Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cliff's Edge

Cliff’s Edge
3626 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90026 (Silverlake)

This week’s Bar Fly Review covers  a place with such a unique blend of characteristics – characteristics that cater to literally every aspect of one's psyche (the inner child, the hopeless romantic, the French sophisticant, the 30-something bar fly, etc.) – it’s nearly impossible to accurately describe (in a way that doesn’t seem nuts).  But here goes…
Imagine George of the Jungle relocated to Paris, graduated from the French Culinary Institute, uprooted his treehouse, moved to the city, planted it inside an abandoned building and turned it into an upscale restaurant and bar.  A literal urban jungle.  Cliff’s Edge is something like that.  But even better.
Based on my requirements for a restaurant, Cliff’s Edge scores a 100% on ambience alone.
First, the place is hidden. Legitimately hidden – in a dark grey, unmarked, windowless, unlit building adjacent to an empty parking lot, on the "other" Sunset Blvd. in Silver Lake, east of Sunset Junction.  Trust me, even with your iPhone or GPS, you'll drive past it.  You won't even be certain you found the place until you enter through a tall bamboo archway (which looks like something Indiana Jones would lead you through, right before you die) around the side of the building in the back of the parking lot.
Second, the restaurant is essentially in a treehouse, within a building.  The place is structured as a multi-tiered collection of bamboo booths and wooden tables encircling a giant fig tree which branches out amongst the tables and booths as it grows high above the outside walls, providing a natural canopy over the roofless building.  The “walls” (if they exist at all?) are completely engulfed in lush vegetation, giant palms overhang the nooks and corners, and the small lights strung conservatively within the tree’s branches make it truly appear as though you’ve been whisked away to an exotic jungle oasis.  (Los Angeles Magazine describes the place as having “a romantic (but not too romantic)…sprawling hillside patio…[that]…lights up at night like the Swiss Family Robinson’s cafeteria.”  Being from Generation X, I prefer the George of the Jungle imagery.  But you get the idea.)
Third, the restaurant is lit by fire pits.  FIRE PITS!  (LA has a dearth of open-air fire pits.)  Fire pits alone make a good place great.  But fire pits in a treehouse restaurant hidden within a concrete building?  That takes a great place somewhere past epic.
Fourth, the place also has a bar.  But not just any bar – a bar hidden through the restaurant, past a large wall made of repurposed wooden pallets.  And not just a hidden bar – a rustic/modern enclave with exposed wooden structural beams, bordello chandeliers, and a mosaic of large French mirrors.  And if the atmosphere wasn’t good enough, the bar has a host of signature cocktails, beer (bottle and draft), wine, and amazing happy hour deals ($3 beers). 
Lastly, the food is incredible, in both price and taste – so much so that Cliff’s Edge was recently named “Best of LA Winner” by Los Angeles Magazine, after bringing on James Beard-nominated chef Benjamin Bailly.  The menu is extensive, eclectic, and delicious, offering something for everyone.
So whether you’re looking for a romantic candlelit grotto to spend the night with someone special, a glass of wine in a modern-ish French-themed bar, a great place for happy hour, or you just want to follow Dr. Jones to the treetop Ewok village and share a meal with your Jane, Cliff’s Edge won’t disappoint. [Yes, that was a hybrid Indiana Jones-Star Wars-Tarzan reference.]  Cliff’s Edge truly is one of the best spots in LA.  Make sure to go.  If you can find it.

