There’s no more elaborate entrance in town. Once the doorman confirms your reservation, he’ll usher you through the front door and up a flight of stairs. Walk down a plain hallway and turn right into a reception area, where a statuesque hostess greets you. The front door isn’t instantly apparent, because it’s hidden in PDT-like fashion. She opens the double doors on a wooden wardrobe. Walk through a shirt-lined closet and you’ll enter La Descarga, a rum bar that would fit in 1940s Havana.
The former Blacklight bar is now home to “the after party,” as La Descarga is known in English, thanks to entrepreneurs/brothers Mark Houston and Jonnie Houston. Traverse a walkway and descend a spiral staircase to find an impressive two-story bar. A lounge area is set back from the bar in a back corner. In an adjacent room, you’ll find a cigar lounge where guests puff and sip on glasses of unadulterated rum, but the bulk of the action takes place in the main room. The crowd settled in when a burst of music erupted from the mezzanine. A small band played propulsive salsa and Danzon while a scantily clad woman danced seductively along the nearby railing. She energized the crowd and mesmerized the percussionist, who drew closer and closer, gawking wide-eyed as he pounded his bongos faster and faster.
The buzz for La Descarga started humming quietly on December 18, when Pablo Moix hinted at things to come on his Facebook page: “I’m back behind the stick in mid-January, new bar in L.A. details soon to follow.” The noted bartender and mixologist oversaw the bar program for the One Group (including STK) before Bacardi hired him as a portfolio mixologist. The Houston brothers managed to lure him back behind the bar, where he’s partnering with Doheny vet Steve Livigni.
Moix said that people automatically associate rum with tiki, but that’s not necessarily the case. He scoured the archives to find a menu from El Floridita, a famed Havana bar where Ernest Hemingway used to drink. Moix said that La Descarga is designed to evoke a pre-Castro Cuba from the ’30s and ’40s. La Descarga’s menu of seven Rum Cocktails cost $9-13 apiece. Of course you’ll find a Cuban Mojito and a Cuba Libre, but the list delves deeper.
We passed around four different cocktails, none better than the Tropical Holiday ($12), containing Rhum JM Blanc, Velvet Falernum, lime, sugar, soda and bitters.
The signature La Descarga Daiquiri ($9) features Diplomatico Anejo Rum, lime and sugar.
Pappa’s Daiquiri ($10) was named for Hemingway and incorporates Bacardi Carta Blanca, Maraschino Liqueur and grapefruit.
We also sampled Tapping the Admiral ($13), Zaya rum with Carpano Antica, Cherry Heering and bitters.
If you’re looking for a clearer expression of rum, La Descarga features 69 different varieties, costing $9-45 per glass. Options include Murray McDavid Guyana 13 Year (aged in a Sauternes cask), Raon Barralito 3 Star, El Dorado 21 Year Special Reserve and Rhum Clement XO.
Open nightly at 8 PM. Reservations are required and can be made on La Descarga’s website.