Barfly: Villains Tavern

Paulo Coelho once said, "Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience," and while he was talking about matters of the heart, the same could easily be said of driving the narrow mazes of downtown LA's industrial district to drink beer out of mason jars in a steampunk-styled bar made out of a condemned church. Signature cocktails like the Poison Apple, Tijuana Trick, and Fatal Shot add to the anxiety of not knowing where the hell you are, and, come on: the name of the bar alone is nothing short of ominous. But Villains Tavern is anything but, so for those of you with a backbone (or taste), the Barfly proudly presents your next favorite bar.

Villains Tavern is like an oasis of beachfront cool in the asphalt wasteland of industrial downtown. From the parking lot, the scene is all warehouses and railroad tracks, but amidst the cold concrete there glows a two-story basilica of booze. The police sirens and car alarms are drowned in the sound of live music (which plays every night except Sundays and Mondays) and the smell of real food and alcohol-saturated fruit replaces the smell of exhaust and urine-saturated alleyways. Like a true oasis, the number of people pouring into this place – on a Thursday! In the boondocks! – was surprising, but not to co-owner (and Seven Grand veteran) Dave Whitton.

"LA in general, people love going to the middle of nowhere," Whitton said. "Everyone loves nooks." Together with partner Dana Hollister, Villains Tavern was created to provide a new angle on the old-timey bar experience. Whitton claimed the structure was a 125-year old Mormon church that was scheduled to be burned down before being born again, resurrected with gothic architecture, stained glass, and church pew seating. The choir loft, then, would be the stage out back, where according to Whitton, a "dark circus atmosphere" featuring bluegrass, country, and swing bands lift spirits five nights a week.

Speaking of lifting your spirits, no church-pun-laden review would be complete without a reference to the altar, where Sonny Bonasera served up devilish drinks, but where the best part about my secular communion wasn't the excellence of a jar of beer and a shot of my choice, but that this combo only cost an $8 tithe.

In all honesty, this bar would be my favorite for the single architectural genius of putting the bathrooms less than ten feet from the bar. But this bohemian bar boasts more than bueno baños, as its service and ambiance was excellent in every single other way. Enjoying only its eighth week, VT is an absolute sanctuary from the concrete jungle, especially with the ladies. In fact, that's how the place was immaculately conceived.

"Most bars cater to men. I cater to women," said Whitton, and according to shot girl Andrea Savopolos, his catering is spot on: "The décor is really aesthetically pleasing – it's really cohesive. That's a smart thing because any time you got a bar that gals like, guys are going to want to be there too."

So be brave. Take risks. If you're looking for a bar scene that offers an experience that can't be substituted, Villains Tavern will save you (unless, of course, you're saving yourself).