Step 8 - Insurance Requirements

10 Steps to Starting a Business

Complying with Employer Requirements
Step 8 – Insurance Requirements

As previously discussed, the moment a business hires even one employee, it is subjected to an overwhelming barrage of government regulations and requirements.  Stage Three of starting a business covers all the steps necessary (Steps 4 through 9) for complying with these employer requirements.  The previous newsletter discussed Step 7 – withholding employee taxes.  This newsletter continues the discussion of the 10 Steps to Starting a Business, moving on to Step 8 – Employer Insurance Requirements.
8.  Insurance Requirements
In addition to withholding taxes from your employees’ wages, employers must also maintain various types of insurance for their employees.  Basically, employers must provide their employees with three types of insurance:  1) disability insurance, 2) unemployment insurance, and 3) workers’ compensation insurance.
1)  Disability Insurance
California imposes a State Disability Insurance (SDI) tax on employers, and California employers are responsible for deducting these SDI taxes from their employees’ wages and reporting them to the State.  Revenue from the SDI tax is then pooled in the California Disability Insurance Fund, which allows the State to provide Disability Insurance and Paid Family Leave benefits to eligible employees.  The Disability Insurance Branch of the EDD administers three types of disability insurance plans:  a) State Plan, b) Voluntary Plan, and c) Elective Coverage.  To learn more about State required disability insurance, check out the EDD’s website.
2)  Unemployment Insurance
Unemployment Insurance (UI) is a nationwide program created to provide partial wage replacement to unemployed workers while they conduct an active search for new work.  Unemployment insurance is a Federal-State program, based on Federal law, but executed through State law.  Like disability insurance, California employers are required to finance the UI program by paying taxes on their employees’ wages.  To learn more about unemployment insurance, check out the EDD’s website.
3)  Workers’ Compensation Insurance
California also requires employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance coverage for their employees.  Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance providing wage replacement and medical benefits to employees injured in the course of employment in exchange for mandatory relinquishment of the employee’s right to sue his employer for the tort of negligence.  Employers can obtain workers’ compensation insurance in three ways:  a) through a commercial carrier, b) on a self-insured basis, or c) through the State Workers’ Compensation Insurance Fund.  The Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) monitors the administration of workers’ compensation claims and provides administrative and judicial services to assist in resolving disputes that arise in connection with claims for workers’ compensation benefits.

Similar to withholding taxes, a business owner should think of using an attorney, a payroll service provider, or other professional to handle the employer insurance requirements.  To this end, I’ve begun working some great financial and wealth management professionals at Northwestern Mutual Financial Network, who recommend using a professional services company like CBIZ, who offer a variety of compliance services for businesses of all size.  But regardless of whether you spend the time to learn all the laws yourself or simply outsource this task to a professional services company, make sure to establish procedures for complying with your employer insurance requirements.
Assuming you have established protocols and systems to ensure compliance with these insurance requirements (i.e. you have systems to maintain all three types of insurance for all your employees), you are ready to proceed to the last (and easiest) step in Stage 3 – complying with the workplace poster requirements.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Step 7 - Withholding Taxes

10 Steps to Starting a Business

Complying with Employer Requirements
Step 7 – Withholding Taxes

As previously discussed, the moment a business hires even one employee, it is subjected to an overwhelming barrage of government regulations and requirements.  Stage Three of starting a business covers all the steps necessary (Steps 4 through 9) for complying with these employer requirements.  The previous newsletter discussed Step 6 – complying with the New Hire Reporting Act.  This newsletter continues the discussion of the 10 Steps to Starting a Business, moving on to Step 7 – Withholding Taxes.
7.  Withholding Taxes
Employers are not only required to pay taxes, they are also required to withhold taxes owed by their employees.  Both the Federal and State governments require employers to comply with various withholding requirements with respect to their employees’ wages.  Figuring out which withholding requirements apply and correctly calculating the amount of taxes to withhold from each employee’s wages can be agonizingly complicated, which is only further exacerbated by the fact these laws are constantly changing and employers are regularly subject to new withholding requirements.  For these reasons, the best (and safest) way of complying with these complex withholding requirements is by working with a CPA or other tax professional, or simply outsourcing this task to a payroll service provider.  A brief overview of the Federal and State withholding requirements is set forth below.
Federal Income Tax Withholding (Form W-4)
The Federal government requires employers to keep and maintain a signed withholding exemption certificate (Form W-4) for each employee, which is used for calculating the amount of Federal taxes to withhold from the employee’s wages.  Additionally, employers are required to report wages paid and taxes withheld for each employee by filing a Wage and Tax Statement (Form W-2) with the Social Security Administration.  To learn more about complying with the Federal tax withholding requirements, check out the IRS' Employer's Tax Guide, as well as the Social Security Administration's Employer W-2 Filing Instructions and Information.
State Taxes
Additionally, California also requires employers to comply with a number of State withholding laws – such as requiring employers to withhold from their employees’ wages payroll taxes, disability insurance taxes, and personal income taxes.  Similar to the W-4 Form used to calculate withholdings for Federal taxes, California employers must use Form DE-4 for withholding State income taxes.  To learn more about California’s withholding requirements, check out the EDD’s California Employer's Guide, as well as the California Tax Service Center website.

