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Roy Choi's Latest Restaurant Evokes Childhood Nostalgia In K-Town

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The Line hotel is coming into its own ever since it opened its doors in Koreatown to guests in January. Roy Choi's Pot Bar will officially start slinging cocktails to the public today, with his POT restaurant and pastry shop opening in the spring.

The circular Pot Bar sits on the far left of the industrial and minimalistic hotel lobby that has a geometrical design of equally round booths in the center of it. The soon-to-be POT restaurant and F cafe (which should be opening sometime in March) are curtained off to the far ends of the building. An outside patio that faces the street on Wilshire Blvd. is decorated with colorful mismatched plastic chairs and kumquat trees. Choi, the Kogi food truck veteran and A-Frame and Chego restauranteur, assures that there is much more to see when everything is open.

"For you it looks great, but for me, I'm eating myself up inside because I feel it's only one piece of the whole puzzle," Choi tells LAist.

However, if his other eateries at the Line are supposed to be designed as whimsical as Pot Bar, then they're on the right track. Gold mylar balloons that individually spell out "POT BAR" float against the ceiling of the bar. Hidden behind that and also encased in clear boxes on the bar counter are a variety of cheap childhood toys like squirt guns and plastic toy soldiers. Jesus and Divine Child prayer candles adorn the counter as well as bowls of fruit (pineapples, oranges, and limes); the vibe is cozy. Behind the counter are nostalgic childhood snacks, from popcorn to Ricachones and cotton candy.

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"The balloons on the ceiling, we just want to make you smile," Choi says. "If you know anything about K-town, these are the things they sell. We bought all these things from the neighborhood."

Let's not forget the cocktails either. We can't get over the specialty drinks Choi has whipped up with barman Matthew Biancaniello. The menu boasts innovative savory libations such as an uni cocktail made of sea urchin (pureed in-house), tequila, and nori, among other flavors, as well as kimchi-infused soju. However, their large drink menu caters everyone from the sophisticated drinker to the average hometown high school buddy, with fancy wines but also throwbacks to classic drinks like Fuzzy Navels and Tom Collins.

Choi promises that his POT restaurant will have the same energy as Pot Bar. He envisions it as a lunch spot for people who work in the area and as a dinner place for families celebrating their kids' birthdays or where to go after a game of golf. "I want you feel like you're a part of this neighborhood even though you're in a fancy multimillion dollar hotel," he says.

POT, which is helmed by Executive Chef Jude Parra, will serve traditional Korean dishes like hot pots (including buddae jiggae, a kim-chi broth noodle soup that combines canned meats like Spam with ramen and vegetables) as well as galbi BBQ and rices dishes. There will also be a spread of small ban chan dishes traditionally served with Korean meals.

He attests to how the food has to be authentic (yet have his own Western and European influences) because it is smack dab in the middle of Koreatown. "I wasn't raised in Korea, but I'm Korean," Choi says. "It's kind of my own exploration of my own food. At the end of the day, it can't be a gimmick because I'm in Koreatown."

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Another nod to his culture is the cafe he'll be opening at the Line, simply called "F", which stands for "fuck you." "I figured, what could be more bold than carrying a dozen eclairs in a bag that had a big fat 'F' on it?"

Along with baker Marian Mar (of Momofuku Milk Bar in New York), the two will be making Korean and Taiwanese pastries (reminiscent of 85C Bakery), including traditional red bean buns and cream buns. However, just like his restaurant, he and Mar will be bringing their own flavor to the table as they were both Western and European-trained.

When everything is in place for the Line, we can even expect room service for patrons to resemble take-out delivery bags at the door. It will give you an extra reason to stay in the modern hotel rooms that have industrial concrete walls (like the lofts downtown) and huge ceiling-to-floor windows overlooking the city. And regardless if you're a hotel guest or not, folks can hang out on the pool on the outdoor second-floor mezzanine and get vegetable and fruit-driven meals created by Choi's team. (He thinks of a it as a Soho House for the public.)

Though, with all these amazing elements coming into play at the Line, it wasn't easy for the Sydell Group (who are known for their work for the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs) to get Choi to take the lead on the food and drinks at the hotel when they approached him two years ago. But by the third time they asked him, he decided to give it a go.

"I was in a complete free state of my life when they approached me two years ago," Choi says. "I was running the trucks, had my restaurants, smoking weed, enjoying life, had no boss—was just very free. The last thing I wanted was this huge project with all of these multiple players and bankers and everyone involved. But I had the ability to still be free and create this place that I felt like I could give back to Koreatown."

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Related:
Sea Urchin Cocktails Coming To New POT Bar In K-Town
Roy Choi Dishes On His New Memoir, Jamie Oliver, And More