Best Of :: Mid-Wilshire/ Hancock Park
Best Dance Club: Union
The demise of Jewel's Catch One disco in 2015 was a real gut punch for many longtime nightlife denizens. It was the first disco in town owned by a black woman, and it catered to gay people of color who often couldn't find much hospitality in West Hollywood, as well as providing a venue for after-hours house parties like the legendary Does Your Mama Know? Nothing could fill the void. Except that Union did. Club impresario Mitch Edelson, whose family owns Los Globos and El Cid, dusted off the circa-1920s dance hall, added some paint, installed Funktion-One and Eastern Acoustic Works sound systems and — thank you, Jesus — kept the neon "disco" sign intact. A Club Called Rhonda does events there. Los Angeles deep-house king Marques Wyatt is a regular. Drum 'n' bass often rumbles till 4 a.m. along the venue's pockmarked, black walls. And George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic are expected to perform there later this month. "I learned from my dad you can't pigeonhole yourself doing one thing or another, especially with a place the size of Union," Edelson says. "I wanted to keep the spirit of inclusivity that Jewel's had."
L.A.'s newest private museum, the Marciano Art Foundation, houses the art collection of the Marciano brothers, founders of the GUESS? fashion label. In addition to seminal works of contemporary art by the likes of Mike Kelley, Takashi Murakami and Jeff Koons, the Marciano offers a glimpse into the secret society of Freemasonry, which few of the uninitiated ever get to see. Tracing its origins back several centuries to European stonemason guilds, Freemasonry consists of fraternal orders whose ranks include captains of industry, almost a third of U.S. presidents and Hollywood bigwigs Walt Disney and Cecil B. DeMille, among others. The museum is housed in the former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, a gleaming marble and travertine citadel designed by Millard Sheets in 1961, which has been thoughtfully repurposed by architect Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY, retaining much of the original structure's character. Lining the building's Wilshire Boulevard façade, massive sculptures by Albert Stewart depict important figures from Masonic cosmology, such as Imhotep, architect of the Egyptian step pyramids, and Zerubbabel, the Biblical builder of the Second Temple. Masonic symbols such as the square and compass are featured throughout, central to the Masons' conception of themselves as builders. In their lodges and temples, Masons would enact theatrical, costumed rituals utilizing hand-painted backdrops, several of which have been incorporated by artist Jim Shaw into his stunning solo exhibition, The Wig Museum (through Jan. 13), on the main level. Upstairs, the Relic Room houses even more wonders: robes, hats, books, membership logs and other Masonic ephemera, opening a window onto a secretive, in large part bygone world.
Gus's Fried Chicken in Mid-City has joined the list of restaurants bringing Southern fried chicken to the West Coast. The short, succinct menu specializes in its namesake fried chicken, but it also offers a delicious appetizer seldom seen on L.A. menus: fried green tomatoes. As for the spicy fried chicken — yes, it is fiendishly delicious, with its shatteringly crisp, mahogany-hued batter revealing tender meat within. The far-from-overpowering spice of the batter truly grows on you. Two-piece, three-piece or half-chicken combination plates are served with sweet, meaty barbecue beans, a sprightly coleslaw and plain white bread, a reminder of the humble roots of the fried chicken.
The striking, 1950s-era Mimoda Studio's floor-to-ceiling windows frame long-necked ballerinas, freewheeling movers and shakers, and bendy improv dancers. Guests enter through the adjacent and ever-happening Paper or Plastik Café, where on the second-story mezzanine they can eye elegant twirls and spins as they brunch. The ballet classes are led by instructor Stefan Wenta, who grew up in communist Poland before becoming a Los Angeles icon of the dance scene known for his rigor and tough-love approach. To watch a few minutes of Wenta's practice is to be reminded of why fashion, art and pop culture — and not-so-sly voyeurs such as yourself — have never lost interest in the graceful art form. But ballet isn't the only offering at Mimoda Studio. Visitors also can spy on free-form dance parties headed by Mimoda Jazzo Gruppa theater company, the occasional laughter-filled tap class, and other gutsy evening performances in the multipurpose space that looks like part airport hangar, part stunning downtown loft. After you exit the studio, don't be surprised if you find yourself pirouetting on Pico Boulevard.
Corporate toy emporiums might have a lot of stock to choose from, but they can be so crowded and overwhelming that they actually take the fun out of shopping ... for fun stuff. Not so at Miracle Mile Toys and Games, where the well-curated selection is so invitingly arranged, even adults will fantasize about tearing open the packages like a kid on Christmas morning. They stock puzzles, blocks, plastic animals, building kits, dollhouses, dolls and doll accessories, playground toys, beach and sand toys, novelties and so much more, from big brands like Lego and Tonka and lesser-known companies from around the globe. Though they've got all the new stuff any kid might want, there's also a nice selection of old-timey faves, especially classic and vintage games, which the owner will open so you can try before you buy.
The best pockets of Los Angeles feel like small towns, and the quaint Larchmont Village is one of those areas. The neighborhood's charm is anchored by Chevalier Books, a cozy independent bookstore that has been open since 1940. Avid readers return for the well-curated shelves, the helpful staff's handwritten recommendations (ranging from Haruki Murakami's The Elephant Vanishes to the illustrated book Bad Girls Throughout History by Ann Shen) and quiet reading nooks with plush armchairs accompanied by the occasional free cookie. Best of all, Chevalier's isn't simply a bookstore — it's a hub for the community, with a weekly Saturday morning story time for children, bookish brunches hosted by the Los Angeles Review of Books, and lively readings that include best-selling authors, up-and-coming novelists and events with local literary heroes such as MacArthur fellow Josh Kun and L.A. Weekly alum/award-winning crime reporter Christine Pelisek. We're lucky that the indie bookstore is in the center of L.A.; as one of Chevalier's Books co-owners has said, "Who wants to live somewhere that doesn't have a bookstore close at hand?"