Downtown 2.0: Bloggers’ Secrets

You’re nothing if you don’t have a rooftop: where to eat, shop, and live

Illustration by Headcase Design

Downtown is awash in loft conversions, pop-up shops (Comme des Garçons, anyone?), and restaurants with techno on the playlist and foie gras on the menu. Those who have moved to the area seem to love writing about it—and arguing over it—as much as they do living in it: Last year downtown was named the “third-bloggiest neighborhood” in the United States. We asked two of those keyboard addicts, Shannon Simonds of and Stephen Friday of, to have an instant message chat about their favorite places between the 110 freeway and the L.A. River.

Stephen Friday: Hey Shannon!
Shannon Simonds: Howdy!
SF: So Los Angeles magazine needs our expertise.
SS: Yep, that’s what I hear. I guess we just plow right in with the food.
SF: Tried O Bar & Kitchen, the new restaurant at the
Orchid Hotel, for the first time on Thursday night.
SS: I didn’t know it was open yet. And?
SF: The food was exceptional, and I felt like I had walked into the Mercer Kitchen in SoHo: Charlie Chaplin films playing on the brick wall, electronic beats in the dining room. Former Noé restaurant sous-chef Vahan Tokmadjian is running the show there. It doesn’t seem like many people have gotten word yet. I think their “Free Sangria Nights” should help kick up business.
SS: Cool. I went to Noé last year, and it was fabulous.

SS: Let’s talk about THE place that practically everyone loves…Colori Kitchen!!!
SF: Great food, even better atmosphere. Why are they only open for dinner a few nights a week?
SS: Tell me about it.
SF: You see hip downtown types, young couples with children, grandparents, and women having their ladies’ night out.
SS: When I was there, we got the last seat available and Gary Leonard came in and had to wait—and he had artwork on the walls! The chicken and veggies were expertly done, and the tortilla soup—out of this world, lick the bowl clean.
SF: The salmon curry fettuccine is my favorite by far. I actually have days when I crave it. They’re the best bargain in town.
SS: Downtown needs more midprice restaurants with good food.
SF: Yeah, all of these restaurants opening are so expensive. You try them once to say you’ve been, then you never go again. Seven Restaurant & Bar is a fantastic new place—excellent food—but you’re paying for the coolness factor.

First Cup Caffe

Photograph by Amata Indra

SS: Can we lament a bit about the lack of a really kick-ass breakfast joint?
SF: You and I both are fans of Arda’s Café at Pershing Square, but I’ve fallen in love with this small place called First Cup Caffè, which is tucked in the Wells Fargo Center just off Spring Street. It’s only open for breakfast and lunch, Monday through Saturday,
but you’ll be impressed by the charm and tasty French breakfast dishes.
SS: Will do. I like that little courtyard there called Biddy Mason Park. I could go on about the history, but that’s not what we’re supposed to be writing about.

SS: Banquette has nice sandwiches and pastry options, too. I hear they’re looking to open a place down the street on Main called the Nickel.
SF: I just had one of their veggie panini last weekend, delicious and well priced. Outstanding coffee, also. Sometimes I hit them up before catching a movie at ImaginAsian Center down the street.

SS: Now that we’re “walking” down Main, we must mention Blossom Restaurant, another place I crave on a constant basis.
SF: Yes, vegetable fritters! Lay it on me, Vietnamese style! How often do you go?
SS: Every Art Walk it’s a must.
SF: That makes sense—it’s in the middle of the action.

SF: Speaking of curry, I’ve discovered some incredible curry places in Little Tokyo.
SS: Yeah, after my team kicked your butt in the CityRace we went to the Curry House on your recommendation. : )
SF: Curry House in Weller Court is on the top of my list. Mr. Ramen on historic 1st Street is just as good. Not too spicy, not too salty. I’ve started to bring all of my friends there to see the real side of Little Tokyo.

SF: So many new boutiques are opening, I can’t even keep up!
SS: You’ll have to school me.
SF: Downtown’s fashion scene is raging right now. Aside from big industry events in the Fashion District and at FIDM, we’ve gotten some awesome new clothing stores: Fremont Apparel Company, ESP (Extra Sensory Perception), 43 Styles. Some offer original designs from
locals, but ESP is a Japan-based boutique, which of course equates to über-stylish fashion, maybe with a skater twist to it.
SS: How are the prices? And can my butt fit into any
of those jeans or are they
all the “skinny” type?
SF: The prices are affordable and what you’d expect for the quality, and yes, there are styles for women and men of all shapes and sizes. ; )
SS: Oh good.
SF: Victor Witold Motak from 43 Styles—it’s my favorite by far—is working with up-and-coming designers from all over the downtown scene to showcase their clothes in his store. Last weekend he hosted Free Agents, and I stopped by to pick up a cool pair of skinny jeans and a handmade shirt for $80!
SS: That’s actually not bad considering my Joe’s Jeans were$150…
SF: Rodrick Gilchrist is another L.A. designer with a shop next door. And you’re supporting locals and getting original pieces. Oh, I can’t forget to tell you that Comme des Garçons opened a “guerrilla” shop on 4th Street near my favorite shoe store, Blends.
If that doesn’t tell you about downtown’s fashion arrival, nothing will! Down the Harlem Place Alley, entrance next to a Dumpster.

