Movie stars, rock stars, celebrities and a gaggle of the truly deluded… That’s West Hollywood. No one was born here or anywhere near here to be honest. People flock here – from Ohio, Minnesota, Australia, Russia – to ‘make it’. They pack their dreams into a suitcase and, with their best smiles on and pretty little faces, are lured towards the glamour. This is Hollywood, after all. But this town will very quickly steal your suitcase and punch you in your pretty little face. If you can handle the initial violent outburst from this fickle city though, you will discover a melting pot of cultures, an obscene amount of talent, and entertainment that will wow the organic green smoothie out of you.
West Hollywood is celebrity central, and you could spend the entire time hanging out in the same places as the TMZ paparazzi – Dan Tana’s, the Viper Room, Soho House and Urth Caffé – but there’s another side as well.
Are you kidding me?! This is Hollywood. There’s no eating. To survive here you must consume a mere kale juice in the morning, maybe some goji berries later in the day and that is it. However, if you’re not a psycho, LA has some of the best food in the world.
For a little known gem of a place go to Elderberries on Sunset. You could be mistaken for thinking you’d walked into someone’s house. The guys here make everything from scratch right in front of you in the open kitchen, and the food is so fresh they don’t even have a refrigerator. There’s an elderberry juice that isn’t always on the menu, but when it is you need to beat a path to the door – the locals come pouring in to get it and it never lasts long. A small glass of this thick, tart berry elixir will cure you of everything, they say, and I have to admit it got rid of my cold in one hit. Magic.
For a real Mexican experience, go to the Gardens of Taxco, just off Santa Monica Boulevard. Now this is a treat. You don’t order, they just bring you what they’re making that night, and there’s always plenty of it. Sit back with a margarita and let the staff make all the decisions for you. While you’re hoeing in, a three-man mariachi band will serenade you. When your mouth isn’t full, sing along – this is a place bursting with atmosphere and you’d be mad not to get involved.
If you want to eat like a true local though, you might have to travel a little bit further (go on, book an Uber) and head to Studio City. That’s where you’ll find SunCafe. This is what LA food is all about: organic, raw, vegan, namaste. If the idea of raw kelp noodles and a macrobiotic bowl seems scary, SunCafe will surprise you. I’ve taken the hardest of carnivores there and they have left the hippiest of tree huggers. The food really is that good.
The thing about Hollywood is that everything and everyone is on show, so to find the behind-the-scenes action you have to be very specific about where you go. To get inside Good Times at Davey Wayne’s, admittedly slightly over the WeHo border in Hollywood proper, you have to walk through a fridge door – and it gets more hilarious from there. Inside it looks as though the entire place has been furnished from a garage sale. For years it’s been a bit of a secret, but people are starting to talk and this quirky, second-hand bar will soon be exploited. Gasp! In Hollywood?! Never.
There are no TVs showing every sport known to (American) mankind here. At The Darkroom, on Melrose, it’s all dim lights and leather jackets. It’s one of those bars that you visit because it makes you feel a lot cooler than you actually are. Order yourself a can of PBR – don’t judge, it’s US$3, huge and a hipster’s delight. I don’t care if you don’t smoke – shut up, get a cigar, sit out the front and pretend you are a gangster. This bar is great.
Because this is Hollywood, a trip to the movies seems somehow essential. They’re the reason this place exists. The Sundance Sunset Cinema plays the sort of indie films you’re not likely to see at a suburban megaplex, but are the types of flicks folks in Hollywood make because they’re still passionate about movies. Bonus: on a Tuesday tickets are only US$5.
Hollywood is home to 90 per cent of the world’s best comedians, so heading out to see some stand-up is something you have to do. An obscene number of underground shows are waiting to be found and, more often than not, someone outrageous (and by that I mean famous) will pop in to perform a surprise set. The NerdMelt is a room behind Meltdown Comics on Sunset. It looks like it could be a barn, but they pack in more than a hundred folding chairs and have secret comedy shows. I’ve seen Aziz Ansari and Louis C.K. pop in here, and all without anyone knowing what’s going on. There’s another hidden show called The Goddamn Comedy Jam, held intermittently at the Lyric Theatre on La Brea (keep an eye on the Facebook page for upcoming dates). Basically it works on the premise that every comedian harbours a yearning to be a rock star. This is their outlet. After a short stand-up set, they perform their favourite song with a live band. This is not karaoke – it’s an actual rock performance. Bill Burr, Jim Jefferies and Rob Schneider have all taken to the stage and lived out their fantasies at this amazing show.
If you’ve trawled the internet and street press and somehow not managed to find anything that takes your fancy, do not panic. This is Hollywood and often the best stuff isn’t advertised. You will just be stumbling past some place and see a line outside a door. Join that line – whatever is at the other end of it is probably going to be great. I’ve seen Prince do a random performance at a tiny club, Snoop Dogg at a karaoke bar and talented people doing all sorts of weird crap at small theatres and venues all over the hood. Trust me: join that line.
Like a lot of places, you could spend a year in West Hollywood and keep on finding new and cool things to do. My suggestion is to just go exploring – walk around and you’ll find awesome stuff, from the old vintage stores on Melrose to the tourist explosion that is Hollywood Boulevard. There’s something new around every corner, but be careful after dark – those corners sometimes get a little shady.