I recently had the privilege of working with the DTLA Downtown Center Business Improvement District to write a special report on the Future of Urban Retail. If you haven’t noticed it yet, DTLA is quickly becoming THE place to go for restaurants, entertainment… AND NOW…SHOPPING! The report takes an in-depth look at DTLA’s 8 key districts and profiles what’s hot in DTLA retail right now along with what’s going to define the personality and excitement of these districts in the months to come. Stay tuned…the story just keeps getting better!
Tonight’s going to be another reason why we love living in DTLA. Since we moved to the Eastern Columbia Building in May of 2013 we’ve seen the changes on Broadway continue to accelerate and the ride just keeps getting better. Council Member Jose Huizar is the catalyst for this change and I’m actively supporting his re-election and getting involved in my precinct to get everyone registered to vote so they can cast their ballot for him to insure that his initiatives continue to move forward. It’s critical that we have a representative that appreciates the history of Downtown Los Angeles and wants to see it preserved as well as put to good use.
According to the book Downtown in Detail, with captivating architectural photographs of DTLA by Tom Zimmerman and foreword by Linda Dishman, “Los Angeles has the most intact pre-World War II downtown in the United States.”
On the 7th Anniversary of the Broadway initiative here are a few of the reasons the book gives us to appreciate and continue to revive and make use of the architectural treasures we have here in DTLA:
While several buildings on the west side of Downtown were demolished in the 1960s to build the Harbor Freeway, there was no reason to tear down the Historic Core because there was no desire to build anything new there.
in 1979 The Historic Core–Main, Spring, Broadway and Hill–was being drained of tenants as businesses and residents sought space in new, modern buildings, but the area became partially protected in 1979 when the Broadway Theater and Commercial District from Third to Ninth Streets and the Spring Street Financial District from Fourth to Seventh Streets were accepted on the National Register of Historic Places.
From the late 1970s on the Historic Core was intact but largely vacant. At street level, Broadway was the thriving center of Latin American culture and retail, however, the buildings were empty above the second floor.
The south end of Hill Street was rescued by the burgeoning jewelry district that took over buildings and theaters while the buildings on the north end of Hill were abandoned.
The big change came in 1999 when the Los Angeles City Council (note the importance of a City Council with vision!) passed an Adaptive Re-Use Ordinance allowing conversion of former office buildings into living quarters. This was a key stimulus to the current loft revolution and reuse of the ornate architectural buildings constructed from 1908 to 1935 –all of which were still standing to be resurrected as apartments and condos.
So if you want to take a peak into all the old theaters on Broadway, experience the life of the city and celebrate our history as well as our progress, come downtown tonight. See you under the neon lights…on Broadway!
For the past two days there have been rigs testing the soil in the parking lot behind the Eastern Columbia Building at 9th & Hill. At one time a new building was in the plans for this space. Now it looks like construction might be back on the table. I’m feeling like one of those “Not in my backyard!” types. I love to see all the progress going on but when it hits this close to home and I think about looking out on another building I get a little nervous. But at the same time, this is one of those lots that was bound to get re-purposed at some point. I’ll definitely be at the hearing once the official plans are proposed!
Last night I attended a “Fireside Chat” with Hal Bastian and Brigham Yen. the two men who have been the most passionate voices and citizen activists in the renaissance of DTLA . The lounge-y lobby of The Standard Hotel was full of residents, the just curious, and the big investors who all hung on Hal’s and Brigham’s every word .
Hal recently launched his own firm, Hal Bastian Inc., after spending the past 20 years in commercial real estate followed by 13 years as the Director of Economic Development for the Downtown Center Business Improvement District (DCBID). While at DCBID, Hal was instrumental in bringing residential and retail development as well as friendly dogs and their owners to the streets of downtown that were once, not terribly long ago, deserted after 6 p.m.
Brigham told us about how he got his love for DTLA which started when his dad took him on a Greyhound Bus trip from Utah to Denver to Chicago to New York with each city destination getting another “really” in front of the “big.” His dad would preface their arrival at each destination by saying, “Son, this is a (add 1 REALLY for Denver, 2 for Chicago and 3 for New York) big city!” At one point Brigham was hired by Hal to work for the DCBID and now he focuses on DTLA real estate as well as his blog, DTLA Rising, where he uncovers all the latest news on what inquiring minds want to know about new developments, retail construction and renovation within each of the downtown districts.