SS: I had no idea you were a fashion guru. For me, shopping in downtown means Fashion District for clothes, Toy District for toys, Flower District for flowers…you get the idea.
SF: Yeah, for sure, like Broadway and Chinatown for all those mindless knickknacks! But to be fair, Chinatown does have some other cool places to shop, like Lion’s Den, Flock Shop, and around the Central Plaza between Broadway and Hill, Welcome Hunters, which sells avant-garde European fashions. At the Central Plaza, Ooga Booga, Fifth Floor, and Realm are all awesome places to find wacky little things.
SS: Yeah, baby! I love Chinatown. I wear my $4 Chinese slippers year-round, and I get fans to keep me cool while I’m swing dancing.
SF: Ha! That’s where I picked up my $2 bamboo plants, which grew into the Amazon rain forest.
SS: And I carry my camera in one of those old-school fabric cigarette purses. I like the shops along Gin Ling Way the best.

SF: I’m also really impressed by how many new furniture stores we’re getting. Have you noticed that?
SS: I’m familiar with Loft Appeal.
SF: That’s my favorite. I bought a couple pieces there before I moved into the Vero building last year. They opened another location in Barker Block, which is where Cleveland Art just opened their West Coast showroom—all industrial wares and machine parts that have been repurposed into furniture. Oh, and Maison Bertet opened a retail space in the basement of the Premiere Arts Towers on Spring Street. They have everything: sofas, lighting, flooring, accessories. I almost wish I was still furnishing my place!

SS: Have you checked out the Barker Block Lofts?
SF: I went once last year just after they opened. Is it shaping up?
SS: It looks like they’re starting to have move-ins, but I haven’t been yet. Friends live across the street at Molino Lofts, and they love it there.
SF: Does it have a pool?
SS: It does, it’s nice. And they have a decent but faraway view of downtown.

Eastern Columbia

SS: Have you been to the Eastern Columbia rooftop pool? OMG, it’s stunning. The clock tower is a sight to behold from close up, especially at night.
SF: It’s one of my favorite buildings, period, in downtown. Besides the clock tower, does it have a skyline view?
SS: Since it’s at 9th and Broadway, you’re kind of on the edge of downtown. What you do see is striking.

SF: I’ve been up to a couple pool decks in the middle of the Financial District that are surrounded by high-rises, like the rooftop pool deck at Pegasus Apartments, which I had no idea was so nice.
SS: Yeah, I was up there when they relit the Eastern Columbia clock a few years ago.
SF: But the Historic Core views are just as beautiful in my opinion.
SS: It’s kinda like the Standard—you’re right in the middle of it, and it feels so vibrant to look at all those skyscrapers soaring above.
SF: And you can lie back on one of those bed pods and stare up at them—just spectacular!
SS: Yeah, with a cocktail…and at the Standard, a $20 cover on the weekend.
SF: Ouch! That’s why I haven’t been back.

SF: Luckily, most new loft buildings have their own private rooftop pool decks. 1100 Wilshire is famous for its deck but looks out toward Hollywood instead of the skyline.
SS: Most have some rooftop access for the residents…or people who know how to look for the rooftop access stairs.
SF: Right, there’s this culture emerging in downtown—“You’re nothing if you don’t have a rooftop.”
SS: You said it.

SF: I got a chance to check out 1010 Wilshire a few weeks ago…
SS: How did you like it?
SF: It’s gonna be luxury business rentals, but that rooftop is going to be the best by far, with pool, gym, multiple lounge areas, unmatched views, and an OPEN bar!
SS: Open bar?
SF: Yep, craziness, huh? But for thousands (I mean THOUSANDS) of dollars a month for those places, I’d expect nothing less.

SS: I have a friend who lives at Santee Village, and he loves it. I’d seriously consider buying there, if I didn’t have such a wonderful rent-controlled apartment.
SF: I don’t blame you! You’ll never move! : ) My boyfriend lives at Santee. That cute little grocery place, Joe’s Coffee Shop & Deli, right behind the food court, made omelettes and breakfast foods for all the residents for free on a Sunday for brunch! That’s community!

