Unwinding at 'The Stretch'

The one-block stretch along Franklin Avenue between North Bronson Avenue and Tamarind is such a bustling little mecca of urban attractions, it’s earned itself the nickname of... “The Stretch.” Interspersed between funky shops like the Eastern-flavored Espiritu de Vida, the old-school Counterpoint Records & Books and the indispensable Daily Planet bookstore (candles, soap, journals and Us Weekly!) is a United Nations–esque assortment of restaurants and bars, such as the Italian-themed Prizzi’s, the Japanese-flavored Taiyo and the Birds Cafe. The Franklin strip offers countless diversions, from dinner and theater — the Tamarind Theater still hosts shows regularly — to pub-crawling, to having a cup of joe at the Bourgeois Pig, where you can hide from the cruel sun by shooting a game of pool in the back. The castlelike Church of Scientology Celebrity Center — out of which constantly streams an endless supply of uniformed worker bees — dominates the south side of the block, glowering over all the earthly delights on the other side like a disapproving schoolmarm. Like any great neighborhood, this one comes complete with its own cast of characters, such as local boy Jimmy, who made it to the big screen in Detroit Rock City, or that rude little French waiter at La Poubelle, who, when not insulting you before he takes your order, is dancing rather unpleasantly to “Copacabana” while patrons dine on coq au vin. Here’s a quick sketch of “the stretch.” 1. Prizzi’s Piazza This rustic, intimate Italian restaurant strives to evoke the charm of the Venice canals — to the point where the owner actually attempted to build a huge gondola on the balcony. The city shot down those plans, and now the balcony looks like, well, a balcony, but the little painted windows that mimic the homes along the canals are very charming, and so are the works of local artists, which line the mustard-colored walls. Check out the ambiance from the small marble bar where the bartender shakes up myriad expensive cocktails ($12), including the delightful Prizzitini — vodka, a splash of Chambord and pineapple juice. However, the bar has only five seats, so get there early. But once you’re perched, it is a good spot to watch the clientele get busy on linguine Bolognese or sit back and listen to the latest gossip in the neighborhood. The bar clientele seems generous. The guy next to me offered to buy me a $35 shot of Johnny Walker Blue Label so I could experience what it tasted like. If it weren’t for the girl next to him constantly yapping “you’re so pretty” to her gorgeous friend, it would have been a perfect gulp. 5923 Franklin Ave., (323) 467-0168. 2. Taiyo Every restaurant that has tried to open up at this location over the past 10 years has failed, including one that also featured Japanese cuisine. Taiyo, however, has officially broken the curse. It’s no wonder. The food is really good, the alcohol is relatively cheap (Japanese beer is $3.50), and the décor is like looking into a kaleidoscope while on acid. Dozens and dozens of brightly lit Japanese lanterns in different shapes and colors hang low from the ceiling, and the walls are inundated with knickknacks ranging from Japanese kites, fans and cone hats to Kabuki masks, a sushi clock, birdhouses and old booze bottles. If it were a house, you’d wonder where all the cats were hiding. The bar has six seats and no sushi chef, but the chairs have high, comfortable backs. For a light bite, try the dragon roll with one of Taiyo’s many sake choices. 5917 Franklin Ave., (323) 468-2496. 3. Birds Rotisserie Chicken Cafe & Bar This restaurant/bar, specializing in the many ways — culinarily speaking — to enjoy chicken, has been a favorite among locals for more than a decade. And most of the same locals have been sitting at the bar the entire time, making small talk with the 30-something patrons or the charming bartenders who call you “doll” and “sweetheart” and who look like they could pull off some of Tom Cruise’s moves from that cheesy movie Cocktail. Although it is hard to find a seat at the bar at night, there is plenty of standing room. Or grab a table and chow down on their delish curly fries while grooving out to classic rock tunes like “Magic Carpet Ride” and “Low Rider.” The vibe is post-collegiate-for-life. 5925 Franklin Ave., (323) 465-0175. 4. La Poubelle Restaurant & Bar According to one in the know, La Poubelle is the only truly trendy spot on the strip. Why? Because its after-dinner patrons are young and hip, and work in the movie biz — in other words, they drive there. My bad, I just thought they were pretentious a-holes. Whether you dine on escargots at one of its old wood tables or enjoy a draft beer at the large 16-seat bar, this 30-odd-year-old French bistro can be a nice place (when it isn’t overrun with wannabes) to take the edge off, sit back and while away the evening listening to ABBA or whatever the bartender brings from home. By midnight most of the diners have left to make way for the commuters. The music is turned up, and on occasion that pesky little French waiter starts dancing, but after a few, who notices? 5907 Franklin Ave., (323) 465-0807.


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