Step 7 basically consists of setting up systems and procedures to ensure you accurately comply with the various Federal and State withholding requirements.  Assuming you have set up these procedures (or outsourced the task to a CPA or payroll service provider), you should be ready to deal with the next step in setting up your business – carrying and maintaining insurance for your employees.  Accordingly, the next newsletter will discuss Step 8 – Complying with Employee Insurance Requirements

The Escondite

The Escondite
410 Boyd Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013 (follow the signs)

el escondite – noun.  Spanish for: the hiding place;  the refuge; the underground shelter; the shelter; the port of distress; the asylum; the lurking-place; the free port; the safety zone; the haven of refuge; the port of refuge.
So what's better than a bar named the Hiding Place?  A bar that’s named "The Hiding Place" in Spanish, and that’s actually hidden.  Really hidden.  And really really awesome.
For those who just started following my Bar Fly reviews, go back to my first article and read the first paragraph describing my ideal bar.  Normally, I wouldn't expect that kind of experience to exist in reality, so I usually just settle for places that come close to that ideal.  But what if it actually existed?
Imagine you’re trying to find a new hidden place.  Imagine you park on a dark side street across from the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple, where the western edge of Little Tokyo merges with the border of Skid Row.  Now imagine that rather than heading back into the tranquil, but lively and safe familiarity of Little Tokyo, you instead cross the street and enter into the unknown and foreboding darkness, along suspiciously abandoned streets lined by empty warehouses and run-down storage facilities.  Imagine that as you continue walking deeper into the unknown, you find yourself forced off the sidewalk and into the middle of the street as tents and sleeping bags progressively fill the walkways, becoming increasingly engulfed in the sleepy encampment of the local “residents” – heading deeper and deeper into what clearly seems to be the wrong way, at the wrong time.  Imagine you finally turn down a street, pass another row of tents and a small congregation of homeless guys, and stumble upon an empty looking brick building covered in ivy, set far behind a spacious parking lot.  Imagine you walk through the parking lot toward the front of the building, led only by an ambiguous blue neon arrow pointing toward a large heavy-set rustic wooden door, which is closed.  Imagine the door appears to have a mafia-style sliding peephole latch, covered by a speakeasy grill.  Imagine you knock on the door and the latch slides open from the inside, and a pair of eyes peer out at you.  Now imagine the latch closes, the door opens, and you’re led into a shockingly unexpected “sanctuary in the woods,” dimly lit with soft red lighting, antlers, cuckoo clocks, cow skulls, an incredibly ornate polished wooden bar, a giant wooden Indian, an inviting and friendly staff, live music, a huge assortment of beers and cocktails, and some of the heartiest food you’ve had since you were a kid…
Now wake up.  You just imagined what it’s like to experience The Escondite.
The Escondite is self-described as “a hideout that takes you away from the norms of L.A into a chill sanctuary,” and it certainly matches this description – sitting on the southeast corner of San Pedro and Boyd Street, on the border between Little Tokyo and Skid Row, in a place affectionately dubbed “Skidrowkyo” by its owners, Erin Carnes and Brian Traynam, the place is truly hidden – in both name and location.  And while the imaginary journey depicted above describes the back entrance to Escondite, the place is even hard to find from the front – set far back behind a large (and usually empty) parking lot and marked only by two wordless signs – an illuminated sign of Escondite's logo at the far corner of the parking lot (a single eye peering through a rustic wood door), and a blue neon arrow pointing to the entrance.
And while the place has a purposely sketchy location, once inside, it is absolutely amazing, in all respects – ambiance, food, drinks, views, and entertainment.  The place is actually split into two sections – an inside bar and restaurant, and an outside patio with a beautiful panoramic view of the downtown skyline.  The inside can really only be described as having an “American West” ambiance – displaying antler light fixtures, cuckoo clocks, cow skulls, stuffed white owls, posters of “American Outlaws,” pie tin lamps overhanging comfortable red booths, an exceptionally ornate polished wooden bar with a carved lion’s head, and brick walls with windows made out of wooden pallets.
And whether you want to eat or drink, the place will blow your face off, hosting nine draft beers, 15 bottle beers, cocktails, and a menu that includes a full assortment of appetizers, salads, sandwiches (“sandos”), and burgers named after TV shows the owners watched as kids – my personal favorites are the Fat Albert Burger (provolone, applewood smoked bacon, maple syrup, with a glazed doughnut bun) and the Capt. Kangaroo Burger (egg over easy, hash browns, cheddar, Canadian bacon, gravy and Cholula).  And if you’re just into beer, check out the Great Bottle Challenge, where participants taste eight craft beers – new brews and rarities – and play a drinks-trivia game.  Or if you’re just into eating (after drinking too much?), help yourself to the Hangover’s Revenge Brunch Menu (Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm).
And if that wasn’t enough, The Escondite keeps long hours, open from 11:00 am to 2:00 am every day, and features live music 7 days a week.
So whether you’re into food, drinks, hang-over cures, live music, exceptional views of downtown’s skyline, or just hanging in a legitimate hideaway, The Escondite is a definite must – hands down one of LA’s best hidden gems.  And even if you’re apprehensive about strolling through Skidrowkyo at night, c’mon, who can pass up a bacon maple syrup burger with a glazed doughnut bun?  No one.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Step 6 - New Hire Reporting Act

