Personally, I was pretty bummed out when I found out one of my favorite low key, dimly lit bars, Sapphire in Studio City, was history. But, that’s the way of things, and when I heard that Laurel Tavern had been opened in its stead, of course I was curious.
The first time I walked in I barely recognized the place. Gone were the dark brown, velvety couches, the array of votive candles and the “let’s go make-out in the corner” vibe.
In their place were big windows that opened onto the street, exposed brick, large chalkboards on display, and a decidedly convivial atmosphere.
Sorry Sapphire, but after putting one toe inside Laurel Tavern I forgot all about you, the way a sexy new date can make you forgot that old flame in a hot second.
My friend and I scored a spot at the bar, the other choices being a long, communal, pub height table down the middle of the room, or one of 20 or so smaller tables scattered about the place.
We ordered a glass of wine and a beer. If you are a beer lover this place has a pretty interesting selection – from Telegraph Ale from Santa Barbara, to Schmaltz Coney Island Lager from San Francisco. Of the 16 offerings all but one, Woodchuck Apple Cider from Vermont, are California creations. I on the other hand am a wine lover, and I was less impressed with their selections on that front. But, as my date pointed out, it’s a tavern not a wine bar. Duly noted.
No matter where you are sitting, you’ve gotta fend for yourself and belly up to the bar to order drinks and food, a nifty trick on a crowded night. If ordering something to eat, they assign you a number and a server delivers your food.
The menu takes standard pub fare to a higher level. We tried the arugula salad ($7) and loved it. It was a decent portion, with lots of shaved parmesan, and a simple, citrusy vinaigrette. But my favorite part was the roasted tomato, which was cooked to perfection. We also tried their grilled artichokes ($10) which were smoky and fork tender. I’ve been trying to recreate it at home ever since – no luck so far! The Chorizo Fondue ($9) is not for the faint of heart. In a word, it’s rich. We dove into it with abandon, and while it was a tad on the greasy side (something difficult to avoid with chorizo) it had a nice spicy kick to it. We also took a whack at the Bacon Blue Cheese Burger ($10). It was a decent size, cooked to a perfect medium rare, and while I won’t be writing home to my mama about it, it was flavorful and filling. The only thing we didn’t really love was the Grilled Cheese Sandwich ($8). Don’t get me wrong, it tasted great, with crunchy bread and good stinky cheese. But the portion was just plain silly. For what it costs to slap some bread together with a little cheese, I feel like they could pony up a bit of a bigger serving because honestly it was so good, I wanted more.
But in the scheme of things, we finished our meal feeling like we had some really tasty food and all the offerings are under $12.
I left Laurel Tavern rather enamored. The vibe is nice, the crowd – a sociable mix of industry types, the service friendly and attentive. Sorry Sapphire, I am officially over you.
11938 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City, CA
Bar Hours: Mon-Fri, 4pm-2am,Sat & Sun, 12pm-2am
Kitchen Hours: Mon-Fri, 5pm – 11pm
Sat and Sun – Open at Noon