La Descarga: A Little Bit of Havana With Rum, Cigars & Dancing Girls

La Descarga bar crowd by Caroline on Crack
La Descarga Dancer moves through the crowd by Caroline on Crack

Dancer on fyah!

It was a hot, sticky night in Havana. Men in suits were lounging in the new happening bar, trying to cool off with chilly mojitos and Cuba Libres. Their ladies all dolled up in clingy dresses shimmied to the thrum of the Conga music blaring through the speakers in the main room. Meanwhile a burlesque dancer, all fishnetted legs and flying hair, gyrated her way through the crowd while her bodyguard kept careful watch from the sidelines.

The hostess and Pablo

The hostess and Pablo

I took in the vibrant scene while nursing my daquiri, my bf’s arm draped around me as we cozied up on a loveseat opposite the bar. We had a prime spot for people-watching. But suddenly a line of people came trudging down the narrow spiral staircase, bundled up in raincoats and scarves, shaking the rain from their hair. And I realized I was not in Havana anymore.

It was actually a drizzly night in Los Angeles; Koreatown, to be specific. And the new rum bar, La Descarga, had just opened its doors earlier in the week much to the delight of cocktail enthusiasts, L.A. nightlifers and bloggers. Here is something new and different from the speakeasies that have populated the city the past few years.

Even different from the Tar Pit, the 1940s-esque bar that opened a couple of months ago. Not only is La Descarga located in a neighborhood other than downtown but it offers up a sorta secret entrance that rivals PDT’s phonebooth in New York, a burlesque floor and catwalk show, a dedicated cigar and premium rum room as well as an impressive menu of about 70 rums.

From Los Angeles Times Magazine:

The parlor-like club is designed to evoke a pre-Fidel Cuba?before things got sticky?back when people knew how to enjoy the finer things in life, even if they didn?t own a sugarcane farm.

Mixologists Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix were good enough to invite me to check out their new digs. Not that I wouldn’t have anyway. Steve has his own beverage consulting company, Top Notch Beverage Consulting, while Pablo hails from behind the bar at STK in West Hollywood so I knew the drinks here would be excellent.

Currently La Descarga’s specialty cocktail menu, with drinks that range in price from $9 to $13, only offers rum-based beverages but the boys are looking to expand it in the next two weeks to include cocktails made with other spirits. And, sure, if you’re looking for something other than rum right now, there’s a full bar at your disposal.

La Descarga's Cuban Mojito

What you see at La Descarga at the moment is only the beginning apparently. It’s still a work in progress. For instance, there’s another 2,000 square feet of space behind the bar in the backroom that may reemerge in the next four to five months as “something.” Whatever it is, Pablo and Steve aren’t elaborating.

They did let on, however, that they’re looking to do up rum flights and punchbowls in the back room. And there’s some cocktail on the horizon that Pablo calls “The Next Level” which involves a huge ball of ice that’s hollowed out and dropped into a punchbowl for two.

But on this night, cocktail blogger Thirsty in LA (aka Daniel) and I contented ourselves with what was currently on the specialty cocktail list while bf stuck to Maker’s with one cube of ice. Daniel went for Tapping the Admiral ($13), a concoction of Zaya Rum, Carpano Antica, Cherry Heering and bitters. I didn’t get to taste it because I was afraid of giving Daniel my cough but he said it was sweet, aromatic and potent.

Unfortunately there was no sign of the yummy-sounding Bad Spaniard cocktail mentioned in LA Times‘ Daily Dish blog so on Steve’s recommendation, I ordered the Honey Swizzle* ($12) which he said had a hint of anise flavor due to the Aguardiente Cristal and wasn’t overly sweet despite the cocktail’s name. “We don’t have candy sweet drinks here,” he reassured me.

Now, I’m not a big fan of anise, licorice or absinthe flavors but it actually worked in this cocktail, which started off with that hint of anise and then dissipated into a bite of citrus. There was sweetness but it was pleasantly subtle. Mmm, Honey Swizzle.

La Descarga Crowd at the bar

Crowd at the bar

I also tried the house daiquiri, La Descarga Daiquiri ($9) with its mix of Diplomatico anejo rum, lime and sugar and the Cuban Mojito ($10) with Bacardi Carta Blanca, mint, lime, sugar and soda but the Honey Swizzle was my favorite. Maybe because this is the only place you can get a Honey Swizzle while daiquiris and mojitos are more readily available. Although, the ones made here are derived from classic recipes so if you want them done as close to authentic as possible, get ’em here.

