Best Of :: Silver Lake
Best New Music Venue: Zebulon
Seeing experimental, avant-garde music in Los Angeles nearly always used to mean a trip to either REDCAT or a semi-legal warehouse in some remote industrial park, with few options between those two extremes. But since opening in April, Zebulon has offered a blessedly civilized, unpretentious middle ground, with a spacious, finely tuned listening room, two full bars, a patio and a menu of Moroccan-themed dips, salads and small plates. Transplanted from Brooklyn to Frogtown by its original owners, with help from L.A. label Everloving Records and local singer-songwriters Jesse Peterson and Mia Doi Todd, Zebulon has already booked numerous genre-defying artists who hadn't played L.A. in decades, or ever, largely because there was nowhere for them to go: Japanese noise-rock legend Keiji Haino's Fushitsusha, Suicide's Martin Rev, Tuareg electro-blues guitarist Mdou Moctar, Spanish/Indonesian electronic duo Drapetomania. This month, it hosts two of its coolest events yet: a metal-jazz night, co-presented by Angel City Jazz Festival, and a rare U.S. appearance by Krautrock pioneer Hans-Joachim Roedelius. What the Zebulon team will book next is anyone's guess, which is what makes their place such an exciting addition to L.A.'s live-music landscape.
The decision to start a magazine and a restaurant that are based on one another speaks volumes about Botanica and its owners, food writers Heather Sperling and Emily Fiffer, and also about the state of restaurants in L.A. right now. This is an intellectual pursuit as well as an aspirational one. The storefront space is a market that sells wine and coffee and a few beautifully chosen baskets of seasonal produce; behind that lies a long bar and banquette seating, and there's a garden patio out back with more seating and vases spilling unruly arrangements of flowers. Most of the food comes in wide, heavy bowls, herbs and lettuces and pops of brightly colored garnish draped around the inner curve of the tableware, messy but somehow composed and perfect. The natural beauty of produce is king here, rarely manipulated more than just enough to emphasize its best qualities. You could go to Botanica simply to be the type of person who goes there, who eats gorgeous plates of food that look as though they were lifted from the pages of a fabulous food magazine, in a room that might be featured in the pages of a fabulous design magazine. Botanica is a restaurant, but it is also a lifestyle.
Where to begin? The menu is scrawled in marker on greasy brown paper bags. It's BYOB. It has a phone number and a website, but neither is currently functional. Your server might not remember that he's already taken your order, but he will confer "blessings" upon you multiple times. The crowd is generally, painfully Silver Lake–ian, high-waisted jeans–wearing and quirkily beautiful. The seating is almost entirely outdoors on the sidewalk in a jumble of colorfully painted but rickety tables and chairs. (Who knows what they'll do if it ever rains.) And yes, you will most likely have to suffer through a long wait for one of those tables. But once you've endured that wait and popped open your BYO bottle and the dishes begin to arrive at your wonky table, it's hard to keep up any façade of annoyance with Mh Zh. If you do manage to maintain some ambivalence throughout your meal, the last vestiges will likely dissipate when you get your check. I have stuffed myself silly here numerous times and have never yet cracked $50 (pre-tip) for two people. Mh Zh is cheap, and the Israeli food served here — from charred potatoes to a pile of peas over stracciatella cheese to the funky and tangy "lamb ragooooooo" — is as simple as it is delicious.
Within Silver Lake Boulevard's concentrated constellation of retail stores is one of the city's best menswear shops: Hemingway and Sons. It's run by Aussie expat Toby B. Hemingway, whom longtime Silver Lakers will remember from his now-closed gift shop Hemingway and Pickett, which shared a name with his great-grandfather's barber supply store in Melbourne. Hemingway's menswear shop showcases his deft curation without the pretension of "bespoke" collections in the Arts District or zillion-dollar T-shirts on Fairfax. Hemingway and Sons provides timeless attire; it's a store for guys who can't quite pull off the kaftans of "Silver Lake Shaman," drop-crotch joggers or those "millennial pink" shorts populating the picnics of the nearby meadow. Instead, shoppers can expect minimalist button-ups by San Francisco brand Taylor Stitch, handmade boots by century-old Wisconsin outfitters Chippewa and Stetson hats that suit every decade. Not all the wares are solids and stripes, though. Any one of the selection of whimsically patterned, short-sleeved shirts would win "best shirt" at any barbecue. The small store is packed full with gents' accessories, too, providing everything from scents and shades to simple tees and socks.
