How LA helped me appreciate DC

By Ezra Klein

Los Angeles’s Edison is the sort of bar that residents of the District envy. Built in an old power plant, the Edison has impressive drinks, killer architecture, and bartenders who will sit around expounding on the history of the ice cube. The first time I went was a revelation: This was to bars as Restaurant Eve was to Amsterdam Falafel. It was a given that I’d head over while home for Thanksgiving. Indeed, I couldn’t wait. I planned it out. Made sure our dinner reservations were near our drinking destination. Put on my finest ratty-chic sweater.

But I didn’t end up going to the Edison. It’s not that I didn’t try. Alongside assorted siblings, in-laws, and significant others, I queued up on Friday night to spend more money than I really should feeling cooler than I actually am. But I was turned away. Pumas — even these Pumas! — count as “athletic shoes,” and athletic shoes are a fatal error. The group behind us in line learned much the same lesson. The Edison, despite being empty inside, was admirably determined to prevent people from exchanging money for drinks.

So it was off to the Varnish for us, a small bar tucked inside Cole’s, Los Angeles’s second-most convincing originator of the French Dip (the first, of course, is the far-superior Philippe’s). Their system was similarly frustrating, but much less honest. There, the doorman put our names down, promised to grab us at the first available opportunity, then commenced letting everyone else into the bar while swearing that our turn was coming up, just 20 more minutes, honest.

Is this all whining? Well, yes. This is a blog, dammit. A food blog. This blog is built for whining, just like these boots were built for not letting me into the Edison. The explanation for my evening is simply, as my readers will no doubt inform me: My group didn’t make the cut. We weren’t cool enough to get into these bars. And they’re right! We weren’t! Or something!

That never happens in DC. The bars, of course, are rather less cool. But even the good ones — the Gibsons and Bar Pilars and Corks and Proofs of the world — let you in with sneakers. They’re not that cool, but then, neither are you. And you’ve both tacitly agreed not to make too big a deal of this, instead concentrating on the essential business of exchanging hard-won money for gussied-up alcohol, the better to enjoy your night with friends. Turns out, I like that deal. I’m happy wearing my Pumas. Restaurant Eve is all for the good, but Amsterdam Falafel is the stuff of everyday life.


10 responses to “How LA helped me appreciate DC

  1. I went to the Edison when I was in LA about 18 months ago. I hated it! I don’t remember what I was wearing, and I was there as part of a corporate function. I do remember the food was awful, just terribly cooked and completely tasteless. The drinks were excellent, as was to be expected. But the whole vibe of the place was so off-putting – full of people who were dressed up to the nines to sit on uncomfortable couches, making fools of themselves as they hit on each other. And I hate how it’s underground… it’s like a dressed-up-Bat Cave for drunkards.

    I think I’d rather be apprenticed to Sandra Lee rather than go back to Edison!

  2. In DC, I’ve been turned away from Left Bank for wearing sandals and from 18th Street Lounge for wearing shorts. Do those not count because they are clubs rather than bars? Luckily Millie & Als and Big Hunt cater to slobs and also alien lobster doctors.

  3. Ezra,

    LA”s sounding even more repulsive than I remember it from years ago! And that’s saying a lot!!

    Come up and visit us in Portland, Maine sometime. Great food, cool people, an absolutely beautiful location, and no pretensions. Like many of us already have, you just might decide to figure out a way to move up here and make it work.



  4. I was once turned out of a Ritz-Carlton hotel bar in Tyson’s (!) for being a woman who was wearing pants. So don’t feel bad (though those are OBVS athletic shoes, dude, wtf?).

  5. ajw93,
    I was once turned away from a club in Springfield, Missouri (!) for being a dude who was wearing a kilt. There’s haters all over.

  6. Wow, those are some seriously uninformed people in Springfield!

    Happy St Andrews Day

  7. i actually like having some aesthetically selective clubs available. it’s obviously crucial to have good options for when you’re in sneakers, but when i bother to dress up, having a back of frat boys in cargo shorts at the next table kills the mood and makes me feel overdressed.

  8. Um . . . is that really the standard dress code for the Edison, or something they dreamed up for the holidays? Because I’ve been there quite a few times wearing Chuck Taylors or Vans (and usually a suit, but still . . . ) and I’ve never failed to see others similarly attired.

  9. Oh, and just so you know, the Edison isn’t really worth it. It is cool (to a fault, really) but it’s also loud, often crowded, and far too big. The bartenders know what they’re doing, but not to the point where it sets them apart from other downtown L.A. bars. Go to 7 Grand and have yourself a whiskey you’ve never heard of before, or a real mint julep.

  10. I’ve been friends with some bar tenders in SoCal and they’ve felt the no sneaker rule is generally an unspoken (or underspoken) way to keep most black people out.

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