Best of L.A.: Nightlife
BEST NEW PLACE FOR LIVE MUSIC
Sunn O))), FYF Fest Breakfast, Eagle Rock Music Festival, HEALTH, L.A. Record Christmas Party: The best new place to see live music this year was the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts, which offers more proof that things keep moving farther east. Blank Blue member Brian Ako Martinez does most of the booking, and has a close relationship with Sean Carlson, Phil Hoelting and the L.A. Record boys Chris and Charlie. Combined, the team bring in a regular rotation of buzz-worthy acts that haven’t quite broken. The space itself is large and the acoustics are wonderful, swirling and spilling around the giant mass of people that the space can hold. With nice elevation, the center stayed cool for most of the summer, even on the hottest nights when band and audience seemed to blur together and radiate heat. The vibe is warm, shows start on time, and there isn’t a bar — or really much of anything in terms of milling about except for the really lovely smoking patio and the long-winding, cascading steps that open onto a view of the speeding cars of Colorado Boulevard. People come for the music, which, in a city that hides a not-so-secret social-climber side, is a welcome relief. Parking is easy, and with close access to local coffee shops and tasty veggie/vegan eateries, it’s the perfect place to see a good show and feel like you stayed close to home. 2225 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock. (323) 226-1617, centerartseaglerock.org.
BEST DEAL ON MOVIE SEATS
There seem to be two scents associated with discount theaters — Lysol and vomit. The Academy Theater on Colorado Boulevard has neither, although years ago, in its Academy 6 incarnation, its lobby did betray disinfectant accents. The Academy has always been a treat for the thrifty cineaste, especially now, in these hard times, when dreamers and film geeks are finding themselves without work. Two bucks gets you into a matinee screening of one of eight first-run movies (well, maybe first-run-plus a few weeks). My wife and I had been dying to see Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell but had somehow missed it in its initial run. Yet here it awaited us one afternoon — and had we chosen an evening screening, admission would’ve only been $3 per ticket. The Academy may not have that fresh-popcorn smell of the arty Laemmle Playhouse 7 up the street, and the staff may sometimes be a little too slow to crank up the air conditioning in the summer, but the place offers a thoughtfully mixed repertoire of blockbuster and art fare. 1003 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 229-9400.
BEST AFTERNOON DJ
Michael Stock’s years hunched over boxes of records, trolling for vinyl treasure, certainly has paid off. Every Thursday afternoon Angelenos benefit from the staggering breadth of his musical archive. Stock is half of Part Time Punks (with Benjamin White), the duo who put on the eponymous Tuesday night series at the Echo, which means he’s keyed into happenings on the local scene. He’s been DJing for the past two years in clubs all over the city, including Spaceland, Silverlake Lounge, Tangier and the Vanguard, and has even taught a course at UCI on punk rock and the cinema. Can he be long-winded and verbose? Occasionally. Is he informative? You bet. There’s much to be transmitted from Stock’s encyclopedic brain, so give him a break. Tune in Thursdays and catch surf punk, scratchy R&B records, new pop, indie, experimental electronica, old Goth hits from the crypt, and international post-punk colliding on air. This professor, booker, promoter, DJ, human database of musical knowledge and radio personality has something to offer everybody. P.S. What did you do today, Jim Ladd? Thurs. 2-6 p.m. on KXLU 88.9 FM.
BEST ART GALLERY FOR MUSIC
Straddling Echo Park’s south side and downtown, L’Keg sits tucked between a rotisserie-chicken restaurant and a vinyl–sign-making shop, downplaying its claustrophobic, punk-rock interior with a quiet exterior in the daytime but lighting up when night falls — long after the strip mall’s other tenants have left for the day. L’Keg — named after a line in the film Velvet Goldmine (L.K.E.G. is an abbreviation of “Lipstick Kissed Elbow Glove”), is, at its heart, a gallery/project space launched by members of the local band Blue Jungle. Exhibitions consist of crafty arts, pop illustrations, photography and heavy-on-the-graphic-design works on paper. But its founders — Cory Myrick, Leticia Llesmin, Nosebleed and Shannon Paley — know that rocking, too, is an art, so they’ve opened the space to homegrown bands of every persuasion, including Torches in Trees, Bi-polar Bear, Man’s Assassination Man, Foot Village, Puppy Dog and the folksy Leslie and the Badgers, to name a few. In addition to the venue that L’Keg offers to spotlight great local bands, the space is also a distributor of records and publications for local artsy/musical folk, and hosts occasional outlying events, like Sunday hangover poetry parties and screenings of teenage snuff films. 311 Glendale Blvd., Echo Park. myspace.com/lkeggallery.
Lo and behold, at Mo’s, a comfy restaurant in Burbank, magician Lou Serrano will confound even the most cynical magic nonbelievers. He’ll stop at your table to give you a 15-minutes-or so show of up-close magic tricks that are mind-boggling. One signature trick is taking a dollar bill, crumpling it into a ball, and making it come to life, dancing up and down his arm, around a card box, and finally floating in midair. He passes a card into a bottle and turns five $1 bills into five $100 bills. A regular at the Magic Castle and on the corporate-gig circuit, he’s known as one of the best in the biz, but on Friday nights and at Sunday brunch, you can have your own, personal magic show for just the price of a burger or omelet. 4301 W. Riverside Drive, Burbank. (818) 845-3009.
BEST MONTHLY COMEDY SHOW
Why put the kiddies through the trauma of those regular old Circuses of Terror? The clowns, the dwarf-eating hippos, the bearded ladies with an all-too-familiar resemblance to Aunt Millie? Sure, it’s not exactly family-friendly but for adults who remain comedically young at heart there’s an alternative to the peanut shells and elephant poo, the Improv’s long-running Circus of Joy. The monthly big-top blowout features standup, music and the odd sketch or two, plus a revolving cast of out-there entertainers, including past performers Natasha Leggero, Nick Thune, Dr. Ken, Henry Phillips, Matt Braunger, Eddie Pepitone, Kevin Shea and Maria Bamford (if you can catch a show with wild man Mike O’Connell, you’ve struck gold). Even better, ringleader Chadwick Clough tends to offer free guest list spots via his ScriptPimp.com. So point the clown car for Melrose Avenue; not even UCB offers a more consistent opportunity to let your circus-freak flag fly. The Improv, 8162 Melrose Ave., L.A. (323) 651-2583.
