LA’s Best Bar Without Mint Waitresses

Hanks%2006.JPGSo I know Keller is all big on Barney’s and its “mint” waitresses. But for my money, there’s only one best bar in LA. It’s Hanks.

Hidden in the lobby of the Hotel Stillwell on Grand (between 8th & 9th Street), Hanks is the epitome of Hole In The Wall. It’s a dive bar, yeah, but it’s got so much history–the building dates from 1906, for crying out loud!–that to call it a dive is too reductive: it’s an institution. Opened in the 50’s by Hank Holzer (who passed away in 88 but whose ubiquitous image is still all over the bar in photo after photo), it seems to have simply collected memorabilia and ephemera as the years have passed. I’m not sure if the space was originally conceived, when the building was erected in 1906, as a bar or some other sort of social-gathering area–a dining hall, perhaps? but it’s so narrow, so rabbit-warren-like, with tiny room after tiny adjoining room progressing into the bowels of the building; I’m really not sure how far back it goes. My explorations have never really bumped up against any sort of rear wall.

I have some fantastic memories of this place…plus some pics of its resident mannequin and its spooky hot dog cart, behind the jump.

…I first was introduced to Hanks in what I think was 2002 by my then-boyfriend, an amazing musician who lived downtown on Spring when artists lofts were still a buck a square foot. And they were real artists lofts. And real artists lived in them. Joe and I spent countless evenings at Hanks, then wandering back to his place, getting sucked into rooftop parties along the way. One gorgeous autumn day–Indian Summer-type weather–we just parked ourselves at Hanks beginning at noon, and drank kamizakes until we re-emerged into the crystalline afternoon sunlight, the softness of the air tangible on our skin, tipsy and thrilled to be only moderately employed in a city full of busy workers rushing to offices, utterly free and sublime.

More photos here

Much more recently, I was out at a Cannibal Flower show with friends when we determined that we were over the scene–as a band dressed like ninjas jammed out on the concrete floor of a cavernous loft space, surrounded by art school students, gallery gadflies and freak shows–but none of the girls had ever been to Hanks. So I took ’em there. When we walked in we were greeted by the regulars, who had six or seven boxes of pizza all down the length of the bar. They shared it all with us. Then we all ordered Chinese food from Classic Thai and sang along to Journey on the jukebox.

The other night was my 30th b-day, and me and the boy–also a long-time fan of Hanks–swung by Hanks for old times’ sake on our way to rock out at La Cita, where Shep Fairey was dj’ing a freekin’ HAWESOME set. That’s the most fun dancing I’ve had in ages.

L’chaim, Hanks. You’re the best bar in LA. May the hipster kids never find you; may that creepy mannequin always be seated by your complimentary franks’n’beans and popcorn; may your dark wood-paneled depths never be plumbed; and may the regulars always be rife with pizza on late nights.

4 thoughts on “LA’s Best Bar Without Mint Waitresses”

  1. uhhh if you don’t want the hipster kids to find Hanks then maybe we should keep it our little secret and out of these boards??? I know we can’t hide forever- they are coming for our barstools and they get younger everyday but blogging about keeping a place secret seems like ordering diet coke at Popeyes???

    reminds me of the scene from “Waiting For Guffman” that opens with a shot of the huge neon “CHOP SUEY” sign.

    camera cuts to Fred Willard and he says “how did you ever find this place?”

  2. I coulda, but I’d rather sing the praises of something deserving than keep silent, miserly hoping no one will find it. If they’re going to find it, they’ll find it whether I blog about it or not. I’d rather see the place do better business & the bartender make decent tips.

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