Swinging Doors — Visiting The Verdugo

Swinging Doors

Verdugo Bar is located in the Glassell Park neighborhood of Northeast Los Angeles at 3408 Verdugo Road. Verdugo Road (along with Verdugo Canyon, Verdugo City, the Verdugo Hills, Verdugo Park, and the Verdugos region) is named after José María Verdugo, Spanish soldier and landowner to whom Rancho San Rafael was granted in 1784.

exterior

Andrew Glassell and Alfred Beck Chapman purchased Verdugo’s ranch lands at a foreclosure auction in 1869 and Glassell there built a home in 1889. The subdivision of Glassell Park was developed in 1907. The community was annexed by Los Angeles in 1912 as part of the Arroyo Seco Addition, an annexation which moved the city’s borders as far east as they would ever go, to the intersection of Huntington Drive and Kendall Avenue in El Sereno.

Available historical information on the building which houses the Verdugo is minimal, but it was constructed in 1921 on the Risley Heights Tract. Prohibition was repealed in 1933 and the building has supposedly been home to bars ever since. Immediately before it became the Verdugo, it was Lana’s Kopper Keg, a sports bar which boasted eight television sets, live music, chess, foosball, and darts. It was named after owner Lanalee Rabun. Rabun’s Keg kicked in 2007, at which time construction began in back of one of the bar’s chief draws — an outdoor patio.

middle-room

The Verdugo was founded by Brandon Bradford, Cherith Spicer, Kyle Bilowitz, and Ryan Sweeney. Before that, Sweeney had been the manager at Match, a North Hollywood bar which since closed. Since opening the Verdugo, Sweeney has completed the Cicerone Certification Program; which is essentially to craft beer what sommelier programs are to wine. Sweeney continues to oversee the Verdugo’s beer selection as well as those at The Surly Goat (West Hollywood), Little Bear (Arts District), The Blind Donkey (Pasadena), and The Phoenix (Beverly Grove). It should come as no surprise, then, that the focus at the Verdugo is craft beer and the changing selection leans heavily local as well as Belgian. There’s also a menu of special cocktails and a thoughtful selection of whiskeys.

If a craft beer bar popular with students from a private liberal arts college (Occidental is 2.5 kilometers away) sounds insufferable, I’ve never found it to be so.The crowd usually includes a mix of neighborhood locals, sportswear-clad bros, and more smartly dressed young women. When I visit, after procuring a drink, I’m inevitably drawn to the patio, where I’ve never overheard anyone debating the definition of a “session beer” or discussing “mouthfeel.” The appeal of the bar, from what I can gather, has less to do with beer snobbery than the undeniable appeal of drinking and socializing under the open sky. On my last visit, for a friend’s birthday, it actually rained and no one went inside.

patio

The vibe of the bar itself is also pretty low-key. There used to be a beer pong table, but that’s long gone. Darts and board games remain, however, and patrons regularly gather to play Cards Against Humanity. On Tuesday there’s bar trivia.  In the place of Kopper Keg’s live blues, reggae, and salsa bands there are in their place DJs spinning Mexican 45s, hip-hop, &c. There are plush leather booths and a photo booth. There are still two television sets which usually either show sports matches or subtitled films.

interior

With a patio, main room, and smaller room between, Verdugo is a pretty large bar which even when crowded rarely feels full… until the need to use a restroom develops. The inadequate, substandard restrooms can be a problem. Each of the two closet-sized restrooms contains a single toilet and yet is assigned to a specific gender — which often spells long lines for female patrons unless they’re willing to use the men’s room (which it should be noted has no mirror).

There are also no restaurants nearby which are open at night. This is less of a problem, however, as there’s almost always at least one food truck parked outside; with usual suspects including Grill ‘Em All, Konestruction, and White Rabbit Truck. On some occasions, such as the Mobile Mashup, there are several trucks from which to sample.

The Verdugo is fairly close to my residence — about two and a half kilometers away –and I suspect I would go there often if it but didn’t feel so out-of-the-way. The nearest train station to the bar is three kilometers away — in Glendale — and is served by Amtrak and Metrolink but not light rail. The Verdugo is served only by two bus lines, Metro‘s 28 and 685. If I were to bus it, I have to make two transfers or walk more than half the total distance. Cycling would seem the best option, then, if shadeless and overly-wide Fletcher Drive wasn’t such a uniquely unpleasant street on which to ride (or walk). At the time of writing, however, medians and bicycle lanes are being installed, which should help calm some of the worst motorists and create a more appealing option. 

The Verdugo is open 6pm till 2am, Monday through Friday, and 3pm till 2am on Saturdays and Sundays. The happy hour special is $2 off all draft beer and well drinks and occurs from 6pm-8pm on weekdays and 3pm-7pm on weekends.

*****

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 LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICS, 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 MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery.

Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRWWhich Way, LA? and at Emerson College.

Art prints of Brightwell’s maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on various products from Cal31.

He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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2 thoughts on “Swinging Doors — Visiting The Verdugo

  1. Ah, thanks for your review of what has been perhaps the best beer drinking resource in NELA for a decade. I used to lead “Stairways and Beer” walks from here monthly on Sundays; something that I plan to return to. I recall my first look at the place (2006?) with the vague “Cocktails” sign and no other business like this around for miles. I just turned and left, thinking that I had been the victim of a hoax.

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