Marked by a small sign emblazoned with “BAR” within the historic brick building housing the Hotel Normandie on 6th St. in Koreatown is the intimate lounge known as The Normandie Club. Last weekend I was able to squeeze in a visit after hearing murmurs about it being a hole-in-the-wall gem. I had to find out for myself, and this is how my night went.
After a couple of drinks at dinner downtown and a shot at the restaurant bar for good measure, I arrived via Lyft at the lounge in the mood to grab a seat, a cocktail, and unwind post-meal. After showing proof of vaccination to the bouncer – a plus for venues where masks are hard to wear and harder to enforce, I was let inside and, instantly, the atmosphere hooked me in.
Dark, brooding, a scene out of a neo-noir film. Interior adorned with the charm of mid-century optimism, garnished with a disillusioned neon glow from behind the bar. If there was a place in which I wanted to intelligently transition back to normalcy, it would be here, chatting with some friends in one of their stuffed leather booths.
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On this night, I waded through the light crowd and found a spot at the bar so I could watch the cocktail magic in action. Working behind the counter were the bartenders, both in short sleeved button downs of the same color, but not the same shirt. I ordered the Army Navy to start out. A mix of gin and rum, bright, sweet, and with depth from the added liqueurs, the taste was so delicious I had to stop myself from drinking it too fast and ordering another.
One drink in, I was slightly perplexed by the music. It is something that I have been noticing more and more as I go out to bars Los Angeles. A lot of venues are now starting to play music from six to nine years ago as if they are throwbacks. It happened at Paper Tiger Bar a few weeks ago, and now this time at the Normandie Club, I am hearing the songs that provided the soundtrack to my high school days, but specifically the tracks that I avoided unless I was at a party, prom, or forced to listen to the radio.
Was “Birthday Song” by 2 Chainz not just a throwaway meme track to anyone else? Or is the fun of nostalgia being forced to revisit the meme-y and lifeless things that were shoved down our throats nearly a decade ago? Maybe this is what aging is. Maybe these songs are just tinged with the bitter taste of pubescent awkwardness still. Maybe I am the one who is wrong. No one else there seemed to be as affected by the soundtrack as I was. Perhaps I am just a snob.
By the time I had my second drink, however, the music made a full comeback. My White Negroni – intimidatingly clear, strong, and delicious – was paired with some classic West Coast underground Hip Hop tracks. The Pharcyde, Souls of Mischief, Camp Lo, and I would not be surprised if some People Under the Stairs was thrown in as well. This low-key, sample heavy, jazzy production fit the bar’s tone much better, in my opinion. Classic with modern mindedness, introspective and fun, by the time my drink had been reduced to a square ice cube and a lemon slice I was fully enveloped in the atmosphere and found myself having a conversation about Bay Area rap with a man in a Giants hat. Had I been anywhere else, I am not sure that I would have been able to connect with a rival of the Dodgers so civilly, especially in the midst of a heated playoff series. However, at the Normandie Club, where the drinks are carefully crafted, the lights are low, and the interior is as classic as it is, there is no better place to have a conversation.