With Mess Hall, Los Feliz finally has a proper place to show off those skinny flannel shirts all the guys have been buying over the last couple of years, no doubt the first toe into the coming slide of nineties worship, following two decades after grunge and heroin chic first offered their scraggly faces. Mess Hall grand-opened to the public on Friday night and the attractive use of the former Louise’s/Brown Derby space, which features a wall collage of military-grade cafeteria trays and a green and gray G.I. color scheme, was quickly packed to its blonde wood beams and exposed rafters. We dipped in on Friday night for a quick drink, our previously set dinner plans keeping us from indulging in a bite, but we were able to observe the energy finally unleashed in this hotly anticipated restaurant over a couple of drinks.
All but a central communal table were occupied at 8:00 P.M., with bodies plunked down at freestanding wooden two-tops, co-joined booths, in front of a small oyster display, and huddled by the fire-pit on a outdoor patio.
Whether by design, like the banana-scent Universal Studios used to pump into the King Kong ride, or simply a wafting-over of the kitchen’s maple-bacon popcorn or fried chicken and waffles with maple butter, the whole place smelled like maple syrup, even before we set foot inside to wrassle with the green, and slightly overwhelmed, hostesses.
We barely squeezed our shoulders between two seats at the bar to order what was surely the best daquiri we’ve had yet in L.A., its direct and simple balance of white rum, sugar, and lime juice much closer to a summer day at La Floridita than Fort Lauderdale on spring break.
Next our Hercules Great Divide Double IPA arrived in a glass so small we were convinced we’d grown to giant proportions overnight, the bartender parrying complaints with the holier-than-thou revelation that because the ale packed a 10% ABV, the pour was naturally smaller, a trick we first came to loathe at Lazy Ox that won’t soon convince us it’s preferable to buy an $8 splash of the stuff compared to $10.99 for a 22 ounces. But what ya gonna do?
The room hummed, but not to the point that we couldn’t speak to our company without straining our voices. Our neighbors tucked into a comely $25 rock of ahi, dark pink in the center surrounded by a measured sear, and served with a dark pool of whiskey-peppercorn sauce. When asked, both gave the fish a giant thumbs-up, as dinosaur-sized portions of brioche burgers, steaks, brisket, and wild salmon whisked by.
Our bill was presented in a tiny billfold labeled “Damages,” a bit of a bite out of the same funny business we came to love at Tar & Roses, where the bill is stamped “The Damage” in red ink. Inside, customer feedback is addressed in the form of a letter from you, the camper, starting “Dear Mom & Dad, I just had (blank for breakfast, lunch, and dinner) at Mess Hall in Hollywood. Our Camp Counselor, (blank for server’s name) was (blank for personality)…” and so on and so on. Inevitably, we know some mischievous camper is going to have a taste for dirty Mad Libs.
We’ll be back to let you know how the eats perform. So far, most of the Yelpers who took a taste seem to be enthusiastic, maybe too enthusiastic, despite one calling Mess Hall a “hot-mess.” Either way, the setting is well-plotted for a section of the city currently in love with the urban lumberjack look, blending a tweaked-up chow line design with craft cocktails and beer and gussied-up woodlands cooking that plays perfectly to their twig-armed, Morrison Hotel-bearded, rugged self-illusions.