Now my blogger friends Food GPS and EstarLA both claimed the Tropical Holiday cocktail ($12) — which offered a promising mix of Rhum JM Blanc, Velvet Falernum, lime, sugar, soda and bitters — to be their favorite from the menu, but for some reason the one that Daniel ordered was…not that great. After a sip, I found it too bitter for my liking. Ack! Gag! “This is my least favorite drink,” Daniel coughed. We guessed that maybe they just went too crazy with the bitters for this batch. Will have to give it another chance the next time we swing by.

OK, now, there are a couple of misconceptions running around about La Descarga. Rumor had it that reservations here are required when in fact Steve says they’re only recommended. Sure, you can swing by here on a whim but if you have some friends with you and intend to show up on a Friday night at 10, it’s best if you made ressies first. They just don’t want people to have to stand outside in line waiting to get in, plus it’s a great way to control the flow of the crowd.

BTW, if you show up during the cabaret show — which consists of Conga drums, sax and a dancer — you’ll have to wait for 15 minutes til the performance is over to be let in. Showtimes take place on Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights at the top of the hours of 10, 11, 12 and 1 o’clock. And the later shows tend to be more risque and longer; incentive to stay late! We’re talking bar dancing and fire sticks.

But if you find yourself flaking out on reservations a couple of times, be warned that you’ll be SOL if you try to make a third one. Ohh, they keep track of flakes here. All Steve asks is that you treat your reservation here like you would with a restaurant. If you can’t make it, let them know ahead of time.

Another misconception is that there isn’t a dress code. On a Friday night after work, I showed up in jeans and a frumpy gray sweater. Did manage to dress it up with a string of pearls though. In any case, Steve said that, like the Edison downtown, there is a dress code of no shorts or flip-flops, etc. and they’d rather that men wear suits and women don beautiful dresses. For a place as special as La Descarga, I can see why they’d want you to look nice. Heck, I’d want to look nice coming here.

Plus if the dancer happens to step out in front of you during the floor show and the spotlight’s on you, you’re going to want to look your best as you Rumba with her.

La Descarga definitely makes it on my list of top fave bars in L.A. You can come here for a show, cigars and premium spirits — all without a cover. I just recommend getting here before 9 if you really want to enjoy the space cuz it gets packed. I can’t wait to check back in to try their expanded cocktail list with more spirits in the coming weeks. But for the next visit, I’ll make sure to don a purty dress.

La Descarga Los Angeles
1159 Western Avenue
Hollywood, California 90029 (map)
Reservations recommended, call (323) 466-1324 or do it on the site.

* Two of my cocktails were comped except the Cuban Mojito.

43 Responses to La Descarga: A Little Bit of Havana With Rum, Cigars & Dancing Girls
  1. e*starLA
    February 6, 2010 | 11:24 pm

    BOO! Sorry about not knowing there was a (non-) dress code! The place *is* nice so I can see why it’s implied…or stated outright.

    You didn’t like the Tropical Holiday?! Haha I liked it but wished I could try more drinks; unfortunately, I was tapped out from dinner. 🙂 Can’t wait to go back to try the others…

  2. e*starLA
    February 6, 2010 | 11:26 pm

    Ooh – also wanted to add that I did go on a Wednesday night (day after opening) and it never really got crowded, unlike when you went on a Friday night. But I would also agree with that “before 9” recommendation, especially on the weekend.

  3. Caroline on Crack
    February 6, 2010 | 11:29 pm

    Yeah, Daniel and I couldn’t believe it either so just assumed we got a bad one. I’m willing to give it another go though. I’m a good sport like that. Heh. As for it being busy on a Friday, Steve actually said it was slow compared to the other nights and chalked it up to the rain! And regarding the dress code, Steve said he would cut me some slack.

  4. […] La Descarga: A Little Bit of Havana With Rum, Cigars & Dancing Girls – Caroline On Crack […]

  5. cathy/ShowFoodChef
    February 7, 2010 | 12:12 am

    Great review, energetic and made me wanna go. I just sent your link to a friend so we could plan it. ANd love your new site, etc…

  6. Jack
    February 7, 2010 | 12:22 pm

    I have been looking for a new spot. This looks pretty cool. Thanks for the tip.

