Los Angeles, California

La La

By Marshall Presnick

The first time I noticed was a Saturday night in spring. I was cruising down Sunset from Chinatown, heading to Vine in Hollywood. The windows were down, the music was right, and I was afloat on the electric buzz of life and the city. I had just left a group of friends at the Grand Star in Chinatown. Upstairs at The Grand Star was a dance club, and a pretty cool one on hip hop night, when DJs spun underground – which at that time was rising up to counter the growingly commercial cliché of gangster rap. But we had been downstairs, in the restaurant, listening to the jazz combo that featured an old Chinese guy on drums. Rumor had it that he had played with all the greats, including Charlie Parker, when they would come through L.A. And one night a week, the night the Grand Star hosted live jazz karaoke, he played with anyone who had balls enough to get up in front of the crowd of hipsters and belt out their favorite Sinatra tune. I was on my way into Hollywood to meet another group of friends at Daddy’s – a cocktail bar that had sprung up in the wake of the Swingers era, and whose vibe and décor met all the prerequisites that entailed: deep leather booths, mood lighting that turned all the girls into babies, and bartenders who knew that to get a good tip you needed a good pour. I was in the middle of a perfect Saturday night, and that’s when I knew. The next time I took a plane back to L.A. from New York it felt like coming home. I had lived in L.A. for three years.

Frolic Room, Los Angeles                                                       Photo by Noelle Thurin

Three years is about what it took me to figure out the riddle of Los Angeles, and I think that probably is a decent average. When I first moved there I hated it. I had been there as a tourist a few times, but seeing L.A. from that perspective it seems exactly like what all the critics say it is: a strip mall with palm trees and good weather. The paradox of Los Angeles is that a city which has withstood so much criticism for being superficial, and for fostering superficiality, lives so vibrantly beneath the surface. The city of Los Angeles is obvious only to those who don’t dig. Walking down a street in New York, you can linger at the window of a restaurant, checking out the patrons or the menu. You can hear the music blaring from an underground club on the Lower East Side, pop in and check it out. But L.A. is a driving city, and drivers don’t linger. You have to work at knowing Los Angeles. And knowledge we gain from work just feels more valuable. Everyone loves New York – foreigners, southerners, Midwesterners, even Texans – because it is so easy to figure out the cool shit to do there. But once things click for you in Los Angeles – once you figure out which hamburger stand has the best fries, which Hollywood dive has the best jukebox, which after-hours club spins the best house, which night is free at Spaceland – the city is yours.

Things don’t stand still in Los Angeles. Daddy’s is closed now, or has been turned into something else. The drummer from the Grand Star died, and there is no more live jazz karaoke in Chinatown. People say that Los Angeles has no respect for its own history. Maybe. But Los Angeles is very much alive and life is change and the city keeps moving forward. For every Daddy’s that closes, another spot opens up.  And it’s because Los Angeles has no old-world romanticism about the past, because Los Angeles is on the edge of the continent that points away from New York – from Europe, because the sun sets in the Pacific Ocean and the coming of night means the coming of a brand new day, that there will always be a new Los Angeles to discover.


