A Slice of Kentucky for DTLA to Call Its Own

by John Howard

On the east edge of the Historic Core sits an unmarked building. Its doors wide open mid afternoon on a Saturday and a portable sign reads, “We Wear Pants.” Inside, a T-shirt-clad Tim Mars, 35, tidies up an accidental cluster of coffee shop furniture held in by two long, jet-black walls.

Above Mars there’s a quote scribbled in colored chalk and credited to Ernest Hemmingway: “There is nothing I love more than seeing a draft beer system drilled into the side of a refrigerator.” Sure enough, beside the message is a homemade kegerator.

This is The Lexington Bar, a new establishment that strips away all that beverage aficionados have come to expect with hipster-chic DTLA drinking and leaves the customer experience open to interpretation.

“I’d like to think this place would appeal to just about anybody,” he says. “There’s some cheap rent around Downtown … that attracts a variety of people, in a good way.”

Converted from an old rave meetup, the space on 3rd Street between Los Angeles and Main Streets came into Mars’ possession in summer 2010. A first-time business owner, he was touring the country with his stand up comedy act, a venture he’d honed for 10 dedicated years. Then, one day while on the road, he found himself in the midst of a major life decision.

“I took my girlfriend on a couple of the runs. And we were really into entrepreneur stuff,” Mars says. “We’d see these little coffee kiosks that they have in Washington state—that was where I was touring a lot. And [we] would just dissect it. Like, ‘How would you do that?’”

By the time he returned to L.A. city limits, Mars had “small business” etched into the subtext of every other thought.

Admittedly fitted in a then much seedier surrounding, Mars scored the property for a good price. He and his girlfriend, An-Gloria Banh, were committed. The next three years of their lives would be dedicated to getting the business up and running.

“It was really raw,” says Banh. “It took a second, but I got used to it.”

Most of the two years were spent waiting for the city to OK permits and licenses, which totaled in the tens of thousands of dollars in out of pocket expenses. And, aside from a brief, experimental phase where the business went by “The Lexington Theatre,” Mars’ doors remained closed at the risk of being shut down before he even got started. In other words, no income.

Talking to Mars, though, you get the sense that this is a man of little hesitation. Not then, and certainly not now as The Lexington Bar is in its early days of official operation. In the hibernation before opening day, he and Banh simply made due.

They started up a women’s fashion store, Doll boutique, which still operates in another store space on the same block. They spray-painted their unused Ikea couch for the lounge’s centerpiece. They raided a closing Rite Aide branch of its shelving, refrigerators and plywood, which they latter fashioned into barstools.

Mars remembers the “happy accidents” that occurred during the waiting process that helped keep their chins above water, like a handful of movie shoots that rented the location out for filming when he needed the cash most.

“It’s been a crash course for me,” he says. “It’s just a lot of blood, sweat and tears … I had no idea what I was getting into.”

Along the walls of The Lexington Bar are murals of iconic women—Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman, to name a few—by local artist Kevin Hernandez. Customers munch on complementary cheese balls. And, as is the forged Hemmingway quote, the menu is handwritten directly on the wall. An everyday, any time special: $3 “Dirt Bag Beers”—$2 at happy hour. On this particular day, that includes Pabst Blue Ribbon and Natty Ice.

“Did I create a man cave?” Mars jokes with first-time customer Dementria Richardson, who sips on a champagne-hued Ace hard cider, while taking in the haphazard scenery.

But the lack of hard lines and stuffy themes seems to be the exact point. “I try not to be very agenda driven. This is the fun part,” Mars says. “Let it grow on its own. You know? I built this, let the community sort of take over.”

For him, the bar’s atmosphere summons the feelings of college town hangouts in Lexington, Kentucky, a city that the venue borrows its name from and where he spent his high school and college years.

In between sporadic performances by local DJs and musicians, traces of Mars’s comedy context can be seen throughout

The Lexington Bar’s weekly calendar. There’s the Big Trouble alternative comedy show on Tuesdays, an open mic on Wednesdays, and one awesome Blues Jam featuring traveling, local talent and free BBQ with the price of admission, every Saturdaynight at 8pm.

Looking forward, Mars hopes to maybe add a couple TVs for sports fans, recruit some new music acts, and put together an outdoor community event in their parking lot, a paved area supervised by yet another mural—this one a looming face and two peace signs by Suede Studios, the Lexington Bar’s neighbor to right.

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