By Matthew Fleischer
Putting together a proper pub crawl is a sacred trust — a responsibility I don't take lightly. As one of the co-founders of New Orleans' annual Cinco de Gayo pub crawl — a 10-stop monster tour of New Orleans' rowdiest, filthiest gay bars — I've come to realize that there are certain rules one needs to abide to ensure that everyone on your crawl has a good time. For instance, NEVER, EVER end your crawl at a tranny club or a butch-girl bar. Waaaay too confusing after a dozen drinks.
In some cities, that's pretty much the only rule you need. Getting a pub crawl together in Los Angeles, however, offers a unique set of challenges that require a Germanic level of organization, efficiency and precision to overcome.
As we all know, this is not a walking city, and finding a confluence of good bars within reasonable distance of one another isn't easy. Complicating matters further, the bar-filled neighborhoods we do have tend to get packed. Try rolling into any bar in Silver Lake after 10 p.m. with a dozen drunken idiots and see how long you wait in line. Same in Echo Park or Santa Monica. Downtown has come a long way in terms of nightlife, but the emerging bar scene there is fairly homogenous — especially with the demise of old-school dives like Crabby Jack's. Golden Gopher, Broadway Bar and 7 Grand are all fun, but, let's be honest — same owners, same feel, same crowds — is there really any point in crawling from one to the other?
Yet an epic pub crawl within the Los Angeles city limits is attainable. What follows is a time-tested route through Los Feliz and parts of East Hollywood — no lines, virtually no covers, close to public transportation, and ethnically and culturally diverse. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes, bring plenty of cash, and stock up on your prophylactic of choice, because by the time you're done with this crawl, beer goggles will seem like a distant dream.
The greatest enemy of the pub crawl is the line. There's nothing worse than feeling your hard-earned buzz fade while idling behind a velvet rope. Even though Los Feliz doesn't have any velvet ropes, most of the bars are small and crowded, and waiting in a parking lot out front is just as bad. So you need to start your crawl early to beat the hordes — like 4 p.m. early. And by 4 p.m. I don't mean 8 p.m. Trust me, start on time or you won't make it past the fifth stop.
Where to start? Tiki Ti.
Intimate, festive, close to the Vermont and Sunset Metro Red Line stop, and sporting a selection of at least 80 drinks, all of which are basically just rum and pineapple juice, Tiki Ti has that friendly, talk-to-the-random-guy-next-to-you vibe that eases the time while you wait for the stragglers in your crew to show up. A note of caution, though: The Web site says it opens at 4. In reality, Tiki Ti tends to open whenever the owner-operators feel like it — generally sometime between 4 and 6, depending on the season. You should probably call ahead to double-check.
El Chavo is the next stop, but if Tiki Ti is closed when you start your crawl, feel free to flip the order around and head here first. Formerly a dark, gothic cave of a Mexican restaurant into which no natural light was allowed, El Chavo recently remodeled in favor of a lighter, airier approach. I personally preferred the cave, but the margaritas are still tasty and the eats are, too. You'll be drinking heavily for the next eight to 10 hours, so it's probably a good idea to get some food into your system. I recommend the lengua con mole. It may seem slightly counterintuitive to begin a marathon drinking binge, where the threat of alcohol-induced power vomiting is a legitimate concern, by eating tongue. Doesn't exactly settle the stomach. But fuck it — tongue is tasty.
After El Chavo, those of you familiar with the area will want to take a right and hit up the bars on Hillhurst. You must resist. Good Luck Bar isn't open yet, and that definitely needs to be a part of any route. Instead, head up Hollywood to Vermont and go straight to The Dresden. Marty and Elayne won't be on yet, which is exactly the point — you can show up with as many people as you want. No lines, no Swingers tourists, no irony — just a campy old-man bar. In that spirit, I recommend ordering a Tom Collins immediately upon arrival. Fizzy, lemony and loaded with gin, the Tom Collins is a woefully underappreciated old-man drink — like summertime in a nursing home, but in a good way. (Another nugget of info gleaned from the aforementioned Cinco de Gayo pub crawl: Aside from being delicious, the Tom Collins doubles as the ultimate litmus test for figuring out whether you're in a gay bar. If it comes out yellow, things are as hetero as Bill Clinton in a room fully of chubby girls. If the bartender serves it up pink, loaded with grenadine, the guy next to you who told you your — or your boyfriend's — ass looked great in jeans wasn't just being friendly.)
After swapping stories about hemorrhoid cream and the Eisenhower-Stevenson election with the early-bird crowd, it's time to head back east to Hillhurst — to Ye Rustic Inn and the Drawing Room.
Ye Rustic Inn is first. This place is loud, fun and stocked with hip, attractive coeds. If you're looking for drunken, promiscuous sex (and, if you're anything like me, four or five drinks in, it's probably in the back of your mind), this is your spot. Crawl discipline now becomes essential. Nothing should interfere with the flow of the crawl, not even your genitals. One quick drink and move on. Better yet, one shot and move on. Even better still, pick out the person you want to have drunken, promiscuous sex with, buy her a carbomb and bring her across the street with you to the Drawing Room.