Sluts For Hire

The first time I saw them was at Mogul’s, just off Hollywood Boulevard next to a family style Italian Restaurant.  When Mogul’s closed they turned it into one of those velvet rope places, Les Deux Café or something, outside of which Lindsay Lohan “accidentally” gives crotch shots to the paparazzi.  That’s what passes for gentrification in Los Angeles.  But back then it was a big box of a room with a wrestling ring pushed up against the stage.  My guess is that in between punk shows they had foxy boxing.  Bob and I were there to see Texas Terri, who had just gotten new tits and was showing them off nightly.  We had taken some cheap trucker speed from the 7-11 on Hollywood and Van Ness and gotten there early to check out the opening bands.  There were less than a dozen people milling around between the bar and the ring, and our expectations were low, when Bimbo Toolshed took the stage.  The super hot strawberry blonde in a Catholic schoolgirl mini-skirt and motorcycle boots strapped on a guitar.  The wiry black dude sat himself behind the drum kit and spun his sticks.  And the goateed guy in a straw cowboy hat lit a cigarette and pulled on his bass.  Then the lead singer staggered onto the stage, with her short bleachy blonde hair looking for all the world like some California chick who had just ridden down the coast with the Jokers Motorcycle Club – cigarette in one hand, and a plastic cup of whiskey in the other.  She teetered on platform sandals, and Bob and I looked at each other as she nearly knocked over the mic stand with her head.  Then the drummer banged out the time in the air, the guitar player spread her feet and ripped into a riff somewhere between punk and good old fashion rock n’ roll, the bass player leaned into the beat, and Swoopo sang.  She was like Janis Joplin with attitude – so much so that I suspected what was actually in her cup was Southern Comfort.  It was real, it was raw, it was ROCK.  But that was just the start of the night.  Then THEY came on.  I had never seen anything like them before.  They looked punk, sure.  They had tattoos, they had dyed hair in various colors.  But they were different somehow.  Maybe it was Miss Koko’s silver corset and giant pink sunhat.  Maybe it was Sam’s tight rubber shirt, or Dennis’s silver pants.  They were punk, but more importantly, they were fun.  As my head began to tingle from the pills, and I could feel every individual strand of hair on my head, Miss Koko took a deep breath.  Then she screamed into the mic: “I’m not a BITCH!”  The guitars answered her first, and then the band: “Yes, you ARE!”  Bob and I looked at each other again.  This was for real.  What followed was a single minute of pure punk attitude, tongue-in-cheek but never sarcastic, playful but never jokey.  And the songs!  Average length a minute thirty.  Fast riffs, loud guitars, the underlying tunefulness only obvious when they reference the opening of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds at the beginning of their paean to Disneyland, Happiest Song on Earth (and their 48 second version of Please Please Me.)  And they all sang, even the drummer!  At one point during the set, Miss Koko and Sam both got into the ring, mashed their guitars together, chords all tangled, and ended up rolling around in the middle of a song, without missing a note. These motherfuckers were TIGHT.  And they were called Sluts For Hire.

Bob and I didn’t hang around for Texas Terri.  We followed Sluts For Hire out to the parking lot where, still roiling from the set and the pills, I riffed an impromptu poem in their honor.  For some reason, they asked Bob and me if we would like to be their managers.  Obviously, despite knowing nothing about managing a band, we said yes.  What I got out of it was the opportunity to follow these guys around the L.A. club circuit – making sure they got their drink tickets, or got paid, but most importantly watching them play, at places like the legendary Al’s Bar downtown; The Garage in Los Feliz, across the street from the also departed best burger stand in L.A. (Jay’s which, like a zombie, has been risen from the dead in a much less attractive state); and Bar Deluxe, the red box at the top of the stairs off Hollywood Boulevard that used to share its parking lot with Musso & Frank.  After trips up to the Bay to play with Bimbo Toolshed, and a crazy tour back and forth to SXSW in Austin (just remember kids, the UFO museum in Roswell closes early), we also became friends, and would end up bowling all night at the departed Hollywood Star Lanes (they filmed The Big Lebowski here, and then they tore it down to make way for a school), where the band would draw more stares than Fred Durst rolling with two Playboy models the next lane over.  I will never forget those days, when I was getting to know Sluts For Hire and my new city at the same time.  It leaves me nostalgic for the departed places of Los Angeles.  The music scene is just not the same.  It was a community back then, and the bands knew each other, and played together, sometimes to crowds that consisted only of each other.  But there’s still Spaceland.  And luckily, in my life, there’s still Miss Koko, and Sam, and Dennis.  My friends, Sluts For Hire.


The Los Angeles Ageless

Hollywood:

Musso & Frank’s
The oldest restaurant in Hollywood and the menu is evidence enough.  The menu here is the single most archaic document I have ever read.  If you can wend your way through its old-fashioned organizational system (cheese has its own section!) and ask your grandma what’s actually in some of the ancient dishes, you can have a good meal here.  But more importantly, soak up the atmosphere.  Everyone from Bogie to Chandler to Faulkner to Jim Thompson drank here.  The waiters are pros, not wannabe actors, and the bartenders make great martinis served in properly sized, small, glasses (don’t worry – the little carafe that comes with it holds even more!)  The interior is old-school beautiful, and Al Pacino, Lawrence Fishburn, and Fisher Stevens (having dinner together at the next table) once sang me happy birthday here.

The Burgundy Room
LA Weekly’s Best Dive Bar, 2008
I hear Torrance Jackson is still working the door here.  If so, tell him Marshall says hi, and ask him to sing for you.  The man is a Hollywood institution, knows everybody on the street, and has a great baritone.  Inside, you’ll find good music, dark lighting, and Red Hook on tap.  It’s a rock n’ roll kind of bar, and back in the day they used to set the bar on fire whenever anyone played Ring of Fire on the jukebox.  Unfortunately, some assholes (me and my friends) put an end to that the night they fed five quarters into the machine and played it 10 times in a row.

