Photos: NoHo's Historic Barrel-Shaped Bar Gets A Sweet New Life
A nearly 75-year-old oversized barrel in North Hollywood is now finally open after years of restoration and construction. The new iteration of this classic Americana bar is from The 1933 Group (the guys behind Sassafras, Thirsty Crow and Bigfoot Lodge), so you know that it's all about the intricate details with this place that give it a je ne sais quoi. Plus, we have to admit, it's fun to drink and eat while standing inside of a gigantic barrel.
If you drive by Idle Hour, you won't be able to miss it. The facade of this bar, which is located on bustling Vineland Avenue, is striking, resembling a huge whiskey barrel. When you walk inside, it's no different—the walls are rounded out, built with wooden planks from floor to ceiling. It's as if you're a mouse who's fallen into a barrel that just so happens to serve craft cocktails and classic American food like sloppy joes and mac 'n' cheese. It's minimalistic in design, with all the furniture in muted brown colors—from the leather booths lining the wall to the wooden tables—and vintage black-and-white photographs decorating the walls.
As you walk outside of the barrel towards the open-air back patio, a ficus tree serves as the center point in the garden, but right behind it is a building that looks like a pipe-smoking bulldog. It's a replica of the original Bulldog Café which was in business from 1928 to the mid-1960s on Washington Boulevard, and used to sit in the Petersen Automotive Museum before the 1933 Group asked to put it in the patio of Idle Hour.
It fits in perfectly with Idle Hour, since the bar is one of the surviving relics from Los Angeles' progrommatic architecture movement that made buildings look like oversized objects such as hot dogs (Tail O' The Pup!), or in this case barrels, so they would catch the eyes of drivers passing by.
In going along with the nostalgic theme, the drinks program, which is helmed by Harlowe's Chris Amirault, include kicked-up versions of some old classics like Moscow Mules or Old Fashioneds, both of which are on draft. One of our favorite draft cocktails is the Rickey, a refreshing rum libation with lime juice, angostura and raspberry syrup. As for their house cocktails, Doctor's Orders, an amalgamation of cognac, rye, black tea, lemon and honey, is a complex and flavorful drink for those who enjoy darker spirits. The Mister President is another refreshing cocktail but for gin lovers—this one's mixed with pear cider, thyme syrup, lemon and cinnamon. Idle Hour also has a beer list which covers some of your run-of-the-mill beers you might find at other bars—from PBR to Guiness—but they also include a few local craft beers from breweries like Golden Road Brewing and Smog City.
The food menu from Executive Chef Sam Hoke (also from Harlowe) reflects dishes from a simpler time. They have hot dogs, deviled eggs and pretzels with white cheese or mustard dipping sauces. The food that does shine include their Tuna Tartare, a flavorful dish with different textures—from the creaminess of the tuna and avocado to the crispy wonton chip it sits upon—and a haunting sesame aftertaste. Their Roasted Brussels Sprouts dish is also a memorable one as it's a sweet and tangy dish topped with hazelnuts and bacon, and their kicked-up Sloppy Joe is made with bourbon, gruyere, sandwiched between soft challah buns.
Over the years, the space has been home to many different establishments. It started off as the Idle Hour Café taproom, then as a Flamenco dinner theater dubbed La Caña. When La Caña folded in 1984, the owner Dolores Fernandez would go on to live inside of the second-story apartment of the barrel for decades. It wasn't until 2010 when Fernandez passed away that Los Angeles magazine journalist Chris Nichols was able to convince the city to give it a Historic-Cultural Monument recognition that the wheels starting turning in getting Idle Hour to be what it is today.
Idle Hour is located at 4824 Vineland Avenue, North Hollywood. It's open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Drinks range from $4 to $12, and food from $4 to $19.