Eight years ago, I made the move from New York to Los Angeles. I surprised myself by settling in so brilliantly. I soaked up every drop of sunshine and admired every impressive palm tree-lined street. I hit up every slick new restaurant in West Hollywood and every dive in Koreatown. I also completely avoided Downtown. Why would I want to hang out in a seemingly empty and abandoned quasi-metropolis, one that could never compare to my former Manhattan home? I realize now this was an ignorant assumption. But, I stand before you in 2014 a changed woman. And so does Downtown Los Angeles. It is a changed neighborhood, or perhaps—more accurately—a changed city within a city. Downtown is a complicated creature.
In the time I’ve lived here, Downtown has slowly been made over. Its once vacant buildings and warehouses are now filled with hip 30-somethings, art galleries, swanky industrial lofts, destination coffee shops and breweries. Not too far from the sketchy streets of Skid Row is a place deemed the “Best New Restaurant in America,” sandwiched between an abandoned Latino strip club and a wholesale cosmetics shop. Before 2010, no restaurateur or bar owner wanted to touch Downtown with at least a three-mile pole, and now they can’t get there fast enough. Why? Downtown, a place discovering itself at warp speed, provides a chance to take risks. The locations are inspired and somewhat affordable, and patrons have proven to be open-minded, ready for something fresh and different.
The landscape of Downtown almost feels like an escape, after all—an escape from movie studios, the Sunset Strip, beach bungalows and suburban sprawl. With a sprinkling of skyscrapers, Beaux-Arts facades, Victorian courts and a mélange of almost every other architectural style in the book, it almost feel like you aren’t even in Los Angeles anymore. And yet, Downtown is the historic core of the city; its past is still very much present, and the new feels even more vibrant in its predecessor’s company.
So, what is a proper night out in Downtown LA like? It’s eclectic to say the least. It can mean catching the sunset and grabbing a cocktail on the roof of The Ace Hotel and wandering across the street to Alma. Or it could mean hitting Bestia for pizza, pasta and the wine stylings of Maxwell Leer, one of the city’s most talented sommeliers, and then finishing with a nightcap of whiskey and a game of pool at Tony’s Saloon. Or, if you’re brave, it’s dancing the night away on Honeycut‘s packed LED-lit disco floor and stumbling home with a hangover-helper pit stop at one of the many street vendors selling something known to Angelenos as the “Danger Dog.”
The Downtown players are a mishmash of business suits, East-Side hipsters, college kids and gaggles of bachelorettes. There truly is something for everyone. Take my one night adventure as but a glimpse of how varied and colorful a Saturday night in Downtown LA can be. It is the great unknown of neighborhoods, its future shape and scope yet to be determined. As such, anything goes.
Terroni Downtown | 802 S. Spring St.
Go for: A solid Spritz, your Italian fix and swanky digs.
The Ace Hotel Rooftop Bar | 929 S. Broadway
Go for: Skylines and sunsets, people watching and cocktail slushies.
Alma | 952 S. Broadway
Go for: A night-on-the-town tasting menu with drink pairings.
Bestia | 2121 E. 7th Pl.
Go for: Fantastic food, hip-hop on the speakers and a veritable rainbow of wine.
Tony’s Saloon | 2017 E. 7th St.
Go for: Whiskey, a game or three of pool and some photo booth shenanigans.
Honeycut | 819 S. Flower St.
Go for: The disco dance floor, innovative draft cocktails, shots and feeling like you’re in on a secret.
Danger Dog Cart | 415 W. 8th St.
Go for: Nipping that hangover in the bud the night before.