SF: I love my building, the Vero, and my neighborhood. But I got 700 SF for $300K back in 2006.
SS: Wow, that’s a bargain by today’s standards.
SF: It’s small though.
SS: Today $300K would get you maybe 500 SF.
SF: No rooftop either! But we do have an outdoor space with pool and hot tub. I know, prices are out of control—I can’t complain, though, I do love downtown.
SS: Me, too.
SF: After living in the Valley, the Westside, and Koreatown, it saved L.A. for me.

SS: I’ve been watching downtown evolve for the past ten years (a small amount of time for some who have lived here much longer) and have seen some strides. We need to get more people living here.
SF: Even in the last one-plus year I’ve lived here, things have improved. It seems month by month we’re getting some big
(albeit overpriced) restaurant or community event or place to shop.

SS: I have to do a Historic Core tour in the a.m. for international UCLA students…and you need a nap. Are we just about done?
SF: For real, and I thought I was tired before.


Photograph by Stephen Friday

THE BLOGGERS An office manager, Shannon Simonds posts at shainla.type about neon signs, Dodger souvenirs, or anything that piques her interest in her downtown neighborhood. For the past two years she and Stephen Friday have competed against each other in a downtown contest called the CityRace Urban Adventure Hunts. She beat him last year.

Stephen Friday is one of the bloggers behind, which covers downtown development topics that range from new construction to farmers’ markets to the homeless. He is a research and investment analyst in commercial real estate.

ARDA’S CAFÉ:418 W. 6th St., 213-689-4438 or
BANQUETTE CAFÉ: 400 S. Main St., 213-626-2768.
BARKER BLOCK LOFTS: 510-30 Hewitt St., 213-620-9650 or
BLENDS: 125 W. 4th St., 213-626-6607.
BLOSSOM RESTAURANT: 426 S. Main St., 213-623-1973 or
CLEVELAND ART: 523 S. Hewitt St., 310-940-4134 or
COLORI KITCHEN: 429 W.8th St., 213-622-5950.
COMME DES GARÇONS: 125 W. 4th St., Ste. 106, 213-626-6606 or
CURRY HOUSE: 123 S. Onizuka St., 213-620-0855 or
EASTERN COLUMBIA LOFTS: 849 S. Broadway, 213-488-0600 or
1100 WILSHIRE: 1100 Wilshire Blvd., 213-482-9000 or
ESP (EXTRASENSORY PERCEPTION) : 1029 S. Broadway, 213-743-9198.
FIFTH FLOOR: 502 Chung King Ct., 213-687-8443 or
FIRST CUP CAFFÈ: 333 S.Spring St., 213-687-6603 or
FLOCK SHOP: 943 N. Broadway, Ste. 103, 213-229-9090 or
43 STYLES: 548 S. Spring St., Ste. 113, 213-489-7470.
FREMONT APPAREL COMPANY: 120 W. 4th St., 213-626-1756 or
IMAGINASIAN CENTER: 251 S. Main St., 213-617-1033 or
JOE’S COFFEE SHOP &DELI: Santee Village, 716 S. Los Angeles St., 213-892-1656.
LION’S DEN: 711 New High St., 866-433-0323 or
LOFT APPEAL: 903 S. Hill St., 213-629-9105 or
MAISON BERTET: 621 S. Spring St., 323-304-8422 or MR. RAMEN: 3411/2 E. 1st St., 213-626-4252.
MOLINO LOFTS: 500-30 Molino St., 818-788-1640.
NOÉ RESTAURANT & BAR: Omni Los Angeles Hotel, 251 S. Olive St., 213-356-4100 or
O BAR & KITCHEN: Orchid Hotel, 819 S. Flower St., 213-623-9904 or
OOGA BOOGA: 943 N. Broadway, Ste. 203, 213-617-1105 or
PEGASUS APARTMENTS: 612 S. Flower St.,213-430-9112 or
REALM: 425 Gin Ling Way, 213-628-4663 or
RODRICK GILCHRIST: 548 S. Spring St., 213-622-5904.
SANTEE VILLAGE: 716 S. Los Angeles St., 213-624-1640 or
SEVEN RESTAURANT & BAR: 555 W. 7th St., 213-223-0777 or
STANDARD DOWNTOWN: 550 S. Flower St., 213-892-8080 or
1010 WILSHIRE: 1010 Wilshire Blvd., 877-338-1010 or
VERO: 1234 Wilshire Blvd., 323-300-1111 or
WELCOME HUNTERS: 454B Jung Jing Rd., 213-687-9905 or .