Hal and Brigham, in many ways, reflect the two generations that are the embracers of the DTLA lifestyle–babyboomers and millennials. Both demographics have already discovered why downtown is so great. At the same time Hal acknowledges that the future of downtown must include better public schools such as Metro Charter School, that was started by DTLA parents a few years ago, along with more parks and activities for young children such as the annual Halloween Party in the FIDM Park. The goal is to make it attractive for parents to continue to live downtown when their children reach school age. Hal argues that young parents who work downtown might rethink the time they could lose with their kids due to commuting vs. the trade-off of the house and the back yard (not to mention upkeep!).
Brigham, a Cal Berkeley grad, said he could never understand why his Bay Area friends were always so down on LA. While he realized as a college student that Los Angeles was still lacking the city vibe that he found in San Francisco, he still wouldn’t give into the jibes. He described an enjoyable moment of vindication that came the other day, when he ran into two old friends from the Bay Area, one of whom owns several restaurants. Brigham said that he asked him, “Hey man, what are YOU doing here in DTLA?” “I love it here,” his friend replied, “There’s so much cool stuff happening.” For Brigham that was one of those ultimate reassurances of knowing that what you’ve been working so hard for has materialized.
Hal gave us a great quote from Teddy Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I could think about this one for hours. Which of these two pictures is better? I don’t think it matters. I think we just embrace the change.
The photo above shows what the DTLA skyline will look like when the 1,100 Wilshire Grand Tower is completed at 7th and Figueroa in 2017. This photo was pulled from Brigham Yen’s DTLA Rising blog.
So yes, we can certainly compare one era to another, but we also revel in the uniqueness of our city. It’s not just the old and it’s not just the new, it’s how the pieces are all working together like the Broadway Trade Center building, formerly May Co. Department Store, formerly Hamburger’s Department Store. This structure bordered by Broadway, Hill & 8th Streets has been purchased and is going under a major renovation. No one has the definitive on what or who will occupy the building but the rumors are all intriguing. I’ve heard that one floor will be the world headquarters of Beats by Dre which is owned by Apple. Another inside scoop is that the ground floor will be a “world’s fair of mindfulness.” There have been talks of high-end retail, residences and creative office space within this structure which takes up nearly an entire city block. Most importantly, this building is just a spectacular piece of 1906 Beaux Art architecture that’s been a long time coming in being re-appreciated.
Hal loves to tell how long it took to convince a grocery store to come downtown and finally Ralphs agreed. 7 1/2 years later, this store does $1 million a week in sales and is the #1 take-out deli in the entire Kroger corporation (parent company of Ralphs). While on the topic of grocery stores there were cheers from the audience for Whole Foods that’s currently under construction at 8th and Grand and Trader Joe’s that agreed to build, not exactly downtown, but rather in the new University Village project by USC. And we were reminded to be grateful for City Target and Smart & Final Extra…both incredibly clean, well stocked, and super helpful. Except, and I ask your indulgence here… I still don’t like the idea of having to bag my own groceries the way they expect you to at Smart & Final. And while I’m on the subject, I think we’ve all gotten pretty good about bringing our own bags BUT, If I did happen to forget my bags, I am really annoyed with the ten cent, or whatever it is, charge after I’ve spent $50+ on groceries. Why don’t all the stores who have to abide by this new law have a jar for charity and if you have to buy a bag, put a donation in a jar for the homeless–don’t make me have to give it to the store!
Now back to the chat: Brigham said people used to say that LA “had no soul” referring to no appreciation for the history of the city and vibrancy of life in those historic areas. Let it be said, the soul of LA is awakening. It’s happening in the revitalization of the old and the boldness of the new, including the Broad Museum and Plaza along with new residences and fun places to congregate like Pez Cantina at 400 S. Hope.
No conversation about DTLA is complete without a discussion of the homeless, the lack of affordable housing and the scarcity of owner-occupied buildings vs. rentals. These are conditions that affect every income level and the complexion of the city. The housing issue is under constant discussion by the city while the County of Los Angeles as well as the State of California needs to step up and get more involved. The care of the homeless should not just be left to the City of Los Angeles to figure out. Drugs, alcoholism and mental illness are conditions for which the County Health Departments must find solutions and provide relief. Unfortunately it’s the urban locales that bear a disproportionate number of these cases which lead to homelessness.
The Midnight Mission is one of the most active resources for the homeless in DTLA . They bring together DTLA residents and volunteers for an annual event in The Old Bank District that gets everyone involved in supporting the great work of this 100-year-old center dedicated to helping the homeless get off the street and become productive citizens.
