Have you ever had the urge to drink cocktails inside of a giant whiskey barrel? Or as the case may be, due to pandemic precautions, just outside of one? Those who visit or live in LA and remain primarily in the obvious areas like Sunset Junction, West Hollywood, or Abbot Kinney will miss the weird little enclaves in neighborhoods like NoHo, where solid joints such as The Fat Dog or Idle Hour are less crowded and less pretentious, but retain all the charm that makes other more popular areas of the city beloved.
Given the current restrictions and social distancing measures, visiting a neighborhood that’s a little more off the beaten path than Silver Lake or Echo Park is a good idea anyway, and having cocktails in a historic landmark is definitely the way to keep things interesting during a time of boredom and ennui. Located at the corner of Camarillo Street and Vineland, Idle Hour is hard to miss because it is quite literally a giant barrel.
Built back in 1941, the structure was initially meant to signify to the new motorist-centric consumer that whiskey could indeed be found here. The building was designated as a landmark in 2010, but remains open — even during Covid — to provide the neighborhood with the libations it needs. Particularly for the post-work crowd, Idle Hour’s vaulted indoor area and spacious backyard have become a well-known haunt to waste away an evening, and their revamped happy hour menu is just another reason to go support a local and completely unique bar.
Working from home all day means that by the time 4:30 PM rolls around, I’m itching to get out of the house and see another human. This makes the witching hour, AKA happy hour, more relevant than ever before, as do the much lower prices which suit my new financial precarious status very well. Knowing all this, Idle Hour reserved the first hour of service each day, from 5 PM to 6 PM as happy hour with $7 cocktails including a Paloma (tequila), Collins (gin) and Mule (any liquor + ginger beer), $6 wine and $2 off any draft beers.
Though their prices are already pretty affordable, this extra hour of grace makes a quick trip to the bar an attainable indulgence instead of a long lost treat. Similarly, their happy hour snack menu is straightforward, salty decadence with warm, rich queso accompanying either a Homeboy Bakery pretzel, or a tray full of tortilla chips. So many chips, in fact, that even two drunk girls couldn’t manage to finish them all. Additionally, spicy and crispy wings with crudite and ranch or blue cheese adds a hearty third option to the happy hour offerings, all of which are only $6 per.
If you were to add something off the main menu to balance out some of these snacks, I’d recommend the Very Berry Salad with strawberries, spinach, and goat cheese. It can come either as a side salad ($6, in keeping with the happy hour prices) or an entree for only $10 — and there’s an option to add chicken on top for $5 more. As far as the drinks go, I recommend either sticking straight through with the Paloma or doing Collins and gin-based Mules in order to get some variety. Keep in mind, they also have a full dinner menu and a full bar, if you happen to keep idling beyond happy hour.
But menu aside, it’s the atmosphere and relaxed feel that makes Idle Hour live up to its name. What was initially supposed to be an hour-long press visit in the evening last week to go over some business with a friend turned into a three-hour night with all three appetizers and many, many rounds of cocktails. There’s something so inviting about the private outdoor space, it feels sort of like having drinks in a friend’s yard, only there’s faster refills and a better bar selection. Even if the more iconic indoor space isn’t accessible at the moment, even the chance to walk through this massive barrel-shaped bar is enough to get a feel for what the bar usually boasts. And with small restaurants and bars closing right and left during the pandemic, there’s no better time to safely and efficiently visit the most historic spots in the city, not just to support them but to make sure we remember why this city mattered to us in the first place.
For those who need to head back to where they’re from, or to smaller markets, or to less dense areas, I wish them well. As for me, I will live and die in LA. And hopefully, many more idle hours spent at bars in NoHo and beyond will be part of that story.