A Juicy BeatArtists' Lounge Creates a New Identity for Former Al's Bar Space
This tidy juice bar exists where the gritty, beloved Al's Bar once did. Photo by Gary Leonard.

To those who knew it, Al's Bar was a dark dive brimming with ultra-cheap booze and ultra-loud punk rock. Tucked away deep in the Arts District, it was the type of place that was just under the radar, but easy enough to find if you knew the right people. It was dank and dirty, and in its couple-decade lifespan it played host to early incarnations of soon-to-be-famous bands like Nirvana, the Misfits and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was the site of the White Stripes' first Los Angeles show.

However the venue, like so many rock clubs in so many cities, ultimately shut down. The last Al's band unplugged its guitars on Aug. 11, 2001.

Two years later, 306 S. Hewitt St. has reopened, but with a very different twist on the old favorite. The Juicy Beats Artist Exchange Lounge has updated the former hangout with a hip-hop flavor. The space is run by three artistic entrepreneurs: Abdul Khan, whose background in real estate earned him the money to rent the space; and Tamiko Price and Johnny Young, who give Juicy Beats its artistic direction. The Atlanta natives, all of whom live in the Arts District, began working on the space in March.

"We always had an idea of a place you can lounge, but didn't want the typical coffee house," explained Price, who along with her partners knew very little of Al's history when they started.

Juicy Beats is a far cry from Al's Bar. The black floors and walls strewn with dark paint have given way to white walls with purple trim and a light gray floor. The graffiti-strewn brick exterior has been redecorated with a colorful mural depicting what goes on inside the windowless lounge: a DJ spins, a poet flows and a painting engages a viewer.

The bar where so much beer and liquor flowed has been converted into a much healthier spot offering fresh fruit and vegetable smoothies and juices, coffee and a small menu of sandwiches and salads.

Several former Al's Bar patrons have dropped in and complimented the lounge, waxing nostalgic about its history. "I've had people come in and say, 'I made my babies in that bathroom' or, 'I smoked the best weed I ever smoked on that patio,'" Price said.

But not everyone loves the new space, and Price and her compatriots are a bit disappointed with some of the neighbors' reactions.

"They come here every day just to look," Price said. "A lot of them are like, 'What did you do to our bar?'"

Work in Progress

Juicy Beats is very much a work in progress. Future additions include a beer and wine license, Internet-ready computer terminals, Wednesday open mic nights and a Friday after-hours club from midnight to 6 a.m. The space is already strengthening its community stance by hosting neighborhood watch meetings each Tuesday. But the owners say it is definitely arts-focused.

"We want to put a network in place for artists," Price said. "This whole community is full of artists, so we offer a place for visual artists to come paint or exhibit their work; we have the architectural school next door and this is a place they can come to hang out; we have a DJ playing all day, whether they're putting on a show or just getting some practice time."

The owners have yet to turn a profit, an admittedly difficult feat when only a few dozen customers filter in a day. However, Price said they are starting to attract regulars who drop by for a smoothie once or twice a week.

In a way Juicy Beats exemplifies the intersection between the underground Downtown art scene, the gentrification-friendly lofts next door and the desolation of Skid Row. The space occupies the ground floor of a low-rent residential hotel, while in the building directly across the street, lofts can fetch $300,000.

"We're still trying to define ourselves," Price said. "We want to be an art gallery so we have artists' work on the walls. We built a new stage so we can have performances, open mics and poetry. We're currently developing our back room into a special art gallery for single-artist shows."

Juicy Beats Artist Exchange Lounge is at 306 S. Hewitt St., (213) 687-8630 or www.juicybeatsaxl.com.

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