“Vacant parking lots suck the life out of the city,” was one of my favorite Hal Bastian observations of the evening. He’s so right but I never thought about it that way. Of course this led to one of the other items on the wish list of everyone who cares about DTLA –more green space. Grand Park has been a tremendous asset but south of that there’s a big need. I must say, though, that I have a hummingbird feeder on my 8th floor balcony and I’m visited daily by a shimmering green little avian . When I look out my window and down to the trees on the street below, I sometimes catch a yellow butterfly flitting among the tree tops . Just think what we could have if a few more parking lots were turned into parks! I’m anxiously awaiting what we’ll see when the building across Hill street, which I see out our window, finishes the pool and community deck. I have high hopes that I’ll be looking out on planters and trees.
Which leads me to what Hal and Brigham shared about the 5,000 new residential units that will all be completed by the end of 2015. Only 68 of those 5,000 were for-sale units and they were in The Barker Block in the Arts District. The reason for this disparity, according to Hal, is that lenders are still stinging from the real estate fallout that resulted in so many short sales and foreclosures. They want to go for occupancy first, which hopefully will be followed by residents being offered the eventual opportunity to buy.
Here are a few more of the good things that we learned:
Elysian Park just above DTLA has tennis courts, baseball fields, picnic areas, an awesome view of the city and great hiking trails. Hal is working on getting a corporate sponsorship for a DASH bus to take downtowners back and forth to this lovely place. Knowing Hal, he’ll make sure dogs are allowed on the bus, too!
DTLA is the hub of a multi-billion dollar mass transit system. Union Station is a pretty impressive confluence of transportation options.
And with all this good news, instead of taking Uber home, I decided to walk and see for myself what the streets of DTLA were like on a relatively “quiet” Thursday night. Who knew that Bill Nye the Science Guy would bring out a crowd that stretched down Broadway and wound around 7th Street.
It’s always fun to discover something going on–like Bill Nye the Science Guy– that you didn’t even know about. And the gorgeous high ceilings in Clifton’s that were visible by night gave me a peak at what this long-awaited, multi-level restaurant and bar has going for it in the way of a landmark restoration and destination attraction to Broadway.
As I walked I started thinking retail…remembering Hal’s and Brigham’s claims about everything that’s been opening on Broadway including the newest: a Gap Factory Store, and the others that have come along in the past year or so such as Acne Clothing, Aesop, Tanner Leather Goods, Oak, and Urban Outfitters. “What else haven’t I noticed?” I wondered.
In the 700 Block of Broadway I came across a project in the works. The store used to be Rainbow and I actually bought a sundress there for $10 the first summer we lived downtown. The dress held up pretty well but it looks like some deeper pockets have an even better idea for what they want to do with this space.
I have high expectations for what I see happening here .
A block further south on the corner of Broadway and 8th, I noticed some art had gone into the three store fronts along 8th street (but tonight there was paper covering these windows so we’ll have to see what’s next). Here’s what it looked like on Thursday:
Next to Farago was a new shop and I loved their honesty. The name is LA EX and the tagline is “The Tiny Flagship Store.” I will definitely check them out this weekend.
In the same series of shops, the guy who used to make keys and repair shoes at The Broadway Exchange has a much nicer storefront now on 8th at Broadway.
As I walked past all these examples of what Hal and Brigham talked about, I realized that it’s a unique experience to be living in the midst of so much change. I’m looking forward to the fist episode of the TV show Hal is working on with Ryan Morris, the producer of the late, great Huell Howser’s TV show about California points of interest. Hal is the perfect guy to take this on–especially with all the new material that DTLA is giving us. Watch for “What’s Up Downtown? with Hal Bastian.”
I look forward to keeping up with all of Brigham Yen’s posts about what he’s hearing around town and hopefully continuing to discover one or two of my own.
We’re here for a reason and the only reason I can think of is to make this world a better place. Thank you Hal and Brigham for your passion, drive and commitment to this city we call home.
Waking up and smelling the coffee in the Vision Trust house becomes a favorite morning routine. Although I must admit, I do like smelling the coffee while still lying in bed a bit longer while I listen to the voices of everyone gathering at the breakfast table. Our house is one of the nicer ones in the neighborhood and it faces what is considered a park that wraps around a big water runoff pit across the street. Gates with padlocks at night seem to be common precautions around here.
Just about a ten-minute drive from the Vision Trust house is the most make-shift community I’ve ever seen. The area is called Herrera and it was created by people who just started building dwellings anywhere they could find the space to do it. Our driver maneuvered up and down some alleys before arriving at our destination for the day: A school and a rooftop church in a multi-story, rustic building.