BEST BURLESQUE CLUB
A club packed with both video game nerds and buxom burlesque beauties may seem like wishful thinking, but downtown it’s just another sold-out, Saturday night installment of the monthly residence of Courtney Cruz’s Devil’s Playground at Bordello Bar. Lights dim and the curtains open as the Legend of Zelda’s Link heroically takes the stage scantily clad in a green tunic, armed with a slingshot, sword and shield, ready to defeat evil forces. But before he can embark on his quest, Link gender-morphs into Princess Zelda and begins a striptease that could make any G4 executive blush. Your favorite, old-school Nintendo game just became R-rated. If the city is in the midst of a burlesque revival, then Devil’s Playground is at the forefront, giving it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Beyond traditional fan dancing and martini bathing, Devil’s Playground integrates pop culture and niche fan favorites with the classic art of the striptease, modernizing burlesque with cleverly themed, character-driven performances like Video Game Girls, Comic Book Vixens and the upcoming Tails From the Crypt on October 10. As a producer and performer, Cruz insists that nothing is off-limits and her inspiration for themes comes from pop culture news (the Burlesque Barbie installment was a response to the public outrage over Mattel’s Tattoo Barbie) or from films, video games and comics that influenced her while growing up. For those who enjoy tassel twirling with a unique spin, cozy up with the ladies of Devil’s Playground every second Saturday of the month. 901 E. 1st St., L.A. (213) 687-3766, courtneycruz.com.
BEST UNDERGROUND DATE NIGHT
HM 157 (historic monument No. 157) is a mildly rundown old Victorian in East L.A. How it became a hub for hipsters, artists and people of all ages is due to its quirky inhabitants, Brother Reid Maxwell, the quiet man of the house, and Sister Charon Nogues, an eccentric stylist, visionary and booker for the living/event space. When the pair saw the house they fell in love, but the rent was so high, the only way they could make it work was to make it work for them. They dreamed of creating an event space that could also better the community. Their solution? They turned the bottom floor into a revolving art space, part-time gallery, music venue, backdrop for book readings, discussions and political powwows. For just a $5 donation at the door, guests enter through the Storyville-esque front porch and either meet in the multicolored salons, or out back, where there’s a stage, fire pit and sound system. On any given night you can find something cool going on, from square dancing to belly dancing and the best in local underground music. 3110 N. Broadway, Lincoln Heights; check out their Facebook page for upcoming events.
BEST CHEAP MOVIE THEATER
The Laemmle Grande 4 Plex is a hole-in-the-wall movie theater that offers no perks, the popcorn is mediocre, the floors are sticky from mystery goo, there’s no free, nearby parking, and we’ve seen cleaner bathrooms in bus stations in New Delhi. But what makes this movie house our No. 1 place to watch a new release is simply its lack of lines or crowds. It’s also much cheaper than most fancier theaters around town, at $8.50 ($7 with student ID) per ticket. Regularly, even on the weekends, we arrive 10 minutes before the new release begins, walk right up to the counter for our mediocre popcorn and soda, and then plant ourselves down in any of their many rickety old seats, usually wherever we like. On rare occasions the theater is full. It was bursting for Indiana Jones last spring but quiet for The Hangover during the summer, with only seven people seated. If you hate crowds, don’t mind paying a small fee to park and are willing to hold the bathroom stall door shut because it doesn’t close right, this place is for you. Actually it’s just for us, and the few other daredevils who don’t mind its aforementioned, very minor, drawbacks, all without the throngs who line up at ArcLight or Mann’s Chinese on weekend nights. 345 S. Figueroa St., L.A. (213) 617-0268.
BEST COFFEE SHOP FOR MUSICIANS
Café de Leche, located on the corner of York Boulevard and Avenue 52 in the increasingly gentrified neighborhood of Highland Park, seems to have satisfied the communal hunger that the growing ramshackle hipster contingent was craving. Already appearing in a New York Times piece about the changing face of Highland Park, the always-crowded café seems to have become the locus for such convergences — a positive or negative turn of events, depending on who you ask. As in: You can go there and see cute boys and girls in ratty-tatty clothes; when could you ever get anything in Highland Park except a good taco? It is not uncommon now to walk into the bright, open coffee shop and see Luke of Lucky Dragons, Rob Barber of High Places, or either Hecuba member tooling away on their laptops, giant earphones in place. Members of Silk Flowers were spotted during a recent visit to L.A. Local artists now line the boulevard with their studios, and stroll out into bright sunshine to grab a drink. Aside from an amazing array of musical and artistic hotness lurking at every booth, the coffee shop also boasts a great new drink: iced horchata and espresso, a perfect drink to cool off with while heating up. 5000 York Blvd., Highland Park. (323) 551-6828, cafedeleche.net. Open daily 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
BEST COMIC HANGOUT NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT
Yeah, Sunday nights at the Unknown Theater have featured drop-ins by the likes of Jim Gaffigan, Neal Brennan, Brett Ernst, Chris Porter and Bryan Callen. And how cool is it that Bobby Lee is content to mingle without going up, while Bill Burr enjoys playing drums in the postshow musical jams? But here’s the real kicker: $5 scores all the Bud and Bud Light you can pour down your gullet. Is it any wonder the 3 1/2-year-old weekly show attracts both regulars and after-work employees from the legit clubs? Not that 100 or so folks milling about in the cavernous, multimedia space is anything to sneeze at, but for Sean “Sax” Carr, who serves as Unknown’s director of promotions, and whose Insiders of Comedy recently took over the evening, it’s all about growth. “We don’t exploit the comics or the audience. We don’t do bringers; we don’t have drink minimums. We just want everyone to hang out and have a good time.” 1110 Seward St., L.A. (323) 466-7781, unknowntheater.com.
