The (Reluctant) Charms of LA Live

Posted by Glenn Gritzner on August 21, 2009

Hello Enthusiasts –

One of the hallmarks of a vibrant downtown in any City is diversity. It’s not enough to have a couple of cool bars, or a “go to” restaurant or two, but nothing else. In fact, one of my long ago laments about Downtown, which has now largely been rectified, is that there was no “middlewear” – you either had Carl’s Jr. or Water Grill, but nothing in between.

So with that in mind, those of us who want to see Downtown succeed should root for the success of many different options.

I make that point because I’ve been sensing a little bit of an “anti-hipster” hipster bias for many Downtown aficionados. What does that mean? It means that people who like to go out Downtown will boast that, while there may be lines on busy nights, it’s mostly first come first served and all are welcome – the people inside are not decided by some arbitrary, over-roided out doorman getting off on a power trip by deciding who is beautiful enough to come in. It’s not “scene-y” (except, sometimes, the Standard and maybe Elevate), and it’s got a feeling of “we’re all in this together” that many people, including me, like.

That being said, there’s also an element of “we’re cool enough to know about and hang out at these places” – I’m just as guilty of liking to know where the ‘in’ place is with no sign and no phone number as the rest of you are. (yes, I know that’s why most of you like this blog.)

But for Downtown to succeed long term, it can’t always be about the newest place, or the coolest vibe. It has to be welcoming to everyone, and it has to provide options to people who are still a little bit intimdated by Downtown and need an “easy” way in.

Therefore, I give you: LA Live.

Yes, LA Live is corporate. Yes, all the restaurants are chains of one size or another. Yes, there isn’t what one would call “personality”, unless you count glaring signs and weird climbing tree lights.

But. LA Live has a number of things going for it. 1) It’s easy. It’s easy to find, it’s easy (though expensive) to park, and the places are open and welcoming. 2) It’s non-threatening. People don’t have to be convinced that the Yard House or ESPN Zone is somewhere they’ll feel comfortable – they either like it or not. I can’t tell you how many people have waited to go to the Varnish or the Crocker Club until I – or a similarly knowledgeable Downtown friend – can take them. Much as that’s misguided – Varnish and Crocker are usually just as friendly – there are no such problems with LA Live. And 3) it has lots of options. You don’t even need to decide in advance where to go. Just park and walk around until something floats your boat.

The problem is that AEG tried to hard to market LA Live as “LA’s Times Square.” It’s not. Those things have to develop organically and, maybe, at some point it will be. For now, it is a collection of restaurants depending on patrons of Staples Center, Nokia Theater, and Club Nokia as a built in client base. I do wonder how many of them also counted on the mostly now-stalled loft high rises nearby to provide an additional client base, but we’ll just have to see how that pans out. In any case, you have to accept LA Live for what it is, not for what its champions have tried to tell us it is. (Much as I have high appreciation for the vision and risk it took to build LA Live in the first place)

Some friends recently did an impromptu “happy hour crawl” at LA Live, and it worked out great. We started at Rosa Mexicana – a new place facing Olympic that has the virtues of being the only one in LA though the chain is based in New York. Open early, great guacamole, nice selection of happy hour food and drinks, and comfortable (in a corporate Mexican kind of way).

Then, we hit Fleming’s. Fleming’s is an old school steakhouse, but the bar is easy, the drinks are good, the happy hour provides decent options, and the service is always attentive.

Then, we were going to hit Katsuya, but it was closed that night (the LA Live Katsuya is great, though, if you haven’t been). Anywhere else, and this would have been a major wrinkle – do we get back in our cars and drive somewhere else? Do we walk 5 blocks to the nearest open place? Is the nearest place even open? – but at LA Live, no problem. We just hit Lucky Strike. Lucky Strike has a really fun bar … and just like that, we were bowling.

Overall, a really fun night. Were the drinks memorable? Of course not. Was the food anything I’d specifically come back for? No. Did it feel especially “Downtown-centric”? Of course it didn’t – these are chain places. They feel like they feel. But they are all trying hard on the service front, the food and drink is certainly respectable, and it’s one-stop fun, which is rare in this spread out City.

So don’t turn your nose up at LA Live – go there, sample the restaurants (and I haven’t even mentioned Boca at the Conga Room, Trader Vic’s, Wolfgang Puck’s, or the Farm), and treat yourself – and , better yet, those couple of friends from the Valley who still think they’re going to get mugged the moment they exit the 110 – to a nice, Downtown night out.

And besides, at the end of the night, you can always walk to CorkBar. 12th & Grand. Very hip. Hardly anyone knows about it.

Stay safe and happy travels.