Jones is the type of place that everyone seems to know and love. A twenty year West Hollywood institution, it's the type of place that has hosted everyone from celebrities to plumbers with equal grace, and continues to churn out quality cocktails alongside Italian-American comfort classics. It helps that most of the staff has been there for more than a decade.
Minus a short stint working elsewhere, GM Keith McCarthy has been with Jones since it opened in 1994, with longtime barman Eric "ET" Tecosky on board since 2001. Half the kitchen has been there since before the turn of the century, and even many of the regulars track their time in decades, not years. Eater sat down with McCarthy and ET to talk about Jones' ever-popular cocktail program, two decades of celebrity sightings, and how important it is to take care of the everyman.
What’s the history of this place? What was it before Jones? McCarthy: This was, from what I’m told, one of the city’s first sports bars, called Sports. Apparently the first ’s’ fell off, and so they changed the name to Ports and put a porthole in the door. It became that kind of iconic, funky, dark, artsy bar, with one of the best jukeboxes in town.
Over time, Ports slowed down and the owner just walked away from it. So Sean MacPherson and Jon Sidel had just done Olive and Swingers, and they actually talked the owner out of selling it off to some other restaurant group. They said listen, these other guys just got into the business. We’re going to be around a while. And I guess they were right.
What has it become over the years? ET: It’s funny. I’ve been here over 13 years, and when we started it was a mix of young Hollywood, a little artsy, musicians, couples. I think every couple of years it refreshes, and we get that next crop of mid to late twenties professionals, musicians, things like that.
How is it that Jones has been able to keep reinventing itself like that? ET: People have a special place in their heart for Jones. This kind of vibe exists on the East Coast, but doesn’t really exist here that much. LA is all about new, fancy, flashy. Let’s get a publicist, let’s do this or do that. Sean never did that, and so we haven’t needed to be trendy to fit in. When you walk in, it feels good. It’s dark, the booths are comfortable, the drinks are great and we’re serving comfort Italian-American food.
McCarthy: We don’t look people head to toe and ask if they’re cool enough to come in. And I think that’s actually what’s made us cool [laughs]. I had a conversation with David Schwimmer once, and he asked why Jones has always done so great with celebrities and things. And I said look, we’ve never bent over backwards for celebrities. We’ll cater to them, but the guy that came in five days a week and was a plumber, probably got treated better than the movie stars, because we knew he was coming back the next week. And Schwimmer said that he loved that, because he used to be that guy who would just come all the time and still get taken care of, before he was who he is.
We’ve always said that we want staff that’s going to be here a long time, because that familiarity is really important. There are people that can walk in and the staff won’t even hand them a menu, they just know what they want to order. We have staff here… our chef Joaquin, been here 20 years. Our sous chef Juan, 18 and a half. Our lead prep guy Miguel started as a dishwasher the day we opened. One of our bartenders, Nick, was here a month after we opened. A lot of restaurants, it’s a revolving door.
ET: For a while, I was the new guy at the bar, and I’d been here ten years.
How do you stay relevant then as a cocktail bar, without succumbing to too much outside noise? ET: It’s tricky. Years ago, I was fortunate to go to Europe with some liquor company. And it was me and a bunch of guys from New York and San Francisco. They’d talk about bartending, and I started not knowing what they were talking about. Their techniques, stuff they were using. I just kept my mouth shut because that way they wouldn’t know how much I didn’t know. And when I got back to LA, I told my GM at the time, you know what man? San Francisco is not that far away. If they’re doing that up there, it’s coming here any day. So either we evolve or pretty soon we’re going to be left in the dust.
We put together our first pseudo-legit cocktail menu, and no one cared. But six months in, people started asking to see the menu. Now, almost every single person asks to see a menu. We’re never going to be a tiny little speakeasy cocktail bar, but I feel like we do the Jones version of that. We make interesting, good, approachable cocktails, and also appeal to people who come to Jones for a beer and a shot.
What are some of your personal highlights from the time you’ve spent here? McCarthy: I remember the night that Johnny Cash and Robert Plant walked in here together. This must have been ’95. Look, a lot of celebrities come here, and at that time in particular the crowd was fairly Hollywood, but it was like the needle scratching across the record. This entire place stopped, and everyone just gawked.
ET: I’m trying to think of things we can actually say on the record. I’ll tell you a funny story, though. 20 years ago, I was a young bartender and I’d just completed my first year at some nightclub up on Sunset. I heard this hip new spot was opening, with Sean MacPherson from Olive, and that it was going into the old Ports.
So I got out my best shirt, dusted off my resume, came down here and walked in. The bar wasn’t even fully built yet, but inside was what I know now to be Sean MacPherson and a much younger Keith McCarthy, sitting with plans. I walked in and they just looked at me, no hello or anything. I said ‘hi, how you doing?’ Nothing. I told them I’m a bartender up at some hotspot on Sunset, like ‘they must need me, I’m that guy’. Nope, they’re not looking. I say ‘well can I leave my resume, in case there’s some turn over?’ No. Don’t. And they sent me on my way.
McCarthy: That was me that said that, I think.
ET: It was definitely you.
7205 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90046