BEST COSTUMES ’N’ KARAOKE BAR
Dimples is an often-rowdy Valley bar and restaurant that fills up most nights with groups of friends who arrive together to support the bad singers among them (though a lot of amazingly good singers can be heard each night, too). But singing talent doesn’t really matter, because the real attraction here is the chance to don hats, boas, fur jackets and masks provided for anyone with the nerve to get up and sing. Everyone is videotaped, so Dimples attracts the extroverts — even for karaoke — and things get bawdy. Huge bouncers are part of the décor, as are the hot hostesses. Owner, host and world traveler Sal Ferraro, and his frequent co-host, former executive VP of Polygram records, Dick Kline, hold court, greet patrons, mingle with customers and keep the fun going. It’s all about instant gratification in a rough but accepting environment: Each singer gets to see a video of himself shown in instant replay for the entire restaurant as the next crooner gets ready to go onstage. 3413 W. Olive Ave., Burbank. (818) 842-2336, dimplesshowcase.com.
BEST CLUB THE BLACK CAT DRAGGED IN
Every Wednesday through Sunday at 11 p.m., Lady Gaga’s club jams slowly fade away as El Show de Maritza y Sus Divas takes over the stage at Silver Lake watering hole Le Barcito. Decked out in glitter-flecked gowns and flashing beauty-pageant grins, the performers engage the crowd in a drag revue set completely to Spanish pop songs. If you’re itching to see drag queens lip-synch to songs that don’t involve Beyoncé, this is the place to go. Le Barcito typically has no cover charge, and drink specials aplenty. Sunday’s beer bust features shows at 7 and 11 p.m., often with guest performers. More important is the venue’s history: In 1967, the club was known as the Black Cat. A New Year’s Eve police raid led to the first major gay-rights protest in L.A. Le Barcito won historic status earlier this year, which made it more than a club with a fun drag show. 3909 Sunset Blvd., L.A. (323) 644-3515, lebarcito.com.
BEST DRAG NIGHT, OR, BEST PLACE TO BUST AN ARTY MOVE OR NUT
J.D. Sampson, Brian Degraw of Gang Gang Dance, Penny Arcade, Hecuba, Nite Jewel, Mirror Mirror, Barr, A.L. Steiner and many other amazing performers have done their drag thing at Wildness, the weekly Tuesday tranny/arty/hipster night at Koreatown’s Silver Platter. Happening for a little more than a year, the spot is a weekly dose of OMG and WTF, as a kaleidoscope of outfits and hairdos breeze past on their way to the back table to eat the complimentary chips and (sometimes) free tamales. The place has the tinge of ’80s N.Y. downtown — before things turned dark and sad. Wildness’ most memorable Tuesday so far was last November, when Barack Obama won the presidency. Artists, locals, ladies of the night, hipsters, trust-funders and others all pressed together to dance, chant and pump their fists for a nation that celebrated individualism as a strength rather than a hurdle. Neon-manicured fists, dirty, bit nails, fake eyelashes and weaves came together in unity and sweated it out on the smoky dance floor. It was emblematic of a club that continues to pour positive energy into good times and grooviness — the ultimate symbol of universal love. 2700 W. 7th St., Koreatown; realwildness.com.Tues., 10 p.m.-2 a.m.
BEST UNPREDICTABLE MUSIC NIGHT
On any given Wednesday, Low End Theory drops genre-warping jams that destroy the envelope, not push it. Low End Theory, housed in Lincoln Heights’ eclectic club Airliner, often gleans cut-up, sonic-patchwork hip-hop production techniques. But the comparison usually ends here, as Low End Theory transmogrifies the genre, sometimes melding it with IDM and Dubstep, or free-association vocal flow. Sound sculptors and club regulars, Thavius Beck, Daedelus and Gaslamp Killer realign dance music’s boundaries and serve up ethereal stutter-stepping beats, fist-pumping digital anthems and psychedelic soundscapes (respectively). At Low End Theory, the only constant is change. Every Wednesday at the Airliner, 2419 N. Broadway, Lincoln Heights. (323) 221-0771, lowendtheoryclub.com.
BEST EXPERIMENTAL-MUSIC PROMOTER
Who says the weekend ends on Monday morning? For the last four years, Monday nights have been an assault on the senses at Pehrspace, and the man behind the mayhem is Sean Carnage. Carnage is king of the far-out, curating this musical magnet for all things freaky, and pulling in the most experimental and off-center bands for a spazzfest that should be preserved in the Natural History Museum. Bands like HEALTH, Monotonix and Dan Deacon have made visits to Carnage’s Monday night special, whose show is like a halfway house for underage groups and DIY weirdos who have nowhere else to go. Sometimes ear-splitting, sometimes genius, a night with Carnage is an unforgettable and always interesting affair. 325 Glendale Blvd., Echo Park. (213) 483-PEHR, pehrspace.org. Mon., 9 p.m.-1 a.m.
BEST FRIED CHICKEN AND BLUES
By day they’re probably mechanics, insurance adjusters, or perhaps stay-at-home moms, but on the small stage at Babe & Ricky’s Inn, they’re musical shamans channeling the soul stirring energy of the blues. For more than 40 years, Babe & Ricky’s has been the premier spot to catch firebrand blues in L.A. Founded in 1964 by working-class, single-mother Laura Mae Gross, Babe & Ricky’s infused South L.A.’s Central Avenue with the blues for more than 30 years. Now located in the recently revived epicenter of African-American culture and art, Leimert Park, Babe & Ricky’s presents the best bluesmen and women L.A. has to offer. A steady stream of musicians wields their musical chops, as every guitar squeal and saxophone lament is critiqued by the audience of locals, newcomers and lifelong patrons. Mondays offer a particularly savory treat: $8 gets you a hearty helping of fried chicken, cornbread and collard greens as a side order to the blues. Gross still sits at the entrance, as she has from the beginning, counting cash and offering a stern warning to “keep those hands out of the cornbread.” Tonight, you’re a guest in Gross’ house, so enjoy this experience, filled with flavors and sounds good for both the stomach and the soul. 4339 Leimert Blvd., Leimert Park. (323) 295-9112, bluesbar.com.
