Chefs + Dives: Ercole’s, Los Angeles

ercoles-interior best-horizontal-crdt-skyler okey
Los Angeles has its fair share of dive bars with great backstories, but when it comes to old-school surf shacks, Manhattan Beach bar Ercole’s has maintained a special place in Angelenos’ hearts since 1927. “When you walk outside and look down the alley, you can see the ocean and smell the salt in the air—that’s such a beautiful thing,” says Los Angeles chef Tyler Gugliotta. Gugliotta, an LA native who is currently running the kitchen at Baran’s 2239 (named Best New Restaurant by LA Magazine and LA Weekly), grew up surfing in the South Bay area and fell for Ercole’s an early age. “My mom and dad used to go there, and my grandfather used to own a hair salon across the street, so even before I was old enough to drink I knew it was a staple.”

Like many beachside neighborhoods, Manhattan Beach’s dining scene has grown and evolved as restaurants like Little Sister, Love & Salt and The Strand House have opened, but Ercole’s has maintained its original charm, offering visitors and locals an old-school taste of the neighborhood. “Ercole’s is Manhattan Beach. The old-school Manhattan Beach before it became a rich, glamorous town,” Gugliotta says. “It speaks to how the city was 30 years ago because it’s the oldest bar in the neighborhood, and the same people have been going there for forever. You walk in and it feels like a piece of history.”

ercoles-portraits-horizontal-crdt-skyler okeyInside, the floors are covered in red and black checkerboard, and well-worn wooden booths are carved with initials and other sentiments—hallmarks from the decades of guests that have passed through. Branded neon bar signs share wall space with old photos of Hollywood stars, and it not uncommon to spy a surfboard or two among the bar stools.

The vintage neon sign marking the front of the building promises cocktails, but in classic dive bar fashion, Ercole’s is a cash-only, beer-and-a-burger joint. “You won’t get a hand-muddled mojito with passionfruit or anything because it’s a Jack and Coke kind of place,” says Gugliotta. “But they’ve also kept up with the craft beer movement, so they have some good stuff now, like Ballast Point and Oskar Blues. They’re not trying to be flashy, though; they just want better beers.”

Many regulars will recite the bar’s history or celebrity sightings without prompting and then insist on ordering the house burger, which is as comforting as it gets with a sesame bun, slice of American cheese and requisite pickle spear on the side. “You get a lot of industry people there at the end of the night. Chefs, cooks, bussers, bartenders, waiters—we go there after shifts to wind down,” says Gugliotta. “You also get the older crowd that’s looking for a place to get away from all the youngsters. Ercole’s is very nostalgic for me,” says Gugliotta. “It’s the total opposite of what is happening everywhere else. They aren’t changing, and I respect that.”