Through the iron-gated door of the building, we followed our ears up several flights of stairs to the amplified sounds of music. Upon reaching the top floor a lead female singer, her five back-up singers, a drummer and a few other musicians were in full praise mode. It wasn’t long before many of us were brushing the tears away. In this place with so little, the joy in the room was embracing. Doris, the lead singer, was also the translator for the pastor’s sermon. She spoke in such clear, expressive English that we were convinced she was a professional entertainer. But when we spoke with her after the service she insisted that she had been nervous translating and that she only sings in church.
From the time Doris first started singing to when she finished translating the pastor’s sermon, it must have been 90 minutes and 85% humidity. She never sat down and never seemed to break a sweat. THAT’S amazing grace!
After hugging everyone in the congregation at the end of the service, we spent some time hearing from the pastor, who spoke perfect English, about how he established this church. Some of the kids wanted to know if they’d be able to get on facebook on the new computers we were bringing them and they were eager for us to take their pictures. Then we posed for our own group photo.
After the service we were taken on a Sunday stroll through the maze of Herrera. We were lead by the youth pastor from the church who stopped and shook hands with residents along the way. This 45-minute walk was one of the most startling and humbling experiences I’ve had so far on this trip. The homes, for the most part, are cubes–one stacked on top of the other. The streets are more like passageways and the life inside and out is a mixture of the full spectrum of the human condition.
There are a few scary scenes like the power lines that everyone taps into and the ditch flowing with trash and pollution that runs through this section of town,
We walked across one freshly paved street and were told it was a project that Canada had taken on where they built a road through the town and covered up a portion of the polluted ditch. Smiling faces greeted us on every alley, pathway and street with “Hola” and “Buenos Dias” while we tried to keep a watch for motor scooters zipping by.
Most of the dwellings were tiny and plain but there were a few that stood out with gardens in front or elegant satin pillows and elaborately decorated artificial Christmas trees in the living room that we could see through the open doorways. Businesses have popped up along the streets of Herrera –not that they have to apply for a permit to do so, we were told.
Our main job in Herrera was to set up the laptop computers that we had brought here from the States. The Herrera school had been operating without internet access and using severely outdated systems. We were able to take down the old computer towers, hook up the wireless router, set up the 30 laptops to Spanish, and attach the keyboards, mouses and monitors all in just a little over an hour.
Our reward for a job well done was to head over to the baseball stadium in Santo Domingo for a night game where the two most competitive teams in the Dominican Republic were playing each other. Winter is baseball season in the Dominican and the Tigres del Licey, from Santo Domingo and the Águilas Cibaeñas from the “other” capital, Santiago, have a rivalry that could be compared to that of the Dodgers and Giants. Adding to the attraction of going to the game was the fact that former, Dodger and Dominican countryman, Manny Ramirez, was playing for the Águilas. The fans were into it and we joined them shouting “Mann-y! Mann-y!” Especially when Manny hit a homer that scored two more runs.
Jay and I both brought a little bit of Nick with us to the game,–Jay in his NDHS cap and I was wearing my NDHS T-shirt. He’s with us everywhere we go and in everything we do…and especially at a baseball game.
The clouds that had been gathering when the game first started decided to let loose in the bottom of the 5th inning. We had perfect seats for the rain under the overhang so we stayed relatively dry while the teams tried to finish the inning but it started coming down so hard the game had to stop and the field had to be covered.
We had a great time experiencing baseball in the country that loves it as much as the U.S. We ate delicious ballpark empeñadas, cheered with the fans and got soaked by the warm rain as we hurried back to our car. Surprisingly, there were no other fans leaving the park. Everyone else was hanging out by the food stands on the lower level, having a great time and waiting for the game to start up again.
I don’t know if that game ever did resume. It’s been raining steadily all night with distant thunder in the background. When we all got back to the house we reviewed the activities and emotions of the day and we all agreed, that even in the challenges and when situations we encountered seemed far from what we would consider ideal, there was always joy to be found.
Thursday Nights at Grand Central Market is the topic of my article today in The Larchmont Buzz. I’m glad Jay and I were able to get over to the market the other night because now I have to get busy packing. I leave on Monday for Florida where I’m attending Chain Store Age‘s Executive SPECS Conference. We’ll stay in the West Palm Beach area until November 7th when we leave for Santo Domingo, the capital of The Dominican Republic. It’s going to be an entirely different downtown experience working at a school for 500 children, many of whom are orphans. We’ll be helping to install a computer lab and then spending the rest of our time playing with the children at this school as well as spending time with the children at a few other schools and orphanages in the area . The Dominican trip is very much inspired by Nick who at 13 years-old wanted to help kids in the Dominican Republic knowing how much baseball is part of their culture. Nick collected used baseball equipment from his little league teammates and sent it over to The Dominican. For our trip the Notre Dame High School team is donating between 15-20 used baseball gloves for Jay to bring with him on the trip. He better be sure there’s ice over there to put on his elbow!
