Classic cocktails and elevated bar food inhabit this railroad-inspired bar in Downtown's Arts District.
In a Downtown neighborhood already saturated with first-rate watering holes, this throwback drinkery manages to hold its own. Nestled at the base of Arts District’s ultra-modern One Santa Fe, Westbound is not entirely what you might expect. The complex it is housed in snakes along the LA River for a quarter-mile, an ode to the historic grounds it now prominently occupies, which was the city’s main railway hub back in the 1900s. It even somewhat resembles a train—at least what one might expect a train to look like 50 years from now. Thankfully that futuristic vibe ends at Westbound’s blue door. Step inside and it’s the golden era of rail travel, where guests are greeted with smiles and encouraged to amble freely about the slender, sepia-tinted dining room decked out in espresso-dyed leather, shiny wood and brass accents. The best seat in the house, of course, is at the copper-clad bar where innovative dishes and cocktails are prepared in front of the customer.
The decor might be vintage, but Westbound pushes the envelope when it comes to the fare. After all, Mélisse vet Gary Nguyen is helming the kitchen. Here, he’s making beet trifle and foraging flowers in Malibu Canyon to garnish his gravlax cones. Pair that with any number of Dee Ann Quinones’ (formerly of NYC’s Booker & Dax) elevated classic cocktails, and you are in for a great night. At Westbound, it’s as much about the journey as it is the destination. So sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.
Good for: Between the pleasant ambience and top-notch hospitality, Westbound is a welcoming spot for most occasions, whether you're in the mood for premium bar snacks or a nightcap. Speaking of staying up late, if you and your posse can make it to 1am, Westbound’s special brownies await. Don’t get too excited—by “special,” we just mean free brownie bites topped with meringue. We should probably also mention the free parking lot at One Sante Fe. Where else are you going to get that in Downtown?
The scene: Despite the luxe setting, Westbound exudes an utterly laid-back vibe. It’s the type of bar where “French Prince of Bel-Air” comes on and suddenly the entire staff begins to rap, and then you can’t help but sing along. Striking up a conversation with your server seems natural. It rarely gets crowded here, so you’ve got your pick of stools, booths or settees in the small patio out back.
Drink this: Westbound and Up ($16), Quinones’ inventive take on the tried-and-true margarita, was the resounding winner on our visit. It’s an easy sipper of mezcal, housemade chipotle honey and smoked paprika, fresh-squeezed lemon and orange juices, bitters, with a touch of lemon zest. Beware: It’s a smoky one. For something less adventurous, the aptly named Conductor ($15) is the way to go—a velvety blend of Buffalo Trace Bourbon, black sesame, tamarind, egg white and lemon that will jive with just about any palate. If you really want to test the shaking prowess of your bartender, order the Pharmaceutical Stimulant ($18), an espresso martini composed of Aylesbury Duck vodka, espresso and Varnelli Caffè Moka. It comes served up in an adorable glass coffee cup topped with thick foam. At between $15 and $18 a pop, these libations aren’t for everyday boozing. Just know that those prices include gratuity.
Our tip: Don’t miss the opportunity to try some fantastic wine. Westbound’s resident vino expert Amy Lewis is a wealth of knowledge, but where she really shines is in her passion for Italian varietals. We left with a new appreciation for reds from the south—most notably from Calabria, Italy’s “toe.”
300 S Santa Fe Ave
|Opening hours:||Tue-Sat 5pm-2am; Sun 5pm-Midnight|
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I recently came here for the seasonal Miracle on Santa Fe, when the bar converts their entire space into a magical wonderland featuring falling snow, stockings, carolers and Santa himself. Their drinks - also themed, of course - are world-class, like a cold eggnog that comes in an adorable mug or an old-fashioned sporting an ice sphere made to look like a snowball. They plan to do this every year, thankfully.