Aidan Demarest, one of the best-known figures in the LA cocktail scene, sits across the table from me, and grimaces at my ice tea. It's the first night of service at First & Hope, his supper club project with chef Shelly Cooper, a place built for Champagne concoctions and brandy-based throwbacks.
"I have magnums of Champagne back there," he says. But until he gets a liquor license, the corks will remain unpopped.
"LA has such arcane rules in the paperwork, like 'no prostitution' and 'no gambling.' They're still rules for places that had dance hall girls. They told me we can't have live sex acts on stage, and I said, you know, you should just come see the place."
The license arrived eventually, but it hardly turned this corner into the red light district. First & Hope sits in the elbow of a mini-mall in the shadow of the Walt Disney concert hall; it's tucked between a Subway and a frozen yogurt store. What's unassuming outside is theatrically posh within: White table cloths, chandeliers, hostesses in melted-steel satin. Even the lights along the room dividers move and shift like stage lights.
"The jury's still out for me on these," he says, as the glow turns from gold to red. "I think my mood changes too much with the lighting."