Back when regularly making the drive into West Hollywood for a dinner or a business meeting was standard procedure, a little bar on the corner of Santa Monica Blvd always caught my eye. Beshrubbed and tucked away just past Formosa Ave, Harlowe’s old-fashioned awning and cozy exterior made it look like the perfect place to stop for a nightcap or happy hour drink on the way home.
Named for a fictional 1930s socialite who would’ve partied and preened on this strip during Hollywood’s Golden Era, Harlowe’s interior is even more appealing, with lots of warm wood, old world, antique charm, and vintage portraits of other women from another era. Ever since it opened in 2014, the homage to these ladies from decades ago always gave the place a sweetly refined air, and their cocktail menu never disappointed, either, with plenty of standards and new classics.
But now that things have shifted so much during the pandemic, and being indoors to drink together has become a sad impossibility, the bar has shifted its offerings from alcohol and simple snacks to embrace an elegant, full service dinner menu, courtesy of some cross-pollination with another West Hollywood favorite, The Little Door. During his 25-year tenure as the chef at The Little Door, T. Nicolas Peter brought a heady mix of French and Mediterranean cooking to the high-end crowds of Beverly Hills and beyond, and he’s now doing the same for Harlowe.
Expanding out into the ample outdoor space in front of and beside the bar, the new culinary-driven Harlowe is vying to take its place in an extremely competitive foodie neighborhood — and winning. During a recent press tasting night, I was happily surprised with how safe I felt set up even more than six feet from the nearest table outdoors, with every staff member and guest onsite wearing masks, and servers equipped with the extra protection of a full-face visor.
Even the host stand is located outside now, so the only time I even ventured indoors during the whole evening was once to use the bathroom — and I didn’t see a single other person during that solitary trip. While dining al fresco will never be 100% safe, Harlowe has executed it as safely as can possibly be expected, and the new menu is inventive enough to make even the small risk feel very worth it. For all the precautions I’ve taken and continue to take, the joy of feeling a semblance of normalcy for one night out was too sweet to easily forget.
Starting off with a pair of Aperol Spritzes, which are $13 normally, but we snagged them on happy hour for $9 per, we also opted to begin with the Hummus, Tahini and Pita plate ($8) and some of the most delicious Fried Calamari ($11) I’ve ever had in my life. Though I asked later what the octopus had been breaded in, because it had the best, crispest texture, the recipe is, of course, a trade secret. Also important to note is that Harlowe hosts happy hour every day from 5 to 630 PM, with discounted drinks and cheap, delicious small plates. That quick 90 minutes might be a better foray into public dining for those who are more wary or adjusting back to being in public.
From appetizers and drinks, my dining partner and I moved directly into main courses, grabbing a couple glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon along the way. And don’t let Harlowe’s reputation as a great cocktail bar steer you away from their short but efficient wine list — the wine was very drinkable and perfect for pairing with food.
Though there were a lot of more adventurous picks — like Moroccan Lamb Stew with couscous, onion confit and the option to add two merguez sausages ($25, plus $6 for the sausage) we went a little more traditional and ordered the Salmon Filet A La Plancha (read: salmon grilled on a very hot metal plate) with saffron espelette sauce (espelette = mild pepper), served with fluffy quinoa and crisp, steamed asparagus ($24), and the Skirt Steak, which was marinated, grilled, and served with a green peppercorn demi-glace, a decadent potato leek gratin that was like cheesy, baked macaroni with potatoes instead of noodles, and everyone’s favorite restaurant vegetable, broccolini.
Please note that while you’re getting the fine dining experience as far as quality of food and preparation, the price points are extremely affordable, which is a nice touch considering how many people are struggling financially right now. But also, all the more room to add a generous tip for the servers who are working in high-risk jobs so we can enjoy a night out. Splitting these two mains along with a couple appetizers was more than enough for two people, but the waiter all but insisted we try the dessert course, and thank god for his direction.
Between the Flourless Chocolate Cake with Créme Chantilly (whipped cream) and a Coconut Cheesecake with Gingered Peaches (both $8) the decadence was unforeseen, and an Old Fashioned was necessary for me to regain my bearings after such an overload of sweetness. I rarely get dessert anymore because it almost doesn’t feel worth it, but these two cakes were a reminder that when a professional is at the helm, the splurge is more than worth it.
Another item I didn’t get to try but thought looked incredible included a grilled octopus appetizer with green beans, fingerling potatoes and cherry tomatoes ($16), when it came out for a neighboring table I almost regretted my calamari choice (almost). The heirloom tomato salad with peaches and burrata ($16) looked equally tantalizing, and chickpea fries ($8) was a very creative take on an old standby. I’ll probably be returning soon to try those, or at least picking them up for a decadent dinner at home.
Whether you’re in the position to go dine al fresco or not, the menu at Harlowe is absolutely worth experiencing, and they’re offering the bulk of it to-go as well. But if you’ve been cooped up and careful, and looking for a place to safely have a night out – as a little treat — then the way this West Hollywood bar has reimagined itself during the pandemic is an update that makes the journey out into the world more than worth it. Anchored by the food of such a legendary chef, it’s one new addition to the neighborhood that’s worth pulling the car over and changing your plans for.
Check out the new Harlowe menu in full here.