Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Downtown by bike

I participated in CycLAvia this past weekend. I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't even hear about it (so much for being an informative blog...sheesh) until a friend asked if I was going. I immediately ran through the list of bikes I had access to - my mom's, a friend's beach cruiser, or my own, rusted, Burning Man-ruined mountain bike that clicked awkwardly. While mine comes equipped with a handy basket, left over sparkle tape, and a cute flower, it would be impossible to ride. So I opted for mom's, made the arrangements, shoved it in the back of my car, and was all set.

CycLAvia started in Bogota, Columbia to combat the overcrowded streets. Now it's part of everyday life. And while biking seems naturally appropriate anywhere in Europe or South America, it's downright odd in LA. Walking is weird in LA. Nobody walks in LA, remember? And yet, thankfully, for one day, people did. They skated, they walked, they ran, they cycled, they cruised, and they had a blast. It was the most amazing 7.1 miles I've experienced in 2 hours. Riding a bike through LA allows one to stop, observe, and take it in the sights in a whole new way. Not from the window of car, but from the open air wonder of a bike. People were lovely too - helping each other out, saying hello, waving, smiling. Small kids would stumble and total strangers stepped in to help. People cheered when unicycles, or boomboxes, or anything rigged to a bike rode by, simply because it was crazy and wild and fun. One kid cruised the streets with one skate on his right foot, a sneaker on his other foot, and a trumpet in his hands, which he loudly played while whizzing by. It was incredible.

The route took us from downtown, up Spring Street, over the 4th Street bridge, into Boyle Heights. The turnaround spot had t-shirts, water, food trucks, music, you name it.

Back over the bridge, through downtown, over 7th Street, back up to 6th...
and through MacArthur Park and just under the 101 Freeway.

I ventured into neighborhoods I've never been to before, simply because I have no need. But I got to see great LA architecture, culture, a few soccer games...

We ended up back through downtown...

and into Little Tokyo where we had lunch at Senor Fish. We finished off our day with fish tacos and a beer. Perfection. I will definitely participate in the next one...likely in 6 months or less.

It made me appreciate, yet again, how much I love this city. Sure, our Dodger fans leave a bad taste, but when we all get together in the sun, and forget our cares, and participate in something together, no matter how big this city might be, we feel a sense of community that is unlike anything else. My face hurt from smiling all day.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The history of the Central Library

Interesting story on the site of the current central library in downtown. The Normal School, which eventually became UCLA, was allowed to cut off traffic flow and build itself. Who knew?

Great old photos of downtown.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dowtown at Sunset

At the end of the day, downtown comes alive. At least in my neck of the woods. South Park pulses with the sounds of cars, sirens, parking lot attendants annoyingly trying to get every car's attention with whistles, shouts and flag waving (which makes a "chop chop" sound when done briskly), helicopters, name it. It's comforting sometimes. There's always something happening just outside my door. Tonight, it's the Clippers. Tomorrow, a concert (Lady Gaga celebrated her 25th birthday at Nokia Tuesday...Thanks, Lady!), Friday, the Lakers. Soon, the new LA football team. While I secretly dread this stadium coming to little tiny downtown, and the throngs of people (read: obnoxious fans), I'm also a bit excited for my property value to increase and the new storefronts, retailers, and possibly more restaurants within walking distance. An LA Times article in the Business section describes the rush of merchants looking at South Park as the next big thing. You can read it here:,0,1445479,full.story.

Sprouts Market and Fresh & Easy?? Urban Outfitters and H&M??? Target????? Yes, please!

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a retail-chain whore. But having simple amenities nearby would greatly boost my downtown experience, let alone the folks that just visit here. I'm excited. It will be amazing to watch the transformation.

In the meantime, I still get beautiful sunsets and sunrises. And as long as the Glass Tower doesn't get funding to build the 25 story monstrosity across the street from me, I'm still in good shape with the views.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Network After Work

Looking to make connections to improve your business? Need employment and desire to connect with companies or recruiters looking to hire? Want to sell others on your unique idea? I highly recommend the Network After Work event, being held April 5th, 6pm-9pm at J Lounge in downtown LA:

This event brings out all types - new business owners looking for partners or advertisers, sales reps selling their products to anyone who will listen, contractors hoping to expand their client base and knowledge, recruiters looking for new talent, and highly motivated unemployed (or employed) pavement-pounders looking for their next career move. It's an excellent networking event, coupled with free booze and tasty snacks. Bring a stack of business cards and a desire to smile and connect. Nothing is off-limits and everyone is willing to listen and share.

