There's a world outside your car. No, really.
Like the song says, nobody walks in L.A. — but it’s not because we don’t want to.
If you want proof, just go to Venice’s Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Or Vermont Avenue in Los Feliz, or to Echo Park’s monthly block party.
V Life Weekend went looking for the streets that not only define but buoy a neighborhood. The kinds of streets that have sidewalks, where people stroll, shop, push baby carriages, eat outside, walk dogs, skateboard and bump into friends.
We dug past those marred by American mall culture (Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade), lacking local flavor (Ventura Boulevard) or characterized by four or more lanes of nonstop traffic (Santa Monica Boulevard).
What we found were the microclimates — areas that concentrate the creative resources too often dispersed across the 4,752 square miles and 88 incorporated cities that make up Los Angeles County.
“Street life is very important, especially if you’re trying to revive a community,” says Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. “Everyone is chasing what they call ‘main street retailing’ — re-creating little downtown districts.”
Chief among these, of course, is downtown itself, which has nearly 17,000 residential units; by 2008, that number will top 34,000.
That’s a lot of people clamoring for something to do, but in downtown L.A., “street life” still means something more edgy than what many people are willing to face.
ON THE CUSP
San Vicente Boulevard, Brentwood. Throw a stone on San Vicente and you’re liable to hit either a salon or someone on her way to one. Here, it’s the daylife, not the nightlife, that counts. Fresh-faced college grads rub shoulders with newly minted moms. Organic coffee shop Coral Tree Cafe has comfy couches and outdoor bonfires and Dutton’s Bookstore is an indoor-outdoor haven. But while the clothes are fit for Rodeo Drive, the chain-store cuisine is fit only for the mall.
Echo Park Boulevard, Echo Park. On the first Saturday night of each month, galleries and retailers open their doors for a block party. And in addition to shows by up-and-coming rockers, the Echo also hosts Julian Davies’ Irregular Wine Tasting. A few more nights and Echo Park can be the liveliest nabe in Los Angeles. According to Han Cholo partner and lifetime resident Brandon Schoolhouse, that moment isn’t far away. “Echo Park is a miniature New York in L.A.,” he says. “The artists are still here, the gangs are still here, but it’s expensive to live over here now.”
Downtown. Art galleries in Chinatown. Cedd Moses created swank hangs Golden Gopher and Broadway Bar & Grill in spots once haunted by junkies. And there’s plenty of sidewalks here. But few people feel safe on them for any length of time. And then there’s the horticulture problem. Those sidewalks are lined with ficus trees and their evergreen leaves are remarkably efficient at blocking streetlamps. The only thing they do better is make L.A. streets look like Anytown, USA — which is why they won’t be removed anytime soon. “The movie industry would go crazy,” laments Kyser.
WALK THIS WAY
We found four key elements in a street that has a life worth living.
1. Personal safety
2. Easy parking
3. A nearby residential area that encourages impulsive outing
4. A variety of businesses to ensure a steady stream of foot traffic and clientele day and night — which, after all, is what street life is all about.
Vermont Avenue, Los Feliz (from the Dresden Room to the House of Pies)
Why: These few blocks aren’t new, but that’s the charm; the shops have the shared history that creates a world. Nights often start at the Five-Star Movie Theater and continue with a browse through Skylight Books before going out to eat at Vermont, Indian diner Electric Karma or French bistro Figaro Cafe. Late night, single swingers still check out Marty & Elayne at the Dresden; all-night clubbers scarf down everything from burgers to tempura at Fred 62.
Ugly Streetsister: Los Feliz Boulevard. There’s great bars like the Bigfoot Lodge, but none of the latenight dining that makes Vermont appealing for both bender and breakfast.
Cahuenga Boulevard, Hollywood (from Sunset Boulevard to Hollywood Boulevard)
Why: Only the Cahuenga corridor has so many scenes in a two-block radius. There’s the world’s best record store, Amoeba Music. Big Wang has karaoke, comedy and college football. Sensitive types prefer the Hotel Cafe; rockers lounge at the Burgundy Room next door. Velvet Margarita has a dress code; Beauty Bar has a guest list. Being beautiful will help you at the gay bar across the street, the Spotlight. Dining can be sushi at Tokio, BBQ at Huston’s or a slice of pizza. Enjoy while you can; there’s a rumor that Madonna plans to build a nightclub nearby.
Ugly Streetsister: Hollywood Boulevard. Long lines and sex-shop sleaze get in the way of otherwise great bars like Cinespace, but that could change with the onset of new high-end housing developments (see GO HOME, at right)
Third Street, Los Angeles (from Crescent Heights Boulevard to La Cienega Boulevard)
Why: By day, there’s breakfast hangout Toast, and lunchtime Mecca Joan’s on Third. There’s shopping at Polkadots and Moonbeams, designer showroom Meg and first-rate cookbook store Cook’s Library.
However, this stretch has another life at night with Doughboys, which stays open late and is next door to El Carmen, the restaurant that loves Mexican wrestling. Irish bar St. Nick’s overflows into the street, as does the line outside at Wokano. And neither Sushi Roku nor the Little Door have lost their touch with the crowds.
Ugly Streetsister: Melrose Avenue. Parking is tight and while there are oases like Table 8, the stores are more interested in attracting skateboarders.
Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice (from Brooks Avenue to California Avenue)
Why: Locals grumble about the yuppie onslaught, but it’s still Venice: You might see a black lab and a golden retriever run inside and outside the Otheroom, where people are waiting on the sidewalk for the chance to order a glass of Sancerre. One block north is Equator Books, which stays open late and delights in both first editions and local artists. Lilly’s, Joe’s, Axe and Primitivo are packed, while Abbot’s Habit, Abbot’s Pizza and Tortilla Grill have cheaper eats. “This community keeps us in business,” says Equator owner Michael Deyermond. “They read books, and they buy art.”
Ugly Streetsister: Main Street, Santa Monica. No shortage of shops, bars and eateries, but meters are in short supply, they operate until 10 p.m. and parking enforcement is strict.