New lounge strives to bring class back to Downey bar scene

DOWNEY - Downey resident Luis Gomez and his business partner Osvaldo Flores always dreamt of opening up a classy, high-end lounge - in Orange County. "Let's go to Santa Ana, they have the clientele," Gomez recalled his partner saying last year. "I have neighbors who are doctors and lawyers - they drive outside of Downey for entertainment. When my wife and I go out, we go to Downtown LA or Hollywood," Gomez confessed. "But we want to bring that clientele to Downey."

Hoping to reacquaint style and pizzazz with the traditional bar experience, Gomez and Flores have launched The Wet Bar, located at 8832 Imperial Hwy, a posh lounge that has already attracted more than 400 patrons since opening two weeks ago.

"This is not just any bar," said Flores, who has a background in marketing and investments. "This is something you'd see in another city or county. But why not Downey? Downey needs something like this."

Approved by the Planning Commission last October, the property, formerly a karate center, has been extensively renovated since last year and now features upscale interior designs, including a rock waterfall at the entrance.

In addition to charcoal grey slate flooring and grey pinstriped wallpaper, The Wet Bar features four flat screen TVs, which flank the bar's main attraction - a panoply of liquor and spirits under warm recessed lighting.

More than a dozen black and sliver barstools surround the white caesarstone counter top from which trained staff offer "world class service" every night from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.

"We wanted something timeless, a unique far customers are impressed with what we've done," said Flores, who reaffirmed the lounge's strict dress code. "We've had to walk people out. The dress code is enforced and we've gotten some not so good reviews because of that, but there's an ambiance we want to have here."

Operations manager Hector Lozano believes the dress code, security, and valet service help draw a different crowd to the lounge.

"We're trying to attract those who would go to Fullerton, Long Beach, or Downtown LA...those who want to dress up, have fun at a chill spot, and meet interesting people," he said. "Downey has a big market for that."

While the demand for vibrant spaces is growing, city tensions concerning bars and nightclubs are also on the rise.

Over the last few weeks, the Planning Commission denied a nightclub's request to expand and tightened the reins on hookah lounges in the downtown district.

Planning commissioners narrowly approved the bar's alcohol license in a 2-1 vote, mandating that Gomez keep the parking lot well-lit and post signs identifying a zero-tolerance policy for nuisance behavior.

"Before we were approved, we were denied three times by the Planning Commission," Gomez said. "The former police chief [Rick Esteves] wasn't too comfortable with a bar in south Downey.

"People say there are too many bars in Downey. There aren't too many bars in Downey, there are too many bad bars in Downey," Gomez maintained.

Gomez believes The Wet Bar offers residents a new experience that's fun, safe, and classy.

"We don't plan on going anywhere, I'm in it for the long-term," he said. "The property owner is looking into adding a new facade and redoing the parking lot - it's a win-win situation."

After just two weeks, The Wet Bar is already set to expand next month, adding 1,295 square feet by leasing the empty retail space next door. Unanimously approved by the commission, the expansion will allow the lounge to make room for an additional 90-100 customers.

According to floor plans, the space will include a bar counter with stools, a walk-in cooler, an employee locker room, a wine storage area, and restrooms.

"This is the south side of Downey, but we're not trying to cut any corners," Gomez said. "Individuals we know say this bar belongs in Studio City, but there's a lot of potential here. Downey will benefit from something like this."

********** Published: April 11, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 52