Horses is the buzziest eatery in West Hollywood
A storied pub starts a new chapter in its legacy as a lively bistro
Tuesday 26 April 2022 By Jacquelyn Lumley Photography by Pia Riverola
It’s Saturday night and you’re heading out in West Hollywood. Candid conversation flows into pushing back the door to a restaurant you’ve anticipated visiting, paired with the ease of knowing you managed to book a table. This is Horses.
Horses is nothing new. Quite literally, the building it occupies has stood there, almost unchanged, for 70-something years. Big cushy booths, white tablecloths, a storied space with a checkered floor. An approachable menu and a bar where passersby can snag a stool.
Co-owners and chefs Liz Johnson and Will Aghajanian approached the concept for their debut restaurant decidedly differently to their stint at The Catbird Seat in Nashville, or rather anywhere else they’ve worked together, notably Mimi in New York City and Noma in Copenhagen. Both just entering their thirties and the six-month mark since opening Horses, the duo has delighted LA with an eatery that the city has long been craving: an excellent bistro in a space that feels enticing, celebratory, cosy and classic all at the same time.
‘LA is a young city. It’s hard to find something with history,’ shares Johnson, referring to her search for a space with her husband. ‘Somebody tipped me off about The Pikey, which was the second iteration of Ye Coach and Horses, a British pub.’
‘You can feel it when a restaurant is humming and has a pulse,’ describes Johnson. ‘We want that to carry on.’
The original owners played off the old English ‘Coach and Horses’, a place where passengers travelling by stagecoach stopped for refreshments while their horses rested. Johnson thought, ‘Someone should do something here. It can’t become a sports bar, God forbid.’
The Pikey had been closed not even a full two weeks when Johnson and Aghajanian secured it. Since opening in October, Horses has topped ‘Best Of’ lists and hosted celeb-studded dinner parties for fashion outlets such as GQ and Dior. Point blank, it’s cool and everyone wants to go there.
The restaurant consists of three distinct rooms: The Drinkery, The Sunshine Room, and Kacper’s Gallery. ‘Architecturally, they look really different,’ describes Johnson. ‘We leaned into that. There’s a hidden bar in the back room that’s very intimate.’ Windowless and lined in mirrors with an ornate coffered ceiling, the back room is adorned in whimsical paintings by artist Kacper Abolik. ‘All the features in the front floor are from 1934,’ Johnson illustrates. The original Ye Coach and Horses sign, found buried in storage, hangs above a chimney that leads up to a gambrel-style ceiling in The Drinkery.
Horses is a California bistro at its heart. ‘We didn’t initially plan to have a burger on the menu, or a caesar, but then we started selling 70 caesars a night. So, we can’t take that off. People would revolt,’ says Johnson. The space eludes old Hollywood with some cheekiness in the pops of primary colour in the art and furniture, as well as the Crayola crayons that are offered alongside the menu to draw pictures on tablecloth covers while awaiting spritzes and the next course.
‘I always describe it as celebratory, it’s just kind of transportive’ explains Johnson. ‘I had an elderly gentleman stop by the other day who pointed out three gunshots in the wall that were the result of he and his buddy, the former proprietor of the bar, getting into a shooting contest. Someone else told me about this bartender from the Ye Coach and Horses days who used to breastfeed while she was tending the bar.
‘The food and the service we were doing before Horses was radically different than this,’ she explains. ‘I’ve definitely learnt stuff along the way.’ The magic seems to be that Johnson and Aghajanian just aren’t really trying too hard. Not because they’re not seasoned professionals, but because they’re in their flow state, working in a space they revamped with a team they admire. ‘You can feel it when a restaurant is humming and has a pulse,’ describes Johnson. ‘We want that to carry on.’
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