We’re not sure if she’s the original hipster, the anti-hipster, or some obscure type of hipster we’ve never heard of before (which is so hip), but owner and designer of such haunts as Villain’s Tavern and Cliff’s Edge, Dana Hollister, has played a key role in transforming Silver Lake into “America’s Hippest Hipster Neighborhood,” according to Forbes. Since 1985, Hollister has been purchasing Eastside architectural gems and transforming them into neighborhood hangouts. Her most recent endeavor, the remodel of beloved Echo Park diner, the Brite Spot, had many of us worried. After all, we kind of love its funky old charm. But Hollister tried to strike a balance between pleasing the regulars and enhancing the space’s inherent retro-diner character. Oh, and she beefed-up the grub quality. The most obvious change? As of last week, the parking lot is now a patio. Score. We reached out to Hollister to tell us about the inspiration for the now brighter Brite Spot, what made it “creepy and weird” before, and her plans to open Silver Lake’s first boutique hotel—finally.
What initially attracted you to the Brite Spot?
The Brite Spot is an interesting thing because out of all the places that I own, it’s an act of true love. I loved it for where it stood, and I loved it for what it did with the neighborhood. I loved seeing generation after generation of people going there every morning and being a part of the fabric of the neighborhood as it evolved. And I’m always attracted to those social hubs—they provide a sense of being to the neighborhood, and that’s what the Brite Spot was for me when I first saw it.
Were you worried about making changes?
When you’re going to change a landmark, which is what the Brite Spot is, you have to be careful that you just remove the things that have clotted it up over time, and reveal what was already there. The wood paneling…it looks like Milwaukee in 1972, and there’s something really fucking amazing about it! It’s mythological in itself.
I want to preserve what I remember about it, and once you start to gut an interior, you kind of lose that sense of time. Listen, I’ve run into people who have been going there since the ’60s, and I don’t want to disrupt their flow either. I know that I’m not just providing a service to someone who comes into my place, but I’m also providing a texture that stays inside of their memories forever. But the response has been really positive. People are in love when you’re in love with something. It just bleeds out.
What were some of those things that, in your words, were “clotting up the place”?
Well, the big “duh” moment was that the Brite Spot always had this weird entrance. It’s like a vestibule that was stuck on that outside of the place, so that you had to walk through these double doors to come in. It always felt really creepy and weird. I was having breakfast there with a good friend of mine, an architect named Paul Ashley, and he was like, “Why is this here?” We walked out and realized that it wasn’t supposed to be there, that it was an add-on, so we ripped it off! If you come to the Brite Spot, you’ll see it has this original door, probably from when they renovated in the ’50s. Now, the whole place feels different because you have a big glass door and you can see the outside, and it makes sense. With its extra accessories removed, you can see how really sweetly done it is, and how truly beautiful the original infrastructure was supposed to be.
What were some of the challenges you faced working with such an old space?
I think one of the biggest challenges is to not do too much. Everybody will tell you to paint the wood paneling, but the light bouncing off people’s faces—it’s golden. Where are you ever going to find old wood that looks like that? Probably never, because it’s something that people don’t really do anymore. I’ve moved really slowly with the Brite Spot. I’ve had it in my life for almost seven years, and yet it is the very last place that I’ve worked on. For my fear of spoiling it, I haven’t touched it.
Have you made any changes to the interior at all?
We put in antique mirrors and chandeliers. We got these lights that look like they are part of that kind of atomic 1950s thing, which is when the Brite Spot was probably in its heyday. We are trying to reflect that, but subtly without being theme-y. I’m just trying to keep the texture and trying to bring back what might have been there.
You turned the parking lot into a patio—is that finally open?
It is open! Since expanding the patio, the interior feels different. What seemed to be kind of a narrow almost trailer-feeling space, is now really wide and feels like it owns its place on the street. It looks bigger and taller and brighter. When you walk in, it feels completely different, but it’s really subtle how we’ve done it.
What about the food?
In December, our pastry chef Darby Aldaco stepped up to become the general manager, and he took the entire food program and turned it on its ear. We have a full bakery in the back and all of our pastries are made there every single day. We have girls making the most elaborate banana cream pies you have ever eaten in your life—you just want to gouge your eyeballs out.
Darby makes this amazing pulled pork sandwich…it’s literally the greatest thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. And he’s making the most unbelievable buttermilk biscuits, they’re probably like eight-inches across, so we decided to do a breakfast sandwich. Oh man, they make McDonalds look just terrible.
What's next for the neighborhood?
We bought that old church on the corner of Griffith Park and Lucille—soon to be your coolest, neatest little 27-bedroom boutique hotel. I’m sure some neighbors will love it, some neighbors won’t, but I think it’s going to be the greatest project for Silver Lake.
What has it been like to watch Silver Lake transform over the years and to feel like you had a hand in that?
It’s like watching a kid grow up. I am so proud! To see this forgotten part of town that was so beautiful, and so cool, and then after years of pushing and shoving and believing, and then one day you wake up and somebody put the crown on your head and says, “Wow, you’re the greatest neighborhood in L.A., in America,” and you’re like “I knew that!” You know what I mean?