DTLA goes gay - Downtown Los Angeles' surprising style
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To many gay San Franciscans, taking a weekend trip to Los Angeles has come to mean hanging out in LA-adjacent West Hollywood. A city of its own, WeHo often feels as if it's also in an era of its own: A perpetual Gay '90s, abulge with fitness, whiteness and the early reign of Her Britness.
But over the past few years, downtown Los Angeles -known as DTLA- has emerged as a new nexus of Southern California queerdom; home to a hipper, grittier, more diverse nightlife, an appealing bounty of cultural offerings, and the pioneering spirit of a community coming into its own.
Perhaps the most telling sign of DTLA's gay ascendance is the establishment and success of its own annual Pride celebration, held just two months and ten miles from WeHo-centered LA Pride.
This year's DTLA Proud Festival, expanded to three days from two in response to capacity crowds last year, will take place from Friday, August 24 through Sunday, August 26 at Pershing Square Park. All three days feature live performances, DJs and dancing, a queer art exhibition and the festival's signature element, a pop-up waterpark-so wear your swim trunks.
The successful festival is the first phase of a long-range plan by the four-year old DTLA Proud non-profit organization.
"This year, we're putting together a map of all the queer-owned businesses," says Oliver Alpuche, the group's co-founder and president. "And we're starting to raise the money to open a community center."
While focused on bringing local LGBTQ residents together and strengthening their sense of community, the festival also offers an opportunity for out-of-towners a point of entry for exploring DTLA's new gay energy.
DTLA Proud Festival Pershing Square Park 532 Olive Street.
Aug. 25-26. Tickets and information: www.dtlaproud.org
Burgeoning bar scene
After decades in which DTLA's only gay bar was the landmark New Jalisco, a comfortably divey hole-in-the-wall, 2015 saw the arrival of three new queer nightspots in quick succession.
Already living in the neighborhood and working as a marketing representative for Nike, Oliver Alpuche felt that downtown lacked a gathering place for its growing queer community. Despite having never worked in the hospitality business before, he began looking at potential locations to open a gay bar.
In the midst of his search, he discovered that he wasn't the only one sensing that downtown was ripe for a gay renaissance. In fact, a space Alpuche had briefly considered before settling on another location for his bar -the pubby, Cheers-like Redline- ended up becoming the enormous loft-like Precinct dance bar. In the wake of those two swift successes came a third opening, Bar Mattachine, a swanky craft cocktail bar named for Harry Hay's 1950s gay rights organization, The Mattachine Society.
On Sunday August 19, just before this issue went to press, the bar announced on social media: "Bar Mattachine closed its doors today...Goodbye... for now. To be continued."
Nevertheless, the sudden presence of a gay bar-hopping circuit in DTLA proved a catalyst for community building. Patrons who lived in the area began to recognize each other elsewhere downtown. Inspired by the positive change their businesses were bringing to the area, Alpuche and his fellow bar owners began to brainstorm DTLA Proud.
Redline. 131 E. 6th St. www.redlinedtla.com
Precinct. 357 S. Broadway. www.precinctdtla.com
Bar Mattachine. 221 W. 7th St. www.barmattachine.com
The New Jalisco Bar. 245 S. Main St. http://bit.ly/2nDdnIP
Walk through queer history
While Redline is proving to be a hub for DTLA's gay future, it's also the launching point for a fascinating trip into Los Angeles' gay past. On one or two Sundays each month (Dates vary), the bar serves as the start and end-point for a Gay DTLA walking tour and brunch run by non-profit queer educational organization, The Lavender Effect.
Along the route, groups limited to a maximum of 15 will see and learn about landmark sites of gay activism, a porn theater that dates back to the 1880s, old Hollywood's favorite cruising and hustling areas, and other locations rich in historic lore.
Perhaps the most singular shop in all of Los Angeles, Please Do Not Enter is the brainchild of gay couple Nicolas Libert and Emmanuel Renoird, who moved to DTLA from Paris, where they worked, respectively, in real estate and interior design. After falling in love with its rough-around-the-edges sense of possibility while on holiday five years ago, they decided to reboot their lives.
A concept store along the lines of Paris' now defunct Colette and Milan's 10 Corso Como, Please... is part art gallery, part boutique with a constantly revolving stock of eccentric merchandise, from androgynous couture fashions to esoteric desktop geegaws. It's become a regular stop on Hollywood stylists' shopping trips, lent set pieces to American Horror Story's Hotel, and spawned an offshoot exhibition space blocks away in the buzzy new Nomad Hotel.
Their establishment's name offers an ironic middle finger to less-visionary friends who tried to dissuade Libert and Renoird from succumbing to the lure of a very much still-in-transition neighborhood (Amidst its growing charms, DTLA continues to have a major homeless population).
