Escape From E3 | Amuse Yourself In Downtown L.A.
E3 is unusual in that it gathers the most brilliant and nerdiest of nerds into what is assumed to be one of the shallowest places on the planet: Los Angeles. It’s like someone tipped the globe on its side and all the cleverest, most awkward people fell into….Downtown LA? Usually we just get all the wannabe actors who did really well in their Midwest high school production of Music Man. We don’t quite know what to make of all this.
The “perks” of the Convention Center aside—and, is it just me, or is it kinda boring?—it’s like being in a kinda sterile oasis in the middle of a desert. You peer out the glass entrance, blinking back sunlight, because between your job designing games in a darkened room and your last three days in THIS place, the world is awash with color and light. What’s going on out there? You see ancient buildings, new lofty lofts, people walking their dogs (who lives down here?), people walking hand in hand, people walking and yelling at nobody (sorry, but you are awful close to Skid Row) – you can tell there’s a world out there, but you just don’t know quite where it is.
Why do we (yep, I’m one too—a nerd, not brilliant) gather in DTLA, as us locals sometimes call it? Why does anyone? Aside from the lovely weather, and some charmingly haunted hotels, what is there to recommend Downtown? And God knows, if you can’t get out tonight and have some fun you’re going to consume every drink in the minibar and replace them all with 4Loko.
Turns out, there’s quite a bit going on around town. So go watch the giant screens flashing the latest Bethesda releases and the hot cosplay chicks promoting the newest gadgets; once you’re done with the ‘con floor, we have some suggestions for you. Because, as it turns out, there is a fascinating city out there, full of hidden speakeasies, magical stores, wondrous gathering places and really neat people.
At its heart, Wurstküche is a raucous Belgian-style eatery, with long communal rustic tables and a metric ton of imported beers you’ve never hear of. But these aren’t your regular tube meats. Buffalo, beef and pork with smoky chipotle peppers?! Duck and bacon? Smoked apple sage (yes, they do ‘em veggie…if you MUST). Belgian fries—at their simplest, fries served with mayo—come here with aioli, truffle glaze, sundried tomato mayo…you get the picture. And there’s the icing on the toasted apple pie ice cream sandwich you can get for dessert: get that puppy wrapped up for later and walk out into one of the vibrant arts districts in the city. Building after building, encrusted with layers of paint, wheatpaste, lousy and brilliant art. Perfect way to end the night.
800 E 3rd St., Los Angeles, CA 90013 / (213) 687-4444 / wurstkuche.com
Danger Dogs / Taco Trucks
You will encounter these bastions of LA’s culinary scene all over downtown. All are good—but some are better. If it’s dogs, look for a small family operation ready to pick up and run at even the hint of the po-po. Get your dog with grilled onions. Consume slowly. Now, as for trucks, you don’t want the biggest or flashiest, or one with a huge menu (too much diversification lowers the quality). No, you’re looking for a LINE and five, six options. Ideal for post-drunkiness.
Go with God. They’re out there.
Faith & Flower
Faith & Flower is an upscale temple to modern Americana blended with a moody, noir-inflected interior and richly, artfully presented delicacies is not for the faint of heart (or wallet). Deviled Jidori eggs with kimchee, oxtail agnoletti with bone marrow butter, confit duck leg with fennel…celebrate your ‘Con here before you get too tired on the third day and pass out in the Dungeness crab risotto.
705 W 9th St., Los Angeles, CA 90015 / (213) 239-0642 / faithandflowerla.com
One of the greatest movie palaces of the last century, this vast and lavish venue with rich red curtains and a golden, baroque ceiling and walls now hosts classic films, stunningly produced art events, and live music. You may not be able to get in to The Orpheum on a night you’d like to, but it’s worth a look-see, if only for the gorgeous marquee and foyer—plus the vibrant parade of day to day life on Broadway.
842 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014 / (877) 677-4386 / laorpheum.com
The Last Bookstore
This is not a bookstore. Well, it is, but it’s a vaulting temple to the wild and delightful curiosities of yesteryears: to comics, to chapbooks, to art tomes so painfully lovely you hesitate to touch them. A cabinet of delights, you can lose hours in The Last Bookstore exploring the multiple levels and sections, the hidden corners and magical contents. As I said, it’s not a bookstore: it’s a burnished-wood ship of earthly treasures somehow marooned, to our luck, in Downtown.
453 S Spring St., Los Angeles, CA 90013 / (213) 488-0599 / lastbookstorela.com
King Eddy’s Saloon
Let’s keep this short and sweet. One of downtown’s final “divey” bars (they’ve cleaned it up a bit), the drinks are always cheap and there’s usually a DJ rocking the joint. The dim light and curtained corners of King Eddy’s give it a womblike sense of safety. And I hear, if you as the manager very very nicely, he will take you into the basement and show you one of the last few non-blocked entrances to LA’s underground tunnels (they are real, look it up).
