Los Angeles Nightlife: Exclusive interview with Vintage Bar Group Owner Craig Trager [PART 1 of 2]


The Vintage Bar Group is a six-piece collection of the most comfortable bars in Los Angeles nightlife such as The WellThe Parlour RoomThe WoodsThe FifthNoBarEl Bar.  Their terrain covers from Hollywood and West Hollywood through the Valley.

In a heavily-saturated and competitive town like Los Angeles, it’s good to have “your place”.  The one where you’ll have meetings, take a date, have an awesome night with your friends and stumble home.

As we sit down Vintage Bar Group owner Craig Trager is a busy guy.  In addition to looking after his bars, he’s negotiating to have Michael Mann’s new film shoot at one of his locations.  While the idea is exciting, he’s thinking about his regulars.

“I don’t have turn and burn clubs.  Every customer is important.  I do my best to make sure everyone has a great time and my staff treats every single person great.”

Anyone who compares Trager’s VBG bars to those on the Sunset Strip have an immediate reaction. These aren’t glitz and glamour.  There’s no velvet rope or door list.  To many, they’re thought of as a “dive bar”.

Vintage Bar Group Owner Craig Trager

He reacts:  “Dive is kind of a back-handed compliment. But at the same time I like it because that fits our theme.”

All of Trager’s bars have an unpolished exterior.  Sometimes grimy, but not off-putting.  The revelation comes as you walk in the door.  VBG venues don’t match the classic “dive” feel aesthetically.  They are furnished with dark wood, over-sized furniture and minimal to no decoration.  He believes, “People go out to see other people.” So he implements plenty of glass windows and mirrors.

He explains further, “You’re walking down the street and some bars are intimidating, while others are comfortable.  This is no mistake, it’s part of the design.  But that’s one more difference between Vintage Bar Group and some of the other night spots.”

“Walking into one of my places, you can always expect the same three things: good prices, no door list, and if you’re a regular, the staff knows you and your drink.”

How’d it all Start?

Craig Trager has worked Hollywood nightlife for over 20 years.  And within that time he’s had his hands in every capacity from wife beater-wearing dishwasher to suit-and-tie maitre d’.

Among those times include working up the ranks with now-fellow nightlife owners Jeff Best (Firefly), Phil Cummins (Boa), Sean MacPherson (The Olive), Brett Bolthouse (Babylon).  And then there’s the master: Silvio DeMori.

Hollywood's The Well features a custom-made island bar

“Silvio was an old-school restauranteur.  He and Jean-Louis owned Tutu Benee.  They did a great job and catered to a big crowd.  People like Julia Roberts, Morgan Freeman came in all the time.”

“Silvio was a people person, a personality and a consummate host.  As you entered, he welcomed you individually, the women all received champagne, everyone had a good time.”

“Eventually we all moved on and opened our own places.  Some went flashy, I took the longer, more painful route.  I work to get and keep every customer I have.”

For Part 2 in the exclusive interview with Vintage Bar Group owner Craig Trager, click here.

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