Preservation Nation continues its tour of historic bars as we sashay our way into America’s historic cocktail lounges, the upscale gin joints where high society has sipped sophistication for decades. This week, we check out the Dresden in Los Angeles.
Even if you’ve never been to the Dresden is Los Angeles’ Los Feliz neighborhood, chances are, you’ve seen it.
Since it opened in its current iteration in 1954, the Dresden has been ready for its close-up, lending its dark, retro interior to a number of films. It’s where Trent (played by Vince Vaughn) delivers his impassioned “You’re so money” speech” as Mike (Jon Favreau) gathers the nerve to flirt with the object of his affection in Swingers. And it’s where Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott) meets his idol, musician Del Paxton (Bill Cobbs), in That Thing You Do.
In many ways, the Dresden is that perfect old Hollywood lounge. Walk in the front door off noisy Vermont Avenue, and you’re taken back to the Los Angeles of yore. Little has changed there since it was remodeled in the ‘60s by then-owner Carl Ferraro. (Previously, it had been another eatery, Pucci’s Café, which opened in the 1930s; before that, it was a paint store.)
Pause in the small lobby area and let your eyes adjust to the dim lighting. To your right will be a private room, perfect for small gatherings or for escaping the fray of the crowded bar. To your left will be the restaurant, with white leather booths, funky floor-to-ceiling light fixtures, and a menu offering classic American fare such as prime rib and pork chops.
Straight ahead is the lounge. The décor there is so retro it’s stylish again. Grab a seat at the bar, or sink into one of the brown leather semi-circular booths along the perimeter against the faux rock walls and wood paneling. Or find space at one of the small, white tables with red rolling chairs clustered closely together underneath large globe chandeliers. For a close-up of the live entertainment, you can sit at the long table wrapping snugly around the grand piano at the center of the room.
The dapper, tuxedoed bartenders mix drinks quickly and expertly, and when it’s time to pay your bill, the old-fashioned cash registers will be put to use.
A Swingers poster hangs, anachronistically, above the wall leading to the restrooms and back exit. Follow that path, and you’ll see a hallway lined with headshots of the Dresden’s famous patrons, including Dolly Parton, Jay Leno, Adam West, and Jon Hamm.
If you show up after 9 p.m. from Tuesday through Saturday -- and you should plan your visit around those times -- you can order a cocktail and enjoy the sounds of resident jazz musicians Marty and Elayne, who have been playing classic jazz standards at the Dresden since 1982. Sometimes they’ll share the stage with guest musicians, but more often than not, it’s Marty on the drum kit or upright bass, with Elayne on the piano. The duo even appeared in Swingers.
If you think the Dresden is charming on the silver screen, you should see it for yourself. Here’s what you should know before you go:
Location: The Dresden, 1760 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90027
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 4:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Sunday 4 to 11 p.m.
Year Opened: 1954
As Seen In: The Two Jakes (1990), Swingers (1996), That Thing You Do (1996), What Women Want (2000), Anchorman (2004)
What to Order: The Blood and Sand, a blended rum-based drink, is the signature cocktail.
Best Yelp Reviews: “I have been visiting the Dresden since the days of Swingers. Walking into the Dresden is like walking back in time.”
“For a quiet change of pace with a touch of old Hollywood, go to the Dresden Room.”
“They have, by far, the best bartender I've ever had. He dresses to the nines with his waistcoat and neatly groomed moustache and is essentially psychic in not only fulfilling but anticipating what you'll want next.”
“Iconic. That says it all. Whether you are a fan because you have frequented it for the last 20 years or you just wanted to trace Mikey's steps from the classic movie Swingers, you must hang out at the Dresden Room and sip on a Blood & Sand.”
Bonus: Check out this interview with Marty and Elayne to learn how their duo came to be.
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