An East Side Safari for a West Side Arriviste

When I first moved to Los Angeles, people kept asking me if I was East Side or West Side. At the time, I was dumbfounded: I didn’t know you had to join a gang to move here. What I soon learned was they were telling me I had to choose a side of town, and by extension, what kind of person I was. One person wrinkled his nose at me when I told him I wanted to live by the beach. “Ewwwww, I hate the West Side. HATE IT.” He was practically shaking from disdain and anger. I chose West — Santa Monica — but soon learned that while the area had a few decent restaurants, amazing air, and a beautiful beach, it was sorely lacking in anything to do if you’re not a yuppie or a sorority girl aspiring to be a yuppie. So when I had the opportunity to stay over the weekend on the East Side, I took it, as the 40-minute drive often stops me.

When you move here from New York, you either move to Silverlake or Echo Park (East Side) or you move to Venice, which, even though it’s a beach, is probably one of the most urban and walkable places in L.A. However, the hipsters were definitely East Side, and while the sight of a large number of white people with asymmetrical haircuts essentially squatting in a Mexican neighborhood disturbs me, I had to admit they have the better bars, better clubs, cuter restaurants, and more cafes. If you’re 20 or 30, the East Side is undeniably better. (Hollywood, by the way, is for suckers. No one actually wants to live in Hollywood).

My East Side adventure began Friday night for drinks at Edendale Grill in Silverlake, which is a converted firehouse-turned-bar and restaurant. It managed to be packed and spacious at the same time, with ample outdoor (heat lamps, yay!) and indoor seating. It’s the type of bar that could exist in Brooklyn in Red Hook and was very much a scene. I rated this experience highly, since numerous members of the opposite sex actually smiled at me, which basically never happens in Santa Monica.

The next day was spent eating, walking, attempting to dance, and drinking. We ate at Masa, which was recommended by nearly everyone, and I could see why. The brunch — particularly their version of eggs Florentine — was delicious, and served on their signature thick, squishy bread. The downside: being surrounded on all sides by braying hipsters.

After a walk around the Silverlake Reservoir, I went to dinner at a vegetarian place called Elf Cafe (portobello mushroom and mashed potatoes, holla!) before going out with a friend who was originally from Chicago and had lived in New York, to a party called Spirit at the Grand Star Jazz Club in Chinatown, which is also where Full Frontal Disco is held.

We got there early to partake of the $5 special, and it was predictably empty. The party is the logical extension of the Body and Soul musical world; it’s the sort of party where people don’t go dancing, they go Dancing. We saw more than one person do stretches in anticipation of their deep house workout. However, after an hour of waiting for the music and the crowd to pick up, we blew the joint.

Already out cash for parking, we chose somewhere free and easy, in this case the infamous Akbar in Silverlake, voted the second best gay bar in America by Trip Out Gay Travel. Akbar is cute — more like a neighborhood bar where gay people hang out. The layout is basically business in front, party in back; one part of the bar is the chill side. In the back, there’s a tiny full-fledged dancefloor with a soundsystem. Again, we were deflated … after a few minutes of promising music, the sounds turned sour, and we decided to call it a night.

Even with all the roaming around, I was only driving less than 10 minutes in any one direction, traveling as little as two miles, in some cases. This was a revelation, as I usually have to drive a full 30 minutes to go out most nights because I live at the end of the Earth.

Still, if you weren’t bar-hopping right on Sunset, you had to drive. This is a concept I still have a hard time with; driving a mile or two to drink, even if it’s just a glass, seems absurd. At the beach, I often walk or even (gasp!) take the bus.

Perhaps because the majority of people don’t really drink and drive, and aren’t really getting wasted, is part of the reason I find L.A.’s nightlife lacking in energy and fusion. The division of the “tribes,” east and west, split into even more factions (Hollywood, Los Feliz, Echo Park), makes it nearly impossible to form a real community. In New York it was just: are you downtown? Here, I’m not sure where the center is, or if there is a center, if there’s anything to hold it together. Maybe we shouldn’t pick a side after all.

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