Barstool Stories: Lauren Ruth Ward at Harvard and Stone
Walking into Harvard and Stone is like stepping back into a 70’s rock documentary. It immediately felt like there was more to experience than an award-winning cocktail. Dim lighting and eclectic decor fed a rebellious ambiance that swept over the room, almost coercing me into doing something spontaneous and slightly reckless. As many “chic” dive bars come and go in Los Angeles, this one just felt special; a “secret” spot that I could already tell would keep me coming back for more.
The warm welcome was due, in large part, to the bar’s manager Aaron Polsky. Aaron walked through the doors & immediately stepped behind the bar. Although he’s off the clock and no one’s really around, it just felt like his natural place. It’s no surprise either - Aaron has spent quite a while with Harvard and Stone. So much so, he tells me he used to live right across the street.
The bar is unlike most in Los Angeles with it’s homey feel yet intricate cocktails and design. The first thing you’ll notice, if not the burlesque dancers, is the small intimate stage pushed to the front corner. It’s often times host to some of LA’s favorites, like Lauren Ruth Ward.
Lauren walked in and her presence was felt immediately. This is her home too. Lauren, who moved to Los Angeles a few years ago, has had many iconic moments in music here at Harvard and Stone from a successful residency, to filming music videos, and even meeting her now guitarist and co-writer, Eduardo. It couldn’t have been a better location to reminisce about the birth of her career.
Lauren, what’s your significant first here? What brought you in the door?:
L: I lived right here on Harvard back in the day. And so did he *points to Aaron*
A: Right around the corner.
L: I was playing at another Houston Brothers establishment bar weekly, Dirty Laundry. Trying to build kind of an audience. My partner, LP, had known about this place forever and said, “Why don’t you play at Harvard and Stone?”. It seemed like a natural next step, and I was very nervous but I said to myself, “Okay, I’m gonna play there”.
So Aaron you said this was just your 3rd year working here?:
A: Yeah, I moved to LA actually to open a different bar. I was sort of toiling in the basement of this other bar during the day and then getting off of work at like 6pm and would come here. Before I even lived nearby, I’d still come here all the time to drink.
What’s the significance of Harvard and Stone for you?:
A: For me it started off as a place I would come to relax at the end of my day and have fun - see all my friends working.
L: Always live music. Every night and for free.
A: Always live music. I was coming here often and made friends with everyone very quickly. They sort of became my family in LA. 6 months in, after covering a few shifts I started working here.
A: This bar has been an industry beacon in the cocktail world here in LA. It opened in 2011 and before that the leaders in the cocktail business were places like The Varnish, and The Edison. Harvard and Stone became the bar where everyone from out of town would go when they were visiting.
L: Bands traveling always stopped by. I’ve met so many bands I’d been wanting to see from Nashville, New York, everywhere. “Heck yeah! They’re playing a show at Harvard and Stone!” It’s awesome. This place is a checklist spot.
A: It’s awesome to see the bands and it’s so casual. There’s almost this built-in crowd.
A: In addition to the cocktail thing and the music thing, Harvard is a neighborhood bar. We have our regulars that live right now the street. If you’re not into music or cocktails but you are into $6 old fashions for happy hour…
L: or a Daytime Lagunitas in a can *laughs*
A: This is sort of a bar for everybody.
Can you give us a little history lesson from what you know, Aaron?
A: Well, before it was Harvard and Stone it was called Stone Bar. We actually kept the original sign. It was very much a trans hangout.
How has this bar affected the creative scene in LA?
L: So many things to say...There’s great music every night. You don’t always have to spend on a show but definitely want to see a live show. There’s a show here every night.
A: And on the weekends we also have Burlesque. Our house band plays deep rock and roll cuts.
A: Also from a cocktail point of view, It’s very much an industry bar and a meeting place for people in that cocktail/bar scene. We have this unique R & D bar in the back and every Monday it’s a guest bartender. They get to write their own menu and invite all their friends. It’s a fun place to show off your drinks or what you’re inspired by. The other nights our own bartenders get to do that. For us it’s creatively stimulating.
