L.A. Restaurant Owners Reveal the Stories Behind Their Neon Signs
When Jonathan Grahm opened his second outpost of Compartés Chocolatier on Melrose Place two years ago, one of the first things he did was install a neon sign that proclaims, “Chocolate Is Art!” The glowing sign, which he says describes his business in a nutshell and is modeled after his own handwriting, was such a hit with patrons that he installed a replica of it at the original Brentwood location.
Compartés Chocolatier isn't the only L.A. restaurant using signage to make a bold statement in swirling neon, projecting its core beliefs while doubling as magnetic Instagram bait. In the same West Hollywood building, Alfred Coffee owner Joshua Zad launched its flagship location with a painted wall sign that reads, "But First, Coffee." Around the corner at Alfred Tea Room, he’s installed a similarly memorable sign in pink neon: "Tea, Yes. You, Maybe."
At E.P. & L.P., a nearby Aussie-run restaurant, the rooftop bar features a white neon signs that reads, “Where Love Lives.” E.P. & L.P. opted for this particular phrase because it plays on the restaurant's music theme: "Where Love Lives” by British singer Alison Limerick is one of E.P. & L.P. co-owner Grant Smillie's favorite records. The sign received placement in Frankie’s Private Bar on the L.P. rooftop as a tribute to legendary Chicago house DJ Frankie Knuckles, who remixed the track.
It's not just West Hollywood that has embraced the cheeky signage trend. As soon as guests enter Everson Royce Bar in the Arts District, they’re greeted with three words in neon: "My, That's Better." Co-owner Randy Clement, who named the bar after his twin sons, says he lifted the phrase from the memoir of late New York Times columnist David Carr, who is also the parent of twins. “My endorphins leaped at this new opportunity, hugging it and feeling all its splendid corners. My, that's better," Carr wrote in his memoir, The Night of the Gun, in a passage that describes the feeling of snorting cocaine.
Further northeast in Highland Park, the forthcoming branch of San Francisco–based Mr. Holmes Bakehouse — which gave the cruffin (croissant muffin) to the world — will feature a neon sign that reads, “I Got Baked in Los Angeles." It's an idiom for getting high, of course, but who's to say it's not also a perfect way to describe baking delicious cruffins? The sign is based on the original one erected in the Bay Area flagship.
Diablo Taco in Silver Lake and Tacos Tu Madre in Los Feliz both display signs endorsing peace. "Make Tacos Not War," the neon signs read. Diablo Taco owner Summer Stearns says her sign was inspired by the artist Alejandro Diaz, who popularized the expression with hand-woven wool in 2008. Stearns asked a regular customer to capture the phrase in neon. “That piece seemed particularly fitting for a catch phrase at Diablo, as it resonates politically and culturally for us in Los Angeles," she said.
Lisa J. Olin and pastry chef/partner Elizabeth Belkind have been using the catchphrase “Enjoy Life Eat Cake” since they launched Cake Monkey as a wholesale baking company eight years ago. In 2015, when they opened their long-awaited brick-and-mortar store in Mid-City, designer Paula Smail installed a pink neon sign bearing those words. Olin said, “It was a great way to bring in a cool vintage element that mirrors the feel of our retro cakes and treats.”
Look around, and neon signs abound and ablaze throughout the L.A. food scene. There's Night + Market Song's "Larb King" sign honoring Kris Yenbamroong’s prowess with the iconic Thai dish, and Arts District Brewing Co.'s downright poetic three-line stanza: “Stay with beer, Beer is continuous blood, a continuous lover.” Now that's a mantra we can get behind.
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