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Barhopping the Red Line 

Thursday, May 19 2005

Illustration by Mark PetersonDump the stilettos. Don the sling bag stuffed with an extra sweater. The Metro Red Line runs fast and mostly reliably, but the precipitous entrances and exits suffer routinely from broken machinery. Often as not, you’ll have to climb the escalator stairs against a headwind. Like a woman traveling in a Muslim country, wear sleeves and cover your legs. The payoff is obvious: Bar-hopping in Los Angeles has always required risking life or license, but on the Red Line, you never have to worry about a man in a uniform demanding you touch your finger to your nose — at least not a man your tax money pays for. 1. Traxx Start in the early evening with a ginger-laced martini at Traxx, the picture-book deco bar in historic Union Station, and spot impending affairs (or, just as common, new parolees from the nearby jail) among the commuters piled up at the small bar like characters in a John Cheever short story. Traxx has a timeless romanticism about it; it also has great crab cakes (although you might have to eat them standing up). When you’re done, take a calm walk among the train-runners past the many numbered tracks toward Vignes Street, make a right at the end of the tunnel, and board the subway for central downtown. Traxx, 800 N. Alameda St., downtown; (213) 625-5865. 2. Ciudad Two blocks north of the Seventh and Metro station at Fifth and Figueroa is Ciudad, Border girls Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger’s neo-Latin Abstract Expressionist stainless-steel wonderland, as airy as an airplane hangar and as bustling as Gate 43 at LAX the night before Thanksgiving. Wash down a plate of ceviche with a piscorito – a margarita-like thing with a different kind of liquor — and then catch the train at Pershing Square, just for fun. Ciudad, 445 S. Figueroa St., downtown; (213) 486-5171. 3. Vermont If you don’t need the extra sweater for the walk from the Vermont and Sunset station for dinner and drinks at Vermont, just north of Hollywood Boulevard, you’ll need it inside — the bar is almost always freezing. But the light is exquisite, the service comforting and the food a wise balance between elegant and homey. The kir Vermont (elderflower and mint instead of cassis in champagne) goes well with the designed-for-sharing Caesar — it’s small, but it comes with two anchovies — and Vermont’s long list of froufrou martinis tends against cloying and toward refreshing. Have two. You’re not driving. Vermont, 1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; (323) 661-6163. 4. Blue Monkey Every once in a while, you can enter a local establishment and find a room full of people, and not only have you not seen them before, but they don’t look, dress or talk like anyone you’ve ever seen before. At the Blue Monkey Bar & Lounge, one door east of the bleakly enigmatic Gershwin Hotel and across from the station at Hollywood and Western, a drunk power-shagged rocker blocked our path until we agreed to sing some Fun Lovin’ Criminals, a young brunette transplanted from the Midwest mixed us fruity martinis in glasses with beer-mug handles, and a DJ spun trip-hop too loud to shout over. Talking remained possible, however, in the bar’s spacious back patio, where the rocker had found a new audience. (“C’mon,” he insisted. ‘Couldn’t get it ri-ah-ah-ight, couldn’t get it right!’”) Blue Monkey, 5521 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 957-9000. 5. The Powerhouse The Powerhouse, across the street to the east from Hollywood & Highland, the Red Line’s penultimate stop, deserves the honor of your visit if only for its dive-bar tenacity amid rampant swankification. Settle your stomach here with a Pabst Blue Ribbon on draft for three bucks, bow to the clowns on black velvet, and throw a few darts. Rumors abound of its impending demise, but I prefer to think of the Powerhouse as a salamander in the local bar ecosystem — when the bomb drops on all the L.A. trends and dress codes, this’ll be the last one left standing. After a long night of drinking, it’s also a fine place to hail a cab. The Powerhouse, 1714 Highland Ave., Hollywood; (323) 463-9438.

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