  7. fauxlahipster
    February 7, 2010 | 3:14 pm

    ooh, this place sounds rad! can’t wait to check it out 🙂 thanks for the detailed writeup!

  8. […] sure to check out Caroline on Crack’s recap of the night at La Descarga (with […]

  9. Thirsty in LA
    February 10, 2010 | 1:08 pm

    So much fun! Thanks again for the invite. Love the video!

  10. Caroline on Crack
    February 10, 2010 | 11:16 pm

    Cathy,
    Yay! It is really fun. Next time I plan on staying later. Apparently things get livelier as the night goes on!

    Jack,
    My pleasure. Enjoy!

    fauxlahipster,
    It would be a great place to celebrate your med school entry!

    Thirsty in LA,
    Of course! Glad you could join us.

  11. […] Livigni, of new rum bar La Descarga, offered a short and sweet: “A giant glass of Veuve Clicquot Rose with my girlfriend in […]

  12. wednesdaywolf
    February 15, 2010 | 2:49 pm

    I’m sorry, but this is *not* K-town! Western and Santa Monica is decidedly Hollywood, if not the chichi Hollywood you associate with the word.

    That said, this place is great. Please stop telling people about it. 🙂

  13. […] eye a bit quicker than one of the bartender patrons. I related this story to Pablo Moix of La Descarga, who was enjoying his night off here and he replied, “If it’s going to be between you […]

  14. Sharon Kisekka
    March 13, 2010 | 8:16 pm

    Hello,

    I would like to make reservations for the bar, not table service, for myself + 4.

    I can be reached at 310-963-6211

    Thanks,
    Sharon

    • Caroline on Crack
      March 14, 2010 | 8:50 pm

      You have to go on the La Descarga Web site to make the reservations.

  15. Scott Cutler
    April 16, 2010 | 1:37 am

    La Descarga is THE worst club I have ever been to. The is a no jeans dress code so I knew it would suck right off the bat. I gave it a try anyway. Everyone was wearing jeans. When we got there, there was no line but the door guy made us wait to go in. Then we get in and go up these stairs into a room where you have to go through this thing that looks like a wardrobe to get in the club. When we went through, a girl came out of nowhere and pulled us back and told us to wait some more. Then we just went back down some more stairs. The place is thick with cigar smoke. isn’t that illegal in L.A. now? Sucky atmosphere and the people were rude. Stayed about 15 minutes and when we tried to leave they told us we couldn’t go out the way we came in. I went anyway and the girl who made us wait to go in followed me into the street and tried to start an argument with me. She actually followed me two blocks before giving up.

    • Caroline on Crack
      April 16, 2010 | 12:47 pm

      Scott, Sounds like you made up your mind to hate it before you got in the door. And I think you’re missing the point about the dress code or the special entrance. It’s about an experience in addition to the cocktails.

  16. […] Gypsy”-inspired specialty cocktails created by Michel and Steve Livigni, general manager of La Descarga. And for each cocktail, Osteria La Buca’s Chef Alberto Lazzarino, will pair a beautiful bite […]

  17. Fraser Gunn
    April 21, 2010 | 11:53 am

    I have the best rum in LA and not enough customers. Maybe its my accent.
    Tortuga Rum: Available in 5 varieties, gold, light, banana, spiced and coconut. All the rums are 80 proof and the flavours are the only 80 proof flavours on the market.

    When it comes to flavours these are the best available.

    Tell Steve to give me a call to enjoy some of these amazing rums and some Columba Cream

  18. […] Last night’s Neve Ice party at Osteria La Buca was like a blogger Tweetup. Build free, delicious cocktails and they will come. Heh. I arrived with ShopEatSleep and SocialDomainLA and ran into Food GPS, Teenage Glutster, marpop, SauceLA, Thirsty in LA, Squashblossom, inomthings and Eating LA. Craziness. We were all there to enjoy the cocktails created by Michel Dozois of Neve Ice and Steve Livigni of La Descarga. […]

  19. […] tonight is the launch of La Descarga’s much talked-about cocktail, The Next Level. Mixologist Pablo Moix had hinted at its arrival […]

  20. […] haven’t yet heard of La Descarga, then you don’t read the paper, the magazines, or the hippest blogs in town.  That’s okay, you’ve got plenty of company, and you’re here now, right?   All […]

  21. Sharon
    June 13, 2010 | 3:08 pm

    5 STARS***My friends and I went last night and had the best time EVER…We reserved a bench table right in front of the bar (seats four, $250 min) and got their by 9:15 all dressed up and ready to party and the staff was awesome.

