Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Four Can't Miss Bars in Echo Park

Echo Park is a neighborhood in Los Angeles, CA just north of downtown, off the 101 freeway. Los Angeles' film industry was centered in Echo Park before World War I, and the neighborhood served as the backdrop for many silent films. The film Mi Vida Loca explored Latina gang life in Echo Park in the 1990s. Several new apartment and condominium buildings were built in the northern portion of Echo Park as spillover from the late 1990s and early 2000s renaissance downtown.

But don't let the new wine bar fool you. Gentrification hasn't sterilized this neighborhood yet. Today, working class Latinos and Millennial generation hipsters (and yes, some plaid clad Gen Xers too) frequent shadowy dive bars serving $3 Pabst, eat at ethnic restaurants in operation for generations, and nod their heads at live music venues tucked away in the shadows, safe from the judgmental eyes of pretentious Westsiders.

The Short Stop
Only a pink neon COCKTAILS sign advertises this former cop bar turned gay bar turned hipster haven. The shadowy back room houses a pool table, a collection of police badges, and dark leather booths for quiet conversation. The narrow bar quenches the thirst of straight twenty-something "actors" and "actresses" financing edgy entertainment industry lives with Mom and Dad's green. Come for Super Soul Sundays from 10pm to 2am to dance on a packed floor to Motown oldies and 80's favorites. Ignore the worn wooden sign declaring "DANCING IZ EVIL." Groups of skinny-jeaned, pirate-mustachioed hipsters get their nicotine fix on the outdoor porch. Come early for a seat at the bar because Sunday nights also feature crowds four deep trying to get a drink.

No cover
Full bar 5pm to 2am
Super Soul Sundays 10pm to 2am
Sunset & Sutherland at 1455 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA. Phone: (213) 482-4942

The Little Joy
The kind of bar I would run if I were a tagger. Enjoy two beers on tap, play on a worn pool table, cut shadowy deals in the few booths hidden in corners, or chat up the pretty blond in the black dress with leggings underneath as you both stand around because furniture is so sparse. Surprisingly well-lit for a dive, but how else could you enjoy all the graffiti, sketches, and street art four walls can handle? Bring cash because they don't take credit cards. Cheap drinks and a DJ spinning funk offer comfort to patrons who didn't want to deal with the line at The Short Stop. More diverse crowd than the hipster-only Short Stop. Makes up with real what it lacks in hip.

No cover
Cash only
Full bar
Sunset & Portia at 1477 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA. Phone: (213) 250-3417

The Gold Room
Well-lit with tiled floors, leather booths, and a largely well-dressed, young, female clientele. Sometimes the entire staff wears tuxedos. Fiber optic lighting at the bar cycles through a rainbow of colors. And was that a neon palm tree? What is this, Miami? Sit at the polished granite bar and get all the free roasted peanuts you can eat, if you don't mind shelling them yourself. Mirrored wall next to the booths and behind the bar make this small spot seem larger. Loud, eclectic jukebox plays mariachi, bachata, classic rock and metal. A good reprieve from the local dive bar routine.

Full bar
1558 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA. Phone: (213) 482-5259

El Prado
Westside class without the arrogance. Long and wide light brown bar with plenty of stools offer ample opportunity to meet locals. Modern art, mellow lighting, and light colored wood paneling lend this wine and beer bar a chill atmosphere. Staff spins LPs from a sizable collection next to the wine bottles. Wine and beer selection hand written in white wax pen on the mirror wall behind the bar instead of in a menu is a nice touch. Enjoy olives, walnuts or pecans for $3, or spring for the cheese plate for $7. Impress a first date by ordering a glass of an obscure New Zealand Pinot Noir she's never heard of for $7. Or commiserate with a friend over a $3 glass of the finest Portuguese boxed wine you've ever cried into.

Wine and beer only
Open 7 days a week, 6pm to 2am
1805 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA. Phone: (213) 483-8609

Special Bonus:
Taco Zone Truck
The only taco truck I've seen on Yelp with a 4.5 star rating and over 150 reviews. Didn't stop them from getting firebombed(!) in mid-2009, though. Jealous competitors? Thankfully, Taco Zone is back as of early July 2009. Enjoy steaming, flavorful, tacos, burritos, and quesadillas. Taco Zone even set up a few chairs, just for you. At 2:30AM, how could you possibly go wrong with three chicken tacos for $1.25 each, and a full salsa bar? Go for the dark orange salsa if you like hot. Tacos served open face on soft tortillas the way they're supposed to be done, and not in crunchy shells like at corporate behemoth Taco Bell. Walk across the parking lot to Vons and wash down your late night taco with a Snickers bar.

Open well past 2AM.
Parked at Alvarado and Montana, on the street next to the Vons supermarket parking lot and near a car wash.

Special thanks to Echo Park resident and my guide, Nima Samadi, who took me on an amazing five hour bar crawl and taco fest one Sunday night and Monday morning.


  1. Sounds like a good time. Wish I could've been there.

  2. Leave the wife and kid at home, Raymond. I'm on my way.