Craig Trager’s Vintage Bar Group is a comfortable collection of Los Angeles bars such as The Well, The Parlour Room, The Woods, The Fifth, NoBar, El Bar.
Earlier this week in part one we discussed Trager’s bar themes, his ideas on what makes “a dive” and his background.
Location – Location – Location
Craig talks about how he finds the best spots for his bars. One of the biggest decisions is parking. It either has to be in an area with easy street parking (like The Fifth in the Valley) or he offers very affordable valet (like The Well or The Woods in Hollywood).
But what inspires Craig is the history of the venues he occupies. “Every bar I own has a history of 20-plus years.” For instance, back in the day, the corporate building which The Well is connected to was the house of Motown. So they had regulars like Michael Jackson and Smoky Robinson.
The Parlour Room’s location has been around since the 1960’s. So what’s VBG’s strategy? “You have to make the transition from old bar to new bar” Trager explains. Clean it up, weed out the crowd and start over. One of his Valley bars was a mess when he took it over. Violent and loud, not the crowd he wanted. So he got to work and now the bar is full most nights with neighborhood locals having a great time together.
It’s About Family
Trager points around the bar and reminisces aloud. “That bartender’s been here six years. That waitress has been here five. And that manager has worked with me since the very beginning.” It’s kind of impressive to hear those statistics in a town where bartenders are usually as expendable as the drinks they mix. Four gulps later and they’re gone. But that’s just another exception with Vintage Bar Group. Trager treats his team like a family. And that’s how he wants them to treat their customers.
“I hire people that I’m not. You have to be a very special individual to be pinned back behind the bar. I have an appreciation for that the longer I’m here. A good bartender brings together the conversation. They have the ability to connect different people around the bar.”
“My people don’t hate coming to work. They like their job. And customers can feel that.”
And it’s not just the staff, the customers are family too. “It’s a rewarding sense when you learn of people who met, got married and have kids now. And they met at one of my bars.”
People Need to Drink
“If you think about it, when do you go drink? When you’re depressed, celebrating, lonely, whatever. For any wide range of reasons people go out and drink. We’re here for you.”
The Well opened on September 11 2001. Horrible timing, as you might imagine. Except that people came. “People didn’t want to be alone. They wanted community or family. And they made their own”.
Get the Most out of Your Favorite Bars
Trager makes himself very accessible. When you call, you’ll get him on the phone. When you email, it’s him who responds directly. More recently he has begun using social media to reach out in a more personal and direct way. Trager has opened Facebook pages with happy hour specials and food features.
Vintage Bar Group
The Parlour Room of Hollywood: 6423 Yucca St. Hollywood, CA
The Woods: 1533 N. La Brea Ave. Hollywood, CA
The Well-6255 Sunset Blvd. Hollywood, CA
NoBAR: 10622 Magnolia Blvd. North Hollywood, CA
The Fifth: 4821 Whitsett/Riverside Dr. Studio City, CA
EL BAR-3256 Cahuenga Blvd W. @ Barham. Los Angeles