Staring Down The Barrel

A renovation brings a landmark NoHo building with a storied past back to life.

"With our other bars we’ve recreated an era, but with Idle Hour this is the first time we actually got to restore history,” says Bobby Green, co-owner of the 1933 Group—the company that resurrected the “watering hole” earlier this year. The iconic, whiskey barrel-shaped building has stood on Vineland Avenue for more than 70 years.

Bobby credits Chris Nichols, Los Angeles Magazine associate editor and preservationist, for the structure’s survival. The journalist’s “Ask Chris” column brought Idle Hour to light, helping it achieve LA historical landmark status in 2010.

Bobby, who grew up nearby, says he was always enamored by the building. So back in 2011, when Chris alerted him that it was being auctioned off by the county, Bobby sprang into action—ultimately casting the winning bid and adding Idle Hour to 1933 Group’s list of a half dozen LA venues.

 

THE BACKSTORY

Commissioned in 1941 by Michael Connolly, a film tech at Universal Studios, and built by Silver Lake engineer George F. Fordyk, Idle Hour Café (as it was called) was constructed as an example of “programmatic architecture”—meaning buildings that look like the things they serve.

“Los Angeles was filled with crazy, colorful roadside creations meant to catch the eye of drivers and pull them in,” explains Chris.  

“I have heard there were more than a dozen barrel-shaped buildings in Southern California at one point, but it was the sheer variety and insanity of these creations: an owl that served ice cream, a tamale filled with tamales, a hot dog selling hot dogs, an orange you could drink juice out of … genius stuff. Total fantasy-land.”

The building changed hands in 1971 and turned into a flamenco dinner theatre complete with red carpet, velvet-flocked wallpaper and white exterior.  Owner Dolores Fernandez closed the restaurant in 1984 but lived a hermit’s life inside the second-story apartment for more than two decades. After she died, the property was auctioned off.

 

THE PRESENT

After a three-year renovation, the architectural integrity of the building remains intact—including the original stained-glass barrel art, meticulously duplicated on every door. On the back patio sits the Bulldog Café (a copy of the original pipe-smoking icon that sold tamales and ice cream) which was rescued from the Peterson Automotive Museum.

There is a creative offering of craft cocktails and 24 beers on tap—mostly local craft varieties. Wine is limited to one variety each of pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, prosecco and rosé. Bar bites include steak frites, beer-battered fish ‘n’ chips, sloppy joes and mac ‘n’ cheese.

 

 

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