BEST ESCAPE FROM WEST HOLLYWOOD
Sometimes it’s good, even necessary, to take a break from the glam and roar of gay nightlife and simply hang out and chill. So if you feel like drinking a few beers with the buddies, playing a game of pinball, and listening to good but familiar tunes on the jukebox, Roosterfish in Venice Beach is the place to go. A part of the gay scene for more than 25 years, the relaxed neighborhood bar features electronic darts, a pool table, a “no attitude” atmosphere, a two-hour happy hour, $3 margaritas all day Wednesday and $3 burgers on Sunday afternoons. The two longtime owners are deceased, but the place has such a lasting esprit de corps that a group, including two longtime Roosterfish bartenders, inherited the joint and now run it. Even if you don’t live near Venice, it’s worth the drive, especially if you’ve been stuck in that West Hollywood/Silver Lake circuit. 1302 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice. (310) 392-2123, roosterfishbar.com.
—Patrick Range McDonald
BEST BUSTING, HANGING, MEETING, LISTENING, WEARING AND CRUISING
Tired of the velvet ropes, the snotty attitudes (which are only a mask to cover up some kind of insecurity), the perfect hairstyles, clothes and bodies? Well, maybe not tired of the bodies. Try the Faultline Bar in Silver Lake, which holds a good, old-fashioned beer bust Sunday afternoon through evening that’s fun, cost-friendly and a little wild. Bears and leather aficionados meet up with cute Silver Lake hipsters to drink cheap beers, listen to loud rock and tear up the place, while also cruising for a special friend or two. People hang out inside and outside, with a lot of guys wearing crewcuts and leather apparel. It’s a different kind of scene, and there’s no VIP line or cover charge. 4216 Melrose Ave., L.A. (323) 660-0889, faultlinebar.com. Sun., 2-8 p.m.
—Patrick Range McDonald
BEST STOP IN THE NAME OF LUST
The Yogurt Stop is making an obvious push to cater to a gay clientele on Santa Monica Boulevard as a nighttime hot spot, and it’s working with a crowd who finds late nights at the same old bars and clubs getting monotonous — not to mention expensive. There are also those who don’t drink and don’t even want to be near drinkers. So on any night of the week, the Yogurt Stop, with its spick-and-span interior, is packed with handsome gay men and beautiful lesbians who usually sit around clean, white tables, chat with friends, spark up conversations with strangers, and eat their yogurt (which, by the way, is very good). The shop’s delicious, nonfat, gay-friendly flavors include Milk My Harvey Chocolate, Fierce French Vanilla Bean, Cappuccino Crush on U, and Get Lucky Irish Mint (a personal favorite). It’s fun and doesn’t break the bank. 8803 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hlywd. (310) 652-6830, yogurtstop.net.
—Patrick Range McDonald
BEST HIGH-END BEER AT A REASONABLE PRICE
Sang Yoon is a perfectionist with superstar-chef aspirations. The caramelized-onions and blue-cheese burger at his Father’s Office restaurants is such a benchmark of the American staple that even Bobby Flay has had to try a version. And the service at Father’s Office is effusive. Yoon subjects his troops to constant testing and training. The flip side of that is that Yoon can sometimes seem like a socialist dictator. Customers get no ketchup with their fries, and don’t even ask for substitutions. His newest location near Culver City works like an assembly line, at least in the back. In front, it’s a free-for-all (order at the bar, seat yourself) worthy of any Soviet-era bread line. And, frankly, Yoon’s prices are populist. While a $12 dollar burger combo might seem elitist, other restaurants charge a lot more for similar quality. Yoon has worked to elevate beer to the level of wine by pairing it with his signature dishes. At F.O. you’ll find the most exotic Belgian trappist ales, the thickest, blackest stouts, the most refreshing lagers. What blows us away is the price — often $8 for a pint. Step up to the bar and order a glass of Belgian lambic ale in the flavor of the day. It’s a fruity, champagnelike treat that makes you forget you’re drinking beer, on tap for $8. Long live Yoon. 3229 Helms Ave., L.A. Also at 1018 Montana Ave., Santa Monica.
BEST BUILD-YOUR-OWN BLOODY MARY
The perfect Bloody Mary is hard to come by. Best enjoyed during the day and an absolute necessity when hung over, a Bloody Mary is one of the most personalized cocktails out there. Some like it spicy, some sweet, some like it garnished with veggies, some with meat, but all require a strong vodka pour. The list of potential ingredients for this cocktail is endless so instead of trying to read the mind of every hungover, tomato juice-fiending patron, La Cita bartender Calixto Hernandez hosts a “build your own Bloody Mary” happy hour every Sunday from 1 to 9 p.m. on the outdoor patio of the divey, downtown, local favorite bar. Over a soundtrack of all ’80s music (“But no U2, not now, not ever, because they suck,” says Hernandez), for $5 you get a tall glass of iced vodka and free reign over a table of mixers, seasonings and homemade garnishes to concoct your perfect Bloody Mary mixed to taste. The spread includes Kelly Y Gonzalez Bloody Mary mix, celery salt, Old Bay seasoning, Tabasco, wasabi, sweet cherry peppers, pickled green beans, white asparagus, crushed garlic, horseradish, Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce, as well as trays of bacon, olives, cheese cubes, fresh shrimp, pickled shallots, celery stalks and more, all of which you can load up on a kabob skewer for the ultimate mixing utensil and snacker. At La Cita’s Sunday Bloody Sundays, building your own Bloody Mary is like arts and crafts ... but with booze. Bottoms up, and if your drink sucks, it’s your own fault. 336 S. Hill St., dwntwn. (213) 687-7111.
