Am I in the right place? The doorman is dressed like someone out of Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge. He checks the reservation and welcomes us. We go in and...
There's always a gimmick when twin brothers Jonnie and Mark Houston open a lounge. The same is true of No Vacancy at the Hotel Juniper, a restored 19th-century Victorian house located off an alley on Hollywood Boulevard. That gimmick won't be revealed here. It's a little surprise to greet new visitors. And it's all in character at this Prohibition-era themed bar.
The most important thing is that, like many of the other Houston Hospitality clubs, No Vacancy delivers well beyond the amusing entrance. The drinks are creations of some of the hottest mixologists on two coasts. So hot, in fact, that the menu carries the drink-maker's name next to each concoction.
The "Curry-Sutra" is crafted to wake up your taste buds. Banks 5 Island rum is mixed with lemon juice, curry, yellow Chartreuse, King's Ginger liqueur and egg whites. If you have a more academic bent, try "The Professor," where Bols Genever joins a study group of Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur, Aperol and Miracle Mile's "No Vacancy" Fig Bitters. The specialty drinks run $8 to $13 and trying a few on any given night can become a sport in itself. If you have a driver.
If you're like me, you'll appreciate that the bar also has some excellent rum, single-malt Scotch and bourbon choices. And the bar has ice, so, I'm set. A Zaya neat with rocks on the side. The drink is delivered to the table on the spacious patio with the 17-foot walls where my friends and I have taken out Padrón Serie 1926 40th Anniversary cigars from 2004. On this mid-week evening, the scene is just beginning to be cast. There is no high-wire walker as on some nights. No fortune-teller tonight, as on opening night. No live music. This is a quiet night, the best kind of night to enjoy an excellent cigar after a superb dinner. The conversation is low-key and no one has to scream to be heard. That won't always be the case. At about 10 p.m., the pretty people, the cool people, the young people begin arriving, and they'll stay very late. We're on our second round of drinks.
Live music from genres that fit the speakeasy theme will grace the porch on Wednesday evenings. (On other nights, there's a DJ.) Fridays bring in the burlesque. You'll be transported as much by the beverages and music as by the décor of the Victorian house that evokes the movie Psycho. Red velour, indoor and outdoor fireplaces and the vintage glasses at the bar all propel the mood.
This Houston Hospitality lounge is, shall we say, a bit more democratic than some others. There is not really a dress code because, as Mark Houston points out, there are a dozen bars within a couple of blocks and the competition is heavy. You can't make rules to keep people out. Bottle service is not required, but it is available. For now, the food is provided by outside vendors who have to prepare their offerings on portable cookery and in mostly open air. Mostly burgers and pulled pork sandwiches, but enough to keep folks from leaving the club just to get a bite.
The value of this club, in this location, is that it adds to the list of Los Angeles places to enjoy a cigar while waiting out the traffic, or just to enjoy a cigar after the theater, or just to enjoy a cigar.
1727 N. Hudson Avenue
Hollywood, CA 90028
Tuesday through Saturday: 8 p.m. - 2 a.m.