With the cheapest drinks on the crawl, The Drawing Room is the time to take your inebriation to the next level. Dark and dingy, the place virtually demands you take a shot of Jameson and follow it up with a beer. After all, this is the crawl's halfway point — you earned it. Though the dartboard in the back corner of the room could be cause for concern (after this many drinks, it's generally wise to steer clear of flying projectiles), the board is electronic and the darts have blunted, plastic tips. Even the lightweights should make it out safely.
If all goes according to plan, you should next roll southward a couple of blocks and into Good Luck Bar shortly after it opens at 8. With its over-the-top Chinese opium den/whorehouse theme and bartenders clad in black, Good Luck sometimes seems like it's trying just a little too hard. But it's got one of the best jukeboxes in all of Los Angeles — any bar that has both Louis Prima and Bad Brains on the same machine is OK by me. Getting there early carries the added advantage of ensuring you'll actually be able to hear the music you pick. After 10 o'clock, you could spend the rest of the night at the bar without getting through the backlog. Drinks can be a little pricey, so I'd stick with beer for buzz-maintenance purposes — a Tsingtao perhaps.
The next stop, heading west on Hollywood, is Cheetah's. From the outside, Cheetah's looks like the kind of place guys go to get $20 handjobs out back by the dumpster. It's not … at least I don't think it is …
Inside, it's a “panties and pasties” burlesque room with a golden hue and a pantheon of cute, friendly bartendresses and tattooed dancers. Lady crawlers should have no fear — the place is female friendly, and it's large enough that your group should be able to get a private table. If that doesn't sound especially reassuring, a shot of tequila should cure any lingering apprehensions. And don't forget to tip your dancers.
When you're done with pasties and heels, take a 15-minute walk west on Hollywood. This is the longest walk on the crawl, so if your buzz is waning, make sure to get it back where it needs to be before you leave Cheetah's. After walking for 10 minutes, you'll see the Salvadoran dance club Guatelinda on your left. “I'm tired of walking,” you're bound to think, “let's go here.”
Patience. Unless you're packing at least a C-cup housed in a low-cut tank top, you're looking at a hefty cover — possibly as much as 20 bucks. No sense spending that kind of money to stay for less than an hour. It's still way too early to settle down for the evening. A little farther up you'll also pass Jumbo's Clown Room — another burlesque club. Don't bother. By this point of the night it'll be too crowded to get in. Besides, do you really need to see more boobs?
Instead, head farther west to The Stone — an amazing, dark little hole-in-the-wall that serves as the ultimate pub-crawl wild card. Some nights it's a hipster dance club, other nights it's got a surly dive-bar element, but more often than not it's a Thai gay bar. Hipster dance night generally has a cover — usually no more than $5 and almost always worth it. If it's Thai gay night, expect to see some very short, half-naked men dancing in Speedos.
By this point in the night you're most likely wasted and possibly thinking about cutting the crawl short. Those are the thoughts of a crazy person. It's time for some food to get blood sugar up. You're in the heart of Thai Town, so there are plenty of options, but I recommend Hi Thai Noodle & Thai Angel Café — right next to the Stone. The food is just so-so, except for the noodles, which are actually quite good, but — and maybe this is me — alcohol-induced reduction in motor function makes them too hard to eat. If you can manage, they have free karaoke in the back and serve stiff vodka drinks in discreet plastic mugs.
Hopefully the Thai food will sober you up a little, because you don't want to fuck around at the next stop — White Horse on Western Avenue. The proprietress, a gregarious but tough-as-nails Hungarian woman named “Mama,” will throw your ass out on the street if you get out of line. So behave. If you don't piss her off, Mama usually puts out free food at the bar. If you're lucky, she has hot dogs, but I went in there one night and she was serving slices of black forest ham on sugar cookies.
The last Metro Red Line train leaves Hollywood and Western around 12:30, so if you're planning on taking public transportation, don't miss it. But if eight and a half hours of drinking just isn't enough, now is the time to bailar, amigos. Guatelinda is beckoning.
Having only scouted out the club one time at the tail end of my own pub crawl, I honestly can't tell you what Guatelinda is like, other than harboring an abundance of pelvis shaking. I vaguely remember a spacious bathroom. Hey, if you make it this far into the crawl, you won't remember much, either.
If you close out Guatelinda and still have more crawling in you (my hat's off to you, sir/madam), or you just don't feel like sitting around for a taxi, Harvard House Motel has water beds, color TVs and “adult movies.” They're serious about the adult movies, too — they've got two signs bragging about it. I can't vouch for their selection.
Pink Elephant Liquors, where Charles Bukowski used to get his booze back in the day, delivers until 2 a.m. if you need some in-room refreshment.
Good luck, have fun and be sure to sleep on your side.
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