In the meantime, work will be finishing up on the loft we purchased in the Eastern Columbia Building. We plan to move in on Sunday, November 16th. Before and after pictures will be coming!
I was thrilled when Mary Hawley and Julie Grist, the founders of the Larchmont Buzz, asked if I’d like to write a column about what it’s like to live in Downtown Los Angeles. My first column debuted yesterday. If you haven’t read it yet, check in out. Would love to answer your questions about where to go and what to do downtown and please feel free to give me your requests for future columns.
I visited USC today. It was the first time I’ve been on the campus since Nick and I went for his orientation day. I sat in the lecture hall that he would’ve sat in–Room 101 in Lewis Hall, the main building for The Price School of Public Policy. I attended a guest speaker session with Councilmember José Huizar where he talked about the re-imagining of Downtown Los Angeles (DTLA).
I thought about what Nick would be processing as he heard Councilmember Huizar speak and I thought about what would excite Nick most about all the projects in the works in Council District 14 that encompasses all of downtown.
I thought about Laura and her husband Ken, recently married 30-somethings who have made their first home investment in a loft in the historic Rowan Building on Spring Street. I thought about how this could have been Nick’s path in 10 years.
I wondered what Nick would’ve been thinking as he heard Huizar describe the downtown revitalization as a process of “building a city within a city” since Los Angeles itself is so vast and the downtown area is so concentrated. I thought about why Nick loved downtown and it made me realize that, if this is all done the right way, it’s about breathing life into the soul of our city and bringing it back to the vibrancy it once had… if only that could be done with our loved ones no longer with us.
Things have already started changing . The photo here was taken from our loft window looking out on 9th & Broadway. Nick never got to see this. I know he’d be proud. I can hear him saying, “See, I told you it was just going to keep getting better!” I particularly like this photo because it shows 3 great things all in one frame:
1) A bike lane
2) Tables & umbrellas for people to sit outside and connect to the city life
3) A city worker taking great care of the area –they are around all day, God bless them!
The umbrellas and tables stretch all the way north on Broadway and they’re part of Huizar’s “Bringing Back Broadway” initiative with the intent to create public spaces and construct a streetcar rail to go all the way to 1st Street where there will be a new park. There are plans to open the old theaters on Broadway as entertainment venues, attract new retailers and restaurants and convert unused upper floors of the beautiful old Broadway buildings to creative office or residential space.
And just a quarter mile away, AEG renewed their interest last week in building an NFL Stadium near Staples Center which would bring additional revenue to downtown. The overall idea is to create a city experience like New York, Chicago, Boston, San Diego, San Francisco or Seattle where people want to walk and are offered lots of reasons to traverse the city on foot discovering the flavors and nuances of different neighborhoods.
DTLA has already established its neighborhoods with The Fashion District, The Historic Core, Little Tokyo, Chinatown, The Arts District, The Bank District, South Park and even Bunker Hill where there are plans are to create a more walking-friendly route between that corridor and Disney Hall, The Music Center and the museums.
Amidst all this talk of transformation there’s also concern for the homeless and the issue of the density of the homeless population that is centered downtown. I attended a homeless solutions panel that Huizar pulled together last Monday which opened up the dialog. It also made it apparent that there are as many different perspectives on the situation as there are problems and potential solutions. Humanizing homeless individuals seems to be one very important step rather than looking at them as one collective mass all with the same problems. Nick was quite good with his outreach to homeless people –he didn’t just put a dollar in their cup — he’d buy them a water or a snack and he’d actually talk to them.
As I write this on the eve of (hopefully) signing the final escrow papers to be a home/loft owner downtown in the historic Eastern Columbia Building, I feel a passion for what DTLA has the potential to become. I know a part of me feels this way because downtown’s transformation meant something special to Nick. It’s why we decided to have Nick’s final resting place in the beautiful mausoleum in the lower level of The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Temple Street. While the Cathedral is quite modern, the mausoleum has the exquisite stained glass windows from the original St. Vibiana’s Cathedral. Each window is backlit and because they’re installed at floor level the beauty of each window’s story can be appreciated without having to look high above or wait for the sun to be in just the right spot. Our family’s permanent memorial is secured in the marble room where the window depicts the young Jesus, in a white tunic with gold sparkles, sharing wisdom with the elders.
