Cranes dominate the downtown Los Angeles skyline. They’re markers of change, as the historical city centre shifts away from its rough-and-tumble past – with gang and police violence part of its once-dystopian identity – to welcome a new age. A large area divided into several districts, DTLA (as it’s known to locals) has been coming back to life since the massive Staples Center, home to LA’s professional sports teams, was built nearly 20 years ago, attracting new crowds to the area. DTLA has one foot in the old world, one in the new, walking the gritty line that lends the neighbourhood its charm and appeal. With its mainstay businesses and buildings getting spruced up and a mass immigration of young talent coming in to share their craft, this is where Los Angeles’ history meets its future.
The Space Creator
Traditionally, real estate developers are agents of change, which can mean approaching landscapes with a Gold Rush mentality, demolishing structures and neighbourhood character in turn. But what DTLA needed was redevelopment – creating functional spaces from the existing beautiful, historic buildings. That’s the call Tyler Stonebreaker, founder of Creative Space, answered on behalf of a client – Handsome Coffee, which then rebranded to Blue Bottle – nine years ago. Eschewing the idea of a one-size-fits-all type of space, he began rethinking development practices to give innovative entrepreneurs room for their unique, ambitious visions. Now, he adds, the change in the neighbourhood is palpable. “Downtown LA is being reactivated into a city centre that it hasn’t been since the ’20s or ’30s,” he says. “There’s something about it that people respond to, regardless of where they’re from.”
Ted Vadakan and Angie Myung
Poketo was created almost by accident. To promote an art show, husband-and-wife team Ted Vadakan and Angie Myung created a quirky wallet – and it sold out. “For us, the idea was that art isn’t just something you put on walls or view in a sterile setting,” says Vadakan, “but something you can carry every day.” High design continues to meet the quotidian in the homeware, paper goods and new apparel at Poketo’s flagship store in the Arts District, which, though affordable at the time, was a veritable ghost town when they opened in 2012. But now? “It’s one of the most talked-about areas in downtown LA,” says Vadakan. Later this year the flagship, which doubles as a studio and hosts weekly events, will move into the Row DTLA, a 30-acre collective of newly repurposed pre-World War II buildings, just a few blocks away.
The Drink Slinger
“Captain” Nick del Negro
Anchored by a massive faux Redwood tree that grows upward through three floors, the kitschy, woodland-themed Clifton’s has been a DTLA institution since opening in 1935, when it served hot meals to the needy for free and asked for payment from those who could afford it. A multi-million dollar renovation allowed Clifton’s to open a bar within a bar late last year. Though modern, the stunning new Pacific Seas looks back to Clifton’s founding era, celebrating the tiki cocktail culture born in Los Angeles at the hands of Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic decades ago. At the Seas’ helm is head bartender Nick del Negro, a New York transplant and young gun in the spirits world. “It’s a delicate balance,” del Negro says of the cocktails, “to find a way to celebrate the decades of history and then also find a way to add to it.” Look for enduring tiki classics made to spec like the dark rum and citrus-based Missionary’s Downfall and the pineapple and light rum-packed Three Dots and a Dash. A few modern updates, with twists like house-made ginger-clove-hibiscus syrup, debut this autumn.
The Savvy Insider
Raised in Laguna Beach, a Southern California community informed equally by the arts as well as tourism, Cindy Schwarzstein was practically bred to explore – and moving to DTLA’s Arts District only intensified that dual passion. “It’s been like the Wild West for the last few years down here,” she says, referring to the fact that while downtown LA has scrubbed up to a degree, pockets of its grit are still evident, though that may very well be part of the area’s draw. Schwarzstein founded Cartwheel Art Tours to help visitors and locals understand her neighbourhood as well as to satisfy her love for both art and exploration. The Underground LA tour she developed for Hotel Indigo offers exclusive access to private properties and uncovers the city’s subterranean Prohibition history through bygone Hollywood glam-era haunts.
The Museum Maven
On any given day, an architectural marvel on Grand Avenue has a line out the door. But it’s not a club people are waiting to enter – it’s a museum. In just two years, The Broad has become a must-see in Los Angeles, attracting millions of visitors with its socially relevant contemporary art exhibits and roster of performance programs. Admission is always free, which keeps the museum’s collection accessible for everybody, especially the neighbourhood’s original residents. “You have this incredibly, beautifully diverse population in downtown,” explains Ed Patuto, who is the Broad’s director of audience engagement. “It was important that we take care of our own backyard first, where there’s so much happening right now in terms of the arts. It’s really quite impressive.”
The Market Queen
Los Angeles is the land of promise. That’s how chefs and co-founders Sarah Hymanson and Sara Kramer saw it when they relocated from Brooklyn, New York, to open Madcapra in Grand Central Market three years ago. “It was an exciting place to be and still is. There was space for us to be part of a newer conversation,” says Hymanson.“Downtown Los Angeles is in the middle of a culinary renaissance, which ties directly to its rich history. The Grand Central Market is a perfect example – established a hundred years ago, it’s now the site of a vibrant and resurgent new food landscape.” People commute for the falafel on Madcapra’s Middle Eastern inspired menu – but those are just gateways to other California-tinged creations, like The Green, a sandwich or salad with falafel, cauliflower, pickled fennel, labneh, cilantro and mint; and the tomato salad with cardamom and chile.