Nothing like an open-air fish tank to set the mood.
The oldest bar in Culver City happens to be the city’s dive bar music hub, Cinema Bar a neighborhood staple since 1947 that has long played home to a range of acts on the small stage in the corner of its main room. While the Los Angeles dive bar may have a small footprint by square footage, the sound cranked through its professional-grade sound system more than fills the room, spilling out onto Sepulveda Boulevard outside.
While the bar has changed hands a few times over the years, Cinema Bar is today a family-owned business, owner Rod Castillo part of the family that has owned the bar for over three decades. That stability shows inside and out where the surfaces and decorations show just the right amount of wear and tear to hint at the space’s long history. The sign out front certainly sets the stage well, a classic vertical piece emblazoned with the name of the bar in red and green neon. Wood paneling hangs over the door, marked by string lights and bordered by two banks of opaque, glass block windows.
To provide just one hint of the décor inside, an actual tumbleweed sits perched on a shelf behind the bar, mixing with neon beer signs, framed photos of musicians and an extensive set of liquor bottles perched on what is probably a solid but seemingly precarious-looking series of wood shelves. Many dive bars display their available bottle beer selections in some way, but Cinema Bar has taken the next logical step in what looks like framing the bottles in fitting fashion, a shrine of sorts to cold domestic beer.
Beyond the affordable drinks and ample street parking after 6 PM just outside the front door, the Cinema Bar calling card is no doubt the steady stream of live music that rotates through the Los Angeles dive bar anywhere from four to seven nights a week. In addition to musicians across a number of genres, open mic night is held each Wednesday for aspiring singers and songwriters. Los Angeles “gypsy Jazz” band Hot Club of Los Angeles has held a residency at Cinema Bar for over a decade, commanding the stage every Monday.
During live music nights, the space can become very cozy very quickly, the small bar jutting out into the makeshift dance floor lined with only a handful of tall tables. The tight confines offer little distance between ear and speaker, something to be prepared for thanks to a prominent set of speakers surrounding the stage. A metal sign inscribed with “The Cinema” serves as backdrop to the stage area, one of the few modern-looking twists among a pleasantly divey Cinema Bar atmosphere.
While the walls adjacent to the stage are fairly clean as far as dive bar decorations go, the stickers come on quickly deeper into the space. The real wall of the main room, the bathroom and Cinema Bar’s lone hallway are all covered in stickers of various ages, some peeling and others freshly applied. The lighting throughout Cinema Bar is refreshingly dim, the glass block windows in front letting in only the hint of exterior light (with shades available to completely block out the suggestion of the outside world).
Easily overlooked among Cinema Bar’s divey features is the beautiful back patio that features a row of polished wood benches and tables that makes for secluded, open-air drinking surroundings. The signature feature here is the presence of two fish tanks complete with that aquarium-like blue glow, adding to the ambiance. Not to be forgotten, the surfaces that surround these fish tanks are just as sticker-covered as the walls inside, protecting the dive bar credibility of Cinema Bar’s patio despite its upscale feel.