When you enter the Lincoln Plaza Hotel's lobby and are confronted with Chinese tourists en route to Vegas, you'll probably think you're in the wrong place. With no sign of the bar to be found, you follow the din of a quinceañera party to the second floor, where you stumble upon an outdoor fire pit surrounded by patrons sipping draft craft beers and munching on lotus chips. The sun sets over the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance, and downtown Monterey Park's discount stores and foot massage parlors never looked so good.
You've arrived at Spirit House, one of the most surprising new bars in Los Angeles.
In Thai culture, a "spirit house" is where displaced souls come to take shelter, get a drink, and have a meal. That was the approach David Tewasart and two other owners took for their new watering hole in the heart of Monterey Park.
This is the first bar for Tewasart, a restaurateur who got his start running his family’s Thai restaurant Green Papaya in Alhambra and now runs Soi7 in Downtown Los Angeles. He is part owner with Kim Ha, an art director; and Gerry Pacificar, a graphic designer and DJ. Tewasart says Spirit House is an effort to combine their favorite things: good food, drinks, and company — but in their own neighborhood rather than Downtown.
Chef Johnny Lee — who came to Spirit House after working at the Flying Pig food truck and Downtown Los Angeles’ modern Latin Rivera Restaurant — is treating Spirit House like his lab for modern Asian cuisine. His twice-fried chicken wings started off dipped in a Hoisin-flavored sauce, spent a brief life rolled in Szechuan peppercorn, and recently took on a chili honey sauce glisten.
Head bartender Sybil Lin, who splits her time between Spirit House and Far Bar in Little Tokyo, takes a similar experimental approach, and tends to be several "secret" recipes ahead of the printed menu. Creations include her Yamazaki Pear cocktail, a frothier, fruitier take on an old-man whiskey drink, and the White Noise, a Calpico-spiked yuzu sake cocktail. But depending on her mood, she might also make you a Spicy Tequila cocktail, ringed with Sriracha instead of salt.
And, finally, a chalkboard marquee advertises their latest craft beers, which recently included selections from breweries like Alesmith, Bootleggers, and Golden Road. They also have a selection of canned and bottled craft beers, including some Asian imports, such as the Yona Yona Pale Ale from Japan.
Spirit House, which has typically kept its music just below speaking level, recently began livening things up with an acoustic night, inviting their musician friends, including jazz band Tendency Quartet, to play on Tuesdays. They also have a Karaoke night in the works, according to Kim Ha.
Pacificar says when they first started their adventure, everyone gave them suggestions to do something else. They too wondered if their efforts would translate. A few months later, the consensus among patrons seems to be that in a place better known for its mom and pop Chinese eateries and the occasional windowless dives wedged in between, Spirit House is a welcome addition reflecting a new generation in the San Gabriel Valley.
Spirit House is located at 123 S. Lincoln Avenue, Monterey Park, California. They are open Tues-Sat. Their happy hour is 5pm-8pm, when draft and well drinks are $2 off.