Broad Museum, California travel, downtown LA, downtown Los Angeles, DTLA, G and B Coffee, Golden Road Brewing Company, Grand Central Market, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Athletic Club, Neihule salon, travel, Van Leeuwen ice cream, West Coast, Wexler's Deli
When people think of Los Angeles, they typically think one of two things: beach or Hollywood. But downtown Los Angeles would like to challenge that dichotomy.
Downtown Los Angeles has always been a bit of a ghost-town. As far as major metropolitan areas go, the downtown area is surprisingly small. Greater Los Angeles is a city of sprawl like no other, and downtown has mostly been a place people went for work and then left to go home. But new efforts are underway to revitalize and rehabilitate the downtown area, or DTLA as they call it.
I’ve never spent much time in DTLA, even when I lived in Los Angeles. I lived in Westwood, where UCLA is situated, just a few miles inland from the Santa Monica beaches. To get from Westwood to downtown, you had to go south a few miles on the 405 and then take the 10 east into downtown. It was a distance of only 13 miles that could easily take 45 minutes to an hour, so we went downtown only a handful of times in the three years we lived there: to go to the Staples Center, Chinatown, or the Japanese-American History Museum for the Los Angeles Tea Festival.
So when my friends Dave and Liz invited us to their wedding, being held at the Los Angeles Athletic Club downtown, it sounded like the perfect opportunity to get to know the new DTLA.
Let me be upfront about this: DTLA is mid-renaissance, a work very much still in progress. Los Angeles still has a prominent homelessness problem, and downtown is not nearly as safe as it could or should be. There’s also a great deal of construction going on, making it noisy and dirty. But there is cool stuff to do there, if you know where to look.
We stayed at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, which is quite well-situated at 7th and Olive Streets. As the name implies, it’s a private fitness club that has rooms on the top two floors. You don’t have to be a member of the club to stay at the hotel, and you get full access to the fitness amenities when you book an overnight room, so that’s a nice perk. The room rate also includes a complimentary breakfast buffet, but it was not that good.
The rooms are amazingly large. We had a king-size bed with two nightstands, two wing-back chairs with a side table, an armoire, a full-size desk and chair, and an exercise bicycle (!) with plenty of floor space for walking about. The bathroom was equally spacious, if somewhat less well-appointed. The bed was fluffy and comfortable, and very inviting for rejuvenating naps.
The view is nothing to speak of. Even on the 12th floor (the top floor of the building), there’s really not much to see. It’s no New York or Chicago, that’s for sure. Equally unimpressive was the level of service we experienced.
Checking in took longer than it should have, and then after we got up to our room, the front desk called to say that they had forgotten to make a photo copy of my credit card and could I please come back down. First, we watched him make a copy of my card when we checked in, and second, why do they need a photo copy to begin with? And people wonder why there’s so much credit card fraud in this country.
The in-room toiletries were decent: shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion, and bar soap; but there was only one bar of soap for the sink and none for the shower. Further, when housekeeping came by the next day, they didn’t replenish the toiletries at all, let alone bring us a second bar of soap. Epic fail.
But the thing that annoyed me the most was that their hyped-up cocktail bar is closed on the weekends! What? Do the people running this hotel seriously not understand how bars work? We had planned to stop by for a pre-wedding drink, but were thwarted at every turn. Even our second choice, the on-site sports bar, was closed on Saturday afternoon. Not doing it right, guys. Not even close.
Thankfully, the rest of our stay in DTLA was more satisfying.
After checking into the hotel Friday evening, we went to dinner at Preux & Proper. Recommended by our friends, it was just the sort of hipster establishment you would expect to find in a newly revitalized urban environment. Their menu is organized oddly, and almost all items are small plates intended to be shared at the table. The prices are high—again, as you would expect from a hipster establishment—but at least the quality is high as well. Everything we ordered was delicious: sea scallop ceviche, Dungeness crab hushpuppies (Amazing! I wish I had some right now…), burrata, and house Andouille sausage. We shared Key Lime pie for dessert, and even though I’m not generally a fan of Key Lime pie, this one was phenomenal. I intended to have one bite. I definitely had more than that.
Their cocktail list is full of classics, but I went with the Lemon Smash: Xicaru mezcal, lemon, and mint. It was perfect. The smokiness of the mezcal was prominent, while the mint and lemon provided a counter-balance. The amount of ice in the glass, however, was absurd—I wish I had taken a photo. The tiny ice cubes were piled in a pyramid, the top of which was easily twice as tall as the glass. The point of this escapes me, other than just being absurd for absurdity’s sake. But hey, it was memorable!
The other most interesting cocktail-related tidbit about the restaurant is their frozen drinks, which my friend Cassius kept referring to as slushies. After dining, they give you a small glass (like a squat Mason jar) to take to the bar for a complimentary serving of any flavor of their frozen drinks on tap that night. My husband went for mango (he loves mango significantly more than I do), while I chose the Old Fashioned. I was skeptical of an Old Fashioned-flavored slushie, but it was surprisingly delicious. And it actually did taste like Bourbon. Highly recommend!
If you’re a beer fan, they have a good selection of West Coast craft beers. Their wine list is small and California-heavy, but they do offer a handful of non-California producers. It’s noteworthy that all of their wines (whites and reds) are available either by the glass for $13 or the bottle for $52. That’s an unusual pricing structure, and it would behoove you to research their list online and compare retail pricing. While Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc is a delightful New Zealand wine, under no circumstances should anyone ever pay $52 for a bottle. Considering that I can buy a bottle of it for under $20 here in DC, I wouldn’t even pay $13 for a glass. Restaurant wine pricing schemes are always highway robbery, but $52 for a bottle of Kim Crawford is downright unconscionable.
