Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Summer in Traffic

I live on the East Side, but I work on the West Side.  When I moved to Los Angeles, I found this scenario unthinkable.  I’d found a place in Hollywood, and while I looked for work, I looked solely east of La Cienega.   If I ran across an appealing day job that was based on the West Side, I wouldn’t apply, and would only consider driving to the West Side for a paid acting gig.  I eventually had to weaken this personal boundary in order to pursue a broader range of opportunities, and finally the wall came down altogether.  I now spend nearly to two hours in my car every day, commuting from home to work and back.  On days when I have auditions or meetings elsewhere in the city, this time increases dramatically.  One day, I spent over four hours driving, without leaving the confines of Los Angeles.

This is a key complaint amongst people who proclaim to dislike Los Angeles, or amongst those who’ve agreed to live here but merely tolerate it.  Traffic.  I’ve come to accept it.  That said, I take every chance I can to walk or ride the metro, and that’s what Carmageddon was for me: a weekend-long incentive to stay local, and use my feet or ride the metro when I wanted to go out.  It was great, and put me very much in touch with summertime.

Summer in New York City is tactile, and not just because the heat glues itself to you.  You experience summer with every step – to work, on errands, out and about in your daily life.  You’ll stop along the way for an iced coffee and walk down the street with it chilling your hand.  You’ll grab a seat in Madison Square garden on your lunch break, and notice what sandals every girl is wearing.  You’ll make note of how the fabric on your body is moving with the breeze, or clinging to your body on a breezeless day, and you’ll amend tomorrow’s outfit accordingly.  You’ll drink beverages that you don’t usually order in the winter – mint juleps, jalapeno margaritas, caipirinhas.   Your friends who live in apartments with any bit of outdoor space will host “garden” parties.   Your favorite bars will open their patios or balconies.  All throughout the city, you’ll feel summer.

Though the garden parties in LA are held in real gardens in spacious backyards (sometimes even with pools), these parties take place all year round, just as the patios and balconies are open all year. There’s no seasonal ceremony to ordering an iced coffee, nor will you notice it chilling your hand as you walk down the street, because instead, it will chill the beverage holder in your car.  You’ll drive past the parks most days, unless you have a confirmed reason to go to one on the weekend – for an event, or a movie screening.  Chances are, you won’t just be walking through a park and grabbing a seat on a bench for a spell.  The weather will, as always, be good, but you’ll be in your car, with the air conditioning on.  Here in LA, you don’t feel summer as much as you just feel LA.

So it goes.  It’s nice here.  What’s new? 

Friday, July 15, 2011

The City Observed: Thrillist's Punch Crawl - (Los Angeles Roars On)

During the week of Zooey Deschanel and Pat Morrison’s war of words over Downtown LA, two opportunities arose to experience the wonders of the metropolitan center of the city. The first was the Thrillist Bols Genever Punch Crawl on Wednesday night, and the second was the monthly Downtown Art Crawl. I did not attend the latter, but I did attend and thoroughly enjoyed the former.

Six bars in Downtown LA offered up unique punchbowls mixed with Bols Genever. For $25 dollars, we got one glass of punch and culinary treats at each stop. I love grainy alcohols, I love discovering bars, and I love Downtown LA. It was quite a night. I consider myself pretty savvy about Downtown, as I worked in the Oviatt building on 6th and Olive for nearly a year. However, that was two years ago, and Downtown has since changed. There are more people and more places, and I view them as a very good thing. Of the six bars participating in the punch crawl, I had only been to two: Cole’s and Varnish.

We started at Bar & Kitchen. Their Vondlepark Punch was a refreshing mix of Genever and Amontillado Sherry, and they served us two delectable morsels of bacon-wrapped dates. The deliciousness of both the punch and dates had us drooling over the menu and vowing to go back in the near future for dinner. I also enjoyed the atmosphere of the place: unpretentious gastropubbiness with an East Coast feel.

Next, we wandered over to the address of CaƱa Rum Bar: 714 West Olympic Boulevard, which happens to be the beautiful art deco Petroleum Building. We saw no sign or door for a bar, and were momentarily confused. We walked under the gorgeous archway into the beautifully-tiled lobby with two walls of old elevators framing a set of double glass doors. We told the security guard that we were looking for the rum bar. She directed us down a hallway (lined with historic photographs of Downtown) to the parking lot (adorned with stunning art deco light fixtures – yes, the parking lot!), where there is a tent in the corner that serves as the entrance to Cana Rum Bar. Once inside, we saw that the double glass doors at the end of the Petroleum Building lobby lead to the bar. But they’re tinted and sealed, either to create a speakeasy atmosphere, to keep rum-filled drunks out of the lobby of the office building, or to provide easy access from car to bar back to car (such is Los Angeles).

