All Black, Every Day
Downtown is my favorite part of Los Angeles. Most people think I’m a lunatic when I say that, but hear me out: you can feel the future coming in downtown.
I halfway-lived downtown for a year or so in 2006 — and it was a wholly different place. I remember the frayed and mildewy carpet atrium at Macy’s, complete with two discount shoe stores, and the terrifying parking garage. I remember when Bottega Louie was a TJ Maxx — or was it a Ross? — below dozens of empty condos. I remember when the IHOP was the only place to get breakfast — we’d trudge down Flower Street on Tuesday mornings in our sweatpants, eager for over-cooked eggs and over-brewed coffee. I remember the Metro stop at 7th and Flower — after I’d left downtown for Koreatown, it was the mid-point of my carless commute to Western and Wilshire. I recall being eerily alone most of the time. In a city that often feels packed to the gills, “alone” is a very odd feeling — welcomed, but never quite comfortably. That is changing quickly, and palpably — downtown is different each time we visit, shifting and morphing into a contextual newness. New with the old, light with the dark, slick with the gritty.
We had Broad tickets for 11:00, and we were early. We stood in line, baking in the sun that stretched just underneath the shockingly white concrete shroud. Upon entering, we went straight for Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrored Room—The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away.” We were lucky, as the line quickly stretched to a hour long. It’s kind of awe-inspiring for something so simple, and in my stupor I didn’t really document it — which is sometimes better, I think. We blitzed through the museum, as we tend to do — I linger when I like something, wander past when I don’t. And really, how many Jeff Koons Balloon Dogs do you need to see?
I was much more interested in the building — the morphed white cloud of concrete, enveloping the glass box. I gawked at details, materials, flaws — things I tend to obsess about. Pigeons were nesting in the tight corners of the shroud where the angles of the apertures turned the edge, providing a less-sloped perch. The concrete floors are disintegrating at the corners of their joints — if I had wanted to, I could’ve taken a chunk home as an unconventional souvenir. These sort of things are comforting to me — buildings are alive, and I think the pursuit of perfection in architecture is boring. Give me a pockmarked, crusty Brutalist slab of a building any day — one where I can see the handiwork of the people that made it, mistakes and all. I once saw an apartment for sale at the Barbican in London, and I swooned over the pencil marks and aggregate calculations scribbled into the smooth margins. But I digress.
After buying a couple of giant John Baldessari erasers (emblazoned with “WRONG”), we wandered out to the street and through the urban maze that is Grand Street. I wanted to show Mark the Angel’s Flight funicular, but it was broken as it always seems to be. Down 3rd, past Hill, past Broadway, past Spring. We were headed to a top-secret coffee shop that we’d found on Instagram — and never a more Millennial thing has ever been said.
Giorgiporgi actually changed my life, I’m sure of it. In between a wholesale cigarette shop and a tiny Xerox shop is an unmarked black door. Go through it. You’ll walk through a living tunnel of moss, streaked with white neon tubes. Everything is grey — the floors, the walls, the ceiling, the long concrete bar that runs the entire length of the narrow room. It’s all covered in matte marmorino — superfine Italian marble plaster. A white neon chandelier hangs above the bar — a scribble turned three-dimensional. Italian house music trickles out of two giant B&O floor speakers, and you perch on clear lucite Kartell barstools. There is no wifi, or cashier stand. No outlets, no couches, no oversized blended drinks.
It’s absolute fucking perfection. We wandered in off of the loud, hot, busy streets into this humid, cool, quiet cave. Giorgia, one of the owners, made us espresso in tiny handmade cups. She’s Italian — incredibly so. Black bodysuit, jean shorts, hoop earrings. We were completely mesmerized. She flitted about — making espresso after espresso, waving palo santo around, making fun of Chris’ (her co-owner) Italian in the smoky, perfumed air. “CIAO! CHE BELLA!” she shouted, kissing her fingertips comically.
“How did you come to own this place?” we asked. “It’s him,” she replied, gesturing to Chris. “He said ‘We’re going to America’ and put me on a boat.”
We sat for an hour, laughing and chatting. I never looked at my phone. We drank two double espressos, each — and when it was time to pay, we asked for the bill. “$3 each, but the second round is on the house. Just Venmo me.” We sent him $20, and it was the easiest $20 I’ve ever spent. We wandered out into the blazing sun, silent and stunned. It was absolutely magical.
3rd to Broadway, down to 9th — for lunch with Michael and Kara at the Ace Hotel. They’re two of my former professors from USC, and now very dear friends — we never miss a chance to see them whenever we’re in town. Chicken caesar salads, guacamole, iced tea. We talked about our “all black, every day” outfits, retirement accounts, jobs old and new. Our time flew by — and I am always sad to say goodbye.