And as a bonus, the free booze turns a Tuesday night into something a little more flirty and fun. So that next business card exchange could be your next Friday night dinner date. Yeow!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Downtown is sexy

Look familiar?

And this one...filmed right across the street from my house, headed north on Grand Ave. They certainly spruced up the street. Those boxed planters don't exist, but I wish they did sometimes. Thanks, Honda.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Art, hip hop, and Chinatown

I was invited today to see an art show of a talented artist named Zoe Crocher. She has an archive of a call girl, Michelle Du Bois, who photographed herself and her aliases over a few decades, and once framed, these incredible photographs of this woman tell a story almost as surreal as the woman herself. Zoe also has a series of images taken from different hotel rooms near LAX. In each photo, a plane is flying by. They are snapshots of life; images we see and might not remember or recognize, yet once printed and on display, are forever captured in our mind's eye, giving them much more weight and significance than previously thought. Her work can be seen here -

As I wandered out of the Mandarin Plaza in Chinatown (a newly discovered little artist colony of studios, small storefronts and deserted offices), I weaved in and out of the crowds. Between Broadway and Hill Streets are small plazas that open up and invite you in.

There is nothing more amazing than the red lanterns. I love wandering through Chinatown, off the main streets, for this reason. The colors and sounds and the smells draw you in. There are a hundred stores selling trinkets and junk, shoes, lanterns, incense, dim sum, pastry, buddhas, bracelets, and robes. I even saw samurai swords. All cultures are celebrated.

Gentlemen playing a fierce game of chess....

with some of the locals cheering them on....

And at the center of all this was a hip hop festival, with record bins, live bands, incense and tacos. The gyrating beats seemed out of place with the swaying, fragile lanterns, but somehow it all works in Chinatown.

Beauty comes in all forms...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The rebirth of cool

I went to Wurstkuche the other night. I have been here no less than 5-6 times and it never disappoints. Even when it appears impossible you will ever find a place to sit or get your food in time, miraculously, you do. Wurstkuche ("sausage kitchen" for you non-German speakers) is tucked way out in the Arts District of LA. Somewhere on the border of the Warehouse District, Little Tokyo, and Skid Row. The first time I went it took me 10 minutes longer than necessary to find it. But when you do, come with an appetite for exotic sausages and truly the best Belgian french fries in LA. (That's right, I said it). When you have have a choice of more than 8 dipping sauces to dunk your fries in, life can be pretty good. This night we tried the chipotle ketchup, curry ketchup, Thai peanut, chipotle aoili, and blue cheese walnut. The last one was too chunky and a bit flavorless, but the others were lip smacking delish.

And you have a delightful and difficult zoo of choices when it comes to the sausages....buffalo, alligator, pork, duck, rattlesnake, rabbit...and some traditional options such as kielbasa, spicy Italian, bratwurst, chicken apple, and others. There's even vegetarian options for you non-zoo folks (I've never understood this, but I'm cool with your decision to protect furry creatures). I'm partial to the buffalo chipotle sausage...smoky and salty. I order mine with grilled onions and drown it in yellow mustard for that extra heartburn effect. No worries, as you have about 65 European brews to cool the belly. I studied briefly in Scotland, so I always go for the cider.

We went on the night of Art Walk. I suppose I'll have to dedicate an entire blog to this amazing art scene. When you go, you need to be prepared to GO. It's an event, and damn crowded, so go with an open mind, some patience, and maybe a friend or two, because navigating a large group through the crowds can make even your mellow boyfriend downright grumpy. I don't recommend it. We, being 5-6 of us, decided it was too late and we were too stuffed to even think about the crowds, so we wandered over to Little Tokyo. On the way we passed a small vintage shop throwing itself an opening party, and we were all invited in for free beer, vintage clothes (think 80s, not 30s) and models vamping it up for the photographer.

