Keep Doing You, LA
(writing from McAllen, Texas)
If you land at 8:30 in LA and can't get back to the hotel until 9:30 - is it worth going out to sight see? After a lackluster day of duty (i.e. much sitting) our bodies had already begun the transition into sleep mode. But LAX welcomed us with a sweet 78 degree breeze despite the late hour, and considering me and my crew had begun our day in a 30 degree snow storm, we reasoned that we had no choice but to force ourselves out. Besides, isn't LA a night city as well? What day was it again? We checked our phones - ah, Saturday! A "normal people" day off! Of course we're going out.
Yelp apps were opened and our first stop was a public art display called Urban Light. The piece is beautiful, a collection of refurbished LA street lamps arranged in neat lines. The lamps are stunning, especially with the stark contrast of palm trees behind them. (For me, palm trees are a required sight on warm stops. They are my symbol of *Not Home*). Had we arrived at a more normal hour, we might have been able to explore the art museum next door, but unfortunately nearly everything had closed. Still, having just watched "La La Land", the scene fit neatly into my schema of what LA should feel like. Glowing, mystical, and hot.
Emptier than I had expected... but it's fine, I reasoned, might as well walk the streets and imagine what LA is like in daylight.
****Did you know that LA is a city where it is especially difficult to walk anywhere? I didn't.****
In LA, like places are not by like places, and Chicago-born that I am, I assumed eventually we'd hit some sort of bar saturated street. We didn't, and so for awhile simply walked and did that thing you do when you have no idea where you're going, or if you're a parent on a road trip attempting to make conversation after three hours of silence:
"Oh, look! A Blaze Pizza!"
"Is that a bookstore or a tattoo shop?"
"Why are people congregating in the yoga studio at 10:30 at night? Are they singing in there? Like, meditationally? Should we go sing?" *side-eye* "No?"
"Whole Foods, nice!"
We walked for 15 minutes before I conceded to Google Maps and started researching bars. The nearest one was a mile away, so rideshare it was. The nice thing about LA is the Ubers are surprisingly cheap - less than half the price of Houston or Chicago. I picked a location based on Google reviews, a less than trustworthy source, but our only current ally seeing as Yelp kept pointing us to Qdoba (five stars though!).
It was our Uber driver who first informed us we were in west Hollywood.
I'm not sure how I had imagined Hollywood to be, but the area we were driving through seemed fairly suburban. Widely spaced, grocery stores, geometrically pleasing houses - nothing too absurd (besides the palm trees!) or Hollywood-esque. But who am I to even say what Hollywood-esque is? A Z-list nobody, that's who.
The Hollywood sign was too far to make a pit stop by, so we headed toward our googled destination and pulled over in front of a small open bar called Montrose Umbrella. Small, but packed. A throng of 20 and 30 somethings overflowed from the bar onto the patio and at least 15 bar-goers stood outside waiting to enter.
..We were committed, but not that committed. Like magic, an oasis of lights and greenery appeared around the corner. "There," I pointed, "we are definitely going there."
Our new destination was called Santino, and it was closing soon, but the staff allowed us to order a glass of wine each, and we took in the glittering lights entwined through a tasteful amount of greenery on the patio. The temperature couldn't have dropped more than ten degrees, but each table was surrounded with three tall heaters, the likes of which we wouldn't see pulled out in Chicago unless it was sometime between October and February (translation: under 40 degrees). Servers were pulling lanterns off the tables and snuffing them when the bartender apologetically told us we should have come an hour and a half earlier.
We assured her we needed a calm warm-up, and asked her what her preference of bars was in the area. The answer was a resounding "none of them." She retracted that statement upon recognition that we were tourists, suggesting a few dives, but again we were informed that it was hard to go anywhere in LA without knowing your destination. Since we'd already taken a car twice, we were committed to foot travel.
Thankfully, the initial crowd had died down and Montrose Umbrella was a doable level of crowded. I was pleased we gave the bar a second look, since it was decorated rustically, complete with a stuffed goose which was portrayed mid-flight, mid-honk really, and an assortment of mismatched wooden tables and chairs. I liked it, despite the mix of 90s, disco and current tunes the DJ was only half successfully weaving together.
When I visit a new bar, I feel obligated to order something from the specialty cocktail menu, because otherwise what am I even doing besides wasting funds on a forgettable drink? Thirty bucks later and we had a Banana Me Crazy and a Romance on the Whatever - not the actual name, I honestly can't remember where the romance was, clearly it wasn't coming from the DJ booth. The banana was a more classic fruity - I don't want to know I'm drinking alcohol- while mine had a tasty gin and smoke flavor brought about by the bartender lighting my rosemary garnish on fire before serving it to me. I dug it, but he ignited my banana cocktail on the other side of the bar first, and I have to admit I was a bit sour that some other customer who hadn't just laid down 14 dollars was enjoying my flame show free of charge.
My coworker and I stood for two minutes before a gentleman appeared with two chairs - which he then unconvincingly seemed to believe only attached to his own table. We sat, and I was able to get my first full grasp of the LA folk. Even within the same group, attire ranged from slacks and button downs to jean jackets and what I can only assume were pajama pants. I spotted club dresses, Converse shoes, and an old college hoodie sharing a round of shots. One fellow in particular confused the brain - reeking of a cologne we could smell from ten paces away, but appearing as if he was more likely to carry the scent of McDonald's wrappers, a bottle full of urine and gasoline. His sneakers looked especially odd next to the sky high heels and stretchy jumpsuit of the lady next to him.
Champagne appeared, and we were informed a gentleman had bought a glass for the entire bar. "What for?" I asked, and the server shrugged. "It's Saturday."
A drink or two later and my coworker and I were falling asleep on our feet , a situation which was not helped by the metronomic mesh of oldies and pop. One Uber later (FOUR DOLLARS!!) and we disappeared, promising the previous chair bringers we'd let them know if we were ever back in town. One smart fellow, who'd been particularly interested in my coworker, pointed out she'd failed to give her phone number.
I wanted to respond that this is Hollywood, she's find you in a particularly serendipitous way if need be, but he didn't seem like he'd buy it. She exchanged Instagram accounts (the cautious woman's way of saying goodbye forever) and we were whisked off toward our overly crisp hotel sheets and half packed luggage.
Until next time, LA, when I'll be ready with a treasure map of Yelp reviewed bars and Uber credits...