What are some of your favorite shows you’ve seen here?
A: Dead Sara, Lauren Ruth Ward!
A: New Years Eve. There are so many.
L: New Years Eve we had a Queen tribute night with everyone and confetti machine.
A: What band?
L: *Laughs* No, there was a confetti machine. That’s a good band name though.
A: Recently the Black Lips played under a different name
L: Bowie & Stones, so many shows.
What are some of your first here Lauren?
L: I quit my job, moved out here four years ago to pursue music. I came here (to Harvard and Stone) with my partner and her bassist Ryan, who’s a good friend. We saw this band, with the lead singer named Griffin. The band had just started a new project after a hiatus. I remember it perfectly, almost like the butterfly effect. I could feel my brain moving. I was just so inspired.
L: I also opened up for my partner LP here on September 21st 2015 and I love that song. “Do you remember? It was the 21st night of September” *singing Earth Wind and Fire*
L: I’ve played here 12 or 13 times. Loved the shows with just me and my guitarist Eduardo. We met at my EP release 3 years ago. He now plays and co-writes with me and we met right before a show here at Harvard and Stone.
L: I also had my 30th birthday here. We played Led Zeppelin for 4 hours and 20 minutes. 24 different bands and 30 different Zeppelin songs... and thank you guys so much for putting up with that. *laughs*
A: That was MEGA!
What are some of your favorite memories?
L: I got to play the 6th yr & 7th year anniversary show here.
A: You might get to play the 8th... are you around?
L: I am around.
L: The anniversary shows usually end up packed, with a line around the block.
L: Halloweens are so good here too!
A: This year was fun. I dressed up as Marilyn Manson.
L: It was really good.
A: Every Sunday is honky tonk night. We have some very memorable Sunday nights here.
L: One of my residency nights we covered basically an acapella version of Jeff Buckley’s rendition of Hallelujah and ... we got the bar completely quiet. For one day. *laughs* It was great. We thought “This is a really bad idea” going into it. *laughs* but it was great.
L: It’s very cool that you guys do residency nights on Tuesdays because places like The Echo, The Satellite, Bootleg; they all do residencies on Mondays. So thank you guys...for not making me drive across town on a Monday.
A: You got it. Won’t change.
Do you remember your first time playing here Lauren?
L: I do! I was really nervous. It was a three piece and it was really fun. I remember just being really nervous and when you’re nervous you just kind of don’t remember anything.
And it’s completely different now?
L: Yeah, really has. That’s why I wanted to have a residency here because I felt so comfortable and I knew that things were going to come out naturally. Natural goodies.
L: That’s another good band name. Natural Goodies. *laughing*
Can you give us any inside secrets?
A: So Lauren cuts my hair.
L: This has been a minute.. We were doing like a Marc Bolan thing. It was so good. When I lived down Harvard, I made a little salon underneath the clementine tree.
A: It’s true. It was magical.
What about notable guests?
A: I can’t really say a ton but I do have a Rod Stewart story.
A: So his daughter was playing a show and naturally, he was here. Our friend Steven found him inside the ice machine. Steven was like “What are you doing?” and he goes, “I was just cooling off man.”
A: IN THE ICE MACHINE!
A & L: *both laughing*
Lauren you mentioned a few music videos here? What’s the story behind those?
L: I did two music videos here. They were so great and polar opposites. The first one I was in like an experimental mode and I casted it, did wardrobe, directed it, and then starred in it. You gotta do that once. You know what I mean? Then you just really appreciate a team.
L: So many bands have come in for different projects whether they’re planned or not. It just feels comfortable. Like here’s new music, let’s do a live recording. It a friendly neighborhood establishment and it’s beautiful.
Sounds like you guys really love it here:
A: I don’t think there’s anywhere that’s this fun for me.
L: I like that I come here for a late night, for an early night, to listen to music, to catch up with a friend over in the alcove, everything.