10 Steps to Starting a Business

Complying with Employer Requirements
Step 6 – New Hire Reporting Act

As previously discussed, the moment a business hires even one employee, it is subjected to an overwhelming barrage of government regulations and requirements.  Stage Three of starting a business covers all the steps necessary (Steps 4 through 9) for complying with these employer requirements.  The previous newsletter discussed Step 5 – verifying the employment eligibility of your employees.  This newsletter continues the discussion of the 10 Steps to Starting a Business, specifically focusing on Step 6 – Complying with the New Hire Reporting Act.  So without further ado...
6.   New Hire Reporting Act
The Personal Responsibilityand Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 requires all employers to report newly hired and re-hired employees to the California New Employee Registry within 20 days of their hire or rehire date.  Basically, the employer must use the Report of New Employee(s) DE-34 form to submit the following information:
  •  Employee’s name, social security number, address, and start-of-work date.
  • Employer’s name, address, California EAN, and Federal EIN.

Visit the New Hires Reporting Requirements page to learn the full details on how to register with California’s New Hire Reporting System.
After completing Step 6 and reporting the hire of your employee(s), you have successfully completed all the steps necessary to ensure that you properly hired your employees.  But now your employees will begin working and earning wages, which exposes the employer to litany of requirements – specifically, withholding taxes and maintaining insurance for employees.  Accordingly, the next newsletter will discuss Step 7 – Withholding Taxes for Employees

The Caña Rum Bar

Caña Rum Bar
714 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90015 (back of parking structure)

When I say I found the best bar experience since I first discovered The Varnish, that should make you stop and listen.  For this week’s Bar Fly, I present to you, The Caña Rum Bar.
Last Tuesday, I was hanging out in DTLA with one of my best friends from Berkeley (also a client).  Being a Tuesday night, we thought it’d be a good idea to check out some bars, since the crowds would be low.  We made a big loop, starting at the Biscuit Lofts, swinging by Little Tokyo, and then heading down Gallery Row, through the Bank District, toward LA Live, to a bar I’ve been meaning to check out for a LONG time, but have never done so due to its isolated and somewhat inaccessible location.
Heading south on Main Street, the up-and-coming livelihood of Gallery Row slowly faded into the background and led into the DTLA of 10 years ago – quiet, dark, and desolate.  [The magic and uniqueness of DTLA is never more pronounced when you pass through an area where the eerie quietness of an historical but downtrodden commercial district and the pandemonium of a newly-developed multi-billion-dollar entertainment complex like LA Live are essentially separated by a single street (in this case, Flower St.)]
We parked near the Mayan Theater off Olympic Blvd. and walked down the empty street toward the old Petroleum Building.  Marked only by a neon sign, we continued along the side of the building, through the entrance of the parking structure, all the way toward the back, to a small door with a maroon awning.  And there, in the far back of a parking structure, inside a commercial building built in 1925, in an otherwise bleak area of town, we found the Caña Rum Bar.
The Caña Rum Bar is a “members only” rum and cigar bar.  But don’t worry, “members only” simply means you pay $20 for the entire year and get to bring guests.  And as someone who is religiously opposed to cover charges, trust me in saying the small fee is well worth the experience.
After checking in, the front entrance leads down a dark and narrow hallway toward a door partitioned off by thick black curtains – an entryway that screams “members only,” and gives you the distinct impression of being part of a private club.  Passing through the curtains leads into a very dimly lit, eclectic nautical-themed bar, which is deceptively large, spread out along three different sections wrapping around the long L-shaped bar – candlelit booths and tables line the sides of the room, separated by wooden mast-like pylons, continuing around the room and bar, leading into a separate patio-like cigar room, where patrons can sit on kitschy cast-iron lattice chairs around a roaring fireplace and smoke their favorite cigars under a partially vented skylight ceiling.  The place is lit by old-fashioned chandeliers and hanging glass lanterns wrapped in knotted nautical rope.  The scene is classy, tranquil, and upscale but laid back.