Saturday morning we headed over to Grand Central Market to meet up with Cassius. It’s an easy 15-minute walk from the LA Athletic Club. We began at G&B Coffee, where I had the best Chai Latte of my life. You can get it hot or iced. I went with the latter option, but I would love to try the hot version next time. They make their own Chai tea, and you can tell. The flavors were magnificent—so many spices! As soon as I finished it, I wanted another one.
After scoping out the many food options at Grand Central, we decided on Wexler’s Deli for smoked salmon (aka, lox) on bagels. They smoke their own fish (and meat) daily and it was phenomenal! (Their slogan is “Hey Heeeyyyyyy, Smoke Fish Every Day.” I love it.) The salmon was so thinly sliced, so flavorful, so tender. I also like that they serve their bagel sandwiches open-faced. Since I am not a reptile and my jaw does not unhinge, it is sometimes rather difficult to eat a bagel sandwich when the bagel halves are stacked on top of one another. Another plus: they didn’t overload the sandwich with cream cheese. In a sign that they take their fish seriously, they want you to taste salmon, not cream cheese, in every bite. It was far and away the best smoked salmon bagel I’ve had since being in New York last year. They also sell smoked fish by the pound. If we still lived in LA, I would definitely be downtown on the regular to buy lox from Wexler’s.
On our way out of Grand Central Market, we happened upon Golden Road Brewing Co., which was just opening up, despite the early hour (it was only 10:30 a.m.). After perusing their menu board and convincing ourselves that 10:30 a.m. was not, in fact, too early to start drinking because we were still on East Coast time, we had a seat at the bar. I ordered their brown ale because I am not an adventurous beer-drinker, I dislike very hoppy beers (no IPAs for me!), and Newcastle is my favorite beer of all time.
The Golden Road Get Up Offa That Brown did not disappoint (plus I enjoyed the punny name). Dark brown in color, it had the rich nuttiness that I expect in a brown ale, with a smooth, mellow finish. MixMasterRhead went with the Gingerbread Stout, and Cassius chose the Hefeweizen. We were all excellently pleased. Golden Road is brewed in Los Angeles, and at this time, it’s only distributed in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Hawaii. One more reason to move back to the West Coast!
Bellies full of salmon and beer, we headed off to the relatively new Broad Museum. (For those not familiar, it’s pronounced like road.) It’s a contemporary art museum founded in 2015 by Eli and Edythe Broad to house their extensive art collection. The museum has over 2000 pieces in its collection, but only about 200 are on display at any given time. The building itself has an interesting architectural style. Read more here if you’re interested.
Unlike most of LA’s museums, the Broad is free. But it’s a hot ticket, so plan ahead. You can reserve tickets ahead of time (at least a month in advance) or you can just show up and stand in line. On the day we were there, the wait was about two hours to get in. Fortunately, the groom’s parents had arranged a timed private entry for our group, so we didn’t have to wait in that long line!
I’ve never been the biggest fan of contemporary art (I much prefer Medieval and Renaissance art), but I enjoyed the Broad. There are galleries devoted to Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jeff Koons—all of whom I’ve actually heard of—and then a number of other artists I wasn’t familiar with. One of my favorite pieces was a giant dining room table and chairs. I don’t get it, but it was kind of hilarious. My other favorite was a large “balloon” animal by Jeff Koons. It was made of painted stainless steel, but it really did look like a balloon animal.
The advantage of the Broad’s small collection is that it doesn’t take long to get through it. We spent about an hour and comfortably saw everything in the main galleries. (There was a special exhibit of Cindy Sherman photos, but it’s a paid exhibit and wasn’t included with our free entry.)
Our last stop before heading back to the hotel to rest up before the wedding that brought us all to DTLA in the first place was the Van Leeuwen ice cream truck parked across the street from the museum. Van Leeuwen is based in Brooklyn, and our three friends from New York found it mildly ironic that they came all the way to Los Angeles to eat ice cream from home, but hey, it was the only ice cream truck in sight.
Van Leeuwen’s specialty seems to be vegan ice cream, which I had never had and was skeptical of. Their “single” cone consists of two scoops, so I went with traditional chocolate and vegan cookie dough. The vegan ice cream was surprisingly good. I don’t know for sure, but I would guess that it’s made with coconut milk instead of cow’s milk. It seemed sweet in a different way than traditional ice cream. The vegan cookie dough chunks had a sort of squishy texture, almost sponge-like, but they were good. I still prefer traditional ice cream, but for vegans and the lactose-intolerant, I would say that the vegan ice cream is a totally acceptable alternative.
Based on Van Leeuwen’s Twitter feed, they station their truck across from the Broad with some regularity. It looks like you can also catch them in Little Tokyo.
My final DTLA recommendation isn’t a place to stay or eat, but a salon. If you’re looking for a mani/pedi or a blow-out, check out Neihule on West 7th Street. Or if you need full-service hair care, their flagship location is just around the corner on South Olive Street. They offer complimentary wine with your service, and they’re basically across the street from the LA Athletic Club. If you schedule a blow-out, ask for Virginia—she did a great job with my hair!
Until next time, Los Angeles…