Nestled among the recycling plants and industrial parks of Vernon lies the uniquely situated La Villa Basque. True, the restaurant is one of the few in the general area, but it’s a decent spot to throw back a couple bronsons with friends before the drive home. Happy Hour features a generous $3 20oz pint deal (Stella, Goose Island IPA, Budweiser, etc.) and food is reasonably priced with the Mexican dishes the clear standouts. The only big problem my buddy Joe and I had with the place is that…well…the place isn’t that historic anymore.
Opened in 1960 by the Marlburg family, the restaurant started as a combination bar, coffee shop and restaurant built in the pleasingly mid-century “googie” architectural style. According to the Los Angeles Conservancy website, the restaurant was one of the few untouched examples of the style still in existence and it played host to filming and other events that capitalized on the time-machine aspect of the place. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to keep the joint operating and after coming under new management in 2011, it was completely renovated and almost all historic “fabric” was destroyed. After looking at photos of what the place used to be and what it is now, well, it makes ya sad.
The Formica bar tops have been replaced by marble, many of the vinyl banquets have been ripped out, the overhead lamps are gone and a bunch of pictures showing the Rat Pack and the like hang on the walls. There’s a Scarface movie poster in the men’s room. None of the decor seems all that permanent which lends a kind of unfinished, ad hoc aesthetic to much of the bar and area behind the greeters both. True, the staff was nice, the food was ok and the price reasonable, but what was once a time machine is now just regular ole restaurant. If you are in the area looking for a beer and some cheap apps, check it out but otherwise make the drive north to some of the other better preserved joints in Downtown.