if the Caribbean.

              It's definitely more like La Casa de La Musica in Centro Habana than El Floridita. But that daiquiri at El Foridita is pretty amazing.

            2. Is there a cover charge or drink minimum here? Not much info on their website.


              3 Replies
              1. re: torchsong

                No cover charge or drink minimum before. Doubt this has changed. And, if you roll out and are hungry, the little Taco's El Patio hut next door can assuage your peckishness.

                1. re: torchsong

                  No, no cover charge or drink minimum. The drinks are expensive, but a) in the back room you're sipping small-batch rhums agricoles and b) in the front room your drinks are being made by a great bartender, not some two-bit mojito slinger.

                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                    Thanks for the info. I'm totally happy to pay for a well mixed drink. Just wanted to be prepared. Going Saturday night after dinner at Red O. Can't wait!!!

                    Red O
                    8155 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046

                2. The original comment has been removed