4/02/2012 04:37:00 PM

Day One at The Charleston

Photo: Brandon Friend-Solis
The name is from the 1920s, and the nightly live music leans toward retro jazz and rock, but the cooking at The Charleston is as modern as celebrity chef Jet Tila (ex Wazuzu at The Encore in Las Vegas) wants it to be. Which can be very modern, indeed - the amuse-bouche of sea urchin bocadillo that arrives soon after you sit down lets you know that. The Charleston space has been an assortment of bar/restaurants over the years, including the venerable Roundtable (where every bite tasted like cigarette smoke and bourbon). As The Charleston, it's attracting a trendy crowd who might otherwise be hacking their way through traffic to get to a Hollywood club - and are glad to find a stylish joint on the Westside. We were there on opening night to check out the scene:

The Space
The room is mostly about the bar, which tends to get very crowded as the evening goes on, with various stand-up tables for drinks and food surrounding a small stage. There is also a handful of booths and two-top tables. But mostly this is a space built for those who drink and eat either standing up or sitting on a barstool. There's a large graphic of Parisian jazz singer Josephine Baker on one wall, setting the mood for the room.

The Food
Tila calls the concept "gastrolounge," and the menu reflects that - gastropub food in a musical setting. He's fond of giving a twist to familiar dishes: his edamame are sautéed with butter and roasted garlic. His chicken wings are bathed in a Sriracha sauce that's both hot and sweet. His tacos are filled with slow-roasted short ribs and topped with roasted Brussels sprouts with a spicy Korean salsa on the side. His mac 'n' cheese is made with smoked cheddar and Gouda. All are easy-eating dishes that don't distract from the music onstage.

The Drinks
Josephine Baker would be happy to find a selection of five absinthes on the tightly curated drink list - a tip of the hat to the drink of choice of La Belle Epoque. The cocktails range from classics like a Sazerac and a Sidecar to newer bits of mixology like the Cucumber Cooler, the Poison Rose and the Kaffir Lime Pie - which is good as a cocktail or dessert.

The Crowd
On its first night, The Charleston seemed to be a prime destination for small groups of women dressed in designer jeans and LBDs for an evening of cocktails, small dishes and music. Guys trickled in as the evening went along. But mostly it was girls' night at The Charleston - even though the Lakers were playing on big-screens over the bar.

The Vibe
Upbeat and trendy, with a crowd that seems glad to have discovered a stylish destination in the neighborhood (one with easy parking, no less).

2460 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; 310-828-2115

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