One of the exhibits at the recent "To Live and Dine in L.A." display at the Los Angeles Central Library was a menu from the old Redwood House on First Street. The menu, resembling a round slice of tree trunk, failed to mention two interesting features of the Redwood when it was next door to the Times.
The first feature was a passageway that enabled thirsty Times employees to discreetly travel between the newspaper and the bar without going outside (their bosses didn't care; many of them used it, too.)
The tunnel disappeared when the Redwood moved in 1970 -- staggered, so the joke went -- a block-and-a-half to its current location on Second Street between Hill and Broadway to make way for Times corporate offices on First Street. (A flower shop and a bank branch were also uprooted.)
The second unique feature of the Redwood was a direct telephone connection (ext. 5116) to the Times.
"The day bartender (I recall his name as Frank) knew us all so well that if the Times extension would ring he'd look around to see who was represented and either answer 'National Desk' or 'City Desk' as appropriate," recalls former deputy managing editor Dennis Britton. "He even once answered it 'Dennis Britton's Office.' It's possible I was there a bit too often."
I was summoned via the Red Line just once. Myself and a couple other chums were having a few after-work drinks when a story -- a plane crash, I think -- broke at around 10 p.m. An editor phoned the Redwood, looking for help. The three of us gallantly rushed to the City Room but the editor took one look at us, shook his head, and sent us home.
The Red Line existed until 2005 when the restaurant was remodeled.
The Redwood has been around since 1942 and long-ago acquired the unofficial title of The Times Bar, outlasting such rivals as Anthony's, a beer-and-shot emporium; Hill's Code 7, with its wall displays of cop badges; and the Epicenter, home of earthquake-themed artworks (sure, I'll have another drink, we're all doomed anyway.)
The Redwood was the subject of many legends.
There was, for example, the regular who worked above the bar and would supposedly stomp on the floor three times before leaving work. When he entered the bar a few moments later, waitress Alice Broude would have his drink ready.
Many of the Redwood's most unforgettable characters worked there, including Bill Eaton, the bar manager (pictured with Eddie Spivak during the 1970 dismantling on First Street.)
The feisty Eaton liked to tell the story of the revenge he exacted from a patron who had gotten drunk one night, made a noisy scene and refused to leave. The next morning, Eaton said, he went to the offender's nearby office, and began yelling. Then Eaton told him (and his terrified co-workers), "There. Now you see how it feels to have someone come into your place of work and start screaming?"
No-nonsense waitress Alice Broude worked at the Redwood for 51 years, including the day of her 80th birthday party in 1999. "If I wasn't working I might get stuck talking to people at one table," explained Broude, who died in 2008.
In 2005 the Redwood shut down, reopening later as the Redwood Bar & Grill under new management with punk music and pirate decor. I can just imagine one of the shaky, hung-over old reporters I knew entering the place and suddenly confronting one of its plastic skulls.
But it has a hipster clientele now, what with newspaper folks in decline.
The other evening it was almost like old times when several Timesians gathered there. However, it was actually a going-away for several employees who had been invited, or advised, to take the newspaper's latest buyout. There was no Red Line ringing for them to come back.