Six Reasons Why Downtown L.A. Isn't Cool (and Probably Never Will Be)
Gentleman's Quarterly recently ran a breezy little story about downtown Los Angeles, wherein we learn that downtown gadfly Brady Westwater once traveled the world as a mixed martial arts fighter, that the writer of the article prefers Philippe's to Cole's (except he calls it Philippe, which is technically correct but sounds ridiculous), and that Cedd Moses owns a lot of bars.
The writer also calls DTLA "the coolest new downtown in America," claiming, "Downtown has approached a critical mass of cool that even the most hard-core resident of Venice or Santa Monica or West Hollywood or Silver Lake would find impossible to deny." And the link on the GQ homepage reads, "America's New Capital of Cool."
Where to begin. Here are six reasons why downtown is not, and most likely will never be, "cool."
6) Popular does not mean cool.
It's hard not to be impressed with how far downtown has come in the last few decades. The sidewalks teem with pedestrians and the streets overflow with fancy new restaurants.
Yes, the revitalization of downtown is a story worth national attention. Yes, it will have implications for Los Angeles and perhaps even America. And yes, downtown is a great neighborhood - and a popular one.
But that's not the same thing as cool.
Lots of things are popular but not cool - like the Super Bowl, or crystal meth.
The great video blogger Ze Frank once said, "Being cool is about not participating in traditionally enjoyable experiences and creating the illusion that happiness can be found in alternative, less enjoyable experiences. The degree to which other people around you try to emulate your alternative lifestyle and fail determines how cool you are. You're only as cool as people wish they were."
Cool people starve themselves, get neck tattoos and listen to bands the rest of us have never heard of. These things are not fun, and they are not popular, and that is exactly the point.
Wearing skinny jeans, getting neck tattoos, hanging out in dank bars listening to guitars screeching in the night ... does that sound enjoyable to you?
5) People there are happy.
Go to a rooftop pool party in one of those loft-style buildings. Look around. What do you see? Baseball caps, muscles, William Morris assistants. You see bros. A party in DTLA is like a scene from a poor man's Entourage.
These people are happy. And there's nothing less cool than being happy.
Turn the page for more reasons DTLA just isn't cool, including its plethora of lawyers.
4) People there are nice.
Cool areas like Williamsburg or Silver Lake are snobby. Dress the wrong way and people will practically spit on you. Admit to liking Steely Dan or the Eagles, and they might kill you. They are not looking for new friends. They have friends. You're just another guy who's going to steal their parking spot or take too long to order at Intelligentsia.
Downtown, as GQ notes, is wide open. Anyone can move there; anyone can get there. They welcome you with open arms, in part because downtown is the only neighborhood conceived in density. They need bodies. That's why people from Cleveland or Indianapolis can move here and feel immediately at home in their 400-square-foot furnished studios with exposed etc. and so forth.
3) It's too mainstream.
For nearly a century, L.A.'s civic elites and economic oligarchs have dreamed of a powerful downtown that would function as the metaphorical city center, the sun around which all other neighborhoods revolve. That kind of politics and investment have soaked into downtown's cultural DNA. Yes, there's Skid Row, but in a way, the homeless masses sitting shoulder to shoulder on Wall Street serve only to underline the point that everything in downtown has its place - FIDM students over here, lawyers here; government workers, you can have Grand Park; hobos, you can have Skid Row.
There's something that will always be about a bit mainstream about downtown - the Brooks Brothers blazers, the government buildings, the hulking masses of lawyers everywhere you turn.
Let's face it: The Man lives downtown, and he wants you to visit.
2) It tries too hard.
There's a great little restaurant in Silver Lake called Sparanza. They make their pasta there, and they have delicious lamb chops. But one of the best parts is that the whole thing seems almost slapped together. The chairs don't quite match. They keep the utensils in little buckets on the tables. The waiters wander around, disinterested. The owner can't even get it together to put up a website.
Now compare that to Bottega Louie. There are roughly 320 employees, all moving intently about the massive, ancient room. It's a large, well-oiled operation. Multicolored, silver dollar - sized macarons sit in the display case like a work of art (and at $2.50 each, they'd better be).
A key part of cool is not trying, or at least looking like you're not trying. And from those incredibly detailed renovated buildings to those Cedd Moses - owned "speakeasies" with secret doors and expensive whiskey, whatever it is, downtown L.A. is working very, very hard at it.
1) It's famous.
There's an argument to be made that once something is anointed "hip," it immediately stops being hip, sort of like Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Once everyone knows about something, can it really be considered cool? Is part of cool being a half-secret, something only some people know about, or appreciate, like Nirvana before Smells Like Teen Spirit, or Modest Mouse before The O.C.?
Downtown doesn't have that problem - it was never a secret, or even a half-secret. Its skyline is one of the most iconic images of L.A., second to only the Hollywood Sign and maybe the beach or something. Everyone knows about downtown; it's on nearly every tourist's to-do list - it is perhaps only recently that they're not severely disappointed when they get there.
Is it even possible to overhype something that everyone already knows about? We'll find out. Right on the heels of GQ's love letter to downtown, The New York Times was ON IT, naming DTLA No. 5 of the 52 places to go in 2014, wedged between the Albanian coast and Namibia.
Let's offer one caveat to this argument: There is one part of downtown that is cool - the Arts District, with its artist lofts that don't need quotation marks, its incredibly pretentious pour-over coffee shops, its tiny galleries that Indiana Jones himself would have a hard time finding. The Arts District's relative plethora of parking spots doesn't exactly make it cool, but it also indicates that it is not yet so overrun with the great unwashed as to disqualify it from cool. Yet.
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