BEST BEYOND THE CURE
L.A. has never had a shortage of goth-friendly clubs, but right now the darker side of the nightlife is gaining newfound interest. At the forefront of the movement is M/R/X-Wolfpak. The monthly bash, which began in 2003, stands out for its musical selections. Resident DJs Job Leatherette, Tony X and Eric Dead have no problem with dropping genre classics, but they mix it up with the latest sounds from L.A. to Berlin. With two rooms for dancing, the party’s focus is bringing together the harsh, guitar-driven sound of death rock with stripped down electronic jams known as minimal synth. Much of the playlist will be unfamiliar to club patrons, but you’ll want to run to the DJ booth and ask “Hey, what’s that song?” often. Live performances from locals and touring acts pepper the night. M/R/X-Wolfpak occurs every fourth Saturday of the month at Roberto’s in Chinatown. Unless there’s a special event, the cover is $5 before 10:30, $10 after. 686 N. Spring St., L.A. (213) 617-2002.
BEST HOCKEY BAR ACCORDING TO AN ACTUAL CANADIAN
Every winter some Northern-clime folks we know end up migrating, much like Canada geese, to L.A. to get away from the cruel Ottawa winters. Even though they’re happy to leave the Arctic tundra-like conditions behind, they miss the almost-nightly hockey games. Here, there are very few bars willing to switch on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Hockey Night in Canada, featuring its obnoxious yet widely popular host Don Cherry (think of a white-haired Rush Limbaugh pimped out in colorful suits). Luckily, Hollywood Billiards has more than 50 (that’s not a typo) high-definition TVs, so a little hockey in the back of the bar with a jug of Budweiser (one of Canada’s most popular beers) won’t bother the football and baseball fans. If only they could throw in a soundtrack by Ann Murray, add poutine (French fries with gravy and melted cheese curds) to the menu, and a Bloody Caesar (a Bloody Mary with Clamato juice), your typical Canadian might never leave. When the Ottawa Senators made it to the Stanley Cup finals against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 2007, manager Dan graciously placed a sign outside that read: Go Ottawa! — potentially risking a puck to the face by Ducks fans. 5750 Hollywood Blvd., L.A. (323) 465-0115, hollywoodbilliards.com.
BEST BAR WHERE EVERYBODY KNOWS YOU’RE LAME
L.A. hostess bars are often wrapped up in unfamiliar rites (sitting uncomfortably in a booth with women who pretend to like you) and unfamiliar languages. What’s more, they’re expensive: table-service expensive; C-note-tip expensive. What’s more, there’s little of this exotica to sample between the high-end clubs of Koreatown and Little Tokyo and the gritty, Latino taxi-dancing venues of downtown. One place, however, has opened up this world to the regular folk and made it not so taboo. Nongnuch “Candy” Phimmasone, a Thai businesswoman, opened Cindy Club in 1996 on the border between Koreatown and East Hollywood. It blends the friendliness of mostly Thai servers (and food) with a mixed clientele of Korean businessmen, local Latinos and Silver Lake hipsters. Women and couples hang out there. And prices are unparalleled. A table costs $25 an hour (multiply that by at least four elsewhere) and most drinks (beer, sake, soju and wine) rarely top $10.The recipe has been a winner, and Phimmasone has taken over two adjacent storefronts. Sure, women still sit awkwardly with foreign salesmen who drink sake (no hard alcohol served), but the warm vibe is more like that of a neighborhood bar than a foreign ritual. 4273 Beverly Blvd., L.A. (323) 906-1640.
BEST HOUR OF ACTUALLY FUNNY IMPROV COMEDY
Sometimes your friends invite you to things like an improv comedy show. Then you go, realize that you’re not laughing, and try to decide what the best time would be to punch that same friend in the mouth. But there is good improv out there, and one of the best deals in town is at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, where you can see two genuinely funny half-hour shows, back-to-back, for a mere $5. Every Thursday night at 11 p.m., Last Day of School and Convoy are performed by some of the top comedians UCB has to offer, and their weekly shows routinely play to packed, cackling houses (you can, and should, reserve your tickets online in advance). In Last Day of School, which has a popular “text message show” with scenes based on audience cell-phone in-boxes, the blond duo of Neil Campbell and Heather Campbell (oddly, no relation) particularly stand out. Bringing alcohol, according to the sign on the wall, is prohibited, but if that rule ever gets enforced, it would be a first. 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A. (323) 908-8702, ucbtheatre.com.
BEST BAR FOR VALLEY VAGITARIANS
Touting itself as “Valley chic,” Moonshadow Lounge in North Hollywood, more often known as NoHo, offers a regular happy hour, go-go dancers, live music and Sunday brunch. You can play darts or pool, dance to DJ Boulevard’s spinning of hip-hop and electronica on Saturday nights, or sing karaoke on Tuesday nights with host KJ Tony, who offers more than 60,000 song choices. The bar has multiple TV screens tuned to pro football, baseball and basketball. The lounge has such a great vibe that it’s been featured in lesbian films such as But I’m a Cheerleader, Girl Play and A Marine Story. It’s also a fun jaunt into the Valley if you live, or party, on what 1.6 million Valleyites call “the other side of the hill.” 10437 Burbank Blvd., N. Hlywd. (818) 508-7008, moonshadownightclub.com.
—Patrick Range McDonald
BEST PLACE TO BE ADMIRED
There’s no doubt about it — “Booby Trap” at Temporary Spaces in East Hollywood is the nighttime event for gorgeous lesbians to see and be seen in L.A. Dancing until late into the night every Wednesday under a big, mirrored disco ball to the sounds of nu wave and electro pop, gals love to let it loose midweek, packing the dance floor. And this is a great deal, featuring a minimal $5 cover charge. There’s also a happening patio scene where people hang out and smoke. The Trap is getting so popular that it’s expanded from every other Wednesday to every Wednesday. Booby Trap at Temporary Spaces, 5100 Fountain Ave., L.A., email@example.com. 10 p.m.-2 a.m.
—Patrick Range McDonald
BEST REASON TO TURN ON YOUR RADIO IN THE A.M.
