Barfly: The Garter
Spending a lazy weekday night drinking at The Garter in Venice is like spending a night drinking at your buddy's house, if your buddy could sing all night while accompanying himself on the piano, and if he had a hot girlfriend who liked to invent really strong cocktails and went skipping around being super nice to everyone. The bar wasn't even close to capacity, but it was overflowing with charm, and the vibe is so relaxed and friendly you half expect to walk in and hear everyone cheer your name for finally showing up.
General Manager Will Bailey calls his bar "a real sexy, chill night club with live music," which would (hypothetically) be a fair assessment if you went on a Friday or Saturday where the place (allegedly) packs in so tight you have to call ahead to reserve tables. But The Garter isn't wildly famous for being sexy, and calling it a nightclub might be a bit of a stretch. That said, it also isn't contrived, gimmicky, or phony. The truth is, The Garter is a bar – plain and simple. It is a neighborhood bar in the most raw and unprocessed ways, featuring live performances from local talent, a single pool table, and the kind of bartender you'd want to marry if Bailey hadn't already called shotgun on that.
Natively-Texan ‘tender Christa (spelled "like ‘Chris' with a little T and A" she explained with a wiggle) Bradley has an entire menu of her own secret cocktail concoctions, but on the list of things that make her a keeper, her heavy pours take a backseat to her effervescent disposition. In fact, of the dozen or so patrons that strolled in while I was there, only one wasn't crowded around the edge of the bar laughing it up with Bradley, and he was the talent.
Said talent was Ryan Brahms, whom you might remember from his gigs at House of Blues or Whiskey a Go Go. Brahms plays when other local artists aren't on stage, but unlike his Hollywood gigs, playing blues at The Garter is just for fun.
"They have like a singer/songwriter thing here, so I stay a couple hours for practice," Brahms said. "I play here because it's home."
"Home" is exactly what Bailey was trying to create when he opened the stage up to artists from the area. "We always have somebody different," he said, "What I went for with this thing is a place you can come play and your friends can come listen."
Like your buddy's house, your friends can come listen for free. And given its local locale, they can probably walk there. Unlike your buddy's house, they won't have to take off their shoes to come inside, and while there are dozens of couches to relax on while absorbing the music and alcohol, your friends can't sleep over. But they'll want to: It seems everyone that visits The Garter, stays.
"The regulars here are so bad ass!" said Bradley. "It's like a tiny little family."