July 27, 2012

discover the curious city

Chinatown is a tourist attraction for obvious reasons - the good greasy food, old-world architecture, and corner after corner of shops. But Chinatown has something else to offer...

Art Galleries - Chung King Road
Chinatown has a collection of reputable contemporary art galleries. My brother Wilson used to work at one along the gallery lined, pedestrian street called Chung King Road. Anytime there is an opening reception for a show, this street gets packed with people. With free drinks flowing, a cool artsy crowd, and beautiful art as the backdrop, it's always a party. Here is Wilson's list of galleries that "matter":

Pepin Moore
Jancar Gallery
Favorite Goods
Anat Ebgi (The Company)
The Public School

Art Galleries - Nearby
Jancar Jones
Thomas Solomon Gallery
Actual Size LA
Jb Jurve
Young Art
Human Resources

Chinatown is known for its slew of tchotchke souvenir shops. These shops are mostly concentrated in and around the many plazas along Hill and Broadway, the most popular one being Central Plaza (see map). Then there is Saigon Plaza on Broadway between College and Alpine. Saigon Plaza is a crazy alley of vendors and booths that leads to a dozen more alleys of vendors and booths. You can seriously get lost in there but that's the fun of it. You can find almost anything and for cheap. Always remember to bring cash and don't be afraid to haggle.

Besides the souvenir shops, there are also a few cool indie/hipster/design shops:
Flock Shop
Ooga Booga
5th Floor

If you get thirsty or winded by all the shopping, take a breather at Via Cafe. They make my favorite "three colors" drink, a name Wilson and I made up when we were growing up cause we never knew what it was called in Vietnamese. The drink, che ba mau, is really more like a dessert. It's made of beans, jelly, and coconut milk. There is also a Lollicup if you want some boba.

I used to go to Mountain Bar but it got shut down for serving minors. Grand Star is pretty fun and has different parties on different nights so check the calendar. Wilson's favorite bar is Hop Louie. He says it has a good juke box, there's dancing on weekends, and drinks are dirt cheap. The crowd is diverse, multicultural, old chinese burnouts, middle-aged drunks, hipsters, locals who like to watch sports, and more hipsters - keep in mind it is a real dive. NOT a yuppie's delight.

Check out our other guides on Chinatown and Koreatown:

Koreatown is a playground fit for all interests. Whether you like to sit and chat or dance until your toes are numb, Koreatown has something for you.

In Koreatown, Starbucks is second to Tom n Toms. There's a Tom n Toms everywhere. Tom n Toms is a cafe chain in Korea that recently built out a ton of spaces in Koreatown. Their coffee is comparable to Starbucks in terms of price and offering.

My favorite way to play is to go to a cafe and buy my $6 drink and sit for hours - reading, surfing the net, people watching, talking with my friends. The overpriced drinks are not so pricey if you consider the comfy seats, the ability to stay there for hours, and the atmosphere. If you're bothered by noisy neighbors, headphones are highly recommended.

Some recommendations are:  My absolute favorite is Loft Cafe, which is housed in a beautiful old building and really has a loft. A flashy new fave (big tall windows!) is IOTA, which has a food menu more extensive than most cafesYellow House is literally a house that they transformed into a cafe, much like Heyri. My friend Suyoung recommended Bourbon Street, and BDF likes Cafe Mak. Cafe Home actually serves BEER now, and they have an assortment of games you can play while you wait for your turn to eat at the Boiling Crab. The most unique definitely has to be Cafe Jack - think Titanic. The cafe that's been around as long as I can remember is definitely Koffea.... oh wait, maybe Mr. Coffee. No matter where you go, you can't go wrong, and it sure beats the crowd at Starbucks.

Bakeries & Desserts
[Paris Baguette, in Korea!]
Paris Baguette is a little different from most old school Koreatown bakeries bc there are actually tables and booths to sit. Paris Baguette borders on the bakery/cafe. There are a few other competitors, but Paris Baguette has the tastiest pastries! Try their chocolate croissant or the sweet potato twist. Drooool. I almost didn't add this bc I'm so sad when my favorites are sold out, but the best little-known bakery in Koreatown is Dulci's if you want more of the "Korean" style pastries.

Koreatown also features one of the most profitable Pinkberrys. One block away is Ice Kiss, an oldie but goodie. At Ice Kiss, you can get shaved ice (pat bing soo), or any number of other desserts.

When I was growing up, I always wished Koreatown had a movie theater. MPark4 came in first, and it's slightly B class. CGV Cinema is brand new and looks it too. The movie selection is pretty good, with both popular Korean movies and popular American movies - both with subtitles. They let you choose your own seats too.

[Frozen apple shotglasses!]
On to the night life. There are plenty of places in Koreatown that serve alcohol including soju, the ubiquitous Korean rice wine. The trendiest korean bar is probably Gaam, which is dark, noisy, and is always filled with people. Equally famous and maybe the most longrunning bar is Bohemian, downstairs from Gaam. If you're not on the prowl, but just want to have a drink with friends, try Toe Bang across the way or Cafe Bleu nearby (hip hop music playing on the speakers). Don't let the less than pretty interiors of OB Bear or Dan Sung Sa scare you off. OB Bear has the best Korean whole fried chicken, and Anthony Bourdain visited Dan Sung Sa! I like Heu for its special extras: fried egg instead of nuts or chips and apple soju in a hollowed out frozen apple! Or, try the HMS Bounty if you're looking for a regular ol' American bar (Beware: hipster crossing).

You may have heard about "Korean clubbing" which is different from just regular clubbing. Korean clubbing involves (bad) Korean pop music plus the Korean practice of booking. Booking is basically when the waiter assigned to certain tables goes and brings back girls for the guys at the table to meet. In the past, the waiters were really aggressive and dragged you to a table. The price of getting in for free... But these days it's not the case, and it's really similar to other American clubs. The Koreatown clubs have these unsaid age limits. Velvet Room and Vibe are for the 20's crowd, Karnak is for the late 20s - 30s crowd, and Express is for cougars. There are always exceptions to the rule ... like the pervy old guys trying to hit up the younguns.

NRB stands for no rae bang aka karaoke. But with NRB, you and your friends rent out a separate room. There are always 2 tambourines, 2 mics, and a book of songs. Alcohol is optional (before 2 AM). I hate NRB, so I really don't have much to say on this topic. Check out Yelp if you need guidance. Places that I hear about from time to time are BobosWhite, and Palm Tree LA.

There are a lot of supermarkets in Koreatown, but that about constitutes shopping in Koreatown. All the boutiques are very expensive and feature questionable fashion. There are 3 malls, Koreatown Galleria, City Center, and Koreatown Plaza, but the biggest draws are the markets and food courts. Koreatown does have Kim's, which features housewares, etc. It's like a 99 cent store crossed with a department store.

The markets:
Galleria Market - On Olympic but just opened one on Vermont. Overall the best in terms of price and cleanliness.
Plaza Market - Expensive!!! If you're looking for good quality fruit & produce, go here, but it will cost you.
Assi Market - Not bad, but had some issues with labor right years ago.
Zion Market - New, not bad in terms of price and cleanliness, and one of the cheapest. It is relatively small though.
Hannam Chain - Pretty dirty, but gets the job done.

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