Poor commuter, it’s all you can do to find one decent song amid the screeching, snorting, complaining, middle-aged dudes on morning radio, who’re blabbering on about either politics, erectile dysfunction or underpants and gas. Not that KXLU’s Melissa McAllister can’t dish out the potty talk, but the format is flanked by densely crafted sets of exceptional songs and tempered with her signature brand of banter: a hodgepodge of informative exposure to new bands, an encyclopedic knowledge of music, self-deprecation, silliness and a deep adoration of beer. So often, KXLU DJs play too-long sets, then mumble, giggle, yawn and never name a goddamned thing they’ve played for the past hour. Not McAllister. She’s a pro (she’s also the station’s former general manager), spinning a mingling of pop, folk, punk, noise, dance, dark-wave and garage bands rarely attempted over the air. Imagine this on L.A. radio: whole 30-minute sets in which you never need to change the station because every selection is awesome and expertly placed in its context (Lightning Bolt back-to-back with Edith Piaf is one example). McAllister chalks it up to good requests from listeners, but we know she’s the chops behind this years-old favorite show for so many of us. KXLU 88.9 FM, Thursdays, 6-10 a.m.
BEST LIVE MUSIC IN A SHOPPING CENTER
Back in the day, Cahuenga Boulevard between Sunset and Hollywood was a nasty stretch with little more to offer than the Spotlight tranny bar, the Burgundy Room (host to local DJs and bands) and the Room — the back-alley speakeasy bar that specialized in hip-hop and acid jazz. Fortunately, Space 15 Twenty brings a little whiff of grungy street life back to the boulevard — now a shopping mecca for hipsters — with weekly Thursday-night performances by local acts like Ariel Pink, Dublab Soundsystem and the freak-trance, raw food–inspired collective Pocahaunted (at the April opening of Kim Gordon’s Mirror/Dash Pop-Up shop and gallery). The secluded interior courtyard — lined with shops like Hennessey + Ingalls’ satellite branch, Alife, We the Free and Urban Outfitters — encloses the crowd for intimate outdoor shows. With good local acts on the bill, the vibe’s often more tight and enjoyable than at some clubs around town — made all the better by alcoholic sno-cones at the neighboring snack bar. In addition to music, Space 15 Twenty hosts outdoor movie nights Mondays and the occasional independent design craft fair, or a “minimarket” — a venue for local manufacturers of totes, knitted items and custom tees. 1520 Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd. space15twenty.com.
Mon.-Thurs, 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri., 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat., 10 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun., 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
BEST GRAD-SCHOOL PICKUP SPOT
UCLA and USC host open studio nights about twice a year, and they usually list them on the art-school Web sites. What’s the draw? A night of wine, cheese and art being offered by some of the premier graduate art schools in the country, and a bevy of smart, well-dressed and well-connected arty types. Basically, a wonderful opportunity to make a lo-o-o-ve connection. Hecuba and Pacific Trim played at the last USC open studio, and the thing turned into an all-night party as kids wandered in and out of the studios, lounged on scrappy couches and nibbled on Trader Joe’s snacks. Beware the cigarette smoke, confusing art films and the pantheon of Snobby McSnobbersins, the latter of whom will most likely be disgusted that this tip was published. Consumerism, baby! Eat it up. You’re going to have to find a new place to hate, because we’re blowin’ up your spot! UCLA: (310) 825-0557; USC: (213) 743-1804.
BEST SOUTH-OF-THE-BORDER BAR
With cowboy hats bobbing on the dance floor, low, stuccoed ceilings, and women who top their high skirts with even higher hairdos, La Zona Rosa is as close as L.A. gets to a real border town nightclub. It’s like Mexicali with far cleaner bathrooms. On Tuesdays and Sundays, when La Zona Rosa forsakes its cover charge, the parking lot overflows and the accordions don’t stop until 2 a.m. There’s live music nightly that might have its origins in south Texas or the Straits of Magellan, or might include, banda, cumbia or reggaeton. The club attracts a mostly over-35 crowd with an upbeat, sexy vibe that can translate into some heavy-grinding ranchera dancing, and sometimes quite a bit more. That’s especially true at Thursday’s regular Concurso de Piernas, where ladies win prizes (and gritos) for the best and barest thighs. When you just can’t take it anymore, there’s a taco bar and bacon-wrapped hot dog stand waiting for you outside. Cover charge of $20 when the better-known bands play. 1010 E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave., L.A. (323) 223-5683. Valet parking $5.
BEST I’LL-HAVE-WHAT-SHE’S-HAVING ROCK FESTIVAL
In a YouTube video uploaded in the days following the early September FYF Fest, which took place at the L.A. State Historic Park in Chinatown, a woman who looks to be in her early 20s is talking to the camera. Smoking a cigarette, she relays with curious wonder a story of what happened to her in the front row during spazz-metal band Lightning Bolt’s blistering sundown set. (The video has since been removed, so we’re paraphrasing.) It was a heated moment, she recalled, bordering on the orgasmic. She felt, in fact, as if she’d come at one point, so intense was the music and the crowd’s reaction. Everybody was packed tight and pogoing. A guy behind her was bouncing along with her, holding her by the waist and dancing hard. When the show was over and the dude behind her took off, she felt something hot and, um, wet on her derriere. She reached her hand back, and, lo ... gross. That was this year’s FYF Fest, the seventh version of a festival born as the Fuck Yeah Fest, changed to the F Yeah Fest, and now to the curiously redundant FYF Fest. Founded by young Tasmanian Devil/go-getter Sean Carlson, the punk and avant electronic festival was not without its organizational problems — i.e., a long wait to get in. But the amazing thing about the FYF Fest was the sheer abandon with which the packed park celebrated, once they got in, the fringes of punk, dance and comedy. As in, hot wetness seemed to be flying all over the place during Lightning Bolt, Mika Miko and Fucked Up. fyeahfest.com.