We sipped our Panamanian Detective, made with guava, Averna and limes. This was my husband’s favorite punch of the evening. I enjoyed it, though I really savored the scent of cigars from the Cigar Garden. Again, I vowed to go back for a specialty cocktail and a carefully-selected cigar from their humidor. I hope they have someone on hand to help me choose.

Our third destination was Drago Centro, in the corporate City National Plaza. I typically avoid lounging in corporate atmospheres, but as we wandered around looking for the restaurant, I noticed that the plaza is designed to offer an elegant view of the Central Library, the West Lawn, the California Club Building, and the high rises ascending out of the landscaping of the Bunker Hill Steps. It’s really a lovely view, and made the experience of wandering around a corporate plaza actually inspiring. I felt like I was in a dynamic and alluring city, because, well, I was.

Drago Centro served up a Pompeii Punch accented with nastertium petals. This was my favorite drink of the evening, as with each sip it revealed new interactions of flavor. They also cooked up a tasty fennel sausage pizza, which holds a place on their standard appetizer menu. I loved my drink, and I liked the snack, but because of the heavily corporate atmosphere of the restaurant itself, I probably won’t find myself there very often.

Next up was The Falls. We have a friend who works there, and she showed us her newly acquired badass bartending skill of lighting her finger on fire and blowing the flame down the length of the bar. This trick was far more fascinating than their punch. Called Flowing Bols, it was altogether unremarkable. We had a great time there, though.

Finally, we stepped into Cole's for a Peach Cobbler punch, with cinnamon simple syrup and angostura bitters, served with a little side of baked peach cobbler. The pie was good, the punch was underwhelming.

We were, when it came time, very ready to saunter back to Varnish, where the cocktails are always astounding. A charming gentleman named Chris welcomed us to the punch bowl and took great interest in describing to us his punch concoction, which he christened the Dutch Pugilist. He’d peeled dozens of lemons early that morning, dusted them with sugar, and let them sit for hours on end to create a zesty syrup that was the base of the punch. I remember it was wonderful, but I fail to remember details of its flavor (and failed to snap a pic), because at this point in the evening, I’d drunk a lot of punch.

Chris charmed us with his love of libations and introduced us to a distant nephew of Maurice Chevalier, who wore a well-tailored suit and stood about 7 feet tall, no exaggeration. Drinking an old-English-named beverage in a 1920’s style speakeasy, and conversing with a relative of a vaudeville entertainer transported me to a very specific Los Angeles – one you wouldn’t think exists today. And yet, behind secret doors in Downtown’s historic buildings, it endures, this roaring Los Angeles.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Liberty Weekend

My favorite way to spend the 4th of July weekend is at the beach, as I've done for the last three years. I have an affinity for Manhattan and Hermosa beaches, as do all of the rowdiest high school and college kids, who enjoy getting hopelessly drunk and baring their toasted skin. I find their antics endlessly amusing, and love being in the midst of their messy revelry.

Biking up and down the strand from Hermosa to Venice and back is a fabulous way to feel like a spoiled Californian, and I've done this every Independence Day for the past three years. This year, we have a new car, a Prius, and we didn't think to make sure that our bike rack would fit it properly. We just fastened it on, hoisted the bicycles on to it, and then by the time we entered Downtown LA, noticed that the bikes seemed less than secure. We pulled off the freeway at 3rd street and stopped in an empty parking lot.

With the skyrises of Los Angeles laughing down at us, we took the bikes off of the rack, emptied out the contents of our car, and piled the bikes inside.

The ride felt much more safe, though a little crammed, with our bicycles as our passengers.

It was, of course, all worth it, as our bicycles became our best companions on the beach. As the weekend revelers became more and more rowdy, we just sailed past them, perched atop our wheels, peaceful observers of the outrageous comedy that unfolded along The Strand.

Twenty two year old women in barely-there bikinis, their painted faces sagging with drink, dragged their flip-flopped feet behind them, as they tried to mask their lack of balance. They still, despite this charade, appeared attractive to the twenty two year old men who played less dress-up with paint and beachwear, but more with machismo. They layed it on thick.

I, too, enjoy the drink, although I avoid being drunk. My husband and I carried rum and wine splits in our totes, and we stopped in at Shellback Nation on Manhattan Beach for two bloody mary's - among the best I've had in LA - on the morning of the 4th.

Last year, on the 4th of July, we witnessed the tail-end of a night-long party that was still going strong at 10:00 in the morning. A bunch of twenty two year old men and women bounced and shouted along to each song that came on, and drank more than I've seen anyone drink at that early hour. It was a joy to watch. This year, there was no such show, and I missed it.