Level up: a night at Downtown LA’s spectacular Level 8

Level 8 Downtown LA
Level 8 Downtown LA

Downtown LA’s stable of restaurants and venues has received a shot in the arm courtesy of the Houston brothers. Much more than a themed bar, Level 8 is a journey to eight distinct corners of a very strange world

There’s a kind of magic at play in Level 8, a new arrival on the Downtown Los Angeles restaurant and venue scene. The area has enjoyed a resurgence of entertainment and culinary options in recent times, but Level 8 seeks to take things to – ahem – a new level.

Those nocturnal magicians Mark and Jonnie Houston have turned the eighth floor of the Figueroa Street building that houses the AC Marriott and the Moxy (just across from the Arena) into a stylish and immersive venue. Actually, make that venues. In their quest to address the perceived absence of night spots in DTLA, the Houston brothers couldn’t merely deliver one more. True to its name, Level 8 contains eight stylish and immersive locations.

Whether you’re looking for a rooftop tipple, a flame-grilled South American meal or, incredibly, a luchador match set to a blistering DJ set, Level 8 has you covered. But keep your wits about you, because the Houstons have created an evening wonderland where the impossible lurks around every corner.

Mr. Wanderlust

My Level 8 experience begins in Mr. Wanderlust, an anteroom-cum-jazz lounge with a theatrical touch. Curious crowds have been strong since Level 8 opened in September 2023, but those waiting to enter are treated to a richly furnished lounge space dominated by regular aerialist performances.

When it’s time to go in, the anteroom’s grand bookshelf parts to reveal a hidden passage to the heart of Mr. Wanderlust: a speakeasy-style piano bar filled with nooks and crannies from which to enjoy a cosmic array of cocktails and bites, and an evening of live music or DJ sets.

Maison Kasai

The main course begins in the next room, with another ingenious secret passage providing access to Maison Kasai, a sleek, golden-bathed teppanyaki restaurant with a strong French influence. Great effort has been made to cast the traditional teppanyaki experience in an eye-popping new light, with chef skills on full display.

Lucky Mizu

Those after a more hands-on dining experience can follow the labyrinthine path to Lucky Mizu (water), an ethereal Japanese sushi and shabu shabu restaurant with a musical twist. Look up and it’s hard to miss the 40-foot Earth Harp that runs wall to wall across the ceiling. Chances are you’ll hear it first, though; it’s played by a featured musician throughout the evening.

Que Barbaro

If Japanese doesn’t float your boat, pass through the passages to find Que Barbaro, a woodfired South American grill with a flair for showmanship. There’s an intimacy here among the tropical hanging gardens and rotating liquor risers. Behind the counter, the team led by Esquire’s Chef of the Year Ray Garcia works their magic on rich meats and transportative vegetarian dishes.

Brown Sheep

But say you’ve got a hankering for some cool night air and the kind of tasty late-night snack only a taco truck can provide. Step outside to The Brown Sheep and be amazed by the full-sized vintage taco truck that awaits you, featuring Mexican cuisine with a modern twist and an array of cocktails from south of the border.

Golden Hour

Hot night? Head around the corner and cool off in the swimming pool at Golden Hour. Enjoy the poolside carousel bar complete with hanging chandeliers and a rotating carnival-style top with the City of Angels as the backdrop. And expect the unexpected: a smaller, shallow pool often plays host to sideshow performances such as fire breathers and underwater contortionists.

Mother of Pearl

Things are slightly more refined at Mother of Pearl, Level 8’s outdoor terrace reminiscent of Spanish Colonial gazebos. Lounge, graze and imbibe with champagne, raw bar specialties and a garden party-ready menu filled with Michelin-starred chef Joshua Gil’s signature “tradition reinterpreted” style.

I step back inside through another hidden entrance and find myself face to face with a wall full of bronze skulls in a French catacombs-esque byway. At its end, Level 8’s masterpiece presents itself via a working confessional, where admitting my sins is the price of admission.

Sinners y Santos

Once my soul is clean, I emerge into Sinners y Santos. It’s a truly astonishing milieu: a 19th-century cathedral-style lounge complete with Gothic brickwork, Venetian plaster and heavy oak beams across the ceiling. Look closer and the details emerge. Those stained-glass windows? They backlight a candlelit bar and an impressive array of spirits and agave cocktails. That full-sized pipe organ? It’s a secret DJ booth.

Best of all is the oversize bar in the middle of the space. If it seems a little low, that’s by design. How else could you have a prime view of the luchador matches that regularly occur throughout the night? Performed by masked acrobats in a squared circle suspended from the ceiling, it’s a spectacle typical of its creators and guaranteed to surprise even the most jaded of nightcrawlers.

Which is exactly where I find myself at the end of my journey through Level 8’s serpentine halls. I’ve seen it all, I’ve somehow avoided getting lost, and I’ve settled on Lucky Mizu.

The eatery lives up to its name via a hypnotic wall of 777 golden lucky cat statues and a menu that emphasises the art of cooking with water. I take on the challenge of shabu shabu, and I’m tasked with a pot of fresh seafood and greens to prepare in a shiitake broth. I’m happy enough with the results, but the smoky aromas of Que Barbaro still call to me on my way out.

Whether the esoteric delights of Level 8 can resuscitate DTLA’s nightlife remains to be seen. What’s here is an impressive opening salvo, however, and a prime example of the creativity that can breathe new life into the old.

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