LA: The Debrief

A quick guide to what we did and what you can do too…

Eat: Macrobiotic

No, seriously. LA is renowned for being health-conscious, sometimes maniacally so, and we were fully prepared to laugh in the face of this pretentious nonsense. But it turns out eating macrobiotic (ie fresh, unprocessed, largely raw foods) is really good. And “superfoods” are super tasty. Even committed carnivore Rob raved about the food at M Cafe De Chaya on Melrose Avenue near Hollywood. Kale salad with peanut dressing was fresh but richly flavourful, while tuna tataki and raw butternut squash salad with fennel and pomegranate were also tongue-pleasers.

There’s a reason everyone in LA looks like this:

Macrobiotic cafe

Drink: Craft ale

Californians love their craft ales and in LA a pint of draft beer will set you back anywhere between $6 and $10 (£4-£6). If you’re in Hollywood the Snakepit Alehouse is worth a try while The Other Room on ubercool Abbot Kinney Boulevard is fun, if a tad pricey, for the evening. But the best place we found to wet your whistle in the midday heat is the Venice Ale House on Venice Beach. A great selection of beers and they’ll help you out with a recommendation if you’re not sure what to try. The food looked tasty too and you can watch the weird and wonderful beach bums and surfer dudes from the terrace. [NB a US pint is about 20% smaller than a UK pint and we found a lot of places don’t serve half pints.]

Try: Recreating Grand Theft Auto V

One for the gamers, I’m afraid. If you’ve played a lot of GTA, a ride through the city is like a trip down memory lane. There’s the inner city golf course, scene of many a trigger-happy spree, the excellent death match venue that is Santa Monica pier, you can even recreate the battle with Merryweather at the Getty Center (the Kortz Center in the game). Just remember: not everyone is amused by you pretending to machine gun passers by. And by ‘everyone’ I mean Franki (although I hear the cops take a dim view of this sort of caper as well).

Spot the difference:

Kortz Centre

Getty Centre

Buy: Hats

Rob has never been able to find a hat that fits him but at Hollywood Hatters on Melrose Avenue, the knowledgeable proprietor Sal Rovero found him the Panama he’d been waiting for with a price tag of $45 (approx. £27). Listed by GQ as one of the best 7 hat stores in the whole of America, it primarily caters for the fellas (apparently Boy George buys his headwear here too) but I managed to pick up a white cotton sun hat for $35 (£22). Result.

Hollywood hatters

Do: Use Uber to get around.

One local told us the smartphone app had ‘saved LA’. In a city where walking is something you do only as a workout warm-up on the treadmill, this is hardly surprising. However, the San Francisco-based app doesn’t pay its drivers well at all so tip with cash. It’ll still be cheaper than a cab.

Don’t: Admit to ‘riding the bus’

Trendy locals with look at you like you’ve taken leave of your senses. But at $1 a time, it’s actually a pretty good way of getting around. Just don’t let on – in LA, the bus is the preserve of school kids, weirdos and the very poor (all of whom seem to be considered potentially dangerous).

And not forgetting…

…that time we were picked up by a Scientologist Uber cab driver who used to be in movies, (including a starring role as ‘Bus Driver’ in the film Rat Race with Rowan Atkinson, no less). He told us how he had sold his house to help pay for medicinal herbs for his sick wife, yet practically spat the words ‘socialised medicine’ at the mention of the NHS. He also tried out his fossil fuel conspiracy theory on us (“They say it’s running out but does anyone actually know where it comes from or how it’s made?”). What a guy.

 

Hollywood hatter Lookin’ hot in our hats…

Surfers at the Pacific Ocean, Venice Beach

California beaming: How one day in sunny Los Angeles drove away the London blues

As a natural born cynic, I sometimes struggle to see the sunnier side of life. My former boss at the Daily Mail once claimed I have ‘the darkest moods of anyone I’ve ever known in journalism’. This is a man who has worked for more than a decade with famously combustible Fleet Street legend Paul Dacre, the inventor of the rhetorical tactic known as ‘double-c*nting’.

