Photos courtesy of Stir Crazy

Letter of RecommendationLos Angeles

Stir Crazy Is the Chic Spot You Didn’t Know You Needed


Soon after Stir Crazy opened on Melrose Avenue, it quickly became the place I didn’t know I needed. Well, technically, Stir Crazy reopened, or maybe it’s more accurate to say it was revamped. Previously home to a second-wave coffee shop of the same name, it was taken over by new owners Mackenzie Hoffman, Harley Wertheimer, and Macklin Casnoff last spring. They kept the name, but beautified the interior with a simple maroon banquette, wood-lined walls, and framed art; spiffed up the kitchen; and revived the space as a nighttime cafe. Or something like that. 

“A lot of people use the ubiquitous ‘wine bar’ [to describe us],” Hoffman says. “We are definitely the first word, but I don’t consider us the second. There are no stools. You can’t belly up. You can use us as a bar, but we’re truly a cafe.”

This is what I love about Stir Crazy: unlike the typical bar where you’d meet a friend for a drink, Stir Crazy is a sit-down experience turning out sophisticated food, in charmingly casual environs. Hanging out here feels like having an apéro—or a digestif—at your most effortlessly chic friend’s house.

The way I see it, Stir Crazy is the chicest snack bar in L.A. The space itself is modestly handsome, with classy details like a stainless steel ham slicer that sits on the counter of the open kitchen and a collection of old exhibition posters in the bathroom. And the snacks are far more interesting (not to mention delicious) than what you’d find at your average bar or cafe. Casnoff oversees the kitchen, which dishes a compact, market-driven menu that changes almost daily. There are crumbles of Parmesan and two types of cured ham, a handful of seasonal plates—think celery salad with walnuts and goat cheese and pole beans with chicories and bigeye tuna confit—and a couple of straightforward desserts. 

The beauty of Stir Crazy is that you can use it any way you like. You could come as early as 4 p.m. for a late afternoon glass of wine, some marinated anchovies with bread, and a brown butter-laced crudo. Or, you could come after dinner, order a bottle, and nibble on grapes with gouda. Regulars have been known to spend entire nights here, linking up with various friends, asking for refills, and satiating themselves with the menu’s heartier items, like the sausage with Weiser potato salad. Best of all, when you’re seated at a table, there’s no pressure for your entire party to conform to the same path. “You could have a full meal, and I could just have a glass of wine, and that’s not at all weird,” Wertheimer says. “It’s choose your own adventure, even at a table of five.” 

Furthermore, there’s plenty to drink—Hoffman has about 300 wine bottles on her list, which spans a dozen countries and over 60 grape varietals. “A younger natural wine drinker as well as a long-time classic wine drinker will recognize plenty of producers,” she says, but she encourages guests to try something from a producer they don’t know yet.


Compact and cozy

The new owners knew they’d have to work within the restraints they were inheriting upon taking over the lease. At fewer than 750 square feet, the restaurant feels like a jewel box, with only one bathroom, eight tables, plus a few patio seats. Hoffman likes to think of it as “a very overperforming sandwich shop” because of the limitations in the back of house. “There’s no flame, no fry, no walk-in, no storage,” she explains. They operate with a Combi oven, one induction burner, a large refrigerator, and a small freezer.

Accordingly, the trio approached the revamp with an intentional yet flexible mindset. From the get-go, they expected to evolve based on guest feedback. However, they did make one very deliberate and somewhat unusual decision: Stir Crazy is only open on weekdays, Monday through Friday, from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Why? For one, it allows them to cater to the neighborhood, as opposed to the weekend tourists that descend on Melrose. Secondly, it enables their staff to recuperate appropriately and return to work on Monday feeling refreshed. And finally, the somewhat limited hours imbue visitors to Stir Crazy with the feeling of stumbling into something special. “There’s this sense that the guest has chosen to be with us on a weekday, so let’s show them a magical ride,” Hoffman says. 

There’s this sense that the guest has chosen to be with us on a weekday, so let’s show them a magical ride, — Mackenzie Hoffman

I’ve pre-gamed a gallery opening at Stir Crazy with two glasses of bubbly (Biancara ‘Garg’n’Go from Veneto, now one of my favorite sparkling wines) and some melon with chile and dashi. I stopped in one evening with a friend who works nearby, and we shared a pile of sliced Serrano and a funky bottle of French red. I’ve popped in for a glass with my boyfriend—orange for me, chilled red for him—perched on the patio bench. And I’ve spent hours there with old friends, over several rounds of snacks and too many glasses to count. I’ve had to wait for a table (although not without wine), and I’ve been seated immediately, too. (Though now that Stir Crazy is on Resy, I can reserve a table ahead of time.) 

To experience Stir Crazy to its fullest, you must factor in both the energy of the room and your own desires. In that way, it’s not so different from going to the beach. You arrive, then consider the environment—How strong is the tide? How high is the wind?—to determine how to approach your time. Then you settle in, unwind, and let the day take you wherever it goes.

And when you get hungry, the snack bar is there, waiting like a beacon, to welcome you back ashore. 

Emily Wilson is a Los Angeles-based food writer from New York. She has contributed to Bon Appétit, Eater, TASTE, The Los Angeles Times, Punch, Atlas Obscura, and more. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Follow Resy, too.