We stayed for a beer and wandered further to one of my favorite little spots - the Far Bar. Not that far from anything, really, except the street. You find it as you walk along 1st Street. Look for a crack in the wall. I'm's a tiny alley between two buildings that opens up into a small courtyard and bar. They have twinkly lights above, a screen projector at one end, and pretty decent DJs. Great place during warm weather to catch a drink. Be patient with the service. They try hard and are quite nice but take their time getting back to you.

As I drove home that night, I accidentally made a left turn down the main drag of Art Walk. I wasn't thinking and cursed myself since the traffic was bad. But then something hit me: there were hundreds, maybe a thousand people out on the street that night. People were smiling, wandering in and out of the galleries and shops, stopping at the many food trucks for a bite to eat, laughing and chatting with the locals. And I was struck by something - downtown is COOL. It's no longer a forgotten armpit or where you go for work. It's where you GO. As I drove slowly down the street, I was amazed at the vibrancy. The pulse. The cool factor. Downtown is a destination again. And I saw all types - Westsiders, Eastsiders, downtowners, artists, spectators, vendors and bums. Everyone was mingling, taking it all in, enjoying the scenery and vibe that has grown from the dark streets again and is clearly flourishing. Downtown's historic core can offer what no other suburb of LA can - the gritty history. Scrape some of the dust and dirt off that building and you reveal a gem. Wander in the open doors on the ground floor and watch it unfold into a gleaming, art deco lobby, fit with marbled floors, golden accents, mirrors, and the new wave of hip hangers on.

My skin tingled. My heart smiled. LA is cool again.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Then and Now

If you've lived in LA long enough, you've likely driven on the 110 Freeway towards Pasadena. I have always loved the tunnels - we used to hold our breath through all four, and people still honk their horns when they pass through. YouTube recently posted a video CalTrans made on the 70th anniversary of the freeway. Enjoy!

410 Boyd is a happy hour of your time

I'd probably never go, let alone find, 410 Boyd unless I'd been invited by a friend. It's a decent little joint tucked into a corner of Little Tokyo off of San Pedro. I met some friends here for a happy hour drink and a bite to eat. They have a better-than-average happy hour, but sadly do themselves an injustice by posting the hours incorrectly. Most happy hours end at 7pm - 410 Boyd ends at 7:30pm, making it easier for my slow ass to get back downtown from the LBC, where I work. I could actually MAKE a happy hour in this lifetime with those hours. And the prices on their menu are all about $4-$5 which is great for the dollar observer.

On a Thursday night, it was mellow. Even our group was mellow. But that was ok. The bar is long and open, with plenty of room.
I hear Friday and Saturday nights get rowdy with a dj, and it appears this place could handle it. It showcases art from local talent. Is it good? That's up for debate. But I appreciate a place that hangs it on the wall and gives artists a vehicle to show their skills.

The menu is a basic sampling of...well, the basics. Healthy salads, nachos, I think I saw a burger, and a few desserts. Nothing stood out too much, so I ordered some fries. They were borderline too well done, but I like that. I seek out the crispies. Some might not, though.

The staff was friendly and helpful. By the time we left around 9pm, the place had filled up. There's an outside patio where most had gathered and a dj was playing music. The best part, I think, was the video screen they put up. The entire crowd was playing Rock Band, which was pretty cool, and some guy (a manager?) informed me they were going to move the event outdoors into the (free) parking lot and blast it on the side of the building in about a week. Bonus!

Would I go back? That's up for debate. I didn't leave with warm fuzzy feelings, but I give the place points for being customer-friendly, after-work friendly, and clearly party-friendly.

Finally, a dentist I like

Like most of us, I am not one for the dentist. I once waited 4 years to go. I'm not afraid....I'm just not crazy about tiny instruments scraping my teeth and occasionally hitting nerves. And blood. And the taste of metal, mint and paste in my mouth. You get the idea. So for a long time, I've avoided going. When I moved downtown, I made it my mission to find a decent dentist. And I found one....I just never went.

Until today. Dr. Clerk is, thankfully, lovely. He's got a great sense of humor, is very engaging, explains everything, and is a generally nice guy. He's still a dentist, but he's good. And his staff is laid back and helpful, friendly, etc. The office is clean and uses modern equipment (this has been as issue in the past for me), and has convenient parking. He can't make it any easier for me to see him every 6 months, which he reminded me to do no less than 3 times.

