I’m already starting this article by cheating because my first night at lounge bar St. Felix was not a night, but a day. I met with St. Felix’s part-owner Jay Krymis at his new Hollywood location for the maiden voyage of their fabulous lunch menu. The Hollywood location expands on the original West Hollywood one not just in sheer size (so long Parisian café, hello European bistro!), but also in intent. St. Felix appears to be part of a growing movement to gentrify the Sunset & Vine area of Hollywood, where previously one was limited to seeing a movie at the swanky Arclight or perusing vinyls at grungy Amoeba Music. When it came to food in that area, however, for a long time it was just a very sketchy Jack-in-the-Box.
Now the options have exploded! St. Felix joins young upstarts like Umami Burger, Velvet Margarita, Vegas’s Fuku Burger and Kitchen24 (itself about to open a West Hollywood branch in the former Primo Bistro slot) in a full-fledged revamping of the Hollywood dining experience. Golden Age favorites like the Brown Derby are now strip malls. Where are Hollywood types to congregate for lunch meetings now? The Counter? Good burgers, good options, but the atmosphere is one notch above a buffet at Tomorrowland. No, I would suggest a luncheon at St. Felix. With its wrought-iron chandeliers, loft ceilings and outlandish wooden doors, St. Felix boasts that mix of past and future, opulent royal rust and rot, that has come to typify the best in West Coast design in this end of the 21st Century (just look at Vegas’s Cosmopolitan Hotel or Downtown LA’s Edison).
Big and bold is in. Not everything in the future must be cold and white, Apple Co.
In the space once occupied by Citizen Smith, St. Felix also is taking part in the Green Alley Project, a water-recycling, green building technique using effort to connect the rear entrances of Sunset/Vine’s restaurants with an alley that is stylish, convenient and safe.
The lunch menu features American fare with a pinky-up twist. I dug into bleu cheese dusted Kobe Sliders, and modesty prevented me from making a hoggish mess of myself right there on opening day. Sweet Potato Fries and a S’mores Ice Cream Sandwich broke that modesty down in me eventually. Luckily, no one there judged me too harshly. I was the critic, after all.
If I didn’t have such a long drive ahead of me following lunch, I would have indulged myself in an unidentified number of St. Felix’s drinks for a little day-tail. I proceeded to be haunted by drink names like “Stockholm Syndrome” and “One Last Kiss” until finally I listened to my hunger and went to the West Hollywood location the following night. What did me in? The “Adam’s Apple.” I am powerless to flattery, real or imagined (especially imagined). Adam’s Apple is made up of ginger liqueur and muddled blueberries in a tall glass of Absolut Gala Apple. I was relieved that it wasn’t Green Apple vodka. Subtlety and a notable absence of Pucker is rightfully beginning to redefine drinking, at least in metropolita.
The West Hollywood locale’s style is more of a cozy bar (a lounge desperately needed in the wake of the closing of East/West and O-Bar), and while I savored a vodka soaked slice of red apple underneath a velvet painting of Billy Dee Williams and a can of malt liquor, I recalled asking Jay why he wanted to expand from West Hollywood into the Sunset/Vine neighborhood. His answer was that he always dreamed of building upon what was already successful, to be a part of the erupting Hollywood scene. I had thought that an unexpected outcome from opening in a new city would be an enlarged customer base, specifically in opening up an already firm gay fan base. Becoming more straight-inclusive, as it were.
His answer, again, surprised me. There’s actually a lot more gay attention in Hollywood than I think. Conversely, there’s a lot more straight attention in West Hollywood. One of the largest growing section of residents in West Hollywood is young, straight women. Also, due to social progression, young gays particular don’t feel the need to ghettoize themselves. We will all share our bars now!
My parents arrived in town from Chicago last week in an attempt to “chase the sun” before an endless winter bitch-slaps the Windy City once again. My parents are no fuddy-duddies. If anything, they have more joie de vivre than I do. I’ve lived in West Hollywood for three years. My Dad is here five seconds, he’s already made himself a regular at restaurants that have been on my “must-go” list since Obama’s inauguration.
Speaking of the President, his fundraiser at the House of Blues forced my family and I to seek refuge at a restaurant far, far away (mostly because the Secret Service wouldn’t let me pull my car onto my own street). Our sanctuary of the evening? The outdoor patio of St. Felix.
We had 45 minutes to spare on their daily 4-8 Happy Hour, and we ate and drank ourselves silly for under $30. We had house Sangria and Mojitos, I downed a “Firecracker” (jalapeños are coming to a bar near you! You’ve been warned!), and we watched Obama’s motorcade circle Santa Monica for half an hour. Either they were circling to confuse potential snipers, or they got lost looking for Fig & Olive. Having been in a car to Palm Springs with my parents all weekend, I sympathized.
Whether it was the drinks or the atmosphere, all the customers, waiters and bartenders watched the President drive by, and we all talked to each other. It was the first time I forgot that I was in a city. It just felt local and peaceful. I was glad I could feel that, even with a Raspberry Bellini in my hand.