Happy Hour: $
Cole's- Landmark Bar with Speakeasy.
118 East 6th St.
Monday-Friday: 3:00 - 7:00 P.M.
All Day On Tuesdays.
DTLA is on the rise of a new day. Some businesses may find it hard to plant their foot in the ever-changing landscape, especially those that have been here for hundreds of years. Despite how much the neighborhood is growing, people tend to forget the roots. Downtown is where LA began! The widespread of the city and it's multiple boroughs is partly at fault for the lack of knowledge of LA’s beginnings. No worries, some DTLA businesses have made sure that we never forget this is where it all started. One of those businesses is Cole's.
Cole's is tucked into the Pacific Electric Building; though it's huge neon sign makes it stand out. The Pacific Electric Building is one of the most historically important buildings of DTLA. It began as our city’s first train and trolley car station. Due to its location between Main St and Los Angeles St, if you wander around drunk a bit too far you'll end up on the outskirts of Skid Row. Cole's is the Historic Core district, an area known for being the meanest but truest part of DTLA. Still, breakout high end cuisines like Centro Pasta have also dared to open up shop next door.
Everyone "knows" where Cole's is, and tourists have often said, "Oh I've heard of them!" This is probably due to their longstanding history. Cole's has been around for 110 years! The founder, Henry Cole, ran the joint in 1908, even at its birth Cole’s was hitting milestones. They were the city’s first check-cashing service from the bar. To date, they still hold the title of the oldest continuously-operated restaurant in Los Angeles. (They shut down once for a few months for new owners to renovate back in 2007 but reopened in 2008.) Henry Cole also claimed to be originator of the French Dip. A rivaling restaurant across town called, Philippe's The Original would disagree...
This long debate has sparked a sort of cold war between the two restaurants, no one has really been able to pinpoint the originator of the French Dip. One investigative journalist, from Thrillist, Jackson Landers, believes he has an answer, but he had to do extensive research on both contenders.
In his findings, Jackson gives the credit to Philippe's. After going through numerous newspaper and library archives, and historic interviews, Mathieu Philippe’s story seems to be the most accurate. Jackson stated that Mathieu’s first person account didn’t have that satisfying 'eureka moment' cliché, unlike Cole’s.
Cole’s has enough room for a patio, and once you’re inside you feel like you've stepped back in time. The decor is riddled with history, definitely not a place to come for the 'gram. Given its patrons and the mood lighting, people with a selfie stick would probably feel out of place. However, if you're there to enjoy yourself there's certainly plenty of areas to do so.
The bar is to your right and the dining room to the left. Plenty of booths, communal tables, and tall bar tables for anyone to sit. If you're a stickler for bar seating, grab them fast because they do go quickly, because after that the space in that area gets a little too tight. Specially since they also serve food at the bar, there isn't much elbow room on a busy night. Which according to bartender Juan, is pretty much every night, especially on Tuesdays.
Happy Hour is served throughout the entire place, so if you don't feel like being at the bar, shoulder to shoulder, take a seat in the dining room. Make yourself comfortable, and ask for John! He was our waiter and one of the friendliest staff members at Cole's.
Cole's Happy Hour goes on Monday through Friday, from 3:00 - 7:00 P.M., but all day on Tuesdays. Anyone and everyone is welcome to get rip-roaring drunk in this historic joint. A few good TV shows have been filmed here, like Mad Men (which Mariana dies for), for those of you interested in LA film locations Back in the day, Cole's was the hub those stockbrokers from when Spring St. was more like Wall Street. They even have a sign alerting their past seedy clientele (prostitutes) not to solicit in the front.
Clearly proud of their history, Cole's is a place where you take people visiting from out of town or go with a group of friends. Definitely not a date spot, because they have a lot of garlic. Also, if you muster up the pickled eggs they have sitting at the bar, well you won't be doing too much kissing later on.