Silver Lake can feel pretty far removed from the coast, geographically and otherwise. Yet right there on Sunset, amid more landlubber-y retailers, Mollusk is selling surfboards, wetsuits and a branded line of casual wear made in California. Even if you're not in the market for surf stuff or comfy, beachy clothes, there's a good reason to visit — particularly after hours. Since the store opened in 2014, manager Dave Osborne has been booking bands and hosting shows inside Mollusk, which has surprisingly good acoustics (racks of clothes and surfboards work, I guess). It all started with Allah-Las playing the friends-and-family grand opening in September 2014; the shop has gone on to host Blake Mills with Benmont Tench and Jim Keltner, Cass McCombs and the Skiffle Players, and Osborne's own band, BattlaX (full disclosure: My husband plays drums in that last one). Keep an eye on Mollusk's site for upcoming events, and get ready for the sort of good-vibes show only a surf shop could house.
Massage devotees in Los Angeles are all too familiar with skyrocketing prices for a massage that may or may not lead to a discounted quasi-spa joint that smells like sweaty feet and too much Hugo Boss cologne while a CD skipping Mozart plays in the background in a mediocre session. That was before the Now opened. The beautifully designed local massage boutique has four locations throughout the city that are easy on your wallet — you'll never want to leave. The Silver Lake location is the biggest of the bunch, complete with its signature, moan-inducing $65 Swedish full-body massage (plus $25 foot/head massage offerings) and a laid-back setting. Inside the Sunset Boulevard boutique's 16-foot ceilings are an indoor cactus forest, a good-juju crystal collection, smell-good everything and earthy furnishings such as a rad raw-wood swing, indigo-dyed pillows and a floppy hammock. L.A. is a place where we are constantly focused on what's next: When will we open a bagel shop that rivals New York? When will the Metro's Purple Line be finished? When will housing prices go down? But, here, while you bask in vibes that transport you to a Joshua Tree retreat, the only thing to focus on is, well, the now.
The competition for the distinction of best restaurant in Silver Lake gets tougher all the time — great new restaurants are opening in the neighborhood practically weekly. But Alimento still holds the crown. Zach Pollack's Cali-Italian storefront spot is both a perfect neighborhood restaurant and a worthy destination eatery. It's casual and fun, a place you'd want to stop by on a random Wednesday, but once the food arrives it's clear you're dealing with something above and beyond a modest trattoria. Dishes that were favorites back when Alimento opened in 2014 –— such as the cheeky mortadella pig-in-a-blanket and the silky escolar crudo — have lost none of their shine, and newer menu additions live up to the greatness of those early successes. There's a bracing, Italian-leaning Caesar salad that makes glorious use of white radicchio's natural bitterness and its compatibility with sharp cheese. Pastas remain flawless. The braised-lettuce bruschetta utilizes the creamy smoosh of burrata in a way you've never experienced, and that's saying something in a town overrun with burrata-on-toast variations. This is a restaurant you can take for granted, in the best possible way.
The LGBTQ community has made a lot of progress in recent years, and its members at least are more accepted than they were before. One side effect of this has been the increase in straight people who go to gay bars. This sometimes take the form of a bachelorette party, or of straight girls wanting to avoid getting hit on (of course, straight men realize this and show up to hit on them anyway). As a result, many "gay" bars in Los Angeles can feel almost the same as straight ones. Hetero and homosexual people partying together isn't a bad thing, but the LGBT community still needs a place of its own to call home. One of the few gay bars that hasn't been overrun by straights is the Eagle L.A., an LGBT leather bar in Silver Lake. Events like Rough Sex, Mr. Bear L.A. Contest, Meat Rack and Tightwad Tuesdays, combined with decor that includes neon genitals on the wall and porn on the screens, may keep away the average straight person who's expecting a scene like the Abbey. Nevertheless, if you aren't LGBT but have an open mind and a leather jacket, the bar is still a welcoming place, with extremely friendly clientele and staff. If you're gay and just want a break from all the hetero people you're around every day, the Eagle L.A. is probably your best bet.
Runner-up (tie): The Broad and Hauser Wirth & Schimmel
Runner-up: Akbar and Break Room 86
Runner-up: Rosie's Dog Beach