A BAR’S BARE BONES
True to form. Hospitality. Damn good drinks. These are the essential ingredients to crafting a fine bar, according to mastermind Rio Hackford, who has been tirelessly working on his latest concoction, El Dorado, in the historic core of Downtown Los Angeles.
Born out of an unparalleled passion for materials and history, El Dorado has been in the making for well over six years. Much of that time was spent fine-tuning the core aesthetic of the bar. When discussing the origin story of El Dorado, Hackford speaks with the language of an archeologist. “You go back and find the bones of the building,” Hackford explains. “We start with the history of the building, find out when it was built and the history on it.” Precisely, what he means is spending hours digging through the Los Angeles Public Library, reading old newspapers and excavating the basements of old hotels, all in order to uncover “the bare bones of what you’re working with.”
What Hackford discovered were classic Batchelder tiles, rich walnut wood, and an art deco design perfectly suited for reviving the building’s original soul while staying true to L.A.’s history. The subtle details, such as the polished gold and tin ceiling, which hangs over the dark walnut wood bar like the foil wrapper encasing a decadent chocolate, give the place a feeling of consistency and wholeness, a sensation that everything is in its right place.
This isn’t by accident. Hackford didn’t just stumble into this world like a patron coming out of a dive bar. El Dorado reflects the dedication of a lifetime: from Hackfords ‘80s job as a bouncer for Three Clubs, to his role in the quintessential 1996 L.A. bar scene movie “Swingers”, to his series of fine-crafted lounges in San Francisco (Homestead), New Orleans (One Eyed Jack, El Matador, Pal’s Lounge) and his hometown Los Angeles (Monty, El Dorado).
Through these past experiences, Hackford has been able to bring together a cast capable of realizing his visions of great bars and lounges. For El Dorado, this cast has been “like the super group to build this from scratch,” Hackford says, referring to Dave Neupert, Raub Shapiro and Jim Peres, who have all worked with him on previous projects. “To have these guys supporting me and making it come to life is awesome.” He also teamed up with expert cocktail craftsmen Peter Barriga and Clay Wendel. These two specialize in homemade bitters, in-house syrups and fresh juices for the bar’s range of cocktails. The bar’s namesake, El Dorado, features a well-balanced and simple combination of tequila, honey syrup, lime, and bitters.
Hackford might have developed his taste for “down-and-dirty” dive bars knocking back drinks with Charles Bukowski, but it were his frequent trips to New Orleans that helped refine a Southern hospitality that Hackford instills in every one of his establishments. “The South definitely taught me a lot about attitudes, getting rid of pretensions and being open and friendly,” Hackford says. “We want to be welcoming to all.”
This is not just apparent in the friendly staff of El Dorado, but also in the inclusivity and reasonable pricing of the drinks. (Happy hour lasts until 10 p.m. and offers Tecates, Highlifes and more at $2 a pop.) “I opened bars because I want a place to drink at,” Hackford confesses. And thanks to his expertise and meticulous drive for authenticity, there is no better place to drink.