Los Angeles

Expanded seating in the Wyman Bar. Photo by Nikolas Koenig, courtesy of NeueHouse

Bars and CocktailsLos Angeles

Inside the Design of the Stunning Wyman Bar, in Downtown L.A.

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Los Angeles’ treasures often hide in plain sight. Take the Bradbury Building at the southeast corner of Third Street and Broadway Downtown, for instance. While familiar to many locals and architourists, its hulking masonry exterior largely belies the visual splendor within that’s attracted knowing admirers since 1893. 

With the recent debut of the Wyman Bar at NeueHouse, the general public has better access to the spectacular light-flooded atrium, cage elevators, masonry work, elaborate wrought iron, and other period details. These features are recognizable even to those who have never been to L.A., thanks to the Bradbury Building’s co-starring role in movies and television, most famously helping set the dystopian sci-fi noir mood of the 1982 film “Blade Runner.”

Reimagining an entire floor within a landmark of this significance is a tall order. In its latest incarnation, the second floor has become an outpost of NeueHouse, a private membership club, outfitted with a variety of multi-functional work and meeting spaces. It’s also home to the Wyman Bar, named for the building’s original architect, George H. Wyman, which is open to non-members on select nights (non-members can email thewymanbar@neuehouse.com for reservations). Anwar Mekhayech, cofounding partner of the firm DesignAgency, which has studios in L.A., Toronto, Washington D.C., and Barcelona, shares how his team took on the challenge of transforming a 25,000-square-foot swath of the beloved jewel. 

With a new lease on life, this corner of 304 South Broadway can finally stake its claim as one of the city’s most evocative environments in which to enjoy a cocktail — especially during magic hour.

The historic Bradbury Building interior. Photo by Nikolas Koenig, courtesy of NeueHouse
The historic Bradbury Building interior. Photo by Nikolas Koenig, courtesy of NeueHouse

Following the light

When designing spaces within a building that boasts such a storied and literally cinematic history, it makes sense that Mekhayech’s process began with a certain fundamental element. “We studied the natural light,” he recalls. Much like a film director would, the design team used this tool to better understand the conditions and feeling of the Bradbury Building itself. 

“I spent a whole day from 7 a.m. to midnight tracking the light,” Mekhayech says. It became patently clear that the bar should occupy the southwest area of the second floor. As NeueHouse members wind down their workdays and congregate with colleagues or meet guests for drinks before or during sunset, the Wyman Bar “has the best afternoon light coming through the windows,” Mekhayech says. (Just ask any cinematographer or photographer who’s worked in these hallowed halls.)

 

Play against — but don’t compete with — the historic architecture

“There’s a mood and a vibe that the original architecture sets,” Mekhayech says, with an incredible light and shadow play that was also very much portrayed in films, he adds. (The intense, almost mystical energy speaks to some truly bonkers history.) The designers could have leaned into what Mekhayech describes as the “masculine and powerful” coloration and materials, or forge a new path. They settled on the latter. NeueHouse and especially the Wyman Bar is “a little more of an oasis, a little fresher, more bright and airy,” he says, with different areas and lounges for socializing and relaxing.

The Wyman Bar. Photo by Nikolas Koenig, courtesy of NeueHouse
The Wyman Bar. Photo by Nikolas Koenig, courtesy of NeueHouse

An eclectic approach to styles and references

The Bradbury Building retains its late 19th-century gravitas, but its near-130-year history means this property has witnessed many eras. A site like this needn’t be preserved in amber, so long as its original integrity is protected, which was very much the case thanks to stringent historic preservation regulations.

“We wanted it to be very timeless and classic,” Mekhayech explains. An eclectic approach made sense, and wound up being more fun along the way. “We touched on European flair, and a little bit of Art Deco,” Mekhayech notes. “From time to time we’d find things that we thought were almost sci-fi in the light fixtures,” which could be a subtle nod to “Blade Runner.” On a more overt note, for NeueHouse Bradbury, Mekhayech obtained and reproduced previously unseen images taken on the set of Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic from photographer Stephen Vaughan’s archives. 

At the Wyman, a row of jaunty glass and brass Crescent circular pendants by British brand Lee Broom illuminate the bar. The furniture is a mix of custom and found vintage pieces, as well as work by prominent contemporary designers such as Jaime Hayon and Patricia Urquiola (while much of the custom furniture at Neue is built by Orior in Ireland).  Some smaller furnishings in the mix resulted from Mekhayech’s “treasure hunting” at vintage shops in Silver Lake and Echo Park. 

 

Playing with palettes 

The Wyman Bar “was meant to juxtapose the power of the lobby. It’s very ornate, and we wanted you to walk into any of the spaces and feel a sense of reprieve,” Mekhayech says. “It’s still rich and sexy and cool, but with a lighter palette.” Without existing original floors in the bar area, DesignAgency had license to add new parquet wood flooring and other blond oak wood elements, including detailed arched niches in the wall behind the bar that contrast with the darker walnut-hued finish of the bar front itself. These elements complement the original doorways and transom windows that the designers kept in place throughout NeueHouse spaces. 

Photos by Dylan + Jeni, courtesy of NeueHouse

Looking to the past to inspire the present-day menu 

For a place like the Wyman Bar to succeed, it has to bring joy and be functional for both the patrons and the operator. “We worked really hard to allow the public to enjoy it in a way that is meaningful,” reflects John Gakuru, the bar director at NeueHouse. He mined the deep well of history to inspire the first version of the beverage list, honing in on the site’s long-ago function as a citrus grove. L.A.’s complex history also prompted Gakuru “to play on the intersection of California and Mexico, with a through-line of citrus,” he says. The bar program features products largely sourced from the California Central Coast to Oaxaca. Wines from Valle de Guadalupe and cocktails such as a mezcal Negroni articulate the theme. 

Gakuru’s next menu will “lean more into the architecture and design of the building itself, and work on getting clever with the way the cocktails are constructed and how we showcase them,” he says. Expanded food offerings are also in the works.  

In the L.A. noir-tinged imagination, a couple of grizzled private eyes might have furtively talked shop here, hunched over neat pours of well whiskey. The current reality is more likely digital native creatives swapping intel about IPOs and streaming deals while sipping spicy mezcal margaritas. Regardless, the Wyman Bar creates a stunning space for all.

 

Jessica Ritz is a freelance writer who has contributed to outlets including Architectural Digest, Metropolis, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, C Magazine, Sunset, Palm Springs Life, Garden & Gun, and American Way. Her reporting passions include architecture, interior design, art, and food. Follow her at jessnritz.com and @jessnritz, and follow Resy, too.