The Downtown Weekender

Posted by Glenn Gritzner on October 8, 2009

Hello Enthusiasts –

First, some housekeeping. Due to a technical glitch, last week’s post disappeared, and some of you asked me about it.

So as a public service, here’s the summary: when you want to be seen – or demonstrate to your dining companion that you know people – you go to the Pacific Dining Car for breakfast, for example. But sometimes you don’t want that. Sometimes labor leaders want to break bread with business leaders without tongues wagging. Sometimes competing lobbyists want to have lunch without people thinking they’re conspiring. Sometimes elected officials want to have a meal with someone – anyone – without starting a misplaced rumor of one sort or another.

So here’s my list of places that, for whatever reason, are usually pretty slow during lunch. The only thing you’re missing is my pithy commentary – click the link if you want to see more:

Yxta, 6th and Central
BottleRock, 11th & Flower
The Standard (rooftop), 6th & Flower
Magnolia, 9th & Fig, behind the Pantry
E 3rd, 734 E. 3rd, Artists District next door to Zip Fusion

OK. Onward.

If you’re like me, your Downtown adventures tend to happen during the workweek. You’re already down here, or you have colleagues down here, so why make a special trip? On top of that, since you work down here, coming Downtown on the weekend is not the first thing that comes to mind, because it can feel like you’re coming to work. And if you DON’T work here, you don’t exactly think “Downtown” when you think of where you want to hang out on a Saturday.

But not so fast. Coming Downtown on the weekend is a lot like offseason travel: more things are closed and there’s less life, but there are fewer crowds and you can do things you normally wouldn’t do during normal workaday life. In addition, Downtown used to be D-E-A-D on the weekends. No more. It certainly isn’t *as* crowded, but people are around, and it doesn’t feel like a ghost town.

So … why would you come Downtown on the weekends? Here are just a few ideas:

Ride the Rails
Downtown is a great jumping off point to have a real urban – and eco-friendly – adventure of a day on our very own subway. Start at Union Station. Parking is easy and not that expensive, and the building itself is a destination. Maybe you have lunch at (a less crowded) Traxx, or walk across the street to Philippe’s – or grab something on Olvera Street. Or maybe you hop on the subway right away. You could get off at 7th St./Metro Center and do your little history lesson/walking tour like I mention below. Or stay on the subway to Hollywood and Highland, where you can hang out with the tourists and get your picture taken with Darth Vader or the silver paint guy. Now, head up to Universal City for some more fun with tourists at CityWalk, or better yet, go back to Union Station and transfer to the Gold Line. Make your first stop Chinatown – which feels even more exotic on the weekends because it’s even more heavily ethnic Chinese. Then get back on for a trip to Pasadena. You can eat at Bistro de la Gare, 200 feet from the Mission station, and feel transported to the French countryside. In any case, there are a deceptively large number of options off of our little subway system, and Downtown is the perfect way to start and end your fun day.

Get Some Culture
You walk or drive by MOCA with some regularity, but when was the last time you went in? You admire Disney Hall all the time, but when was the last time you saw a concert there? You’ve been to a couple shows at the Ahmanson or the Taper, but it’s been a few years. You’ve been to events at the Japanese American National Museum, but have you actually walked through it? You’ve heard about or seen the Grammy Museum at LA Live, but you haven’t actually been in. (and trust me, it’s MUCH cooler than you might think). All this sound familiar? So take your Saturday and go to the proverbial dinner and a show. Most of the “name” restaurants in the heart of Downtown have a theater shuttle. So you valet park once, get dinner, shuttle to the theater, and shuttle back when you’re done. So easy. Get tickets to a show you’ve never heard of or a concert you wouldn’t normally think of and prepare to be surprised. (or if you’re even more adventurous, go see a student show at the Colburn School of Music or something experimental at RedCat). Better yet, come earlier and hit MOCA or the Grammy Museum and make a day of it. Downtown has the best collection of cultural institutions in the State – don’t take them for granted.

Learn Some History
You’ve probably seen the circular signs near points of historic interest around Downtown that tell the story of the building or the site they are in front of, usually complete with old pictures and interesting little tidbits. I don’t know how many there are, but it’s a lot. But if you’re like me, you usually see them while you’re waiting for a friend or on your way somewhere – i.e., you don’t exactly have time to stop and read them. And besides, I always feel a little silly standing there reading them while people are jostling by me. But on the weekends, no such trouble. Take all the time in the world. Wander into the building that the sign is educating you about and appreciate the lesson. Look at the photos and compare them to what’s around you now. No matter how much you think you know, you’ll learn something. (for more guidance, Downtown LA Walks has lots of good do it yourself ideas or take one of the LA Conservancy’s walking tours.)

Watch the Game
Los Angeles is depressingly low on sports bars. How many times have I thought “where would be a fun place to watch the (name your team here, but it should be the UCLA Bruins) game?” and come up relatively blank. So your options often end up being a random bar with one little TV up in the corner, or an OVERcrowded sports bar (supply and demand) with drunk loud people rooting for 8 different teams. Not at your friendly Downtown ESPN Zone. You get all the games you want, the local games will always be on the big screen, there will be enough people so you feel like you’re rooting with folks, but it won’t be a zoo. You can even sit in the leather recliners down front while being served beer and wings in front of a 10 foot screen. What’s better than that?

Run Some Errands
Who would have ever thought you could “run some errands” Downtown? But it’s true – and you can do it without fighting the normal weekend crowds. Probably the best errand to run is grocery shopping at the Ralphs on 9th & Flower. It’s probably the nicest Ralphs you’ll ever go to, they have all sorts of wonderful prepared foods, the wine selection is incredible, and they validate parking. Go on Sunday morning to see hungover loft dwellers figuring out breakfast. Or make some points with your significant other by going to the LA Flower Mart (on Wall between 7th & 8th). You’ll never see a wider range of flowers, and that’s where your florist is getting the flowers she’s selling you at a higher price, so why not cut out the middle man? (if you ask nicely or slip them a little tip, they might even help you arrange them.) Also, you can get your hair cut at Rudy’s inside the Standard lobby (if you’re a guy), almost certainly without a wait. I noticed a couple of dry cleaners that were open recently (though I didn’t get their names – apologies). And the FedEx Kinko’s that just moved from Fig & 6th to Flower and Wilshire is open on the weekends for when you need to overnight that last minute gift and don’t know which post office is open. Where else in LA can you park once and get so much done??

People Watch
Going out in Downtown on a weekend night is an experience in and of itself. Weeknights, you get the usual collection of local loft dwellers, and nearby office workers. But on weekends, a whole different crowd emerges. Some Hollywood hipsters make the trek. Some Koreatown hipsters (though of a different sort) are usually floating around. There are, of course, still the locals. And LA’s version of bridge-and-tunnelers are in more abundance than you would think (you know who you are … but if you live anywhere that ends in “-alley”, you might be a bridge-and-tunneler.) Yes, the bars can get crowded on a Saturday night (which is a good thing), but if you go more to look at who’s around you than anything else (you’ll have your fun after work some night when you can actually talk to the bartender), it can make for an amusing evening.

Those are just some ideas. The point being: don’t put Downtown out of your mind after Friday at 5 pm. There’s stuff going on down here and, just like the rest of this great City, if you make the effort to go out and find it, you’ll have your own unique and fun experience.

Stay safe and happy travels.