Footsies is a bar in the Cypress Park neighborhood of Northeast Los Angeles. I’ve been going there with wavering semi-regularity for about 17 years — as many as I’ve lived in Los Angeles. Online historic information about the bar is minimal and I’d love to fill it in more, so leave comments if you can help fill in the substantial blanks.
I prefer to walk to my local, but over the years many of my friends have chosen Footsies as a hangout. I suspect this has less to do with it being near any of their residences but rather because it’s as equally convenient (and inconvenient) for people who live in the Eastside, Mideast Los Angeles, and Northeast Los Angeles… and because El Atacor’s famous. restorative, tacos de papa are within easy stumbling distance. I also suspect that many of Footsies’ patrons live outside Cypress Park, as I’ve heard people variously (and wrongly) refer to it being in Echo Park, Highland Park, Lincoln Heights, and Mount Washington. That’s not to suggest that none of the patrons are from the neighborhood, but El Recreo Room (located around the corner) has more of a “locals” vibe whereas Footsies feels a bit like a roadhouse, situated as it is just off the Arroyo Seco Parkway and Golden State Freeway.
Footsies is located about six kilometers from my apartment, a manageable distance before a night of revelry but a much more daunting one after. I could ride my bicycle along the most charming stretch of the Los Angeles River Bike Path, the Glendale Narrows, but the ride home would be less enjoyable, I suspect (not to mention less safe). I have on at least one occasion walked to Footsies, but faced with a six kilometer walk I took a gypsy cab home. Footsies is served by Metro‘s 28, 81, 90/91, 94, 251, Rapid 751, and Rapid 794 bus lines. The Cypress/Lincoln Heights train station is a mere 450 meters away. None of those are especially convenient for me, tough, as all require me to make a transfer, and I’ve only taken the bus to and from there once. Not to mention, there’s a perfectly fine bar fifty meters from my front door.
The neighborhood isn’t the only thing that people get wrong about the bar. It’s often referred to (including on the bar’s own Twitter account) as “Footsie’s,” implying that it is named after or owned by someone with the unlikely name of “Footsie.” This is not apparently the case. For as long as I’ve lived here (since 1999) it’s been named Footsies, presumably a reference to the flirting game in which participants touch one another’s feet underneath a table. It’s easy to imagine that being the name of a 1970s “fern bar” although I have no idea when it became Footsies.
According to the County Assessor, the building in which Footsies is located was built in 1924, when that section of Figueroa Street was known as Dayton Avenue, at an intersection then served by two lines of the Los Angeles Railway. Until 1895, when Los Angeles annexed Sycamore Grove and Highland Park, this area had been the northeastern corner of the city for 114 years. Southern Pacific Railroad opened their large Taylor Yard nearby in 1924 and Cypress Park, Glassell Park, and Lincoln Heights were home to many bakeries — a few of which remain in operation. If the address number of the lot before Dayton became Figueroa was the same as it is now (which is a bit of a gamble) then there was a pre-existing market there operated by Hunt & Bennett, listed in newspapers of the day as licensed dealers of Good Luck Margarine and Sulzberger’s Majestic Hams and Bacon.
The first tenant of the new building may’e been Howard Hardware, which was in business as late as 1932. With the opening of the Arroyo Seco Parkway, parts of Dayton and Pasadena avenues were reconfigured as part of Figueroa Street. By 1936 the building was home to a tavern, Cliff’s Inn, operated by Major R. Slater and “Pete” and (according to its advertisements) known for its steaks, cocktails, and annual free venison dinners. Cliff’s Inn was still in business as late as 1942. In 1948, the Assessor records that the building underwent substantial alteration.
Footsies is often described as a “dive bar,” although it does not meet my definition of one. It’s not even remotely disreputable and they accept credit cards. It’s also often described as a “hipster bar,” which it also is not in any meaningful way. There is no obvious millennial bait — no chalk boards or communal seating made of reclaimed wood, the cocktails are not made by Edwardian cosplay mixologists, drinks are not served in pewter cups or Mason jars, it is not lit with Edison bulbs, it’s not named after a forgotten early 20th century real estate tract, and there is no password. The tap changes but there’s usually something from Glassell Park’s Eagle Rock Brewery or San Diego’s Modern Times Beer. There are always macrobrews as well.
I suppose Footsies used to feel sort of divey, or at the very least, unfussy. There was a black-painted drop ceiling affixed with dollar bills. In its place today is a nicely lit, classy, wooden ceiling. There’s a papered over glass windowed booth in the back which, unless I made this up, someone told me used to contain someone who would cash workers’ paycheck so that they more quickly could get ta drinkin’. There are thankfully no televisions and there’s thankfully a pool table. I guess it might seem “divey” or “hipster” if you typically do your drinking at Big Wang’s or Applebee’s.
In 2003, Footsies was purchased by alternative rocker Greg Dulli and made over to resemble The Short Stop and their sister bars: Monty’s, La Cita, El Chavito, and Glendale’s long-defunct The Scene. Apparently, when Dulli was in the Afghan Whigs, he and his bandmates enjoyed hanging out at the R Bar in the Marginy neighborhood of New Orleans, and in which Dulli subsequently purchased stake. I’ve been to R Bar and the post-remodel aesthetics of Footsies are vaguely similar but I’d never guess without hints that Footsies’s theme was supposed to be New Orleanian — perhaps because any kind of Big Easy vibe is completely obliterated by the standard Van Halen/Thin Lizzy/Motörhead type stuff so depressingly ubiquitous at bars favored by white people.
If one looks around you can find a few obvious nods to New Orleans. There’s a sign labeled “Krewe of Choctaw” and a black and white photo of a second line shares the wall space with the paintings and photographs of naked white women. If you ask me, though, a little Warren Mayes, Tim Smooth, Tombstone, Take Fo’, No Limit, Cash Money, Parkway Pumpin, Big Boy, or Untouchable on the jukebox and turntables would do wonders. Although neither are especially New Orleanian-flavored, it would be remiss of me to not give shout-outs to Brasilian to Disco and Discotan, two music nights which are worth celebrating for showcasing music which is far less run-of-the-mill than what you’ll typically be confronted with.
My personal bar soundtrack is either very quiet music or none at all, allowing for meditation, reading, or conversation. Footsies opens at 5:00 pm daily and most days remains pretty quiet until about 9:00. Back in the day, they used to BBQ on an oil drum smoker in the parking lot where the smoking patio (with a frequently alarm-sounding gate) is now. There was a group of regulars who gathered there who called themselves “Team Sunday.” I believe Team Sunday disbanded long ago and when I went most recently I didn’t recognize any of the bartenders, the bar back, or the door guy — but I did run into an old friend. The crowds and cigarette smoke grew thicker and the music increased in volume to deafening levels but as the well whiskey flowed, my ambivalence slowly washed away.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam.
Brightwell has written for Angel Walk LA, Amoeblog, Boom: A Journal of California, diaCRITICS, Hidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, the book Sidewalking, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery.
Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College.
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