The legend of the French Dip goes like this: In 1908, a customer orders a sandwich but finds the bread too difficult to chew due to bad gums. An ingenious chef decides to soak the bread in meat drippings, or Au Jus, thereby creating the French Dip as we know it. The place? Cole’s: Originators of the French Dip sandwich, oldest public house in Los Angeles, and neon beacon of 6th street. While there has been debate on whether the French dip was invented at Philippe’s or Cole’s, with over 100 years of established service and clientele in Downtown LA — does it really matter?
Cole’s bar manager, Sean Bray, doesn’t think so. “The fact that two restaurants are around that long is pretty awesome, especially both being in the Downtown area, which for a long time was not the most habitable place.” After 108 years of service, to be exact, this endured success can be solely placed on what has made Cole’s a neighborhood institution: consistency.
Cole’s menu is built on classics like beef and pastrami sandwiches, french dips, and staff favorite, the lamb and goat cheese sandwich. All the bread is made in-house by a bakery chef who works through the evening to prepare the next day’s batch. Despite this allegiance to a traditionally classic menu, Cole’s chef, Casey Maddox, has updated it with modern comfort- food options like spicy garlic tater-tots.
The signature cocktail is the Old Fashioned and Cole’s sells a lot of them — an estimated 250 per day. So popular in fact, it is served on tap which not only expedites bar service, but also renders a quality cocktail. “When you’re making it in the morning you have all the time to do it, so you’re not going to be as rushed. I personally think it’s just as good, if not occasionally an even better product when you make it ahead of time. And then you can serve it fast,” explains Bray. The whiskey is switched every few months but the classic ingredients remain: whiskey, simple syrup, and Angostura Bitters.
In addition to other classic offerings like Sazeracs and Manhattans, there are also new delicious Slushy cocktails perfect for blistering Downtown days. The current recipe is a refreshingly light and dry concoction of grapefruit, cinnamon, cardamom, gin, and lime. New recipes are introduced every few weeks and will run through the summer months.
Perhaps this is why Cole’s remains such an establishment Downtown. It has a legacy built on classics perfected, served comfortably and simply to the neighborhood that has embraced it for over a century. A place for everyone; from someone with bad gums to even Charles Bukowski himself, who is commemorated with a plaque over the urinal he once used. Offering $6 happy hours daily, here is your chance to find out.
Written by Ivan Navarro
Photographed by Eric Cacioppo