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Checker Hall
Checker Hall | © Laurie Joliet
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This Los Angeles Cocktail Bar Was Once a Masonic Lodge

Picture of Juliet Bennett Rylah
Updated: 6 April 2018
A Masonic Lodge in Highland Park dating back to the 1920s now offers a Mediterranean restaurant, craft cocktails, and a stunning performance venue.

The Highland Park Masonic Lodge, or Lodge 382 of the Free and Accepted Masons, held its first meeting in July of 1923 after being completed that same year. Architect Elmore R. Jeffrey, also a master at the Lodge, designed the building in a Renaissance Revival style. Its three-story, all-brick exterior features an arched balcony facing Figueroa Avenue, as well as an intricate frieze into which Masonic symbols are carved.

The Masons carried out their business here for several decades until, in 1983, the cost of bringing the building up to earthquake safety standards proved to be too much, according to the Los Angeles Times. Stepbrothers Jerry Manpearl and Jerry Sullivan would go on to buy and renovate the building, adhering to historic standards; the hall is now both a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument and on the National Register of Historic Places.

Perhaps the best space to see the former lodge’s restored splendor is the Lodge Room, a cherry wood ballroom with ceilings 18 feet (5.4 meters) high, a star on the ceiling surrounded by chandeliers, and numerous fabric murals depicting Egypt. These murals were an original design feature, and they have since been preserved. Lodge Room now serves as a neighborhood music venue.

Lodge Room | © Laure Joliet

The adjacent restaurant and cocktail bar, Checker Hall, opened in December 2017. Guests enter a large space dominated by a triangular bar, so shaped for the Masonic “Square and Compass,” with spacious checkered and burgundy booths.

Chef Hovig Agop is a native Angeleno who infuses his Lebanese background into his cooking. There are dips and skewers, as well as a sizable list of veggies. Standouts include börek, flaky puff pastries stuffed with chives, garlic, and cheese; cauliflower, lightly fried and served with house-made tahini sauce; the buttery daurade fish served on carrot puree; and the tahini brownie accompanied by a prodigious scoop of vanilla ice cream, tahini butterscotch, and pomegranate-chocolate sauce.

Symbols that appear on the paper menus were sourced from the building’s architecture and wallpaper. Other nods to the past can be found in the bar’s logo.

Cocktails at Checker Hall | © Bread & Butter

Checker Hall bar manager Rebecca Smoyer DeLeon’s accessible, yet genuinely unique craft cocktails are referential too. The Johnny the Giant—essentially a roasted peanut Old Fashioned garnished with a chunk of a Payday candy bar—is named for silent film star John Aasen. Aasen was very, very tall, with Loma Linda University measuring his skeleton at 7 feet, 2.4 inches (219 cm). Aasen was inducted as a Master Mason at the Lodge in 1924.

She also drew from Chef Agop’s childhood.

“He would enjoy jalab syrup over crushed ice with raisins and pine nuts as a kid,” Smoyer DeLeon said, referring to a syrup typically made with carob, dates, rose water, and grape molasses. “I made it boozy with mezcal and Singani63 so he could enjoy it in a whole new way as an adult.”

Checker Hall is open Tuesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to midnight.