BEST STRIP-CLUB MUSIC
Sam’s Hofbrau of downtown L.A. isn’t the Rolls Royce of strip clubs. Adjacent to a parking lot of shopping carts and an enormous yellow warehouse not likely to become lofts, Sam’s Hofbrau feels more like a pimped-out El Camino, complete with kickin’ reggaeton and an interior straight out of a Robert Rodriguez film. Unlike strip clubs of various ilks, the Hofbrau makes no bones about dropping the sweetest Spanish-language jams this side of Juarez. The club is probably the strip bar of choice for Twin Towers prison downtown and, because of some of its straight-from-the-slammer clientele, comes with a long list of rules: “No camera phones, no guns, all head tattoos must be covered, and no pencils or pens.” A side of shivving with lap dance is not out of the question, but every moment at the Hofbrau bar is worth the danger. The low bass drops and bouncing accordion lines fuel sultry activity at the center of the room, while men obscured by gyrating ladies in thongs occupy the booths on the periphery. There’s never a bad night at the Hofbrau, and without the usual ’80s hair-metal or commercial hip-hop, the Latin jams get the ladies’ hips a-shakin’ and the tips flyin’. 751 E. Olympic Blvd., dwntwn. (213) 623-3989, samshofbrau.com.
BEST PLACE TO MEET A SUPERSTAR DJ
Maybe you haven’t noticed, but this superstar DJ game is serious business. Some spinners have been known to travel with bodyguards (we’re looking at you, Danny Tenaglia), and five-figure paydays are common. While well-known jocks are still more accessible than, say, members of U2, the days of practically everyone getting backstage at a big DJ gig are over. The Electric Daisy Carnival in early summer claims to have drawn 135,000 people to the Coliseum: That’s certainly proven that rock-star status has arrived for the DJ. However, if you prefer less security between you and the guy playing other people’s music for you, there’s still a place to go: Monday Social at Playhouse. For 13 years the Social has put big-name DJs (even John Digweed) on an even keel with its intimate school-night crowds. It’s not unusual to see the likes of the Crystal Method’s Ken Jordan or trance pioneer Brian Transeau having a beverage. The mood is casual, not amped. Known for getting imported Saturday-night heroes to stick around and play on a Monday, they’ve recently moved to a bigger, newer venue, Playhouse. The sound system, a British Funktion One, is to die for. And the cover, usually just $10 with RSVP, isn’t too serious. 6506 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd. (323) 656-4800, playhousehollywood.com. 21+. Doors open Mondays at 10 p.m.
BEST ALL-AGES VENUE
With all due respect to Echo Curio, host to a consistently compelling combination of outsider art both audio and visual, Jim Smith’s The Smell remains the single best venue for showgoers of all ages to experience not only the music of their peers, but that of some bona fide legends, to boot. Despite its rising profile, the downtown venue has kept admission cheap (almost always $5) and its M.O. intact: to play host to the noisiest, messiest, most genreless and generally outside-of-the-box hand-hewn musical experiments around, while maintaining a downright wholesome sense of community fueled by vegan pancake brunches, haircut parties and a generous library of nifty zines. And of course, it’s still the home base of local heroes like No Age, HEALTH, Abe Vigoda, and Mika Miko — not to mention possible future stars like Pocahaunted and Widow Babies — as well as the stopping point of choice for Thurston Moore when he’s taking time off from Sonic Youth. What’s more, the Smell offers myriad ways for youth to get involved, whether behind the scenes or working the front door. 247 S. Main St., dwntwn. thesmell.org.
BEST SOCCER PUB
The World Cup returns in summer 2010, so L.A. soccer aficionados should begin to think about where they’ll post up to watch the sport’s premier event. The Underground Pub and Grill, just off the Strand in Hermosa Beach, has everything you want in a soccer pub: a proliferation of HD flat screens, a crowd that knows and loves the Beautiful Game, Boddingtons on tap, morning hours conducive to catching games in far-flung time zones, and classically greasy English-pub fare to help soak up all those a.m. ales. Founded by Northern Irish footie legend George Best, the Underground prices its beer and grub cheaply enough for hardcore soccerheads to take in a full day of action there. It’s worth a visit even now, as English Premier League matches are under way, but come next summer the Underground will become a cannot-be-missed milieu of truly raucous fandom. 1332 Hermosa Ave., Hermosa Beach. (310) 318-3818, undergroundpub.com.
BEST 3 MARGARITAS BY A BEACH
There’s only one way to drink a frosty, get-your-head-spinning citrus-tequila blend — and that’s near the beach. If you’re going to knock back the hallmark drink of spring break you might as well feel like you’re on vacation. The city is home to showy flaming margaritas, cotton candy-based margaritas, and $2 specials, but it’s in the beach towns that you’ll find the signature Mexican drink paired with happy hour truffle fries and late-night “hand-hacked” guacamole. He’ll say: If the tequila you’re drinking isn’t 100 percent Agave, it ain’t real tequila. And freshly squeezed lime and lemon juices are supremely important. She’ll say: Not too much ice or salt, and its got to have a kick to it ... you want to be buzzed all the way to the sand. He: Margaritas are serious business at Bouzy in Redondo Beach during their “Happy Cocktail Hour.” They have potent, lip-smacking libations for $4. Plus, their truffle fries and “Kogi” hotdogs are fresh twists on favored classics. She: The staff is easy-on-the-eyes at Bouzy and you’ll love their sleek leather booths. But if you must have your chips and salsa, and want to feel like you’re in a foreign land, then it’s La Cabaña in Venice. They use fresh limes and have more than 20 varieties of margaritas, like coconut or banana. He: Banana margaritas just sound wrong. She: You also need to hit up Mucho Ultima Mexicana in Manhattan Beach for their late-night specials. But it’s only $5 for house margaritas and they’ve got BBQ shrimp tacos. He: Is that the swanky restaurant that serves 150 types of tequilas? She: So amazing. Their “Mucho Margarita” beats the overhyped Cabo Wabo and Sharkeez any day. He: If you’re looking for fruity, ice-blended margaritas to swill on sultry nights, Mucho is a choice spot. Bouzy, 1611 S. Catalina Ave., Redondo Beach. (310) 540 1222; La Cabaña, 738 Rose Ave., Venice. (310) 392-7973; Mucho Ultima Mexicana, 903 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach. (310) 374-4422.