My only issue, and it's minor, is that he has TVs in the waiting room and in each exam room. I can't stand the constant noise, though I suppose it probably helps people to be distracted. He gets bonus points, though, for showing TMZ in the waiting room.

Dr. Patrick Clerk, DDS
1200 Wilshire Blvd. #205
Los Angeles, CA 90017

Friday, February 25, 2011

I love noodles

If I ever have the unfortunate experience of having a "last meal" (I suppose we all will someday, right?) I would be hard pressed on an answer. Part of me would want my great-grandmother's recipe for aglio olio, which is basically linguine with garlic, olive oil and red pepper flakes. It's a comfort food like no other, and my family has morphed it into further comfort status by adding chicken stock, mushrooms, and lots of parmesan cheese. I could swim in it.

However, my other favorite might be any other noodle dish on earth. I love them all - pad thai, chow fun, pan fried, pho, soba, chow mein, buckwheat, vermicelli, udon...I could go on forever. Which is why, to my utter delight, I was thrilled when Urban Noodle opened.

I wandered in one Sunday evening by myself after landing at LAX and realized I had no food in the fridge. There were so many tasty noodle dishes from which to choose I was stumped. Fortunately, the won ton spoke to me that night. It just sounded so comforting and perfect, and I was ready for a simple broth and squishy dumplings. I was informed that the dumplings were hand-made daily by the chef, which sounded pretty good to me. If I could rest my head on a dumpling pillow every night I would actually consider it.

The soup came and I noticed a twist - they had noodles in this version. Small, thin and simple, it was a nice surprise to this noodle fan. The bowl was steaming hot, and the broth was delicious - clean, flavorful, just salty enough, and rich with flavor. The veggies were fresh, with a little crispness left in them. I took a bite of the dumpling...let me stop right here. I love to be dramatic about my food. I often claim something is the "best I've ever had" with great relish and fervor. I kid you not - this WAS the best dumpling I've ever had. It had a porky filling that was bursting with taste. I actually looked at the waitress who was standing behind the counter and mouthed the words "OH MY GOD." The won ton itself was silky smooth and a perfect wrapping. I've never had such a simple soup taste so amazing. No MSG either.

It took a while for my soup to come out (was he making the dumplings right there??) so I was treated to a free dish of ice cream: Black Sesame, Ginger, Thai Iced Tea, or Vanilla Bean. I chose Black Sesame. Again, orgasmic. I almost fell off my chair. What I love about Asian desserts is that most are semi-sweet and delicate. This was a heady flavor, perfect after my meal. And fragrant. And black! Super cool.

So, as we get ready for possible snow in LA for the first time in a while, I highly recommend a bowl of this heavenly comfort to keep you warm and dry.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mas Malo es muy bueno

One of my favorite places to eat in LA is Malo in Silverlake. It has the perfect combination of hipsters, margaritas and cool. I was turned onto Malo by a friend who swore by their now infamous ground beef and pickle tacos. Excuse me, you say? Beef and pickles? In a shell? I know, the idea sounds ludicrous. But until you try one, you just don't know. Think cheeseburger in a crunchy taco. It's quite genius, actually. And delicious. I order nothing else. I always want to be adventuresome and try another option, but I can't. I love them that much.

So lo and behold, they open a Mas Malo right up the street from me. I think I died and went to heaven. Nothing will stop me from going to the spot in Silverlake, but to be able to have tacos and habanero cream salsa and chewy chips within walking distance of my abode is just heaven. I happened to go the week they opened this little jewel - I was with a MeetUp group, and we wandered the street looking for our second or third cocktail. It was packed, but we put our name in and waited out our time in the conveniently located Seven Grand just next door and up the stairs. (Let me pause here. The simple idea that I can have the ground beef and pickles after a few hours of boozing it up in a swanky, plaid-ensconced whiskey bar was almost too much for me to handle. Did I mention both establishments are within walking and stumbling distance from my house?? If this alone is not a reason to live downtown, I don't know what is.)

