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An alligator leather-finished bar with lion corbels greets diners in the lobby of Le Champ.
An alligator leather-finished bar with lion corbels greets diners in the lobby of Le Champ.
Luis Mendoza

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A Fine Dining Chef Flips to Freewheeling French in LA’s Arts District

Find good value, chill vibes, and all the natural wine one can drink at Le Champ

Cathy Chaplin is a senior editor at Eater LA, a James Beard Award–nominated journalist, and the author of Food Lovers’ Guide to Los Angeles.

Stellar restaurants abound in Los Angeles’s Arts District. Though Downtown proper is still getting back on its feet following years of pandemic setbacks and closures, the momentum fueling the restaurant scene just a mile or so east thrives seemingly unabated. Old-guard establishments like Bestia and Factory Kitchen draw eager crowds nightly, while more recent openings like Baroo, Yess, and Flor y Solera bring an undeniable buzz to the area.

The latest newcomer is Le Champ, a sprawling outdoor wine bar from Matt Bronfeld and Justin Hilbert that opens on Wednesday, October 25. The two industry veterans met while working at Matthew Kenney Cuisine — Bronfeld was the COO and director of hospitality, Hilbert was the culinary director — and found a connection in their shared East Coast roots and winding hospitality paths. Le Champ is their first venture together and reflects the duo’s mutual sensibilities. “When I moved to LA, I always wondered why there weren’t as many chill outdoor spaces. Everything’s kind of over-the-top expensive or roof bars,” says Hilbert. “Why can’t there be a place that’s just more relaxed?”

The lobby at Le Champ.
The lobby.
Luis Mendoza
Stool seating inside the lobby at Le Champ.
Stool seating inside the lobby.
Luis Mendoza
Open-air seating area at Le Champ in Los Angeles.
Open-air seating area.
Luis Mendoza
Vintage wrought iron tables and chairs fill the courtyard at Le Champ.
Vintage wrought iron tables and chairs fill the courtyard.
Luis Mendoza

Bronfeld and Hilbert knew during their first visit that the 9,000-square-foot property on East Fifth Street was the perfect site for building the wine bar and event space of their collective imaginations. The space was previously occupied by Lost Spirits Distillery and the Chairman restaurant. With both a full kitchen and plumbing in working order, Bronfeld and Hilbert tackled landscaping, furnishing, and making minor cosmetic enhancements. Le Champ’s lobby sits in a nearly century-old building, while a narrow hallway ushers patrons to the heart of the operation: a 3,000-square-foot, open-air seating area. Just beyond the main communal space is a 5,000-square-foot “multipurpose” area that Bronfeld and Hilbert plan to rent out for weddings and other special events.

Hilbert oversaw Le Champ’s eccentric design. The result is an expansive patio that seats up to 100. A bubbling fountain, a smattering of vintage wrought iron tables and chairs, plus a mix of found couches, benches, and a whimsical swing complete the scene. “You can come here to just have a drink and hang out,” says Bronfeld. “Or you can eat and get a full meal. It’s not anything too serious; it’s simply really good food and really good drinks.”

Much of Le Champ’s vibe is inspired by a “dirty crusty wine bar” in Miami called Lagniappe, says Bronfeld and Hilbert. The centerpiece is a century-old, alligator leather-finished bar with lion corbels salvaged from a North Carolina barn — it greets patrons in the lobby and inspired Le Champ’s hand-drawn lion logo. “We found this and we’re like, ‘That’s too much. That’s too crazy,’ as far as, like, the look of it,” says Hilbert. “[But] it’s kind of funky and we’re building the place around it.”

Though billed as a wine bar, Le Champ takes its food as seriously as its beverages. Hilbert, who was executive chef at Curtis Stone’s Michelin-starred Maude prior to joining Matthew Kenney Cuisine, spent his formative years in New York City at WD~50 and Gwynnett St., among others. While fine dining has lost its luster for Hilbert, he looks forward to cooking more approachable, French-leaning fare at Le Champ. “I missed cooking,” he says. “Not anything crazy, because I don’t want to lose any more hair.”

Gougeres and sausages with butter and pickles at Le Champ.
Gougeres and salchichón (Spanish summer sausage).
Shane McCauley
A plate with a doily serving Coquilles St. Jacques at Le Champ.
Coquilles St. Jacques.
Shane McCauley
Champ burger at Le Champ.
Champ burger.
Shane McCauley
Escargot with bread at Le Champ.
Escargot with baguette.
Shane McCauley

A static menu consisting of snackable bites like cheeses, charcuterie, raw oysters, burgers, and fries will supplement changing plats du jour that can include four or so entrees, a couple of appetizers, and desserts. “Every day is kind of a surprise,” says Hilbert. “I’m a very moody chef, so I really never like to be confined to the menu. I just get tired of making the same thing over and over again.” Le Champ’s rotating wine list will feature 100 percent natural wines. The 80 or so bottles on the menu are priced under $80 each, while glasses clock in at $18 or less. A bevy of beers will be on hand, too.

While restaurants across Los Angeles are hiking menu prices to accommodate rising labor and food costs, Bronfeld and Hilbert are making every effort to keep Le Champ affordable, with nothing priced over $25 on the food menu except for large-format specials intended to be shared by groups of two or more. “We don’t want a $30 hamburger or anything like that,” says Bronfeld. “We just want people to feel value. When I go out, I want to feel like I had a good meal, I paid a fair price for it, and it was good.”

Le Champ employs just a dozen staff members across the front and back of house. “When I came up in New York, it was always about relaxed service, but it was always perfect service,” says Bronfeld. “It’s not overbearing, but you’re gonna get every single thing you want.” The hourly wage for front- and back-of-house employees ranges from $17 to $25, plus pooled tips.

“We’re going to start off with what we envision [Le Champ] being,” says Bronfeld. “We want to go with the flow and not really impose anything on people. It’s more that the place is here and it’s beautiful.”

Le Champ, located at 1200 E. Fifth Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013, is open from noon to 9 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, noon to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday. Reservations are available on Resy.

Le Champ

1200 East 5th Street, , CA 90013 (213) 466-2046 Visit Website
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