LOS ANGELES—Widely attributed to writer Dorothy Parker, the famous quote about Los Angeles being “72 suburbs in search of a city” will feel woefully inaccurate to all those East Coasters and St. John’s alumni visiting downtown LA today to see the Red Storm play in the Hall of Fame Classic at Staples Center. [Game preview here.]
In what was once a ghost town after business hours, downtown Los Angeles, or DTLA to locals, has undergone a remarkable transformation over the past decade and is the closest thing to a bustling metropolis on the West Coast.
In a part of the city that once typified urban blight, DTLA is resurgent with new commercial skyscrapers, luxury residences, high-end hotels, and a nightlife scene that on its own would rival any city in the world. It’s definitely the most New York-ified part of Los Angeles that’s ripe for urban adventuring.
For those diehard Red Storm fans who traveled 2,800 miles to see the Johnnies play the Arizona State Sun Devils today and are staying downtown, here’s a handy guide to making the most of your trip before and after the game’s tip at 5p.m. PT. Downtown is the perfect section of LA to play tourist because everything is accessible via foot or a short Uber ride. Don’t let anyone tell you no one walks in LA!
Kick start your day the right way just a few short blocks from Staples Center with breakfast at The Original Pantry Cafe (877 S Figueroa) an old LA throwback operating 24/7/365 that’s been open continuously since 1924. Currently owned by former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan, you might recognize the Pantry from the scene in Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up” in which Seth Rogen’s character informs his father that his girlfriend’s pregnant. A classic “greasy spoon,” the Pantry is a place where Angelenos of all stripes dine elbow-to-elbow. As diner culture in New York is on the skids, the Pantry will have you feeling nostalgic.
Once you’re done filling up on the Pantry’s heaping helpings, head over to The Broad (221 S Grand Ave.), the crown jewel in LA’s contemporary art scene. The $140 million 120,000-square-foot museum opened in 2015 and has quickly become one of the city’s most important cultural institutions. Packed to the gills with works by bold-faced names such as Koons, Ruscha, Basquiat, Lichtenstein and Warhol, The Broad building itself is also an architectural marvel. If you get super lucky you might be able to sneak into Yayoi Kusama’s sold-out immersive Infinity Mirrors, which has become an Instagram sensation. Free admission only sweetens the deal.
Once you’re done stimulating yourself with iconic art, skip to OUE Skyspace (333 W. 5th St., Suite 840), located at the top of the U.S. Bank Tower, and feast your eyes on the 360-degree unobstructed view of Los Angeles below your feet on the tallest observation deck in California. From nearly 1,000 feet above the street OUE Skyspace features two observation terraces featuring the best panoramic view of the city. Buying tickets in advance online are recommended, especially if you want to ride the Skyslide, a 45-foot-long slide made entirely of glass that connects the 70th floor to the 69th floor terrace. Woah!
Finished with the ultimate bird’s-eye view of the Southland? Cool, because you have one more place to visit before the game tips. Just five blocks away from OUE sits The Last Bookstore (453 S Spring St.), LA’s largest independent new and used bookstore.
Opened in 2005, The Last Bookstore features 22,000 feet of books from seemingly every genre in what was a former bank building. Ex-New Yorkers in LA compare this bookstore favorably to the legendary NYC retailer, The Strand. The store features numerous Instagrammable photo ops and a series of small art galleries on the upper level. For those sports fans itching to find some treasures, peruse the robust sports section in an area of the store appropriately titled The Labyrinth; there are tons of out-of-print goodies to be found.
Wow, what a day you’ve had already, but your night is just beginning. After a quick Uber ride to the Staples Center it’s now time to watch what you came here to see, right? The Staples Center is located in LA Live, a mega-popular tourist destination. If you have time to spare before the game, the entertainment epicenter of downtown features The Grammy Museum, a Lucky Strike bowling alley, two concert venues, numerous retail shops and restaurants and an outdoor ice skating rink sponsored by Staples Center tenants the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings.
Although open for only 18 years, the Staples Center already has turned into a legendary sports venue. Home to the Lakers, Clippers, Kings and Sparks, the 19,060-seat arena has hosted seven NBA Finals with the Lakers, two Stanley Cup finals, three WNBA Finals, two NBA All-Star Games (with the third coming in February 2018), two NHL All-Star Games, and it will be the basketball venue for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Kobe Bryant memorably scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors at Staples in 2006.
So after you’ve hopefully watched the Red Storm win its ninth game of the season, what to do with the rest of your evening? All that cheering for the red-and-white has worked up an appetite, right? Assuming you didn’t gorge yourself on overpriced arena junk food, go to Cole’s (118 E. 6th St.), a late night eatery that’s one of two LA restaurants that claims to have invented the French Dip sandwich circa 1908. Located in the iconic Pacific Electric building, Cole’s reeks of old-school LA noir. It’s easy to picture nefarious characters throughout the decades sidling up to the bar and ordering a French Dip and a Manhattan before slinking out to one of the nearby SRO hotels.
If the waiting list isn’t too long and you just happen to get lucky, walk to the back of Cole’s and knock on the door to The Varnish, one of LA’s chicest speakeasies. There entrance to the cocktail bar has no sign; how fitting.
Okay, so the night’s winding down and you have an early flight back to JFK—don’t forget in LA all the bars close at 2am—but you feel like one more libation.
Don’t leave downtown without a nightcap at the King Eddy Saloon (131 E. 5th St.). Located in the historic 111-year-old King Edward Hotel on the edge of Skid Row, King Eddy is a DTLA institution. You can feel the LA history right when you walk in; legendary author John Fante wrote about the bar in his seminal novel “Ask the Dust,” LA lowlife laureate Charles Bukowski was a regular, and more recently Kiefer Sutherland is known to frequent it’s cozy environs. During Prohibition in the 1930s the bar operated secretly in the hotel basement while the storefront where the bar is currently located was a piano shop. No one was fooled, members of the LAPD and City Hall were regular patrons.
If you’re feeling a little more upscale however we recommend late night libations at Clifton’s (848 S Broadway), a former cafeteria that originally opened in 1935 and once served 15,000 people a day at its height. Since reopening in 2015, the space spans five full floors and features a restaurant and numerous bars. There are tons of different rooms and nooks-and-crannies to explore in this sprawling venue so whatever scene you’re into, Clifton’s has it.
This action-packed itinerary would make Anthony Bourdain jealous. Enjoy the Hall of Fame Classic and the rejuvenated downtown LA.