    We ordered both their famous fruit punch bowl, mojitos and also sampled cigars in the back….this place is amazing complete with the live congo drums and sax with dancers that come out ever hour to perform. Make sure to make reservations, get there on time and dress up-thanks for the tip!

  22. Danny
    August 25, 2010 | 4:18 pm

    I would like to set a reservation for this Friday Aug. 27th for a group of 20 ppl. Please contact me at (323)718-5594

  23. paddy c.
    August 29, 2010 | 2:46 am

    well i must admit having traveled the world and been to most of the most amazing high class clubs in the world as well as the most famous dives this place would classify as the worst place ever . not by it’s staff mind you who are more business minded than the absolute ass , who is the general manager /owner Steve Livigni a little dork of a man skinny runt with glasses and a brain with an iq of 60 . who would go in buis with this ass is a guaranty to loose his investment. this story is sooo crazy i can’t even believe it myself. but i will count it for it is worth knowing what to can encounter. i had been there for the 1st time with a girl friend and i did like the concept so i thought it deserved attention i decided to go back with my boy friend and another couple , unfortunately the other couple had a disaster in the family and had to fly out of town to attend to the situation . we my boy friend and i decide to go anyway .i had reserved a table which required a $200 minimum which was no problem at all for us. my boy friend is one of those men that money is never the issue it is all about the service. so we went and where told that they where waving the minimum which we did not ask for .but i thought that was very nice. i don’t know how but when we left my boyfriend pays in cash for everything . the bill was $93 he swears he gave 120 but anyway i had booked a table for the next day with my girlfriends and i received an email saying we had left giving our waitress only a $ 7 tip . knowing the man i’m with i was shocked and told him about the email , he was stunned himself but without blinking an eye said that’s weird but here give her 45 more no sweat . which i made sure to do the minute i walked in. my girlfriends proceeded to order drinks and later in the evening they received emails from their husbands and we all agreed they should join us. they where not aware of the SO CALLED DRESS CODE . mind you most men there where wearing jeans and plenty where wearing tee shirts . but when the husbands got there , one had a tee shirt and this Steve guy would not let them in . the bad part is that he came over to our table with an attitude reading us the riot act all the while we are staring at a multitude of men that are wearing jeans and tee shirts. so my friend started to pinpoint to that effect across the table and had to speak loudly to try to get heard the music blearing of course. anyway her husband borrowed a jacket and got to come in. i had been told before that if one wanted to eat one need to go to the trucks across the street we had had quite a few drinks so we ask the guys to please go get us some food they came back saying that “STEVE” would not allow it . so i went to inquire why. what fallowed was the crazy ass part of this story . he started to tell me about all his rules that where being broken all over the chart and then kept on throwing at my face the fact that i had come the night before and not left a tip , then started telling my girlfriend was yelling at him and the husbands where not attired properly i reminded the ASS that i had come back and taken care of the waitress the minute i walked in and that my girlfriend was not yelling at him but surely needed to talk loud to be heard in the noise surroundind us and that the dress code had been handled . this ASS kept on repeating the same thing over again . i really was insulted now and angry so with my index i poked him and told his ASS off . they threw us out we left a $100 tip for a$200 bill because this was by no means the waitress’s fault and i would never make a hard working employe pay for the stupid behaviour of their boss.if you are a use to a certain level of class and spending this is not the place for you . the staff was mortified by the whole thing but they work for the asshole . so having been all around the world and a member of all the most exclusive clubs for decades i can see that this place will tank by the stupidity of its owner STEVE LIVIGNI. Feel sorry for the staff and the partners or investors who need to chk up on this loose canon this is no way to run a buisiness and i or one and so will my friends count this insane story . this town is very small . i have a reputation for being a no BS type of person honest straight forward and very fair for the past 28 year of living and doing buisiness in this town . BAD MOVE STEVE, and truly your loss . PS ;i’m French , and know EVERYBODY so that French club you are thinking about , think again

  24. Jen Esparza Turnbull
    September 13, 2010 | 10:11 am

    This restaurant looks great! I’m looking forward to checking it out.

