Of the many things I’m not cool enough to do, one of the most exciting always seemed like going out after work with chefs. I’d heard they go to weird, secret late-night restaurants and tiny, dark bars filled with strippers, rock bands, con men, longshoremen and blacksmiths. The idea seemed to have all the Charles Bukowski–meets–Herman Melville manliness my life lacks.
I figured the perfect person to take me out after work in L.A. was Tom Colicchio, the celebrity chef who presides over the empire of Craft restaurants, which includes the spin-offs Craftsteak, Craftbar and ’Wichcraft and has branches in Manhattan, Las Vegas, Dallas and L.A. Colicchio was one of F&W’s Best New Chefs in 1991, when he ran the kitchen at now-defunct Mondrian in New York City; then he went on to earn even bigger fame at Manhattan’s Gramercy Tavern before launching Craft. Not only does Colicchio have that shaved-head, New Jersey–born, boxing-fan, self-trained-chef toughness, but he knows L.A.: As head judge of Bravo’s Top Chef, he shot season two of the show here and opened one of his newest Craft outposts in town just last year.
With L.A.’s bar scene moving from cheesy, Cosmo-centric, agent-assistant-filled spots like Skybar to darker, more alluring spaces serving intriguing cocktails made with fresh ingredients, the idea of going out on a Saturday night in the city seemed like fun again—and I knew Colicchio and his friends could lead to me to the kinds of spots where I could get into trouble, or at least watch him do it.