So it is with huge surprise that I found LA slapping me about the face with a dose of pure optimism. It came as a shock. I thought the only way to derive happiness from this famously poseur-laden city would be reliving moments from Grand Theft Auto V. “Oh look, that’s where I parachuted out of a helicopter before opening fire on innocent pedestrians with a minigun. Happy days.”

Instead I find myself filled with an unfamiliar feeling of goodwill to all humankind. Perhaps it’s the sunshine, the plethora of independent bars and shops, or simply the sense of freedom afforded by going freelance after eight years behind a desk. Whatever the cause, within hours of being here, I find my natural scepticism eroding bit by bit.

Don’t get me wrong, I know LA has its dark side. This is after all the city of Raymond Chandler’s seedy villains and the broken dreams of aging waiters still clinging on to the faint hope that their screenplay will be picked up by one of the studios. It has been the unfortunate scene of more than its share of brutal gang violence, as well as the 1992 riots triggered by the brutal beating of Rodney King. And one can’t help but notice that in the glitzy bars and restaurants, it is the Caucasian staff who work front of house, while the economically disadvantaged Latinos toil away in the kitchen.

And yet, on a morning walk from Venice down to the beach, I saw the best side of this fabled town. It started with Abbot Kinney, dubbed ‘coolest block in America’ by GQ. Sprinkled with independent shops and cafes, this strip has the quirky idiosyncracy of London’s Shoreditch but takes itself much less seriously. Each building has an individual architectural style, yet somehow this kaleidoscopic mish-mash of colours and shapes assembles itself into a coherent stylistic genre.

Just a few streets away is Venice, where wealthy Californians enjoy the good life in stunning homes bordering a network of canals. Sure, Shakespeare never wrote a play about this place, it has never had a doge as far as i know and I doubt the baccala mantecato is anything to write home about.

What it does have is this:-

Venice, Los Angeles

And this:-

Venice, Los Angeles

Debating how the average home here would cost (prices start at a couple of million bucks we were later told), Franki and I wandered towards the beach. Rounding a corner, a cyclist nearly ran us down. In London, both parties would have mumbled ‘Sorry’ while mentally cursing each other in the harshest possible terms. When I apologised for no real reason, California bike guy just grinned and said: ‘Hey no problem buddy, that’s why I got brakes!’

Down at Venice Beach, the sense of easy-going optimism is no different, the locals taking their behavioural cue from the Pacific Ocean.

Surfers at the Pacific Ocean, Venice Beach

A dude whizzes by on a skateboard, carrying a surfboard under his arm. Later, seeking refreshment in the heat of the afternoon, we pop into the Venice Ale House and happen upon a range of craft beers that would take you ten pubs to collect in London.

Even the mad tramps have a superior patter here. ‘Jesus and Gandhi were the same guy,’ one tells me. ‘Moses too.’

Something about all of this puts a smile on my face. People in Los Angeles act as if they’re in a film shot entirely for your benefit. They bristle with infinite possibility and it is incredibly contagious.

I can’t escape the premonition that we’ll be robbed and beaten up now that I’ve written this – after all, my inner cynic can’t stay suppressed for long. Still, i bet the inevitable mugging will be conducted with bohemian nonchalance. We’ll probably become friends with our assailant on Facebook – maybe even launch a Neighbourhood Watch smartphone app together. That’s just LA, man.

Update – I think Franki and I just had the most LA experience possible. We were driven to Hollywood by a Scientologist Uber cabbie who used to be in films, including Rat Race starring Rowan Atkinson. He fell on hard times and had to sell his house ‘to buy holistic herbs’ when his wife became ill. Despite facing economic ruin due to her poor health, he doesn’t believe in socialised healthcare. ‘In this world, there are makers and takers.’

Update 2 – After years of searching, I even found a Panama hat to fit my outsize noggin. Thanks Hollywood Hatters!

Panama hat