If you're curious as to why people keep walking back through a mysterious door- that's the Varnish, a sister bar of Cole's by the 213 Hospitality group. It's a divey speakeasy with a limited amount of room, but they manage to fit a Jazz band in there every so often! Their cocktails are much different than Cole's and definitely worth a try after Happy Hour ends at Cole's.
The menu for Happy Hour is a good price considering what their regular cocktails and food go for. You won't be able to find anything to share except the tots and fries, but don’t let that deter you from getting something to munch on. The strange prices were not explained to us but on the Menu, we did find that $1 from every Mule is sent to a charity working to end the cycle of homelessness. This was awesome, because that's what Mariana ordered and there's no better feeling than drinking for a good cause.
The food at Cole's is bar food. Straight up bar food. The French Dip is, of course, the main course on the menu, but it has some appetizers like the pretzel; the tots and fries. You can get the potato starters at $1.37 with a drink for a nice starter combo. Plus you can pick from three different kinds of fries!
For those of you unfamiliar with what a French Dip is, it's essentially a sandwich with a bit of dunking sauce. The dunking sauce is Au Jus, which is stock and broth of the meat you chose in your dip. The Au Jus is used to soften the baguette's crunchy shell, which is also, by the way, the only "French" thing about it. The sandwiches are prepared with some seriously greasy meats, so do not take a vegan here- unless it’s to get them drunk and convince them to try meat.
The drinks on the Happy Hour at Cole's are an array of bar classics. The only thing we were disappointed about was their lack of specialty cocktails on it. They have plenty to choose from if you look at their regular cocktail menu, so we were left wondering- why so basic?
Either way, we were able to find something for each individual team member's pallet. The draft beer changes every week but just so you're well informed they have the options on plenty of different signs in the bar. On the day of our visit, it was the Mama's Little Yella Pils, pilsner. But they have options! Check in with the bartender and ask what it is that day beforehand.
Bartender Juan, let us know that as far as cocktails go, most people order the Old Fashioned. But second to that are their Martinis, which they do include a vodka option for, just don't ask for it to be dirty. Most women are seen drinking Manhattans while the guys stick with the Old Fashioned.
Of course, trying the, "Original French Dip," at the discounted price, makes this the most ordered food menu item during Happy Hour. But Juan said it's the beef dip that people love the most. So give it a whirl! And if you haven't had it before, don't fret, neither had Mariana. Read on to see what she got instead and what the rest of the team thought of their experience.
Mariana ordered the Irish Mule
Upon first glance, Mariana was frightened of the Happy Hour Menu at Cole's. It seemed like it was only for serious drinkers. Given her old party ways, the only seemingly tame cocktail offered was the Mule. And because usually, people can modify this with Well liquor, she asked a woman bartender, whose name she did not give, if they had a whiskey mule. The bartender said no.
We went to a table to order with a waiter given the size of our group/little room at the bar. That's when we met John, who was a delight from beginning to end. He was kind enough to let Mariana know that, Cole's indeed has a whiskey-based Mule for HH, and they use Jameson. Mariana was ecstatic that it was her favorite whiskey instead of vodka.
No idea who made our drinks because bartender Juan was present at the time of our departure. But they made an excellent Irish Mule! And much to Mariana's surprise, it came in a tall glass instead of the traditional copper mug. Sure they're breaking tradition, it also seemed weird since they had the copper mugs on display, but for Mariana's fast-paced drinking, the more the better. The staf obviously needs to get on the same page because people desere to try this drink.
Mariana ordered the BBQ Sliders
The menu at Cole's is after one thing: simplicity. And the BBQ Sliders reflect that. They come w/ Coleslaw, but it wasn’t advertised. Mariana described this and the sandwich overall as a nice surprise through and through.
They use actual BBQ sauce with the little bit of spice. Being from Texas, sometimes I find BBQ in California is too sweet... It needs a little kick and Cole's had it! The "sliders" weren't really sliders, it was a sandwich, staying true to their french dip ways, cut up into three pieces. Nothing to dip this into- so that's probably why they are advertisded as such. Still, delicious!
