When Australian restaurateurs Grant Smillie and David Combes first stepped foot into the massive former Grandmaster Records space in Hollywood in 2015, it wasn’t exactly what the space they had been seeking for the restaurant they hoped to open. It was better. With 15,000 square feet, the nearly century-old building, which originally opened as a silent movie hall, had undeniable appeal—not to mention history. In 1971 the space became a music recording studio where such legends as Stevie Wonder, Tom Petty, Blondie, Foo Fighters and Kanye West would record albums.
“We weren’t even looking for it. It kind of found us,” says David, who, along with Grant heads The Botanical Group, the hospitality business behind West Hollywood hot spots E.P & L.P. and Strings of Life cafe. The duo had been searching for their next restaurant location when the building, which is just north of Sunset Boulevard and extends an entire block from Cahuenga to Ivar, was brought to their attention. The catch: The space had never been used as a restaurant, which meant a long road ahead. It took an entire year to retrofit the building.
Above: Culinary director Monty Koludrovic with his team at Grandmaster Recorders
“The zoning piece was a challenge in and of itself. Then it becomes a supply chain issue globally, as anyone can attest to. Then it’s a staffing one. The layers of challenges were all significant, if not at times feeling insurmountable,” says Grant of the process of transforming a recording studio into a three-enterprise nightlife destination.
Grandmaster Recorders comprises a restaurant, cocktail bar and rooftop lounge, each designed to be a destination of its own. The restaurant is a large, airy, 150-seat industrial-chic dining room, bookended by a long bar and an open kitchen. It is there that Aussie chef Monty Koludrovic creates a nouveau Italian menu with flashy starters like caviar cannoli, grilled scampi and basil hand rolls. Given the aura of the location and overall elevated vibe, it’s impressive to see a menu that is at once revelatory and delicious. The chef’s antipasti course is particularly enjoyable. It includes marinated white beans in salsa verde with anchovies as well as burrata with truffle, chili crisp oil, and honey topped with rosemary. Pastry chef Jaci Koludrovic’s desserts, such as whole passion fruit sorbet, are equally exciting.
71 Studio Bar, the sexy cocktail space of GMR, retains the original architecture of the recording studio it inhabits. In the area where the sound mixer once worked, a bartender holds court, mixing drinks from a seasonally driven cocktail menu. Adjacent to the bar, in a larger lounge and dance floor space where bands once played, an enormous disco ball hangs overhead.
“What’s the point of a small disco ball?” jokes Grant, who admits that after ordering the giant sparkly sphere, which once graced the stage of Dancing with the Stars, he realized it wouldn’t fit through their front door.
“We had to pull the door frames off to squeeze it through by thousandths of an inch. But if there’s a will there’s a way,” he quips.
The two partners are well versed in the art of creating an appealing rooftop; E.P. & L.P is one of the most popular in town. At GMR, the sprawling 11,000-square-foot deck offers dazzling views of Hollywood.
Though many of the building’s architectural elements and artifacts had to be removed to meet modern code, plans are underway to work some of them back in.
“It’s a pretty incredible legacy to inherit,” says Grant. “There’s an old red bathtub. If the rumors are true, Debbie Harry used to enjoy a bath in there while she was recording in the studio, according to the engineers. I want to bring it back as a service moment for some wine and put some feet back on it.”
The team would also like to incorporate the space’s musical heritage into the current iteration, including making 71 Studio Bar an occasional live music venue.
“It’s a very special project,” says David. “As restaurateurs we’re always trying to create the narrative. Here we were given the narrative and we’re the custodians of this.”
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