The Room
Across the street from the Burgundy Room, you used to enter through the alley around back, and you could give the homeless guy parked on a beach chair a buck to watch your car in the lot of the BBQ joint next door.  It’s kind of a lounge type place now – but I think you can still dance here.

The Frolic Room
Possibly the original dive bar.  Still has the best neon sign in L.A.  Small, and not as dirty as it should be.

_

Korea Town:

Taylor’s
You ask me, this is THE place for steak.  Inspired me to learn all the different cuts, and the various attributes of the culotte.  Red leather booths; the Molly salad is their version of the wedge; and ask for the skirt steak special, even if it’s not on the menu.

Soot Bull Jeep
Just a block or so from Taylor’s, this is Korean BBQ at its down and dirty finest.  If you don’t like smoke, and you don’t like meat, don’t come here – the ventilators above each table have seen better days, and meat is what’s for dinner.

The Prince
If you drink Crown Royal so quickly the bartender usually leaves you the bottle, you’re really into Korean Techno, or lawn jockeys and mediocre British landscape paintings are your décor of choice, this is the place for you.  Only L.A. could create a restaurant/bar Frankenstein monster like this.  In a former Art Deco hotel, the Prince is a Korean restaurant where the hotel bar used to be.  I have never tried the food here, because I come for the Asahi and Soju. And so should you.

Rosen’s
Karaoke is for attention grabbing solipsists.  Song houses are for people who love to sing.  Rosen’s will rent you a private karaoke room of any size, for 2 people up to 30.  The song selection is large, and you just have to ring the bell and a waiter comes to your room to serve you.  The best part?  The one way mirrors allowing you to watch your neighbors belt out Sister Christian.

El Cholo
Classic.  L.A.  Mexican.

The H.M.S. Bounty
Another bar in a former Art Deco hotel, the Bounty used to be across the street from the Ambassador, the famous L.A. hotel whose famous nightclub was the Coconut Grove, and whose famous kitchen hosted RFK’s famous assassination.  But they tore down the Ambassador to build a school.  To mourn its passing, why not spend the cocktail hour hunched over a stiff one surrounded by neighborhood regulars who might have actually cut a rug in the hopping nightspot across the street?

_

Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park:

Spaceland
This place is a legend.  It’s what music should be about.  It’s small and they only book good bands – touring and local.  There have been times in my life when I just went to Spaceland – not even checking to see who was on that night.  One night I went to a benefit for Possum Dixon, whose gear had just been stolen.  Beck was the headliner, solo acoustic accompanied by a small beat box machine.  He sucked.  I noticed Pat Smear in the corner.  My buddy Jason noticed Dave Grohl.  Then they both strolled to the stage and put on guitars.  Dave Grohl leaned into the mic three feet from me, and announced, “We’re the Foo Fighters,” then proceeded to play their first concert ever.  I think Monday nights are free.

Cheetah’s
I’m not ashamed to admit that there was a time in my life when I was at this local strip joint at least twice a week.  “Cheetah’s is different,” I’d tell myself.  And you know what?  It fucking was.  Jezebel was this super tatted Asian chick who only danced to Sabbath.  Athena was eventually arrested for stalking Brad Pitt.  This one chick danced to flapper music and didn’t even take off her clothes.  And then there was Raven.  I don’t think they make places like Cheetah’s anymore.  Where you can hang with your friends and the girls aren’t constantly hustling you for a dance.  But they did once, and it was miraculous.

The Tiki Ti
Warning: this place is SMALL.  I have tried to go here several times but never actually made it inside.  But the place is classic, from what I hear.  Let me know what you think.

The Dresden Room
If you saw Swingers, then you may remember this place.  Another old-school classic.  Wonder if Marty & Elaine, the entertaining if mildly competent jazzy duo, still play?  Me and a departed friend spent a season here once, whiling away bright hot L.A. summer afternoons hunkered over martinis, in the dim cool comfort of the bar.

The Smog Cutter
Speaking of karaoke.  The Asian women who run this tiny dive are crazy.  The crowd is suspect.  The karaoke is awesome.

The Drawing Room
God, I can’t fucking remember the name of the bartender with beautiful blue eyes whose glittery makeup just could NOT keep your attention from wandering to her enormous tits.  It would have been easier if literally 80% of them hadn’t been exposed to the open air.  A classic dive, this place opens at 6 A.M.  There’s a spot across the street called Ye Rustic which supposedly serves a good brunch.  But who needs brunch if you start drinking at 6?

