A beachside anomaly in the City of Angels, Santa Monica is a walkable city that is well-planned with a downtown that is (almost) completely accessible by foot. But for too long the city suffered from an after-dark paucity of interesting bars and clubs. This year things are starting to change, with the opening of several new spots to complement the old favorites.
The splashiest opening of the year was that of the Cameo Bar (above two pictures) in the new Viceroy Hotel (1819 Ocean Avenue). Beautifully and uniquely decorated, the interior and exterior mood set by the bar and the poolside cabanas is the best thing the Viceroy has going for it. The crowd tends to be similar to a set-designer’s idea of a sleek group of wealthy hipsters; there is an imported Hollywood skybar feeling that is at odds with the Santa Monica location. The well-dressed but entirely vapid and uninteresting crowd will be this spot’s downfall, they need to attract a more eclectic group if they want to survive, because eventually the crowd will move back East where they have more options. However the Viceroy is still worth a stop if you’re checking out Santa Monica, the aesthetics are worth an hour of your time, at least.
Just down the road from the Viceroy is its polar opposite, Chez Jay (1657 Ocean Avenue). Santa Monica’s oldest bar is a dive par excellence that features LA’s coldest beers, free peanuts, and about the most diverse crowd you will find in Santa Monica. Salty drunks, Europeans, old-time Santa Monica locals, Hollywood celebrities with a taste for Hawaiian shirts and liquor, all rub shoulders at the tiny bar and lounge in the booths and in the back room. Chez Jay also serves food, which is tasty if a little overpriced. Despite being very close to Santa Monica’s beach hotel row, the Jay is surprisingly free of the annoying brand of tourist. With crusty bartenders and an anything-goes attitude, Chez Jay offers a unique yet archetypal drinking experience.
Santa Monica’s best-known and best-attended dance club, Sugar (814 Broadway), has always been the only spot in Santa Monica to hear premium DJs from around the states and around the world. A sleek, contemporary club with exposed brick wall and excellent lighting, Sugar hosts dance parties almost every night of the week, with the best night traditionally being Thursday and Saturday. To get a better idea of what the scene is like, check out these pix from recent events. Sugar is an exceptionally well-run club that has little attitude and always has good music, although aficionados say it has been slipping in recent months.
Sugar’s most popular night, Bossanova, hosted by DJ Jason Bentley from Santa Monica’s legendary KCRW radio station, has moved to a new club called Zanzibar (Corner of 5th and Arizona) which is owned by the same people as live music venue Temple Bar (1026 Wilshire blvd). Well decorated in a Moroccan theme, with huge velvet curtains around the dance floor, Zanzibar seems promising as a fairly intimate place to hear excellent, cutting edge music from the likes of Bentley and his KCRW colleague Garth Trinidad, who hosts a weekly Sunday night party. Zanzibar’s experienced management, friendly staff, excellent sound system and superb DJs mean it is a place the USOUNDS staff will be enjoying often, as our offices are just a few blocks away…
Santa Monica cannot compare with other parts of Los Angeles on virtually any level when it comes to night spots. However there are enough quality spots to keep the place interesting, and with the excellent natural assets Santa Monica possesses (beautiful location, parking, pedestrian-friendly plan) it could be that in a few years SM will be on the cutting edge of LA partying.