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Hank’s Bar & American Grill ~ Downtown Los Angeles

10:36 AM PDT on June 21, 2007

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Hank's Bar & American Grill ~ 840 S. Grand Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90017

"Zing Boom Ta-ra-rel. Join in a glass of good cheer." Welcome to Hank's Bar at the Hotel Stillwell. Hank first tapped the kegs in 1954. Since then, his bar has become a bed rock haven for downtown's barfly jambalaya. Henry "Hank" Holzer (R.I.P 1998), born 1908 in Greenwich Village, NYC, opened Hank's after retiring from a lauded career as a professional prizefighter. Apparently, Hank gathered inspiration for his bar from the classic Noir ficiton of Damon Runyon and Raymond Chandler. He came out West looking for adventure, and, by all accounts, was a stand up guy who took to memorizing his patrons' names, faces, and favorite drinks.

Hank sold the bar in 1970 in order to look after his ailing wife, but returned in 1984 to run the bar until his death in 1998 at the age of 88. He's said to have credited his longevity to drinking Screwdrivers and not smoking tobacco. Go figure. Hank's Bar delivers on all fronts: nostalgia, seediness, odd customers, strong drinks, charming bartenders, wall to wall eye candy, live fish, popcorn, and a healthy prescription of low light.

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The Marines aren't the only ones looking for a few good men. Lady Greensleeves here is Hank's longest standing patron- she doesn't have a lot to say, but you can believe she's seen it all. A dive bar can be a lonely place, but not when you have a classy broad like this to greet you.

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What kind of deals have been struck and hits put out from this leather backed nook. Former Mayor Richard Riordan liked to down Screwdrivers here with his buddy, Hank. This place is dim lit, long and narrow, stretching deeper back into the shadows where you can have it out and swear your oaths in the safe recesses of the back room tables only a true grit bar like Hank's can offer.

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These walls festooned with red velvet and old newspaper clippings tell it all. Has Downtown Los Angeles always looked better in black and white. The answer to who's burried under the bar lie somewhere in these photographs.

Get a load of this bar; and, get loaded. Liquor sold here, including favorites like Old Grandad.

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Gold fish and whisky. I stare and Mr. Fish stares back from his watery realm of edible green algae. Together we relive a moment from Jorge Luis Borges' "Ficiones". Focus!

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At Hank's you can help yourself to fresh, salty popcorn and peanuts. Our greasy fingers add a shine to the deep laquer of the wooden bar rail. The place is cozy but not claustophobic. The darkeness mellowed by the warm glow of wood and refracted light of back lit liquor bottles provides cover to manuever the corridor. This side door leads into the cool and cavernous lobby of the Stillwell Hotel. Skip renting a room and flop out on a sofa. You wouldn't be the first.

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Authentic entertainment at Hank's during the roaring fifties?

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Yeah, what's not to like!

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"You are beautiful. You are loved eternally." We gave our respects to the Holzer family. Then these gun-slinging jokers cajoled us into stepping outside to unleash some fire-powder.

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So here we are standing out front of Hank's when an airport mini-van pulls up with a load of green touristas peering warily from the safety of their back seats at the shady, vacant downtown streets. As the body snatcher chauffer unloads their luggage out onto the invisible red carpet of the Stillwell, they begin to evacuate the van and clamour for the safety of the hotel lobby. "Where the hell are we," they say- or am I hearing things. Before we knew what was happening, I hear the fizzle of a fuse and a "Wolf Pack" of firecrackers is thrown out front of the mini-van. Buda-bang-bang-bang-bang! And stillness returns to this dim lit stretch of Grand Ave. The van speeds away and out of Hank's steps our favorite bartender for a smoke. What a gal. We get to chatting when not 5 minutes later two bike cops pedal down the sidewalk and park their Smith & Wesson bicycles next to us. We pretend not to notice them, of course. "So who threw the firecrackers?" Blank stares, silence... "I don't know- it wasn't us." They weren't buying it. That is, until our new best friend bartender steps into the fray. "I heard the noise from inside. These boys have been with me the whole time." Well, what more could be said. "Look," sternly intones one biker, "We've got more important things to worry about." We concurr and redirect the conversation to the peculiar make of these police bikes. Who new Smith & Wesson was in the bike business. We wished the night prowlers a safe night and wandered back into Hank's den. In the future: Ask not what your bartender can do for you, but what you can do for your bartender.

Hank's has the magical quality of a classic neighborhood dive: Whoever you are, wherever you've come from, if you're here at Hanks and you have a heart, you're a chum. Reminds us of an old musical number from Oliver Twist: "Consider yourself our mate. We don't want to have no fuss. For, after some consideration, we can state... Consider yourself, one of us!"

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