little bar palm desert

Best of the Best 2021: Bar

Little Bar has substance beyond its good looks.The kitchen serves lunch and late-night bites meant to satisfy a craving that is delicious.

Emily Chavous Current PSL, Restaurants

little bar palm desert

The Vieux Carré at 
Skip Paige’s Little Bar 
in Palm Desert.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY NATE ABBOTT

After decades in the music and nightclub business, Skip Paige has developed a Billboard artist’s attitude about his hangout spots. That’s not to say he’s demanding or stirs up a big scene when things don’t go his way. Paige simply knows how to create a hit. He likes things casual but wants some edge. He’ll order a hand-pressed cocktail sprinkled with hibiscus salt, but when it comes to food, he really just wants some tater tots and a good burger. Exclusivity is important; Paige thinks the vibe’s better when a place is hard to get into and admittance is limited. So when he opened his own watering hole in Palm Desert in 2019 — Little Bar, formally known as Skip’s Little Bar — that’s exactly the rock star experience he set out to craft for his guests.

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“I want it to be hard to get into,” says Paige, who from ’98 until his retirement in 2017 served as chief operating officer of Goldenvoice, the company responsible for the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival and many other esteemed shows on the West Coast. “The biggest complaint [at Little Bar] is that we don’t take reservations. People show up, and they’ve got to wait a half an hour. I’m just like: Not everybody gets to get in. Not everybody gets a cheeseburger. Whatever, y’know?”

During the pandemic in 2020, Paige reluctantly built a deck that extends into the front parking lot for an additional 400 square feet of outdoor seating. The area accommodates 20 or so diners — but diminishes the dark and mysterious tenor that Paige established from the get-go. He’s looking for ways to rekindle that. The dimly lit interior has a capacity of 31 people, and the front door has a peephole where a bouncer might peer out at expectant patrons to block entry. Black walls and exposed ductwork lend an industrial feel to the intimate bar. Scarlet banquettes and neon lighting bring the richness you’d expect from a cool underground club catering to fringe cultures.

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Skip Paige’s Little Bar dishes up substance but takes no reservations.

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Skip Paige, a former Goldenvoice exec, is at his Little Bar most days.

The real Little Bar experience starts here.

Decked in ticket stubs, hotel room keys, and other memorabilia, the walls are a shrine to Paige’s international travels and the countless concerts he has attended personally as a fan — X at Irvine Meadows in 1988, Ramones sometime after that, Metallica at the Rose Bowl. In the bathroom, there are even more mementos to look at. “I haven’t gone through all my stuff,” Paige says. “I have so much more, so I’m going to work on that over the summer. I’m going to change the wallpaper on one or two of the walls. There’s so many cool [tickets] that didn’t show up.”

But Little Bar has substance beyond its good looks.

The kitchen serves lunch and late-night bites meant to satisfy a craving for something that’s no-frills but totally delicious. Think: buffalo chicken (or cauliflower for the veggie-inclined), carne asada street tacos, buñuelos, and, of course, delicious cheeseburgers. There’s even a double-decker fried chicken and cheeseburger sandwich for carnivores who can’t choose between the two house favorites. “All the food is my recipe,” Paige reports. Asked if he’s always been into cooking, he lets out a laugh. “Nah, I’m more into eating.”

Crafted by his go-to mixologist, the cocktail menu features custom blends of premium artisanal ingredients, some of which — like the grapefruit-and-ginger soda that’s used in Little Bar’s version of a paloma, and the tangy hibiscus salt that garnishes a greyhound — are made in house.

Despite a persistently hectic schedule for someone who claims to be retired, Paige makes time to hang out at Little Bar most days. His son, Colin, bartends; his friends are regulars. “I don’t work day-to-day in the music business,” he explains. “But I’m still involved in it for various projects and companies that I own. I still talk to Paul Tollett on a regular basis. He’s a very good friend of mine.”

Paige cut his industry teeth with Tollett, the longtime president and CEO of Goldenvoice. In the ’80s, the pair attended Cal Poly Pomona, where Paige majored in the specialty of finance, real estate, and law. He parlayed that knowledge into land-use and venue negotiations for the AEG-affiliated company, and was involved with launching the Coachella, Stagecoach, and Desert Trip music festivals. Now, he’s dipping into real estate in a new way: “I’m remodeling a house in Indian Wells,” he says. “It’s an old, cool modern home. Nothing’s been done to it since 1962.” Perhaps, when the festivals finally return, he’ll host a few clandestine parties there.

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But  the real place to be — then and now — is Little Bar.

If you’ve never experienced the VIP amenities and private hangout areas backstage at Coachella, chances are, a night at Little Bar is as close as you’ll get. Once you’ve had a taste, you’ll be hard-pressed to settle for anything less.

“Good cocktails, good food, good friends,” Paige enthuses. “That’s what Little Bar is about.” little-bar.com

Winners Voted by Our Readers
Palm Springs
Blackbook

This hangout serves craft drinks for every palate, from the house-label hibiscus blond beer to hard kombucha to specialty herb-infused cocktails with names like Cocked & Loaded and Just Fuckin’ Try It. The food menu takes bar bites to the next level. blackbookbar.com

Cathedral City
AMP Sports Lounge

This is no place for a quiet drink. It’s a watering hole with karaoke, laugh-out-loud drag bingo, and other fun live performances every week. Bonus: The kitchen stays open till midnight. ampcatcity.com

Desert Hot Springs
Playoffs Sports Bar & Lounge

Sports fanatics come all week for the 12 flat-screens streaming all the big games. A mostly LGBTQ crowd comes for Rainbow Wednesdays. playoffssportslounge.com

Rancho Mirage
O’Caine’s Irish Pub

This dimly lit pub is decked in dark woods and floor-to-ceiling artwork depicting scenes from across the pond; you’d never expect such a fine slice of Dublin would be tucked behind its shopping center façade. Naturally, they specialize in whiskey drinks. ocainesirishpub.com

La Quinta
La Quinta Brewing Co.

The taproom in Old Town La Quinta also serves fresh salads, burgers, house-made pretzels, and churro donuts. Wash it all down with a beer flight to experience the breadth of bright local flavors that makes these suds unique. laquintabrewing.com

Indio
Big Rock Golf & Pub (Tied)

This bar/restaurant and rock-n-roll museum, known for its live music, has an expansive music memorabilia collection and an open-air beer garden overlooking Big Rock Golf Course at Indian Springs. bigrockgolfandpub.com

Indio
Tack Room Tavern (Tied)

This tavern may be rustic, but its handcrafted cocktails and American cuisine are anything but. Located at the Empire Polo Club, the equestrian-themed bar scores points for showcasing Coachella Valley bands and hosting memorable events. tackroomtavern.com

Coachella
Áyily Bar

Tucked inside the Augustine Casino, this bar stands by to quench your thirst when you’re playing the slots. Order the chicharrones with Tajín and a bacon sampler plate. augustinecasino.com