Try not to gasp when you walk in. My photo doesn't do it justice at all. The new space is an old jewelry store from the 1920s. I almost fainted when they told me the original vault is going to be a private tasting tequila bar. (I don't even like tequila that much...I just love the idea.) The menu is the same as the original in Silverlake (thank god) yet the space is bustling with energy not seen at the other. It's loud, it's gorgeous, it's a fun place to have dinner on any night.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Creepy and Cool

The Alexandria Hotel is one of the most interesting places I've seen downtown. It houses a new favorite restaurant, The Gorbals, featuring Scottish-Israeli Top Chef chef Ilan Hall (what a title!) in the old hotel kitchen. It's a streamlined space with long wood tables and modern, over-sized flower arrangements, a sweet little bar and food that's out of this world in strangeness, seasonal fresh flavors and presentation. I love it. But The Gorbals isn't the only oddity about the hotel; I'm convinced it's haunted. The hotel converted to affordable loft rentals. And lucky for me, you can wander the halls freely any night. Take the elevator up to the 7th floor just for fun; you step out into an endless hallway devoid of human life (except for the spiritual kind...I'm convinced). Even can hear music and televisions...

On the mezzanine is fascinating "bar" space that was clearly the old hang out in the 30s and 40s. The ceilings are low, ornate, and intricate. The bar is no longer used but you could tell it was well worn. On a Tuesday night, we wandered in to see open mic night and heard some pretty decent jazz and punk. A few residents chipped in a served homemade enchiladas, rice and beans. It was surreal. Behind the new bar (a sad substitute for the real one) is a door. I'm not sure who said to me one time "look for the ballroom" but off we went, in search of this mysterious ballroom. We opened many doors, none of which were locked. Until we reached one that was. And another. And another. The last one gave way a bit, and although still locked, we could see it. The ballroom. It reminded me of a French aristocratic grand hall with a fireplace at one end, windows along the wall, and impressive high ceilings. I took ballet for years and longed to dance in a room like this, practice my bar exercises while staring out onto the streets. When I visited the hotel again several weeks later, the doors were miraculously unlocked, for no apparent reason.

Can you see the ghosts? I sure felt them.

There was another ballroom on the first floor, a space in the lobby with old room key mail boxes no longer in use, and worn out rugs, paint, and a dreary ceiling. Here's a photo that shows how the hotel lobby was once a grand, opulent entryway.

Can't wait to go back...

Favorite things

I have some favorite things in downtown:

Angels Flight - the shortest railroad in the world. Actually killed an older man in 2001 after it derailed and slammed into the other car at the bottom. I used to ride this every day in 1997 when I worked as a temp in the CA Plaza buildings. The fare was $.25 and still is, I believe. Maybe inflation bumped it to $.30. It's fun and unusual and nostalgic.

The Grand Central Market. Best place for fresh, affordable fruits and veggies. Also great Chinese noodles and apparently the best taco in Los Angeles, though I haven't discovered the vendor for this. I heard a rumor...that's for another blog.

And my favorite, the Bradbury Building, famous for it's role in "Blade Runner" and numerous other films and television shows from 1950 - 2007. It's sophisticated iron work and glass ceiling make it one of the most breathtaking structures downtown. In my humble opinion.

Blade Runner

I can't say the entire reason I moved downtown was because of the great price I got on a short sale, or the amazing view from my windows. Deep down, I wanted to live in the city I fell in love with in "Blade Runner." This is my all-time favorite movie. Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer and Ridley Scott just got it right. It's a perfect film, filled with gorgeous cinematography, haunting sounds, memorable music, and brilliant acting. It's an homage to Los Angeles, using some of the city's most unique architecture and street scenes. I get both teary and goosebumps every time I watch it. I don't know why. I am very proud to be from Los Angeles. We get a bad rap for all the falseness and frivolity that oozes here. Los Angeles was recently voted the least-friendly city according to Travel & Leisure. I'd like to point out that most of the population in Los Angeles is not from here. That might have something to do with it. City dwellers are so preoccupied with their careers or their images that they have little time to acknowledge others. But, I digress...

I found a link on YouTube recently that juxtaposes scenes from the movie with the actual locations. I've always loved old photographs of the city compared to new ones. This takes it to a whole new level.


A typical sunrise in downtown often includes these colors. If you're lucky, and look to the West, you see a gradual shift in colors that ends with a deep, heather gray purple.

You can also catch a few black birds peppering the backdrop (crows? seagulls? pigeons?). I can stare at these colors for hours, but they only last minutes. In the winter months, this phenomenon occurs around 6am. It's the first sight that greets me as I open my eyes, and I consider myself incredibly lucky for this.