Barfly - Renee's Courtyard Cafe
Usually when I tell my friends I'm going to a bar full of dolls it means I'm going to a bar full of beautiful women (and that I'm once again spearheading the crusade to bring back 50's slang). But this week the dolls were of the creepy puppet variety, and were just one of many diverse elements that combined to create Santa Monica's epitome of alcoholic amalgamery: Renee's Courtyard Cafe. Located on 6th and Wilshire, Renee's looks and feels like the setting of a Tim Burton wet dream, replete with the aforementioned marionettes, a labyrinthine floor plan, and just barely enough lighting. But the cast is just as divergent as the setting, packing this people-sized camera obscura with Y-Gen hipsters, romantic trysters, wedding parties, geriatrics, and a veritable potpourri of SaMo nightlife drifters all looking for respite from normalcy.
The bar is just a short walk from anything you've been doing on the 3rd Street Promenade, but is worlds away from anything you'd expect to find there. Boasting three full bars and a hearty menu that's available until ten, Renee's also plays host to weeklong happy hours from 5:30 to 8, and a Two-fer Tuesday special where drinks are two-for-one from 10:30 to 12:30. But Renee's wouldn't be a 30-year-old Santa Monica institution if all it offered were drinks and drink specials.
Most of its patrons attribute Renee's allure to the environment, which they described using words like "dungeon" and "maze" and "creepy," but only through mischievous grins – as if it were everyone's secret hiding spot in a city-wide game of hide-and-seek. In fact, the bar is lit almost entirely by a dim kaleidoscope of Christmas lights, and has so many nooks and crannies that it would feel like the ruins of a ghost town funhouse even if its exposed stone walls weren't adorned with an overabundance of full-length mirrors and myriads of watching dolls.
And yet, the diverse clusters of unique individuals tucked into hidden pockets throughout the bar exuded a collective ambiance that was more cheery than eerie, with every single group I talked to professing that they frequented Renee's "because my friends love it here."
According to veteran manager Darian Parcley, this unique atmosphere is exactly why the bar stays packed seven days a week. "We're laid back," he says. "We're not trying to be anything. Shorts, suits, dressed all crazy – it's just a crazy mix of people."