Before you go to a restaurant, what do you need to know most? In our series The Rundown, we’re sharing all the essentials about Resy restaurants — new, old, and soon-to-be favorites.
This time, we have Horses in the spotlight. The new California-centric bistro takes over a storied Hollywood spot — the former Ye Coach & Horses and more recently The Pikey — with celebrated chefs Liz Johnson and Will Aghajanian behind it. Johnson, who helmed the lauded Mimi in Greenwich Village at only 24 years old, helped bring Freedman’s to life in Silver Lake before moving on with Aghajanian to Nashville’s The Catbird Seat. Now the duo hope to breathe some joie de vivre into the refreshed iconic space. Here are six things you need to know before you go.
1. Back in the saddle again…
Not only is this Johnson and Aghajanian’s return to Los Angeles (they both cooked at Freedman’s), but they named the place as an homage to the longstanding Ye Coach & Horses, the storied bar that lived in the same space for 73 years.
When Ye Coach & Horses closed in 2010, the nightlife team behind Jones and Bar Lubitsch (Sean MacPherson and Jared Meisler) did an admirable job with its replacement, The Pikey. With its English gastropub vibe, it lasted almost 10 years, no easy feat in this town.
But with Horses, Johnson and Aghajanian are going way back to the original iconic haunt for inspiration, the place where everyone from Alfred Hitchcock to Jim Morrison and Quentin Tarantino were regulars. They’ve added a bit of modern-day joie de vivre and California focus to keep it fresh but still honor the original much-beloved bar.
“We’ve done deep dives into the history of the space, and found so many cool stories and history,” Johnson says. “I talked to everyone I could, like someone who owned the liquor store down the street, and a former doorman. I combed through old newspapers. I’m always asking everyone who has ever been here for stories.”
Some of her favorite lore: the palace is haunted; Evel Knievel rode his motorcycle inside, parked it at the bar, and drank; and the famous anecdote that Quentin Tarantino and Tim Roth met here to talk Pulp Fiction.
“We didn’t want to come and ruin it,” Aghajanian adds.”It feels very lived-in already. It doesn’t feel like a box space that’s fancy and we built out. It has a character and soul, and we didn’t want to take that away.”
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2. Keeping the old, brightening with the blue
You’ll see (and hear) the original bones: the red booths in the bar, the tiled floors, dark woodwork everywhere, and the creaky floors. They found some old Coach & Horses art in storage that now graces the walls. But it feels fresher, more vibrant, thanks to a splash of color — Yves Klein blue, a splurge, Aghajanian says — new upholstery, and windows that add more light to the bar. It’s no longer a dive; more like a modern boîte for a post-pandemic world.
Each room has its own moniker. With yellow booths and a new skylight, the dining room to the side is now called the Sunshine Room; the back bar is Kacper’s Bar, named for the artist Kacper Abolik, who did all the horse-inspired paintings in that room; and the original bar area is the Big Bar, aka The Drinkery.
“You can feel the energy of people hanging out here for decades,” Aghajanian says. “We thought of it as an extension of our home. We knew this is a special place, that it has a story.”
3. There’s outdoor — standing — for now
While The Pikey had outdoor seating, an extension of the dining room on the western side of the bar, Aghajanian and Johnson aren’t ready to embrace bustling Sunset Boulevard for dinnertime ambience. They added a standing-only bar outside, however, so people can at least drink in the open air.
The plan is to add brunch down the line and possibly some outdoor tables for that, but the real goal is securing access to a courtyard behind the building for a hidden outdoor garden, where it will be much more quiet.
“It gets loud out front,” Aghajanian says.
4. The menu isn’t fussy, but it’s in no way plain
Aghajanian and Johnson are going for a classic European bistro vibe, but fully Californian with added swagger. Think: long-gone places like Les Deux, Cafe des Artistes, or Ma Maison, says the duo, or European favorites like Harry’s Bar in Venice. They also cull a lot from their alma mater Mimi.
With another couple, Brittany Ha and Lee Pallerino, as co-executive chefs — the two worked at Roberta’s in Brooklyn before moving west to open the L.A. outpost — it’s one big collaborative effort to put out simple dishes done really well.
“We’re all collaborating on everything together. It’s awesome,” says Aghajanian. “We taste everything, we’re all talking about food, and how to make every dish better. There’s no ego.”
You’ll find snacks like potato chips fried with herbs, lavash with smoked salmon (an homage to Spago’s famous pizza), and a Caesar salad made with endive, along with other things that go well with a spritz or glass of wine. There are chilled oysters, pork rillettes, Cornish game hens with warm panzanella, and even a classic burger and fries.
That burger, Aghajanian says, is a masterpiece from co-chef Pallerino. The blend of short rib, chuck, and top round is meaty and thick — no smashburgers here — smothered with onions cooked in fat and cheese.
“We thought about all the timeless restaurants in the world, the Zuni Cafes, Harry’s Bar, Chez Panisse, what they are, what have they done,” Johnson says. “People still want to eat this food. So we tried to add something that we thought was missing in L.A. Just great food, a good time, really great service.”
“We’re not an Instagram restaurant,” Aghajanian adds.
Although, judging by the look and feel of the place, the beautifully plated food — even if “simple” — plenty of photos will surely end up there.
5. You’ll be drinking classics done well. And magnums!
The bar menu was developed by Steve LaFountain, who was last at Cliff’s Edge in Silver Lake. You’ll find all the basics — martini, vesper, margarita, Manhattan — just elevated. But not so much so that purists will scream about it.
Case in point: the Boulevardier made with Smooth Ambler bourbon, St. Agrestis, and Doulin Rouge. The garnish is a disc of lemon peel branded with the Horses logo. The Manhattan is a noir version made with rye, Cynar, and bitters. The vesper uses gin infused with fig leaf, along with vodka and Lillet blanc.
After working at places like Spago, Cut, and Vespertine, general manager and wine director Terence Leavey adds charm and years of experience to the front. He’s pulled in enough natural, biodynamic, and orange wines to stay on trend, but that’s not what the list is all about. There’s plenty of Old World bottles and — bonus — a growing magnum list. Because if there was ever a time to go big, it’s while we’re all celebrating getting back out into the world.
“I found an old Coach & Horses matchbook that said, ‘After the show, after work, any old time, Coach & Horses,’” Johnson said. “I thought that’s a great saying. You drop in, have a good time, come back again and again. We plan on always being here.”
6. Expect late nights again, just like the good ol’ days.
The restaurant is currently open five nights a week, with the main dining room closing earlier and the front and back bars staying open later. The goal is to open seven nights a week, with brunch on weekends and serving a smaller late-night menu well into the wee hours. They might even whip out something like Mimi’s merguez frites.
“For us, the restaurant we’re trying to make is bigger than us,” Aghajanian says. “After COVID, it should feel like a party. What people want changed. Now they want a really good Caesar salad, they want a burger, so give it to them. You’ve been cooped up. Enjoy it!”
Johnson adds: “In order to get people out of their homes after the pandemic, what you’re offering better be worth it. We want that celebratory feel, no matter if it’s a Tuesday or a Saturday night. We want to keep it light, no stuffiness. Kind of like the roaring ‘20s after the last pandemic. It was a big party. That’s what we’re trying to capture.”