Good Luck
In old Hollywood everything used to be themed: Egyptian movie theaters, Under the Sea car washes, Post-Apocalyptic smog testers – everything.  This bar is themed.  Chinese this time.  I have enjoyed this place on and off since it opened.  Comfy.  Good jukebox.  I once picked up a chick here who looked like Jennifer Connelly and was moping about being dumped by Jacob Dylan.  When I got her home she drank a bottle of gin in one go, took off her clothes, and hid in my closet for several hours.  Sometimes the west-side invasion makes this place suck, though.  Check it out.

Akbar
My favorite gay/straight bar.  Only on the east side.

La Frere Taix
This is a French Country Cuisine restaurant.  I ate here once, I think.  All I remember is that it was expensive.  But you will go for the lounge.  They have open mics once a week or something.  But again, it’s when the hipsters meet the old regulars that sparks really fly.  And this is one of those places.

The Brite Spot
After the Taix (or before) you could eat here.  It’s just across the street.  A cool guy took over a failing diner and this is what happens.  Good food.  Cool people.  Open late.  Nough said.

The Echo
Prime rock and dance club.  East side.

_

Elsewhere:

Mr. T’s Bowl
Yes, this used to be a bowling alley.  For a while, you could get behind the curtain and go backstage with the bands and see the actual alleys – pins and balls strewn in the rubble.  I have seen some awesome rock shows here.  And the tiny bar area still fills with local alcoholics on some nights.  Cheap Miller High Life, and attitude from the bartender – who was almost hot, in that indeterminately Eastern European, super-tight blond pony-tail, and braces kind of way.  The braces are probably off by now.

All Star Lanes
Since they closed Hollywood Star Lanes this is really the only spot to roll.  They recently redid the lanes, and the bar is big – and has karaoke!  I once rolled a 260 here, unconscious.

Locations in Los Angeles

Grand Star Jazz Club
943 N.Broadway (Sun Mun Way)
Los Angeles, CA 90012
213-626-2285

http://www.grandstarjazzclub.com/

Musso & Frank’s
6667 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA

(323) 467-7788
http://www.mussoandfrankgrill.com/

Burgundy Room
1621 1/2 N Cahuenga Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028

(323) 465-7530
More Info

The Room
1626 North Cahuenga Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90028-6202

(323) 462-7196‎
Google Maps

Frolic Room
6245 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90028-5310

(323) 462-5890
Google Maps

Taylor’s Steakhouse
3361 West 8th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90005-2438

(213) 382-8449
http://www.taylorssteakhouse.com/

Soot Bull Jeep
‎3136 West 8th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90005-1903

(213) 387-3865
Google Maps

The Prince‎
3198 West 7th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90005

(213) 389-2007
Google Maps

Rosen Music Studio‎
3488 West 8th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90005-2518

(213) 387-0469‎
Google Maps

El Cholo
1121 S Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90006

(323) 734-2773
http://www.elcholo.com/

The H.M.S. Bounty
3357 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90010

(213) 385-7275
http://www.thehmsbounty.com/

Spaceland
1717 Silver Lake Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90026-1221

(323) 661-4380‎
http://www.clubspaceland.com/


Cheetahs
4600 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027

(323) 660-6733
More Info

The Tiki-Ti
4427 Sunset Blvd.
Hollywood (LA), California 90027

(323) 669-9381
http://tiki-ti.com

The Dresden Room
1760 No. Vermont Ave.
Hollywood, CA 90027

(323) 665-4294
http://www.thedresden.com

Smog Cutter
864 North Virgil Avenue,
Los Angeles, CA 90029-2941

(323) 660-4626
Google Maps

Drawing Room‎
1800 Hillhurst Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027-4408

(323) 665-0135‎
Google Maps

Good Luck Bar‎
1514 Hillhurst Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027-5516

(323) 666-3524‎
Google Maps

AKBAR
4356 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90029

(323) 665-6810
http://akbarsilverlake.com/

Le Frere Taix
1911 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90026

213-484-1265
http://www.taixfrench.com/

Brite Spot
1918 West Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90026-3229

(213) 484-9800
Google Maps

The Echo
1822 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026

213) 413-8200
http://www.attheecho.com

Mr T’s Bowl
5621 1/2 Figueroa
Highland Park, CA 90042

323-256-7561
http://mrtsbowl.tripod.com

All Star Lanes
4459 Eagle Rock Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90041

(323) 254-2579
http://www.allstarlanesbowling.com

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One response to “Los Angeles, California

  1. Noted, nice article

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