Wisdom is the gift the young Solomon asked for in 1 Kings 3: 1-15. Wisdom is what we hope for among those who are shaping the future of our city. Kindness–a trait that was so much a part of who Nick was– is what we hope will spread across all cultures, beliefs and income levels for all who call this City of the Angels our home.
Why does summer always tease me into thinking I’m a kid out of school with nothing but lazy days and plenty of time to figure out how I want to spend them? Don’t I wish! The M-F/ 8-7 reality means there are only so many hours to take advantage of what summer in the city has to offer. Fortunately, being in DTLA, there’s always something going on and 4th of July in Grand Park really had the city showing off its best. While it gets pretty crowded at night, we loved walking through the park mid-day and seeing the festivities getting started.
The Park, with City Hall in the background, looked beautiful.
There were two music stages, one with a DJ and one with live music starting at 4 p.m. I’m sure the night was totally happening but we were perfectly happy to roam during the peaceful, sunny early afternoon. Friends asked us to join them that evening for the long-standing tradition of fireworks at Wilshire Country Club just a few miles west on Rossmore between Beverly and Third.
A few weeks ago we got a group together on a Friday night to check out EAT, SEE, HEAR at the Autry Museum in Griffith Park. There’s a great lawn where everyone brings low beach chairs and/or blankets, tons of food trucks show up and you watch a movie on an outdoor screen. We sawThe Big Lebowski. Dogs are welcome but we left Coco home for this one.
Not great photos, but these 2 guys were dead ringers for The Dude and Walter… and, not to forget the deadest of all, Donny in the can.
Last Wednesday night we needed to pick up a few things at Urban Radish for a party Jay’s catering this weekend. Happily the shopping trip coincided with Jazz Night at Urban Radish market with the Kyle Crane Trio on the patio. There’s a different dinner menu every week– I tried the grilled trout wrapped in prosciutto and Jay had roast pork with a sweet marinade. We missed out on the full selection of sides by getting there closer to 8:00 pm but the charred romaine , soba noodles, and organic multi-hued cherry tomato salad were all delicious and since we arrived late, the portions were extra generous.
Wine tasting is also part of Jazz Night and UR has a great selection of bottles at the perfect temperature to buy and take to your patio communal seating table. These gatherings are relaxed “downtowner” get-togethers–particularly for those who live in the Arts District. A full course meal is $15 . The Curran Grenache Rosé from the Santa Ynez Valley was as good as any we’ve ever tried… described as “A very pale salmon shade. Loaded with flavors of strawberry, mango , white peaches and green apples and exotic cardamom in the nose. (A) crisp wine with a firm backbone.” at $22. And best of all, Coco was happy to be among other contented canines chilling under the tables.
Another evening we were invited to our friends’ house in Hancock Park where Jay got to be co-grillmaster–the one thing that he misses about living downtown. It was a perfect Los Angeles evening where the breeze picks up at sunset and then everything calms to a still by the time the moon rises. The lights strung across the picnic table, the pea gravel under our feet, the candles flickering, the freshness of the produce, the aroma of the grill, the fragrant trees surrounding us, and even the raccoon who ambled along the fence at one point–reminded us we’re as Mediterranean as it gets without spending 13 hours and 46 minutes en route.
And not in chronological order, but we celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary on June 30th. It was a Monday night and rather than go out, we decided sometimes the best celebrations are the ones where you just stay home. It was a beautiful night and we had the upper terrace of the Eastern Columbia Building all to ourselves. We took a picnic and set it up on the little bistro table where we could look out on the lights of the city. We grazed on cheese and crackers, sipped a Sauvignon blanc, had a salad and dipped a crusty Bread Lounge baguette into the “good” olive oil and balsamic that we usually save for company. We finished the evening off with the sweetness of strawberries and blueberries bought the day before at the Larchmont Farmers market. The sweet, simple pleasures of summer…so far.
