Best Of :: Los Feliz/Atwater Village
Best Restaurant Atmosphere: Kismet
What restaurant makes you feel fabulous and stylish and wonderful just because you were smart enough to walk in the door? Kismet does. The all-day restaurant from chefs Sarah Hymanson and Sara Kramer and restaurateurs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo has a way of charming you so much, you become part of the charm. Maybe it's the sunlight streaming in from the front windows, shining that famous white L.A. shimmer on the blonde wood interior. Maybe it's the plates of food, festooned with beautiful green lettuces, jewel-toned vegetables, little pots of house-made sauces and yogurts, big slabs of bread. Maybe it's the effortlessly disheveled beauty of the servers, or the fact that more than one movie star is likely to walk in looking fabulously disheveled themselves — this is a place where even the A-list can hang out without any drama. Whatever spell Kismet is weaving, it certainly works to make anyone who enters feel marvelously clever for being part of the magic.
Inspired by the ancient Mayan city of Palenque (as imagined by an erstwhile movie set designer for Paramount), the fortresslike Sowden House was built for the lavish parties of silent film–era Hollywood. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright Jr. — or Lloyd Wright, as he was known — built the faux-Mayan temple to physically imposing scale on a hill in Los Feliz (the awe-inspiring patterned block cantilevers that project from the roofline above the entrance have been likened to the jaws of a great white shark). Inside the house has an Eleusinian feel: Twisting passageways, dark recesses and secret rooms flow into an atrium with undulating contours of stonework and a proscenium stage. The overall effect is what one architecture historian has called a "unique but indeterminate exoticism." This is not a house so much as a showcase, an open space for a select group to enjoy in privacy and seclusion. The real notoriety of the house dates from 1945, when George Hodell, a sybaritic physician and friend to surrealists and Hollywood A-listers, bought the property and redecorated (all-red kitchen, all-gold master bedroom) to host infamous sex parties "delving into the mystery of love and the universe," as he told Los Angeles police detectives investigating a rape charge brought against him by his 14-year-old daughter after one such party (Hodell was acquitted of rape and incest in 1949 and sold the house soon thereafter.) Many years later it was revealed that the LAPD considered Hodell the prime suspect in the Black Dahlia murder. He may even have killed and dismembered the starlet in a locked room in the basement. The house will be hosting art events by invitation this fall.
For the music shopper, a trip to the local hard-copy supplier comes with two objectives: 1. Find something from your constantly expanding wish list; and 2. Find something you didn't know you wanted but looks cool and is priced right. You can do both at Jacknife Records, even if your preferred format is the cassette. Jacknife's devotion to the quintessentially '80s music format lines the walls of this narrow Atwater Village shop. Remember that music collection you purged when you upgraded to a car without a tape deck? You can re-buy it here. Plus, Jacknife's stock can include deadstock, so those 20th-century hits might sound just as fresh as when you first bought them. While you're there, keep your ears with the times and pick up some new releases on the format, too. Need stuff to play and store your new purchases? Don't worry, Jacknife has your audio tech needs covered, too. Follow Jacknife on Instagram to keep up with what's in stock.
For L.A. stand-up comics, the Open Mic Ordinaire can be a happy revelation. When you arrive to a small rectangular room jammed with wines in a hip strip mall, you wouldn't be mistaken for thinking it's a wrong address. In the back of the store is a semi-hidden staircase. Descend these stairs and you'll arrive at a clean, Euro-modernist wine cavern, part of which is glassed off into a snug, well-lit performance space. That's where Robert Adam and Keven Scotti have run their now twice-weekly stand-up night since October 2016, and where they foster a supportive vibe. On a good night you'd think you were catching up-and-coming comedians in Portland or Providence, but here in Atwater Village it's underground comedy of the literal sense.
Not all dads are the same, but, c'mon, all dads born in the wake of WWII who grew up on cowboy shoot-'em-ups on TV have a lot in common. Next time said father figure visits L.A., it would be advisable to take him to the Autry Museum of the American West. My dad collects and refurbishes vintage cap guns (because he's adorable), so I took him to see the museum's current exhibit "Play!" (on display through Jan. 7), which features children's toys from throughout history. That was cool, but the ongoing exhibits are the real highlight, including "Journeys Gallery," which tells the stories of notable Old West figures through an impressive collection of artifacts, and "Western Frontiers: Stories of Fact and Fiction," which features hundreds of firearms, many of them with intricate engravings that are beautiful regardless of your position on gun control. Enlightened dads (like mine) also will dig the small but affecting display on Standing Rock.
On his 1972 live album Hot August Night, recorded at the Greek Theatre, Neil Diamond gave a shout-out to "the tree people," those fans who couldn't get into the sold-out concert and were instead sitting on the hillside just beyond the amphitheater's back fence in Griffith Park. It's long been an Angeleno tradition to climb down the steep hill on the eastern side of Griffith Observatory, circle past the water tank and continue down the slope above the Greek to listen to concerts for free. Because of the shape of the canyon, the sound rises up clearly, and the views downhill are much better after dozens of drought-damaged trees were cut down a couple of years ago.
Runner-up (tie): Kitchen Mouse and Salazar