131 E 5th St., Los Angeles, CA 90013 / (213) 629-2023 / kingeddysaloon.com
This is arguably the oldest restaurant in LA (some might debate that). For years Cole’s languished as a dive with a rabbit-warren progression of wood paneled rooms extending so far into the back of the building I could never find the end. You want to rap on the walls in the right frequency in the hopes that someday, one of them will slide away, revealing wonders untold. A redesign several years back, plus a monumental undertaking to return mixology to its rightful place, resulted in one of the finest bars in LA. Yeah, they got great French Dips and fries; but do NOT miss the bar itself (skip the overhyped Varnish “speakeasy” in the back, too crowded and drinks are just as good up front).
118 E 6th St., Los Angeles, CA 90014 / (213) 622-4090 / colesfrenchdip.com
Pirate-themed, The Redwood has been the classic watering hole for the writers from the nearby LA Times for almost a century. Often hosts rock and punk shows from international bands. ‘Nuff said.
316 W 2nd St., Los Angeles, CA 90012 / (213) 680-2600 / theredwoodbar.com
SING A SONG
The innocuous exterior of this almost-invisible joint in Chinatown had me thinking it was just another shuttered business for years…until one night a friend wrote an address on a Post-It and demanded I meet him at this mystery spot, which apparently hosted some of the best karaoke in town. The Melody Lounge did not disappoint. The completely missable exterior opens to reveal a small but glittering space, illuminated by shiny golden paper lanterns, reflective tile, warm wood paneling, comfy chairs and sofas reminiscent of your fave coffeehouse as a kid…now, they only serve beer and wine, but the friendly atmosphere, Monday night rock’n’roll karaoke (plus the classis, of course) make any night there fantastic. Staff is small, so be patient.
939 N Hill St., Los Angeles, CA 90012 / (213) 625-2823
BEST UBER ADVENTURE:
Mariachi Square, El Huarachito, 4th St. Bridge or Cesar E. Chavez Bridge
Undertake this adventure just before sunrise. 1. Summon Uber or Lyft. 2. Proceed here for a mindblowing tour of a Los Angeles almost no visitor ever sees: The plaza is bounded by E. 1st Street to the south, N. Boyle Avenue to the west, and a small residential street named Pleasant Avenue to its north. 3. Google El Huarachito (it’s close). This mom-and-gramma-run joint serves the best Mexican breakfast in the city. 4. At dawn, the lack of traffic means you have a five minute drive to the historic and grand bridges spanning the LA River and the railyards of Downtown. Proceed west toward downtown on the bridge as the sunrise reflects off the city like quartz turned to opal. 5. Tip your driver, they’ve been patient.
LISTEN / WATCH:
As much as I like to champion the indie little guy (The Smell, The Bootleg) if you’re only in town for a little while and you want the best chance of seeing a solid act, the Club Nokia is your joint. Mind you, it’s located in the semi-cheezy LA Live, and remember, it is NOT the big Nokia Theater. It’s small enough to snag quality acts before they get too pricey and sell on Ticketmaster out in 5 minutes; it’s big enough to pack a great show.
800 West Olympic Blvd, Ste A335, Los Angeles, CA 90015 / (213) 765-7000 / clubnokia.com
If mainstream ain’t your bag, this steampunk/dark-circus big top in the black heart of the arts district, just east of downtown, always offers the best Mason jar drinks around and a slightly illicit sense of partying in a secret, here-tonight, vanished-tomorrow tent with the freaks. Villains‘ live music often has a slightly swoony, old-school vibe, and standard bar fare like burgers accompany charming additions like caramel corn, wee hand pies, and boozy snow cones. Half the menu is secret, including the drinks, so always ask your server what’s good.
1356 Palmetto St., Los Angeles, CA 90013 / (323) 637-4153 / villainstavern.com
“Stay” Hotel On Main
The former Hotel Cecil, reputed to have once housed a Mister Charlie Manson, has a checked past and any walk through its halls will leave you with a notion that a flood of blood is approaching just around the corner. The recent video of a young female guest apparently losing her mind, hiding in the elevator from no discernible threat, her subsequent disappearance and the recovery of her body from a rooftop watertower weeks later was bad enough; now we’re hearing of sightings of ghosts. The night watchman will regale you with stories—he’s very kind and helpful—and, to its credit, the attached storefront next door is home to a hilarious art installation. YMMV.
636 S Main St., Los Angeles, CA 90014 / (213) 213-7829 / stayonmain.com
Founded by writers and historians Kim Cooper and Richard Schave, these experts in all things weird about LA offer constant Esotouric bus tours into the secret heart of the home of noir. From “The Real Black Dahlia” to “Hotel Horrors and Main Street Vice,” (plus dozens more with true crime, literary, and LA-focused explorations of culture and spirituality throughout the city’s history), there are no better guides – or hand-holders if you bug out.
(213) 373-1947 / esotouric.com