The restaurant scene is really Jay’s area of expertise having opened and/or managed several restaurants in his younger, and dare I say, adventurous, days–and, as anyone who’s ever been in the restaurant business knows, the reality of running a restaurant is most aptly stated in a soundbite made famous by a man who all sports-minded L.A. boomers would recognize– the late great Jim Healy, who played this Tommy Lasorda quote repeatedly on his radio show:
So with this valuable insight on the restaurant business, you know that Jay has the ability to be empathetic to the challenges restaurants face while also holding them to high expectations. So for Jay to put any restaurant on this list, they have to show they can make everything come together–food, service and the vibe. Several of the restaurants on this list have been around for a few years. One, Starry Kitchen, has moved from a pop up to (we hope) a permanent home–but we haven’t been to the new location yet. This is our go-to list at the moment but we’ll update every time we have something to add and the time to write it. With the variety of restaurants we’ve discovered downtown, including Factory Kitchen; one of our new favorites in the Arts District; we ‘ll be giving you lots of delicious reasons to come back for updates to the list. For the first go-around most of these restaurants are walk-able from what we consider the epicenter of the downtown renaissance: 9th & Broadway.
Mexican –Mas Malo Good margaritas along with classic as well as unique Mexican food. Ingredients are locally sourced and support the description on the website of “East L.A. style Chicano food.” You’ll find Mas Malo right in the center of downtown’s restaurant row at 7th and Grand. It’s a party atmosphere and the price of the margaritas is the rent you pay to hang out in this circa 1923 jewelry store turned restaurant with its baroque ceiling, art deco bar, contemporary furnishings and soundtrack with a pulsing beat, you’ll definitely want more than one maggie.
Peruvian – Mo-Chica Right across the street from Mas Malo. This restaurant used to be just a takeout counter in a warehouse-style food court near USC. Unless you’ve been to Peru, you won’t be familiar with much on the menu but go with what your server tells you are the most popular dishes and you won’t be disappointed. It’s most fun if you go with people who like the shared-plate way of dining so you can try a variety of the small plate offerings. If something piques your interest, be adventurous. Mary doesn’t like spicy and there were lots of choices on either side of the heat scale. Lots of good seafood options, too. There’s nothing fancy about this place with its cement floors and simple furniture but the staff does a great job of making sure you’re well taken care of. Cocktails with names like “The Dogfather,” “Addictive to You” and “Oaxcacalifornia Love” have ingredients as interesting as their names.
It all Started Here Bottega Louie is what opened the doors to proving that something very different from The Original Pantry could thrive through breakfast, lunch and dinner in Downtown L.A. On the other end of the spectrum from The Original Pantry that puts out good grub, Bottega Louie is the crown jewel of So Cal for all-day dining elegance. It’s a fantasy world of jewel tone macaroons sparkling behind pristine glass cases. Servers in white shirts, black ties and bistro aprons float trays of all varieties of artistically plated comfort food above their heads before gently landing the plates on marble table tops occupied by urban dwellers, workers and voyagers who can’t get enough of the ambiance, the food, the charm and the grandeur of the social and epicurean experience taking place in what was once a very large Brooks Brothers clothing store long before there was such a thing as casual Fridays. Whether it’s a perfectly soft-boiled organic egg in-shell served with house made pain de mie toast points, a BLT made with the best bacon you’ve ever tasted and the most delicate and flavorful bibb lettuce, heirloom tomatoes and avocado; or a perfectly arranged swirled mound of tagliatelle topped with just the right proportion of meaty Bolognese; you get exactly what you had hoped for and more when the selection you made first caught your eye on the menu. No, they don’t take reservations and yes, that big Louie-the-whatever-roman-numeral-it-is hostess table with the dazzling attendants guarding the gates to one of those coveted tables can be a bit intimidating–but don’t be deterred. The tables turn, the people come and go, the pastries look like museum curios and the bartenders make great drinks.
Pizza/Pasta – Terroni is our favorite neighborhood place to walk to at 8th and Main. We used to be able to always get a table but now they seem to be bustling every night. The 6,000 sq. foot space was built in 1924 as the City National Bank and much of the grandeur has been preserved . The bar is expansive and a great option when tables are full. The main dining room gives you a view of the open kitchen. The owners, Italians from Canada, first launched the more casual Beverly location a few years ago while Terroni downtown is a unique blend of luxe meets industrial. Warning: your pizza will not come sliced in wedges–part of the Terroni experience is to tear or cut your pizza as you creatively choose in whatever portions you prefer. A glass-enclosed room showcases house-cured meats. The entire Terroni experience is Italian immersion from the choices of Apristomaco (named for what they are intended to do) to the Italian phrases you’ll pick up if you visit il bagno.
