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La Descarga, Los Angeles, California

Evoking "Forbidden" Cuba in Hollywood
Alejandro Benes
Posted: May 2, 2013

The first time I visited Los Angeles's hippest club and cigar bar, I thought it could have been a place I‘d heard about from Stefon, Saturday Night Live's uber-trendy human about town.

"Located in an abandoned whitefish factory in Little Israel..."

In truth La Descarga, which in this context means "the unloading," or letting go in Spanish, is a two-story, very small nightclub in an area of Hollywood just north of Koreatown that would hardly seem to qualify as a destination. Still, as I waited to give my name at the door, a young man and three pretty women in very tight dresses sought to talk their way in. The doorman politely informed that no one gets in without a reservation or identification.

"Isn't there anything I can do?" the young man pleaded, having made a promise he won't be able to keep that night.

I am warmly greeted and instructed to ascend a flight of stairs where I will be met in a makeshift office. A young lady instructs me to walk through a closet in which a few shirts are hanging and proceed down the catwalk to the spiral staircase into the main bar/dance floor.

 

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While the walls of La Descarga are distressed so as to create a sort of speakeasy scene reminiscent of Havana, Cuba, the nightclub is well-stocked with fine rums and other spirits.

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The ceiling of La Descarga's second bar is open to the night sky, meaning cigars can be smoked here.

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La Descarga sells Payne and Mason Cigars only, which range from $15 for a robusto to $25 for a double corona. You're welcome, though, to bring your own cigars.

The idea here, I gather, is that I've entered a sort of speakeasy scene right out of Havana. A night of forbidden, dare one say anti-revolutionary, pleasure. Care must be taken. The walls are distressed, as if they, like the real buildings in Habana Vieja, required the attention of a Sherwin-Williams franchise. The music is certainly appropriate.

Of course, the illusion of forbidden anything breaks down quickly when you see the well-stocked bar and when you walk into the second bar and note that the ceiling is open to the night sky. Since this second bar is technically not enclosed, cigars can be smoked here, taking care of one generally forbidden thing in much of California.

La Descarga's owners, well-known nightclub entrepreneur twins Mark and Johnny Houston, have nailed the blend of show, drink and smoke here. Exclusivity is maintained by requiring guests with reserved tables on show nights (Thursday through Saturday) to order bottle service, steeply priced at a minimum of $225 for Bacardi with all the mixers.

The beverage menu features special drinks and a lot of rum (I counted 57) from different countries. (There's a "Tiki Tuesdays" menu that seems out of place at any bar not named Trader Vic's.) Nothing from Cuba, of course. My favorites are on the list, but on this night, Joe Swifka, the manager, brings a flight of rums from Martinique. Then another flight selected by style.


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