Hugs and good wishes, then a jaunt up Broadway to COS (can’t ever resist a visit) — then up Figueroa to the Wilshire Grand for drinks with Marissa, one of my very best friends. She met us in the courtyard, halfway in on a conference call. “They can deal with it,” she said, “I never need to talk anyway.” Up to the 70th floor into the sprawling lobby of the InterContinental, then down a tiny corkscrew stair to Sora — and then three seats up against the glass, some 700 feet above the pavement. I had instant vertigo. “I’ll have the Korean margarita,” I stammered to the adorable waitress. “And maybe have a second on deck.” One of the many things I love about Marissa is that it always feels like we’ve never been apart. We instantly relax, and the conversation picks right back up where we left off. We talked about real estate, old friends, and her good ol’ dog Noah — who I remember as a weeks-old puppy, gnawing on my fingers. I kept my sunglasses on, as our height and southern orientation meant the sun beamed right in at our faces, and I watched as helicopters flew beneath us. Mark uses his hands a lot while speaking, and the vibrations of these gestures shook the table — the movement of the table against the skyline made me slightly nauseous.
After drinks (and a beet salad — there were no appetizers!), we descended to the streets again. Marissa was off to a work spin class, and we were off to the ever-changing Arts District. “Are you sure you don’t want to come spin with my office?” Marissa grinned.
A quick lift in a car took us to ROW — a giant brand-new shopping complex in the southern part of the Arts District. We found out after we entered (and getting chased by a security guard) that it’s really only open on weekends currently. After sneaking into a bathroom, we exited to 7th and Alameda — after a woman called down from her balcony “There’s a COS here?! Where is it?” We laughed and gave her the cross-streets. “You just made my week!” she called back.
We were walking down 7th past a McDonald’s, when a man passed us while walking in the street.
“Y’all are well-coordinated.”
We laughed and thanked him, he nodded and finished crossing the street, narrowly missing a city bus. We walked a few blocks down to the Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, roasting in our “well-coordinated” but sometimes less than practical black.
ICALA is beautiful — a giant restored warehouse, crisp white walls, and a burgeoning exhibition program. The artist on view in the main room was Martín Ramírez, a Latino artist, who created truly remarkable and expressive drawings from makeshift and found implements. He had migrated to the US in 1925, seeking work on the railroads — but the Great Crash of 1929 led him to homelessness. He was arrested for vagrancy in 1931 and hastily diagnosed as schizophrenic by doctors who didn’t speak Spanish — and was then incarcerated in state psychiatric hospitals until his death in 1963.
After wandering through the main gallery, we headed into the museum shop — and I realized I had experienced this shop before, but not in this specific place. Everything was incredibly familiar, and I couldn’t put my finger on it until I noticed a stack of zines on the long, low table in the middle of the space. It was Dosa — an incarnation of which we had wandered through in Marfa almost three years earlier. Dosa is always an incredible experience — it’s retail-as-narrative, built on art and craft with differing themes and explorations through the items for purchase. As I instinctively grabbed a bundle of Mexican palo santo and a recycled glass paperweight, we ended up chatting with the intern-slash-attendant.
“When you two walked in, in your head-to-toe black, I smiled and thought, ‘Yes, these are my people.”
She had just moved to L.A., and was working at Dosa for just a few more weeks. She had moved from Miami, where she had worked at Rick Owens. I audibly sighed, “That’s my dream aesthetic.” “Well, you’re hitting it right on the head!” she laughed. Mark mentioned that there’s a store in Santa Fe that carries Rick Owens — it’s a sort of high-end older woman’s store, with lots of luxurious oversized knit capes, drapey jersey, and big amber necklaces. “Do you think any of those ladies know who Rick Owens is?” “God, no,” she said. “Older ladies were most of our customers! If they only knew.” We watched a few minutes of “drag terrorist” Christeene’s incredibly NSFW new music video — starring Rick Owens and Michele Lamy, who is worth a long dive down the Google rabbit-hole for. She was also working at a cafe called Kismet, and implored us to come say hi next time we’re in town. We talked about Marfa, too — “Such a strange place,” she murmured.
As we were checking out, a woman floated in from the adjacent gallery space. It turned out to be Christina Kim, the owner / creator of Dosa. “…Is that a COS bag?! I love COS!” Seems like our shopping bags were the greatest icebreaker of all.
We turned to leave, our brand-new friends wishing us luck and happiness. We trundled down 7th, then down Santa Fe for drinks at Bestia — another place that’s been on my L.A. to-do list for far too long. Mark had heard of it through Chef's Table on Netflix — Nancy Silverton (of Osteria / Pizzeria Mozza) was checking out the vegetable selection on her regular delivery truck, when she asks, "Where are all the good ones you're hiding for Bestia?"
We sat in the warehouse atrium, sipping aperol spritzes and marveling at the space, at the people, at the food. After milling about and people-watching, we headed back into the hills to get ready for our late dinner. Our Lyft driver was lovely — a California native who told us about her experiences during the 1994 Northridge earthquake and subsequent smaller quakes.
“We’re due for another, you best believe.”
Dinner was at Salazar, just a six-minute walk from our little house, and our date was Amber — a shining beacon of a human being, and a very dear friend. Salazar was incredible — a renovated gas station, surrounded by cacti. Very, very Marfa. Our waiter was an absolute jerk, but we didn’t let it ruin our night. Palomas, tacos, and amazing conversation — politics, the L.A. design scene, work, her incredible house… We could’ve sat at that table for ages. A quick drink next door at Zoetrope and then home.
We wandered the five blocks back, buzzed and happy as can be, invisible on the dark streets in our head-to-toe darkness.