"We love the urban spirit," says Libert. "It's like nowhere else in the world right now. We moved here specifically for Downtown LA, not to be in the whole of Los Angeles."
Another remarkable DTLA shopping experience can be found at The Last Bookstore, a 22,000 square foot rumpus room for lovers of literature, old and new. On the ground floor and mezzanine of a glamorous marble-pillared old bank building, the shop, open until 10pm weeknights and 11 on weekends, also has an enormous selection of vintage vinyl records and hosts author readings and other events on a near daily basis.
And a San Francisco seal of approval is arriving in the form of SoCal's first Tartine outpost at ROW DTLA, an enormous old-produce depot that's been converted into a collection of micro-brand fashion and houseware boutiques, pop-up shops, cafes and restaurants. On Sundays, an enormous adjacent lot becomes the sole West Coast iteration of Brooklyn's famed Smorgasburg food fair.
Please Do Not Enter 549 S. Olive St. www.pleasedonotenter.com
The Last Bookstore 453 S. Spring St. www.lastbookstorela.com
Row DTLA/Smorgasburg 777 S. Alameda St. www.rowdtla.com la.smorgasburg.com
Art in abundance
With its inventory of old industrial lofts and warehouses, DTLA has become a natural nesting place for artists in search of live/work space. Bringing a certain quirky flair to the day-to-day sidewalk fashion parade, these art afficionadoes flock to a rich museum and gallery scene.
It's hard to beat the combination of a phenomenal collection and free admission (with reservations recommended) offered by The Broad, DTLA's three-year-old contemporary art museum. The building in and of itself¬ -a veil of white lace over an interior of strangely organic passageways- is extraordinary, a worthy counterpart to the silvery furls of Frank Gehry's Disney Concert Hall, just down the block.
On exhibit through February is A Journey That Wasn't, a cleverly curated selection of works organized around notions of time. The show's highlight is Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson's nine-screen video installation, The Visitors, in which simultaneously recorded footage of individual musicians playing the same score is concurrently screened at different locations within a cavernous dark room. The result is a haunting sense of simultaneous isolation and connection.
Just a few minutes' walk away, the venerable Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art is chockablock with 20th-century masterworks by the likes of Lichtenstein, de Kooning, Rauschenberg and Rothko. A second downtown MOCA outpost, MOCA Geffen, less than a mile away, is closed until November.
Galleries clamor for pedestrian attention in the Arts District to the southeast of downtown. Anchored by Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, a sprawling indoor-outdoor gallery situated in the buildings and transit yards of a former flour mill, the complex hosts not only contemporary art exhibitions, but a design book store, a restaurant, and a range of public performances.
Dozens of other exhibition spaces line the nearby streets, beneath a collection of murals that rivals that of San Francisco's Mission District, including landmark work by Shepherd Fairey, JR, How and Nosm along with scores of lesser-known but equally eye-popping Angeleno artists.
The Broad 221 S. Grand Ave. www.thebroad.org
MOCA 250 S. Grand Ave. www.moca.org
Hauser & Wirth 901 E. 3rd St. http://bit.ly/2PbGhfG
DTLA has one of the most exciting collections of new and newly renovated hotels in any American city. Atmospheric lobbies, sociable pool areas, and nifty nods to local history make them worthy destinations in and of themselves.
The gleaming new Hotel Indigo, located in the least gritty section of DTLA, adjacent to the LA Live complex and Staples Center, regularly hosts events for the queer community, including an upcoming gay pool party on September 1.
Chic yet whimsical, the colorful, sunlit lobby features an enormous ornamental hat rack stacked with dozens of fedoras and a pennyfarthing bicycle abloom with flowers.
Reopened just last month, The Mayfair Hotel offers a noir counterpart to the Indigo's sunnier style. The 1926 building, which played host to the first-ever Oscars' after-party, has been stunningly refurbished in an array of shadowy charcoal tones and metalwork accents.
The reception area, centered around an illuminated fan-shaped sculpture, invites visitors to slink off and discover an array of sexy subchambers, including an ink-dark library that hosts DJs and live music on weekend nights.
Appealing accommodations are also on offer at the Spanish-styled Hotel Figeroa, in a former YWCA, the Ace Hotel, a sponsor of DTLA Proud, and the Freehand, which cultivates an eclectic crowd by offering luxury suites and bunk-bedded hostel rooms in the same building.
Hotel Indigo. 899 Francisco St. www.hotelindigola.com
Mayfair Hotel. 1256 W.7th St. www.mayfairla.com
Hotel Figeroa. 939 S. Figeroa St. www.hotelfigeroa.com
Ace Hotel. 929 S. Broadway. www.acehotel.com/losangeles
Freehand Hotel. 416 W. 8th St. www.freehandhotels.com/losangeles