Like so many bars and restaurants in Los Angeles and around the country, Lock & Key had a rough go of it recently.
Soon after the pandemic began, the Koreatown craft cocktail den pivoted to serving customers from its to-go window near Vermont and 3rd Street. Unfortunately, Covid’s onset was only the beginning of the challenges.
The day after reopening for take-out only, a fire next door flooded Lock & Key’s kitchen. Two weeks later, a second fire caused additional damage. While closed, Lock & Key was then robbed. Lock & Key took a year-long hiatus, but the K-Town spot is back and as lively as ever.
Beginning in 2009, Lock & Key owner Cyrus Batchan spent many evenings in K-Town enjoying the nightlife and restaurants with friends. While a big fan of the neighborhood’s hospitality and vitality, Cyrus realized that there was also room for something different than the soju-based cocktails that dominated menus. “When we opened, this was the only non-Korean bar in the neighborhood. I couldn’t get the cocktail experience I wanted.”
Cyrus went on to open Lock & Key in 2013. Though it’s a neighborhood bar, it also features a kitchen with a delicious, well-edited menu. The menu’s gone through several iterations since opening, with the famous ramen burger they launched in 2014 as one example.
The current menu features four different styles of pizza: New York, Chicago-inspired deep dish, Sicilian, and sourdough focaccia. My favorite was the excellent deep-dish, featuring a biscuit-like crust. Unlike some deep-dish pizzas, the ones served here are neither oily nor heavy. Cryus told me, “I ate pizza all over town and I saw a hole in the K-Town Market. There is no cool deep dish near Koreatown. That inspired us and we chose a bunch of pizzas with the help of Tony Hernandez from Dough Box. He heads our kitchen and does all our pizzas now.”
If you like chicken, don’t miss the exceptional lollipop chicken wings with a mildly spicy, Sichuan-inspired sauce. Cyrus explains, “Our wings pay homage to Koreatown. They’re an essential bar food in this area, and we’ve perfected them over the years.” You’ll want to pair them with french fries decadently enhanced with butter garlic sauce.
Other notable menu items include a breaded chicken sandwich topped with avocado and chipotle and one fantastically atypical dessert: a deep-fried PB&J sandwich. Topped with creme Anglaise and powdered sugar, it’s served on house-made brioche. “We used to get our brioche from Rockenwagner, but now Tony makes all our breads and they’re equally as good.”
I appreciated the warmth of the staff, along with the bottle of hand sanitizer at every table. There are also UVC filters throughout. “We want everyone to be safe and comfortable here.”
You’ll hear a playlist until 10 p.m., when vinyl DJs and live music take over and bring a new level of energy to the bustling bar and its patio.
The mixology team is currently headed by Andrew, formerly with Nightshade. Cyrus shared, “Anybody on the team can participate in creating cocktails — a few of the drinks were inspired by individual staff members. We juice everything in-house, and a prep person mixes fresh syrups every day. We’ll soon have more drinks to go once we get our canning machine.”
“We’ve been blessed to be able to reopen and we’ve made it easy for our customers to take the party to go. Not everyone feels comfortable going out as much as they used to, so all our food can be taken to go, along with natural wines. We also have a live stream so people who are more comfortable staying in can see and hear what’s going on at the bar.” You can find that live stream on Twitch.
Lock & Key, 239 S. Vermont Avenue, Koreatown, 213-389-5625