The pioneer of Abbot Kinney cool in the 1980s soft-opens a 21st-century Playa Vista reboot on April 12
By Shanee Edwards
Hal’s Bar & Grill is a mainframe restaurant rebooting itself in a community that’s all about digital innovation.
Following a 30-year run as the cultural and culinary heart of Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Hal’s breaks new ground — both literally and figuratively — when its long-awaited Runway at Playa Vista location soft-opens for breakfast and lunch service on Wednesday, April 12.
The new Hal’s looks to retain the warm hospitality, live jazz, carefully curated art displays and menu favorites that made the original great while incorporating new features that riff on Playa Vista’s culture of innovation.
On a recent Friday morning, Hal’s managing partner Don Novack gives me a tour of the nearly completed 4,700-square-foot space. It doesn’t disappoint. While workers buzz around us as they hang art, unload kitchen equipment and make other finishing touches, Novack proudly points out each distinguishing feature.
“The [massive] front window opens and shuts like a garage door, in case of inclement weather,” he says of the main dining area’s indoor-outdoor flexibility, fully aware that it’s sunny here all the time.
Deeper inside, booths are upholstered in slightly distressed blue leather, and hand-finished concrete tabletops with copper details give the space a contemporary, urban vibe. Petrified-wood floorboards appear to pixelate against concrete as they converge around the oval-shaped central bar, an effect designed “to make the computer guys feel at home,” says Novack.
An iron and wire spiral art installation, resembling a DNA double helix, hangs above the concrete bar, which will soon be polished to match the tables. But instead of chromosomes, it holds wine glasses.
“We want to have a comfortable place for creative people to come and relax,” he says, before telling me the lights in the main room and a more intimate cocktail lounge area tucked in back can be adjusted using an app on his iPad.
But the real driver of the space — and something that would not have been possible in the old Hal’s or its current reiteration in the former Primitivo space a few doors down — is its state-of-the-art screening room.
As a large, flat screen descends from the ceiling, Novack, ever attune to the music of life, extolls the virtues of its theater-quality, multi-channel sound system.
“The 10.2 Dolby surround sound is like being on a rocket ship,” he says. “It’s the exact same screen that’s in the International Space Station.”
The room not only facilitates independent film screenings, it’s also wired to broadcast live via satellite and is intended to double as a filming location.
Clearly, Novack and his partners — wife Linda Novack and restaurant namesake Hal Frederick — aren’t fooling around.
“We want to engage the community of indie filmmakers, game designers, techies and artists of all kinds. We want this place to feel like a creative campus,” says Novack.
With space nearby serving as a pop-up gallery — the Venice Art Crawl christens it with a music-themed art show on April 20 — and plans to host a film festival and a live jazz series, it seems like Hal’s 2.0 will accomplish that mission.
Frederick says he’s amazed by the new location and sees it as a creative rebirth.
“We are branching out into a community that’s brand new, that’s building itself from an embryo,” he observes. “There’s new technology and a new way of looking at the world.”
The newness is exciting, but Playa Vista is very different than Venice. It’s younger, it’s having lots of babies and it’s more uniformly affluent. Can a restaurant that built its reputation on old-school class really become a creative campus for a community populated by millennials?
Chef Manuel Mares, who’s been in charge of the kitchen at Hal’s for three decades, says yes.
“We are adding vegan, gluten-free options and will be using really clean ingredients and grass-fed beef. That’s our approach for this area. We’ll also be making changes seasonally so that there’s always something different,” says Mares.
Before you start panicking about the fate of old Abbot Kinney favorites like the turkey burger or Caesar salad, relax: Mares is keeping all their best sellers on the expanded menu.
While success is never a guarantee, Novack has reason to feel confident.
“We were groundbreaking on Abbot Kinney [in the 1980s]. People said, ‘Are you nuts? You’re going to put a white-tablecloth restaurant on Abbot Kinney, with guns going off in the background?’ We said we’re trying something out. Now, I think we’re part of the reason Abbot Kinney has gotten to where it is,” he says.
Now located below luxury apartments in the retail and entertainment center of a planned community that’s still filling itself out, the new Hal’s is like a flashback and flash-forward that exist in the same moment.
Frederick likens the feeling to jazz.
“Jazz is nostalgia, but at the same time it refreshes and renews itself,” he said. “It’s a bounce back and a bounce forward.”
Hal’s Bar & Grill 12751 Millennium Drive, Ste. 140, Playa Vista (424) 228-4641 halsbarandgrill.com
A version of this story also appears in the April-May edition of Playa Vista Direct (playavistadirect.com).