Alex ordered the Old Fashioned
Alex, a seasoned drinker of Old Fashioneds was not too impressed with this one. It was hard to taste any sugar in it, seemed like they didn't muddle enough in there.
It was very bitter compared to other Old Fashioneds she has had and it had a lot more bite. Later, these taste notes made a bit more sense when we found out they actually use Jim Beam Rye for their base and Cinnamon Bitters. This sort of shocked her given that it was the most ordered drink for Happy Hour, according to bartender Juan. Maybe that’s why people who prefer bitter OFs come here.
Alex ordered the Beef French Dip
Alex got the beef french dip, the meat was cooked perfectly and she really liked her meal.
Given that it was simply the half-dip, the portion was plenty. Unless you're starving, this is going to be enough bread and meat to fill you up. The Au Jus from the USD Prime Steak was delicious. If you have never had a French Dip, go with this portion and this choice!
Alex also had the Homemade Pretzel
The homemade pretzel on the other hand, was not good at all. It got hard very, very quickly, it's missing that softy breadiness. But what really ruined it was the Beer Cheese...
Not entirely sure if it was real beer or not but this "sauce" was extremely runny. And if it was beer then you couldn't taste it. The sharp cheddar overpowered it completely leaving Alex sorely dissatisfied. The whole dish was a bland disappointment. Alex had the pretzel at Casey’s and that was actually delicious, and both bars are owned by the same company...
Rynn ordered the Mama's Little Yella Pils
Rynn was disappointed that the, “House Beer,” on the Happy Hour was a Pilsner. Though as far as far as Pilsners go Mana’s is a great lager- it just isn’t her jam. She left wondering if perhaps she had missed her opportunity trying a Highlife Pony with a shot instead. For those unaware (like Mariana) a Pilsner is a light beer, like Heineken. It has a little bite at the end of it but it is a crisp lager. Rynn describes it as a, “No taste kind of beer.”
Rynn ordered the Turkey French Dip
Rynn and Mariana were both new to the French Dip, but Rynn volunteered for the Turkey. She liked it, said it was good, but super greasy. Not what you expect from Turkey sanwiches. Both Rynn and Mariana gave up dairy so the amount of maybe oil maybe butter was concerning. (Remember, not the place for a vegan!) It simply did not taste like a healthy slice of turkey. Rynn did love the pickles, she is a big fan of the mustard horse raddish. In that case- the more the better.
The HHC Team shared the French Fries, Spicy Garlic Fries, and the Sweet Potato Spicy Garlic Fries
The mustard with horseradish is a staple of Cole’s. It comes with all the sides, but worry not mustard haters- there is ketchup on the table caddy. Alex tried the mustard and the amount of horseradish straight up cleared her sinuses.
The regular french fries are regular French fries, not too cripsy, not soggy, but the Spicy Garlic ones ars a completely different story...
Firstly, when a menu says Spicy fries, most people think Cajun. Something with bite but also sweet, these aren’t that. This spice resembles more of a Cayenne pepper taste, with Paprika and of course, salt. In our opinion, it doesn’t really work together. If the fries were crispier, closer to a chip, maybe the flavors would blend better. Oh yeah, cause even with the spice you get the Garlic... Which was an overload in our opinion. Once again, don’t bring a date here...
The Overall Experience
Cole’s celebrated their 119th birthday on December 7th. Which goes to show, they’re doing something right. When 213 Hospitality revamped them in 2008, no one could really imagine the lasting effect they’d have in the neighborhood.
Whether or not you think they originated the French dip, swing by their Happy Hour, turn off your phone and enjoy the time traveling experience of the place.
If you’re going to sit and eat, ask for John! He really made our experience unforgettable. And try their pie if you’re craving something on the sweeter side.
The only thing we wish was that they put more of a featured drink item on their Happy Hour. Alex saw they take the time to make a Whiskey Sour the right way- with Egg whites, this is something special Cole’s could have for the $5.94 price.
We would like to thank John for his undivided attention and charisma. Check out Cole’s for a little DTLA history. Thanks for reading and as always,