—Kee Chang and Sophia Kercher
BEST MALT SHOP
Ask Daily Pint owner Philip McGovern why he started amassing one of the largest Scotch collections in L.A. 15 years ago, and you’ll likely hear a grunt about the customers who pestered him to do it. The pub currently offers more than 300 single-malt and blended scotches, all wedged shoulder-to-shoulder on an overhead wooden shelf that runs the length of the bar. You can spend upward of $150 for a glass of the Last Drop, quite literally the last few sips of a nearly 50-year-old blend of 80 Scotch whiskeys that mysteriously surfaced in a warehouse cask overseas last year. A bottle will set you back around $2,000 retail, so that buck-50 is actually a pretty good deal for those who are feeling paycheck flush. For the rest of us, McGovern offers several interesting sips for $10 to $20, among them the limited-release 1993 Oban Distiller’s Edition and the 17-year-old Macallan Fine Oak, a sherry-oak aged whiskey. The best deal may be the flights, which start at $25 for five tastes and are generous enough to share with your new bar buddy. 2310 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 450-7631, thedailypint.net.
BEST OLD-STYLE DRIVE-IN MOVIE WITH A SWAP MEET
The only thing better than one bargain is two bargains in the same spot. You can shop at the Vineland Swap Meet from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., then pile your hard-earned treasure into the hatch of your SUV or MINI Cooper and the swap meet magically transforms into the Vineland Drive-In. Now you’re ready to see Inglourious Basterds on one of four enormous, outdoor screens, and you didn’t have to move an inch to do it. The swap meet is one of the premier places in L.A. to find all sorts of cheap junk — er, previously owned merchandise, at bargain rates. Some DVDs go for $2, and one vendor offered a 28-inch plastic Virgin Mary in its original Styrofoam container for the divine price of $25. You can also buy: four pounds of strawberries for $2, six bras for $10, a Nintendo 64 game console that may or may not work for $12. We then killed five hours eating lunch at the nearby delicious Yum Cha Café, watched a cheap DVD at home, then returned to the drive-in by evening. For $8, we watched a movie in the same spot where we’d purchased the Blessed Virgin a few hours earlier. It’s not only cheap, but it’s OK to bring your own food and sodas. 443 N. Vineland Ave., City of Industry. (626) 369-7224. Swap meet open daily 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Drive-in open daily 7 p.m.
BEST WEEKEND ELECTRONIC BEATS
You’d never notice Silver Lake’s Hyperion Tavern unless someone pointed it out. It’s housed in a nondescript navy blue brick of a building on a shady tree-lined stretch where Fountain meets Hyperion. Its owners don’t do much promotion; the only signage is a striped barber pole. Until relatively recently it was a gay leather bar (leading surprised would-be patrons to receive beers when they’re requesting “bears”). But every Friday, the place turns into one of L.A.’s finest havens for beat heads, with Matthew McQueen (matthewdavid) and Shaun Koplow’s (sodapop) Calling All Kids night and its all-star assortment of rotating guest DJs. Since starting in January, the dublab, Alpha Pup, and Anticon-affiliated pair have recruited Lucky Dragons, Nosaj Thing, Doseone, Yoni Wolf of WHY?, Ras G, Dntel, Daedelus and Dam-Funk, to spin among the dive bar’s décor of dusty legal books and antique chandeliers — not to mention live performances from Serengeti, Polyphonic and Zackey Force Funk. There’s no hard liquor, it’s cash only (though there is an ATM), and with a 70-person capacity, the Tavern fills up quickly. But if you’re looking for a no-cover, no-frills spot to swill cheap beer and hear great music, there are few better options — provided you can find the place. 1941 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake. (323) 665-1941, hyperiontavern.com.
BEST WESTSIDE SUSHI NAZI BAR
To qualify as a locals bar, a place has to have a pecking order, rituals and rights of passage. At Karaoke Bleu, which many people pass on Sawtelle without realizing it’s a full-service bar, the owner regulates the seating arrangement like a sushi Nazi dispatches spicy-tuna-roll-ordering celebrities. Locals get their pick of tables and bar seating. Others get the Siberian satellite bar, where service can be spotty. Most nights it’s a nonissue, but when it’s busy, getting a good spot at the bar is necessary to keep the Sapporos en route. If the owner doesn’t know you, good luck. And don’t try to just grab a prime spot. Cute Japanese servers will come over and politely give you the pointy end of their Blahniks. But the prices are good ($9 for a healthy pour of Johnny Walker Black Label) and the people are chill. The place has a karaoke stage, and the girls play Beyoncé concert videos when no one is singing. The bathrooms are shared with a restaurant next door, Furaibo. There’s parking in the rear. But be careful not to park in a reserved spot. The owner will be watching. 2064 Sawtelle Blvd., W. L.A. (310) 477-4794. 8 p.m.-2 a.m. nightly.
BEST OENOPHILIA SPONSORSHIP
Silverlake Wine’s newsletter will tip you to the vibe of this wine shop, promising “Disco Inferno–interesting Loire Valley whites” that are “as much fun as throwing a TV set off your balcony.” And for the cost of one hotel bar cocktail ($12-20) the weekly tasting events have become attendance-required for both oenophiles and wannabes, with food pairings by chefs from places like Heirloom L.A. and a popular Thursday night residency by Let’s Be Frank. This year, Silverlake Wine added offsite tastings — Wednesdays are in the lobby of the Standard Downtown — and convinced Barnsdall Art Park to let hundreds of people bring their toddlers and tubs of Trader Joe’s hummus to the Hollyhock House lawn every Friday with glasses of Viognier dangling from their fingertips. Co-owner Randy Clement assures us that they’ll be back at Barnsdall next summer, but until then, a new experiment with monthly beer tastings in the park kicked off in September, with in situ screenings of Swingers and Chinatown. If all jives with Barnsdall’s schedule, those will start up even earlier next summer. That’s like throwing two TVs off your balcony. 2395 Glendale Blvd., L.A. (323) 662-9024, silverlakewine.com.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.