The bar itself has an interesting mix of thematic elements - nautical, Caribbean, Cuban, with a bourgsie yet unpretentious vibe - probably reflecting the varied history and culture of rum itself.  And make no mistake, the perfectly executed aesthetic form of the place is equally complimented by its substance:  Caña not only looks like a rum and cigar bar, it IS a rum and cigar bar - featuring literally hundreds of different types of rums, from all over the world.  And if that wasn't enough, you can also purchase cigars.  [and smoke them in the cigar room.]  But if you just want to keep things normal, they also have an excellent selection of cocktails and beer.  So there's really something for everyone.  [But I highly recommend trying the rum.]

The Caña Rum Bar is truly one of the best bars in LA – a place that transports you into a different place in a different time; a place offering an authentically unique experience; and a place that takes its role seriously, but does so in a relaxing and unpretentious manner, with a knowledgeable and kind staff.  And let’s face it, with the Cuban Embargo still in effect, you’ll probably want to smoke your favorite Saint luis Rey in a private place.
And while Caña has the very real feel of being off the beaten path (and as far as bars go, it is), it’s only a block away from LA Live, and could serve as a great way to end the night after catching a show at the Nokia Theater or watching a game at the Staples Center.
And if you really want to mix things up with a similar unknown gem, head down the street and check out the Veranda Bar in Hotel Figueroa – an unassuming hotel with an unexpectedly beautiful Moroccan-styled interior (think Casablanca meets Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), with an ornate indoor/outdoor bar tucked into a garden setting, overrun with bougainvillea and cactus, beside a tranquil blue pool, hidden through the hotel, out in the back.  As stated by the Los Angeles Times, “Oodles of celebrities frequent the place for pre- and post-concert parties, fashion shows and the like, but no one at the hotel crows about it, which is why the place has come to epitomize the ultimate in laid-back – even self-effacing – style.”
So whether you want to lounge in a Caribbean hideaway or bask in a North African oasis, DTLA is the place to be.  Just make sure to keep out the tourists.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Step 5 - Verify Employment Eligibility

10 Steps to Starting a Business

Complying with Employer Requirements
Step 5 – Verify Employment Eligibility

As previously discussed, the moment a business hires even one employee, it is subjected to an overwhelming barrage of government regulations and requirements.  Stage Three of starting a business covers all the steps necessary (Steps 4 through 9) for complying with these employer requirements.  The previous newsletter discussed Step 4 – the process of obtaining employer identification numbers (EIN) at the State and Federal level.  This newsletter continues the discussion of the 10 Steps to Starting a Business, specifically focusing on Step 5 – Verifying Employment Eligibility.  So without further ado…
5.       Verify Employment Eligibility (Form I-9)
Federal law requires employers to verify an employee's eligibility to work in the United States by completing an Employment Eligibility Verification Form (I-9).  An I-9 Form must be completed for each employee within three days of hiring the employee, and must be kept on file for three years after the date of hire or one year after the date of termination.  Compliance with these I-9 requirements is governed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency, which conducts routine workplace audits to ensure that employers are properly completing and retaining their I-9 forms, and that employee information on the I-9 Forms matches government records.
E-Verify.  To assist employers in complying with the I-9 requirements, the USCIS agency created an online service called E-Verify, which allows employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of newly hired employees by comparing the information taken from the I-9 Form with existing government records for any particular employee.  Using E-Verify should virtually eliminate Social Security mismatch letters, improve the accuracy of wage and tax reporting, protect jobs for authorized workers and help maintain a legal workforce.

So Step 5 is really about developing policies and procedures for verifying the employment eligibility of all your employees, completing I-9 forms for each employee, and retaining such forms for the required period of time.  In order to ensure procedural compliance with these requirements, it may be a good idea to use a lawyer or other professional, or simply work with a consultant or compliance specialist, to ensure your compliance with employment eligibility verification.  Assuming you have successfully implemented Step 5, you are now ready to move to Step 6 – complying with California’s New Hire Reporting Program