2 days in the Valley

… And a few in WeHo. Part 2 of our coast-to-coast travelogue. Now up: L.A.

Travel-1

HOT IN THE CITY | The salsas at Light My Fire in the Farmers Market have provocative names like Anal Angst and Colon Cleanser, making them popular with a gay crowd. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

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ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

West Hollywood, The Castro, P’Town, Chelsea, Key West, South Beach: The names alone of these locales are synonymous with gay culture. But just as Dallas boasts two gayborhoods in Cedar Springs and Oak Cliff, so does Los Angeles claim two queer destinations. The Silver Lake district — east of WeHo and abutting the hills of the San Fernando Valley — is one of the most populous gay ZIP codes in America. And if you have a car, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy both on the same trip.

The car requirement isn’t merely a suggestion. L.A. has notoriously insufficient public transportation (watch Who Framed Roger Rabbit? for the backstory) and everything is pretty spread out — traffic is more congested than a kindergarten in January.

WeHo — centered mostly along a mile-long strip of Santa Monica Boulevard (the old Route 66) — deserves its reputation as queer central: Simply put, it is one of the gayest towns in America (its police cars are even decorated with rainbow colors). Crammed with shops, restaurants, gyms and clubs within two square miles, its population has remained fairly constant for 50 years (last census, about 34,000), but you could spend an entire day walking around without running out of things to do (while barely ever seeing a straight person).

Travel-2

UNTIL THE SUN COMES UP OVER SANTA MONICA BOULEVARD | Well, actually it’s Wilshire. And the sun is setting. But L.A. is still a great place to visit, especially the gay enclaves of West Hollywood and Silver Lake. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

A big Starbucks (known as “the gay Starbucks”) has benches that look out on the strip for great people-watching opportunities. If you want more than coffee and a scone, though, Basix is an essential stop, with brunchy items available much of the day (try the delicious blackened ahi tacos).

For lunch (or dinner or even late-night bites), two unmissable eateries are right next to each other. Hamburger Haven is an institution a la Hunky’s: a burger joint with a devoted following. The buns are grilled on the classic “sassy cheeseburger,” and thick cut fries are must-haves; next door, Bossa Nova serves what it calls Brazilian cuisine, though its large portioned pasta dishes are the main staples with locals. Both are open well into the early morning hours, and for good reason: They are across the street from two popular gay clubs.

“Welcome to the fabulous Abbey, where the drinks are cheap and the boys are cheaper,” one local jokes. Now 20 years old, The Abbey truly is a legendary club.

Designed to conjure a cloisters, it attracts a wide range of types (including straight clubbers) caught up in its energy, shirtless bartenders and go-go boys and girls.

Next door, Here Lounge is a unique and fun spot, a sports bar where you don’t watch sports so much as fantasize about athletes. Even gay Angelenos marvel at their theme nights, like Hooker Casino on Saturdays and Stripper Circus on Wednesdays.

There are almost too many other clubs to count: Revolver, one of the oldest gay bars anywhere (it recently returned to its original name); Gym, a sports bar; Rage, where the young guys hang out; Trunks; and many more.

You can venture further out, though, and still have a great time. South of WeHo, The Grove and the abutting Farmers Market are great destinations, not only for shopping but for some history.

The Grove is a lovely, new, high-end outdoor shopping center (weekdays, Mario Lopez films exteriors for Extra here) with everything from Abercrombie & Fitch to Crate & Barrel. Next door, the Farmers Market — founded in 1934 — offers almost the opposite experience: Old-school charm. Stop by Loteria for some excellent tacos, or satisfy your craving for heat at Light My Fire, where hundreds of salsas (some with names like Colon Cleaner and Anal Angst) are for sale.

Into the Silver Lake area, a good pre-clubbing dinner stop is Malo along West Sunset Boulevard. For California Tex-Mex, it serves a super spicy house hot sauce with its chips (the sauce also accents the cheese chili rellenos), and the house infused tequilas are great. Try also the tres leches cake for dessert — one of the best anywhere.

Travel-3

ISLE OF PALMS | Even in winter, Los Angeles stays sunny most days, though at night you’ll want a jacket. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

When done there, haul over to The Eagle L.A., a predominant leather and Levi bar in town (emphasis on the word “dominant”). Skeevier than its Dallas counterpart but spacious and fun, it attracts an enthusiastic bearish clientele  (a surprisingly popular subculture in slick, Botox-happy L.A.). Incredibly crowded on big nights like Mr. Eagle, it’s a fun place even on an off-night with muscular, nearly naked bartenders. (In L.A., it’s legal for porn to play in bars, and while not all take advantage of that, The Eagle sure does.)
Faultline, not too far away, is a rougher leather bar, and the straight club Little Temple is a gay-friendly spot to see interesting live music.

You don’t need to get the totally “gay” experience to enjoy L.A., either. West of WeHo, Beverly Hills is the famous enclave of the wealthy, with pricey boutiques and lovely homes worth a drive. The city is also loaded with interesting architecture from the 1930 through the ‘50s, which you can enjoy in WeHo, Silver Lake or even the San Fernando Valley.

“The Valley” has a reputation as the pimply-faced stepbrother of central L.A., but there’s interest there, too … and even some celebrity sighting opportunities. Aroma Cafe in the Studio City area is a large, hipster-friendly outdoor bistro that’s ideal for hangover brunches, but just as good for a completely sober breakfast, especially for one of the huge omelets or an unusual but tasty version of chilaquiles. (It’s also across the street from the Italian restaurant where the murder Robert Blake was accused of took place.)

Tool around slowly in Studio City or Burbanks, and you can see some of the facilities where TV shows like Will & Grace were shot. You might even see some celebs walking around or getting their dry-cleaning. That’s Los Angeles for you.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 27, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

TASTING NOTES: Central 214 gets a makeover

GrahamDodds_100There’s more than coffee brewing over at Central 214, the schmancy restaurant inside Kimpton’s Hotel Palomar and a frequent hang for the gay crowd.

Last fall, longtime exec chef Blythe Beck left unexpected. She was replaced last month with Graham Dodds, pictured, formerly of Oak Cliff’s popular Bolsa. Word came this week both of Dodds’ new menu and that the restaurant will undergo some other major changes this spring — though we don’t know what those are, other than Dodds calling them a “face-lift … that will marry the food and dining atmosphere.”

We do know that Dodds will be incorporating some of his Bolsa ideas into the new concept: Local farm suppliers, seasonal updates and drawing his inspiration from the availability of fresh ingredients. And it also looks to be a total makeover: Starters, entrees, desserts … even the bar menu. Among the additions: “Popcorn” sweetbreads (as an app!), blue cheese terrine and pear with honeycomb, crisp (!) gnocchi with the oxtail ragout, paprika-honey glazed lamb breast (interesting) with cannellini beans and a chocolate-cranberry pavlova.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas