Anthony Bourdain was recently in Los Angeles on a weeks-long trip, tackling everything from winning Emmys to visiting dive bars in Boyle Heights. The former cook and current television host, writer and pontificator also did a press junket promoting his YouTube series, Raw Craft, produced with Scotch maker the Balvenie. It's a fun, high-quality collection of episodes, each profiling a different artisan in a style that feels like a mini version of Bourdain's TV work.
And it turns out Bourdain is a fan of L.A., gaining a greater appreciation for the town with every visit. He even finds beauty in the more absurd elements of our culture. “I rented a muscle car this time out here, and one of my principal pleasures during my time here — everyone bitches about driving — I love the traffic. Everybody slows down at once for no visible reason.” Read on for more of his thoughts about the culture of the City of Angels. The man even wants to take his last breath here.
It's so great that you love L.A., because the knee-jerk reaction of so many New Yorkers is to disdain it.
Well, that was my knee-jerk reaction for the first few years. But I learned over time. Now I know just how to enjoy myself out here. I should say, I know nothing about L.A., relative to people who live here. But what little I do know, I really like, and I like learning more about the place every time I come out.
Do you have any favorite bars in L.A.?
There are a few. But I don't go to bars much out here. I like old-man bars, where I can be alone at 4 in the afternoon. People take me to various divey places sometimes, places I don't even remember the name. I like Jumbo's Clown Room a lot, that's good clean family fun that I like. It is, honestly. I wouldn't hesitate to take my daughter there. Everybody's dressed. It's the kind of place I like.
Because I drive everywhere here — I stay at the Chateau. That's the hotel I want to die in. I have the room all picked out. But if I'm really getting into it, I'm drinking there, because I just gotta stagger to the elevator.
Oh, I love the bar at Musso & Frank's. That's something that L.A. does really, really well. It has great old bars, and old institutions that are still going in a complete un-ironic way. There's no irony at Musso & Frank's. There's no irony at the Magic Castle. Those are two of my favorite places in L.A. They're just so straight-up, “This is what we do, this is what we've always done, move it along, get off my lawn.”
You're a Magic Castle fan?
I want to be in the Magic Castle. I want to join. I'm completely uncoordinated; I don't know what tricks I would learn. I don't know anyone there who would invite me to even try to get in, but that's a place that could exist nowhere else but L.A., and it is fascinating to me.
Are you able to go to restaurants when you're here, or are you so busy it's all room service?
No, I've been eating around a lot, not anywhere near enough to … Someone just asked me my favorite restaurants, and I don't know enough restaurants here to give you any kind of “my top 10,” but I do know that every time I come out here I go to Park's BBQ. I love that place ferociously. I bring chef friends there — I brought Eric Ripert, I brought Nigella Lawson. I think Ludo [Lefebvre] brought me there to start with, and everyone's blown away by the place. Their banchan are insanely good. I haven't eaten better, in the States and in Korea.
I ate at Broken Spanish recently, it was great. Chi Spacca I hadn't been to before — does anyone eat dessert in that place? They're really good, but, they sent us some, so we ate them and they were delicious, but if you've had the fiorentina and some salumi, and the beef and marrow pie, I need a gurney to get to my car. It was really, really, really good. I noticed they rest the meat, they let it sit on the board for a long time before they slice it and send it out to you, and it makes all the difference in the world. Any other place, even Peter Luger, it comes right off the grill and they slice it and it screws everything up.
And I'm assuming you eat at taco trucks, too.
I've been eating a lot of street-level Mexican food in my time here, but that's for the show so I can't tell you where they were.
Sounds like you've fully embraced Los Angeles culture.
And I really like driving a rented muscle car around L.A. with the radio blaring. Somehow, out here — I had this magical moment the other day. Is there a more bloated, cliched, gasbag of a song than “Stairway to Heaven”? I don't think so. But I found myself, 2 o'clock in the morning driving down Sunset, and I'm like, “Dude, this song's so awesome!” Because it was the perfect moment for that song to come on.
It seems like you were devoid of irony at that point, too.
I appreciated it in a completely un-ironic way.
Watch Raw Craft with Anthony Bourdain here.
(Interview edited for length.)