Best Of :: Music & Nightlife
A Nancy Kwon cocktail is more like a psychedelic experience than a drink. You patiently watch her briskly whip up her latest concoction — a Frankenstein with 114-proof bourbon, or a Bold and Bitterful with French brandy — then you sip and your neurons light up like an incandescent light bulb. Kwon has been making serious cocktails, with meticulously sourced ingredients (cherries from Europe, the finest French cognac), for about two years at the Copper Still, a hole-in-the-wall bar at the north end of Koreatown. In a room that barely has seating for 18 people, with silent movies playing on a big-screen LCD, Kwon takes you on a journey, introducing chili-infused heat and exotic syrups to top-shelf-strength spirits. In her black uniform, Kwon is as low-key as the venue, which is attached to the Salvadoran restaurant Jaraguá. She lets her amazing creations do the talking, but she'll occasionally help you savor them. Kwon's motto is, "If you don't like it, we'll drink it." That's dedication to a craft.
Built in 1926 and taken over by Goldenvoice in 2012, this Hollywood classic is the perfect setting for both rising artists and stalwarts holding communion with their most loyal fans. Restored in 2002 to its Roaring Twenties elegance, it packs in a respectable 1,200 with moody lighting, a big dance floor, balcony seats and a rooftop bar. The sound is top-notch from anywhere in the room and it's easier than at most places to get close to the stage here. The Fonda is a favorite venue with big names looking for an underplay; in recent years, everyone from The Rolling Stones to Jack White to Radiohead has passed through. But it's the acts on the verge of superstardom that make the place special. Kids moshed to Justice playing "We Are Your Friends" here in 2007, and Lorde played just two weeks before "Royals" hit No. 1.
When the New York–based promoters behind the Bowery Ballroom announced they were expanding their empire to include a L.A.-based venue in Westlake, between downtown and MacArthur Park, many looked upon the plan with skepticism. But a few months into its time on Seventh Street near the 110 freeway, the Teragram has already established itself as one of the prime venues in the city. Located in a building that started life as the Playhouse Theater, the Teragram's sightlines are near-perfect, and the slight arches in the ceiling create pristine sound that pleases audiophiles. The room is cozy yet has enough space for people to comfortably move around, and drinks are reasonably priced. When you combine all these elements, it's easy to see why the Teragram is quickly becoming the next great place to see a show in Los Angeles.
The pungent odor wafting through the Smell's brick-walled interior is special. It's not just a smell; it's the grimy remnants of 170 shows booked every year by and for teenagers who come to the Smell for their own oasis amidst the junkies, drunks and cops of DTLA. For 17 years, Jim Smith's hideaway has been a de facto open-mic for diverse acts ranging from experimental noise bands to punk heroes like No Age. Once known as "the house that No Age built," the Smell is the DIY hub where everyone from Haim to Health cut their teeth, where Girlpool first met, and where labels such as Burger and Danger Collective created a cultlike following. At the Smell, "all-ages" is a philosophy as much as it is a door policy. The cooperative space offers a place for kids to choose their own family and find their own tribe.
After years of frustration at how most clubs in Los Angeles viewed jazz and treated musicians, Korean-born vocalist Joon Lee decided to open his own, vowing to run it from an artist's perspective. Lee's commitment to the quality of the music above all else (framed in a elegant, modern space) has granted Bluewhale, in its sixth year of existence, most-favored status among jazz musicians and patrons alike. There is now an endless stream of jazz A-listers from New York and beyond parading through the club's custom-glass entrance, yet Bluewhale remains the most affordable option to see the very best jazz has to offer, with low ticket prices and no food or drink minimums, making the music accessible to a younger, hipper crowd. It's too bad the club is tucked away in a nondescript Little Tokyo shopping mall; here's hoping they can move to a new site sooner than later.
Sam Nazarian's SBE club empire has produced a worthy super-club with Create, and Sound Nightclub, with a Pioneer sound system that pounds, is the small-venue champ. But the new boss in town remains the old boss: Avalon Hollywood, L.A.'s first and still best purpose-designed venue for EDM clubbing. The room, which started its life as a live theater, still emits cavernous magic. Even as DJ bookings have grown impossibly competitive, Dave Dean and the club's other promoters maintain dignity and gravitas by putting the likes of Erick Morillo and James Zabiela onstage. Owner John Lyons' custom sound system is the best in town, period. Get close enough and the world's largest subwoofers (40 inches) will punch you in the chest. And if bottle service is ruining L.A. nightlife, Avalon offers an antidote. Sure, you can still sit ringside and douche it hard-core with your fake friends, but the action here is on the floor, where fans still actually get up on their feet and dance.