Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Downtown life

For about the past seven years, I have worked in downtown Los Angeles. This after more than a decade working no further east than West Hollywood (not counting Thong World- that doesn't get anywhere near my resume...). At first, I was a bit ambivalent about it, it was more of a commute than I liked, and it was the part of downtown that more resembles pre-Giuliani New York than the ultra-clean Bunker Hill area. In any case, over the years I have grown quite fond of my little part of downtown, and would like to share with the many hoards reading (sound of own voice echoing back) some of the highlights, most of which are right on the main drag of my area, the "historic core": Broadway.

You have seen it in TV shows and movies, but the Bradbury Building is truly one of the gems of greater LA. Designed by a layman (read the page), it has a singular and spectacular five story wrought iron and brick interior that is open for five stories, capped by a skylight. I was lucky enough to have an office in there for the better part of two years, and I was never less than thrilled to go to work in the place. I was truly sad when we were moved back to the boring 70's building in which we are now stationed.

Across Broadway is another must-see: Grand Central Market. Gracing downtown for 90 years (and still the only grocery store in the area), this place is a dream of incredibly cheap produce, take-out places that range from burgers to burritos to bento. If you live anywhere in a 15 mile radius and are having any sort of party, run, do not walk over there and stock up on veggies: I have personally catered parties spending no more that $50 at this place. Be sure to check out the small sundires store tucked away on the lower level, there are bargains galore- and the place validates! Right next door is the Million Dollar Theater, a gorgeous beax-arts building now sadly shutterred. Let's hope that it reopens, as some of the other theaters in downtown have. the LA Conservancy has a program called the "Last Ramaining Seats" which tours these theaters, sadly the Million Dollar is not one of them.

Also lining Broadway are multitudes of shops, selling everything from electronics to sock to perfumes- all at great prices. If you can get over a bit of New York style grunge (this is where Hollywood come to pretend it's New York), you can find great bargains on great stuff- not just cheap crap. Unlocked GSM RAZR phones I've seen for $150 and I recently purchased a bottle of Caron Yatagan for $25- a lot less than retail. Bring comfortable shoes (hell, buy them there..) and get ready to see more crowds than you've ever seen in LA before.

An absolute must see on the street is Clifton's Cafeteria, an LA institution for 75 years, there used to be several locations downtown. Now there is only one, on Broadway at 7th street. This is Clifton's Brookdale, a fever dream of a cavern in the redwood forest, complete with "a 20ft. waterfall cascading into a quiet stream that meanders through the dining room". It's little changed since the thirties, and is not exactly shall we say "dainty". But it's real and a real piece of LA history, and the food is quite good if you can get over the fact that it's a cafeteria and not California Pizza Kitchen.

While I realise that most people who come downtown are more likely to stay with the more accessible parts like Bunker Hill with it's Disney Concert Hall, MOCA and list of squeaky clean restaurants that you can find practically anywhere, I urge you to come down the hill to Broadway and discover the other LA. If you're lucky, Angels Flight will have re-opened and you won't even have to climb the stairs......


elle said...

I actually think that part of LA sounds far more appealing than the squeaky clean parts. I hate overly sanitized, homogenized places. Yawn. I'm as much of an architecture sl*t as I am a perfume sl*t, so the Bradbury Building looks like a MUST visit place in LA to me. The Million Dollar Theatre looks great too.

tmp00 said...

The Bradbury is magnificent. Just gorgeous.

That part of LA is really the best- loads of discount shopping, both Chinatown and Little Tokyo within a short DASH (LA's local short-range busses that serve downtown for a quarter) ride, so more great food and shopping. And well served by public transporation, so you don't even need to drive if you don't want to.

The only downside is that f can kind of sketchy, real fast (skid row is right there), and parts are deserted after 5 and on weekends. But if anyone wants to go, I can certainly give directions..