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Best Landlocked Treasure Island

{mosimage}Lodged between the busy shipping lanes of Los Feliz Boulevard to the north and Glendale Boulevard to the south, and hidden from view by a veritable cliff face of storefronts, lies the enchanted island of Atwater Village. To the west lies our Barbary Shore, the L.A. River (here hugging the I-5 Freeway, with its lulling, oceanic roar), teeming with birds and waterfowl. The river’s central archipelago of trash-reefs and garbage-atolls is submersible in the brutal winter floods, but in calmer seasons is thinly populated by mad urban castaways and flotsamlike refuseniks, and ship jumpers from the USS Rat Race. A mere eight blocks to the east is our impenetrable eastern frontier, the Union Pacific Railroad, whose slowly passing nighttime trains emit the doleful honking of supertanker foghorns. (It’s like being trapped, deliciously, inside a Hank Williams song — it’s also exactly where the murder occurred in Double Indemnity.)

Trek inland and you will stumble upon the neat and colorful rows of suburban native huts, built by our earliest Fletcher Christian–style inhabitants, who fled Los Feliz and East Hollywood 80-odd summers ago to establish their own urban Pitcairn Island. There are catalog houses, many of them — a dwelling on one block may have its differently colored, reversed or rotated mirror image on the next. You will also find total tear-down replacements, oddly shaped back-of-the-lot bungalows, majestic suburban palaces, Disney set-designer fantasy castles and naff pseudo-Russian dachas. No two ambles through Atwater are ever alike, but grant yourself a detour through the movie-set block of Appleton Street between bucolic Edenhurst Avenue and serpentine Glenfeliz Boulevard. Here are the world headquarters of Arthur magazine, the Aquarian monthly manifesto of Weekly contributor Jay Babcock; the living locale of L.A. Weekly contributor Michelle Huneven’s novel Jamesland; and the former recording studios of Grand Royal (Beastie Boys) and Echo Sound (where Ice Cube recorded Death Certificate and The Predator).

Epicurean delights abound — Cuban treats at Baracoa Cuba, Mexican and Salvadoran nosh at tiny Tacos Villa Corona and booming El Buen Gusto, Vietnamese food at Indochine, vegetarian Indian at India Sweets & Spices, and old-fashioned steaks and martinis at the legendary Tam O’Shanter, a note-perfect, 84-year-old Mildred Pierce–style family chophouse that was once the de facto studio commissary for the old Disney lot (signed drawings by Uncle Walt adorn the walls).

And finally, take a load off at the Roost, perhaps better named the Crow’s Nest, because after a night in the tender care of its lovely, sirenlike barmaids Betsy and Sai, and their unbelievably potent alcoholic confections, the drinker may suddenly imagine he’s atop a swaying mast in a force-10 gale.

(Illustration by Max Kornell)


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