I feel I may have been kidnapped. As my guide through Los Angeles takes turn after turn driving me deeper into the seedy part of downtown, I am sure that this can only end in mugging and a possible car chase. Then, I see that it’s not the oncoming kidnapping attempt that has her so worked up, but Villains Tavern. Villains Tavern first appears to be some kind of roaming gypsy camp, serving up food and artisanal cocktails in their parking lot before packing up into a big caravan to haul out to the next destination. However, they have been parked here in the Arts District of Los Angeles for some time now, and the residents of the area couldn’t be happier.
At the bar in Villains tavern, which looks like the dispensary for an elixirs and tonics brewer thanks to the walls of empty bottles and the compact, high space, the focus is on cocktails, with a seasonally changing, and always delicious, menu. The beer selection is decent, although tap space is limited, and the drafts on tap are always enjoyable. Here, however, one doesn’t just get the beer (they serve the beers in jars, which, while charming, are too small to be worth the bother), so if you must have your hops, spring for the beer and a shot instead. Of course, if going for alcohol, why not just try one of the cocktails from mixed-drink architect Dave Whitton?
So, now that you have your drink it’s time for the most enjoyable part of the evening: exploring the absolutely charming grounds of this watering hole. The bar, decorated with large mirrors, chandeliers, and the aforementioned wall of bottles has two floors, that, while cramped, give off the vibe of a romping bordello, while outside on the patio there is food and live music (and most nights, more than enough people to dance with). Out front, just inside the gate to the parking lot, there is more room to sit and enjoy watching the shuffleboard table until your time for a game rolls around. With this cornucopia of favorite bar atmospheres (raucous French café, jazzy honkytonk, and chill neighborhood spot), this bar is a great place to relax, no matter what your preference, as long as it’s not “empty”.
Overall, the bar comes off as very successful, with the only downsides coming from its own desire to be cool, which put it on the map in the first place. While the neighborhood is off the beaten path and interesting, there are reported break-ins to cars, so parking on the street is not recommended, and while the jars used to serve beer are charming, they tend to hold a little less than the amount you feel you’re being charged for. These problems, however, are quickly overlooked with a parking lot in front of the bar and a stellar cocktail list, and with an atmosphere you need to see to believe, this bar has a very high chance of winning just about anyone over in minutes.