By Scott Morris
Laurel Tavern Exudes Comfortable Cool in LA
Los Angeles is a celebrity town, catering to celebrity ways, and it runs
on celebrity dollars. Most notable
bars and clubs are obnoxiously exclusive:
it’s difficult to get in, and once inside,
you’d better be prepared to pay top dollar. Club and bar owners are proud that a
cocktail will set you back at least $15.
So it was a surprise to discover Laurel
Tavern, which opened on Ventura Boulevard last summer. The buzz was that it
had a hip, pub atmosphere, great wine
and beers selections and excellent food.
People got together with friends and
actually had conversations there.
I was deeply skeptical. The traditional
posture taken during a night out in LA is
to form cliques and then stare at other
people with as much attitude as humanly
possible when not glancing down at your
As soon as I walked inside, though,
a happy depressurization began. Laurel
Tavern can accommodate about 100
people, and it is indeed friendly, cheerful and inviting. The floors are wooden
planks recovered from a 1920s warehouse
in Nebraska. There are rafters in the ceiling
and the walls are exposed brick. Large
chalkboards on both sides of the bar list
beer, wine and food choices. Nobody gives
you the stink eye. People chat and laugh
and have a good time. You feel welcome.
The Pub Revisited
“Laurel Tavern is a rethink of the pub
concept,” explains general manager Eric
Zimmelman. “We wanted it to have all
the warmth of the old-fashioned public
meeting houses of Europe, but with a
contemporary American feel.”
The owners, Mark Leddy and Will
Shamalian, infused Laurel Tavern with
a distinctive blend of comfort and style
that, for LA, is shockingly affordable.
The building in Studio City on Ventura
in the heart of the Valley — home to
the Valley’s “Sushi Row” — previously
housed Sapphire, a late-night uber-trendy
Martini club concept developed by Leddy
Shamalian, who co-owns the upscale
bar Library in downtown Los Angeles
and Silver Lake’s 4300 Bar, felt the times
No servers, no hype — just good beer, good food
and a casual vibe.
were a-changing, and that people were
going to be looking for a place that gave
them plenty of bang for their bucks without sacrificing quality or style.
While Leddy and Shamalian do not take
credit for seeing the coming world-wide
economic collapse, their timing could not
have been more prescient.
“You can come in and have a gourmet burger and a craft beer for $16, tax
included,” says Zimmelman. And when
Zimmelman says gourmet burger, he
means it. The Laurel Burger, for instance,
is a proprietary blend of sirloin and other
choice cuts of meat, caramelized onions,
gruyere cheese, arugula and sweet
pickles. Served up on a brioche bun,
the burger, together with a Hollywood
Blonde, is a trip to heaven.
And then you have the carefully selected beers. Some of the top sellers are
Telegraph White Ale, the 1903 Craftsman
Lagers made in Pasadena, and the house
favorite Hollywood Blonde, which is an
American Kolsh beer. Expert Christina Per-rozzi, a.k.a. “The Beer Chick,” was brought
in to help make Laurel Tavern a home for
savvy beer consumers. In all, there are 15
beers on tap, priced at $5 or $6 a pint.
In true pub fashion, there are no servers: patrons belly up to the bar to order
drinks and food. That, too, contributes to
the easy-going, non-VIP vibe. There are
no bands, no trivia nights, no promotions,
no drink specials, no signature cocktails
and that’s part of the appeal — the environment is utterly without hype. Customers find the lack of promotions and
A wag once said that the mindset of
LA was much like the mindset of junior
high school, except everybody has lots
of money and fancy cars. Laurel Tavern,
by contrast, is a place for grown-ups who
still know how to have a little fun. NCB
Scott Morris muses about all things drinks and
eats from Winter Park, Fla.