It’s early on Thursday night—just 7 p.m.—and OR Bar’s happy hour is winding down. Co-owner Rob Novinger, who opened the bar with Stevie Schestag and George Kotsiopoulos, is tucked into a low-slung couch with a group of friends celebrating a birthday girl who’s sporting a punk rock hair ‘do and a neon green sparkling blazer—evidently stolen from Liberace’s closet. “She’s a friend of mine,” says Novinger, his perfect teeth gleaming against the dark walls and upholstery. “She and her partner are well-known muralists; they painted the outside of the building.”
Novinger is not a snob, but he thought WeHo could use a grown-up bar, “where you drink out of glass, not a plastic cup, in a lounge, not a nightclub.” So, Novinger, owner of the Circus of Books, took the space across the street from his bookstore once occupied by The Gold Coast, a well-loved dive bar that closed after a 40-year run.
OR Bar is exactly what he envisioned: A sophisticated lounge inspired by the French cocktail bars in the 70s and 80s; dark enough to entice lovers, with DJ Lady T spinning records that never overwhelm conversation. Even the cocktail waitresses wear Parisian black catsuits.
In homage to The Gold Coast, Novinger and his partner named their new place OR Bar, meaning gold in French. Gold Coast was a great neighborhood place, but he didn’t want to replicate it, however, like its predecessor, OR Bar was conceived as an establishment for the gay community. What surprises and pleases Novinger is the diverse crowd. Women are comfortable coming in without an alpha gay guy chaperoning them and straight couples are in to drink and hit the tiny dance floor tucked into one of the bar’s corners. Très gay, très chic.
Just after 8 p.m., the lighting goes down, the charcoal curtains with scattered sparkles are drawn and the music goes up a notch. Manager Darren Kendrick, tall and sleek in all black, mixes drinks for bar sitters who’ve come to have an elegant evening of specialty cocktails, conversation and maybe a chance encounter. He says the Iris ($22) named after Novinger’s dog, with Casamigos tequila, Butterfly tea, and topped with a purple orchid, is a best seller. Tequila is the top spirit choice, but there are increasing orders for mezcal-based drinks, like the Coc-Or-Rita ($20) with coconut and lime juice added to the Mexican import.
Jordan, a fitness instructor who identifies as bisexual, and Ash, his girlfriend who’s straight and works in tech, watch Darren mixing up his newest recipe using bourbon and raspberry tea. The striking two are regulars and monitored the reconstruction over months before opening in December. “There’s a luxury vibe without pretension here,” says Jordan, who points to the huge, sparkling light undulating over the bar as its just-right on the drama scale centerpiece.
OR Bar is a welcome addition to West Hollywood. Different from the Boy’s Town party bars with an atmosphere that’s been missing until now among Santa Monica Boulevard’s famed drinking spots. The attitude is “come one, come all” to WeHo’s newest cocktail lounge, but don’t look for Solo cups full of cheap beer. Instead, there’s a Champagne Happy Hour Thursday through Sunday and Dom Perignon Vintage 2012 on the wine list. Elegant, yes, but with a sense of humor. After all, their slogan is “Classy, Boozy, Ratchet.” You don’t need French to understand that.
8228 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood
Monday – Thursday 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Friday and Saturday 1 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Sunday 1 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Happy Hour: Daily 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
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