There haven’t been so many fashionable folk lining up at Cole’s French Dip since the early days of the iconic downtown LA eatery. At the back of the restaurant, just past the restrooms, is an unmarked black door that leads into a most unexpected speakeasy called The Varnish. Known since 1908 for their legendary French dip sandwich, Cole’s is now a food mecca by day and chic boite by night. It is tiny and dimly lit with a small stand-up piano at one end, intimate booths on the other and a bar the length of the room to the side.
You can order anything in this bar, save for anything mixed with Red Bull. Despite what you may feel about the word “mixology,” that’s what they do here. Go up to the bar and ask for something “not too sweet, not too spicy, and I like gin,” and you’re nearly guaranteed to discover your new favorite drink. The bartenders savor the chance to surprise you and the fact that the space is so small and the seats are so coveted drives the point home — you’re drinking to indulge in tons of different flavors and nuances, not just drinking to drink.
Added bonus: if you bring out of town friends here, you will automatically be cool in their book. At least for the night.