Chinese Dumplings – Peking Tavern When we want something cheap, fast and fun this is our other close-by walking option as it’s located in the basement under Terroni–enter door to the right of Terroni’s and walk down a flight of stairs. Don’t let the dying vine that never quite made it up the wire fool you (if they haven’t already uprooted it). They may not be able to grow plants in a basement but they damn sure know how to make dumplings. In fact, most of the time you’ll see one or two women; through the side window when you walk in; deftly patting dough into perfectly round dumpling skins ready to be filled as fast as they can make them. They have a great selection of beers on tap. The space is designed for optimal mingling with a long bar and high communal tables. Seems that most of the crowd would rather mingle than sit, so for us 20+ years- of- marriage boomers, tables for two have, so far, been easy to come by. The website describes the concept as Hollywood style Chinatown of yesteryear crossed with the old “hutongs” of Beijing. I wouldn’t know what an old “hutong” is but I know some great dumplings and a beer can be the perfect comfort food at the end of a long day! Six dumplings are about $6-$8. And if you want to make it a late night, There’s a really cool bar in the same basement as Peking Tavern built in what was once the vault of the former City National Bank.
Indian Gastro-pub – Badmaashis one of our absolute favorites. and one we have to Uber to–just a little further on the north end of town than we’d care to walk to at 2nd Street between Spring and Main. The heat scale runs the gamut with plenty of options in Mary’s mild and Jay’s spicy comfort zones. The choices center around Indian street food along with some traditional Indian dishes. Beer comes in cans and there’s a limited wine selection. Downstairs, the dining area is small but there’s also an upstairs mezzanine. Indian movies play on the curved two-story white wall that accentuates the high ceiling making this small restaurant feel spacious. Don’t miss the lentil soup (ask for a side of basmati pilaf to add to it) and the Bad Ass Chicken Tikka Masala! Get into the Badmaash irreverence and be sure to order a few items from the “#FoodPorn @BadmaashLA” column of the menu and if you’re social media-ly inclined, follow their suggestion printed on the menu and “Instagram that shit!”
Something totally different–Starry Kitchen The best –and maybe the only–Singaporean food you’ll ever have. Owned by this wild Vietnamese immigrant, Thi Tran, and his adorable wife/ chef extraordinaire, Nguyen. We discovered Starry when they had a pop-up location a block away from us but now they’re in the Grand Star Jazz Club (as Tran writes on the website) in CHINATOOOOOWN @ 943 N. Broadway. Tran will pepper all conversations with endearing F-bombs. And with crab season upon us, if you want the Spicy Crab you have to order it a day ahead. Be prepared for a dinner like none you’ve ever had. There are mild options but go with the mindset that this is going to be a rather spicy night in more ways than one!
Total Hipster – LA Chapter at Ace Hotel. Every boomer parent should have one of their 20-something kids employed by the hippest place in town. Thanks to Nick working “Upstairs,” the designation for the rooftop bar at Ace Hotel, they let us up the elevator as long as it’s not dark yet. And since Jay’s beard has grown in and as long as Mary keeps up with her colorist, we’ve been given excellent service in the restaurant. All kidding aside, Ace Hotel is the single most significant contributor to the transformation happening on Broadway between Olympic and 9th Street. And while the crowd is definitely hip–it spans all ages and demographics–OK, it’s mostly 25-35–but one night Mary took Jay’s 84 year-old mom there for dinner, and although there were no tables, they sat on the mezzanine, had a bunch of great small plate dishes and a couple of glasses of wine and got a big hug from their waiter when they left. The food at LA Chapter is outstanding, the service is exceptional, the space transports you to another era in keeping with the history of the building which was the original offices and theater of United Artists’ –the group formed by D.W. Griffiths, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks when they wanted to get out from under the control of the big studios. With natural light streaming in by day and the black cars pulling up to the curb at night, there’s a special energy in L.A. Chapter. For breakfast, if you’re a waffle fan, the Buckwheat waffle is ethereal and if you like your toast with a kick–wait till you try this fresh-baked 7-grain bread version with a big thick schmear of avocado laced with aleppo pepper. And staying on the spicy side of things, the Bloody Mary is de rigueur –even if you make it a virgin. And for mild Mary, who prefers to get her blood from her oranges–the Carnation, made with blood orange juice and sparkling rose’ served in an old-style champagne glass with a sugar-infused hibiscus flower– is the perfect Saturday brunch antidote to coming home after a long busy week on the road. Our easy commute home is just a walk past Tacos Mexico, the world’s busiest 24-hour taco stand, and then across the street to the Eastern Columbia Building which makes it tempting to just head Upstairs and lounge on Ace’s rooftop chaises or claim a comfortable corner with cushions and pillows and continue the day-drinking until Nick shows up for his evening shift and tells us it’s time to go home.