Sunday, July 13, 2003

Distinctive debut


Sunday July 13, 2003

Distinctive debut

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

Just short of midnight, partyers taking a breather from the Mountain Bar's opening festivities crowd around Arlo, the evening's hippest VIP.

Although Arlo is about 20 years short of drinking age, his cherubic mug is already a lady magnet. "He's a hit with all the girls," says mom Francis Stark, as she rocks Arlo gently on a bench in the courtyard outside.

Stark and husband Steve Hanson, the proprietor of nearby gallery China Art Objects, are part owners of the new Chinatown bar. Nearby, a second owner, architect Mark McManus, feeds quarters into a mini merry-go-round and hops on for a ride with his giggling daughter, Lilly. McManus' pregnant wife, Emily Decrescenzi, sits and watches. The third and most famous owner, artist Jorge Pardo, skipped the opening shindig for more important business in New York.

Inside, it's not your typical Los Angeles premiere. There aren't any celebrities so there aren't any cameras, there is a shocking lack of hors d'oeuvres, and instead of schmoozing and comping cocktails, the owners are lounging outside with their kids. The sum of which could be underwhelming ... but isn't.

This bar is an "accumulation of happy little accidents," says the general manager, Max Duncan. It has been three years in the making, explains Hanson, "a labor of love." Now that it's finally open, "I don't know what to think about having a bar," laughs Stark. As for the July 5 opening itself, she says, "I didn't send invitations out ... I'm a busy mom!" Arlo drools.

The crowd -- artists, architects, musicians and an insurance salesman who looks lost -- is more intent on exploring the interior than chatting up the opposite sex. Flip-flops stand next to spike heels, mojitos sweat next to colorful martinis, and everybody points at the intense red walls covered with red paint drips, at the huge hanging lamps fashioned out of wood, bent laminate and paper, at the carved wood booze cage that hangs above the bar ...

"This looks more like hell," observes Cathy Pack, an architect from Echo Park. "But you're with such happy people, drinks in hand, that it feels like heaven."

"It's sci-fi modernism filtered through baroque," offers a shy artist who declines to give her name.

Pardo -- known internationally for his "functional art" -- designed the space, once occupied by Chinatown's beloved General Lee's. Artist barhoppers say it will probably be known as "Pardo's place" rather than the Mountain Bar.

They may be right. The owners have yet to hang a sign. In fact, the only name on the building is a remnant from previous ownership: "Man General Lee's Jen Low" is painted on the inside of the door. It will stay as is, says McManus. "Because it's beautiful."

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