    We just launched a video blog called Latin in LA TV. Check it out! http://latininla.com/

    We’re covering everything Latino from music and artists to events and restaurants. It’s bilingual as well – videos and written blogs are in both languages.

    Best,
    Latin in LA TV

  25. […] #5 has adorable mixologists Alie and Georgia, #6 pits La Descarga‘s Steve Livigni against Death & Co’s Alex Day to decide whether LA or NYC has the […]

  26. […] a leather patch and a bit more showy tuft of feathers that would work well for a fancy night out at La Descarga — I just went with both which were about $15 each at the show. On the Web site, each […]

  27. […] I’m pretty sure I’m disqualified since I’m actually judging the final mixoff with La Descarga‘s Steve Livigni and Melkon Khosrovian, co-founder and spiritsmaker for GreenBar Collective. […]

  28. […] score an interview for LA Weekly‘s Squid Ink with its general manager Steve Livigni, also of La Descarga, weeks before the bar opened and while it still had sawdust on the floor and plastic sheets […]

  29. […] which was held at Hollywood’s supperclub. He had competed against Adrian Biggs of La Descarga and Matthew Biancaniello of the Library Bar to create the best Mai Tai in all of L.A. and […]

  30. rick
    March 30, 2011 | 5:08 pm

    is it busy on a wednesday night?

    • Caroline on Crack
      March 30, 2011 | 5:23 pm

      It’s busy most every night but if you get there before 9 it’s not too bad.

  31. […] La Descarga, East Hollywood. This was recommended to me as THE hot cocktail bar in L.A. We managed to slide in early on a Saturday night after chatting with one of the valets outside who informed us that Katherine Heigl had been there the week before. Up a flight of stairs … into an antechamber where a hostess with a mini-dress and a Slavic accent opened the doors of a wardrobe (complete with empty hangers) … onto a wrought-iron catwalk with a spiral staircase … and behold: a two-story back bar full of rum. The place is a Bacardi-backed venture (with other rums and spirits invited into the mix) launched by the same team responsible for the brand-spanking-new Harvard & Stone (below). Bartenders in white shirts and black ties serve classic rum drinks (and the occasional Red Bull and vodka) to a fashionable crowd entertained by live Latin jazz and burlesque performers. Think: Old Havana nightclub meets warehouse party. This being L.A., the look of the place is all expert set design, from the cracked plaster to the random-seeming burnt-out light bulbs. Yep, the name of this bar means “the discharge.” I have no idea. […]

  32. ChefJennB
    August 17, 2011 | 8:08 am

    I am supposed to be meeting someone here at the place next weekend. I am a totall jeans/heels kind of girl and after reading these mixed reviews, not quite sure if I will be let it. Anymore recent reviews on this place?

    • Caroline on Crack
      August 17, 2011 | 3:49 pm

      They’re strict with the dress code. You don’t have to be a fashion plate, just dress nice. You can wear your jeans/heels with a nice blouse.

  33. […] always a sultry night in La Descarga no matter what the thermostat says outside of the Hollywood rum bar. And yet, the Cuban-themed […]

  34. Kenny
    October 11, 2011 | 11:51 am

    I love La Descarga. The cocktail program is amazing. Steve and Pablo have truly outdone themselves.

    And for the next two weeks, you can get 30% off at La Descarga with Night Tap!

    http://nighttap.com/deals/ladescarga

  35. […] bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts club. Here, you’ll find Armando Conway from La Descarga, Aaron Stepka from A-Frame and Rivera and Robin Jackson from Club Mallard in the Bay […]

  36. Joe
    December 9, 2011 | 2:12 pm

    Is there danceing at this place??

    • Caroline on Crack
      December 14, 2011 | 10:32 am

      Joe, Not really. It’s usually too crowded in front of that bar to dance.

  37. […] fancy nights out in L.A. Whether it was drinking daiquiris while taking in a burlesque show at La Descarga or sipping on Armagnac…while taking in a burlesque show at Pour Vous. I’ll gladly […]

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