See also: Our coverage of the 2012 International Photobooth Convention.
Japanese sticker-printing photo booths may satisfy shopping tweens, and passport office photo booths can spit out images as if from a cheap computer printer, but for the true connoisseur, only a dip-and-dunk booth will do.
The original photo booths — the kind that contain several tubs of chemicals and develop photos the way they were developed before everything went digital — have spread across Los Angeles over the last decade. Though the exact number of them can be difficult to pinpoint because of how often they break, between one and two dozen of the booths snap photographs across the region.
“The technology isn't getting any younger, and it's not like the machines have become suddenly easier to use,” says Brian Meacham, who runs the all-things-booth website Photobooth.net. “But people are interested in them.”
At the end of May, as the final hurrah of an L.A. photo booth convention, Meacham organized a party-bus tour of five Los Angeles booths for two dozen photo booth artists, operators and fans. Below, we profile those five spots plus five more of our favorites.
10. The Churchill
The photo booth is not the primary attraction at the Churchill. The dark wood-encased barstaurant is open nearly around the clock for all meals, hosts DJs at night and brunch on weekends, and serves signature cocktails and LA Mill coffee. The photo booth is tucked into a cozy upstairs nook. Unlike most vintage booths, the Churchill's lets patrons pay the standard $3 by credit card instead of demanding cash. Recently, while his fellow photo booth tour-goers ordered beers and snapped unadorned shots, the photo booth artist known as Mix-Up hung the booth with a black-and-white spiral backdrop and took his picture through a distorting plastic filter. “I never set out to do photo-booth art, I just fell in with a crowd,” he says. “We were pretending to be a band. We wore glasses. We looked how people looked in the '70s.” 8384 W. Third St., L.A., (323) 655-8384, the-churchill.com.
9. Backstage Bar and Grill, Culver City
After belting “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Gin and Juice,” fans of the rowdy karaoke bar in the shadow of Sony Studios can take a photo-booth shot to commemorate their triumph. Backstage calls itself “the best dive bar in the world” and “L.A.'s favorite party spot” — the former might apply on weekdays, when burgers and bar bands are the draw, and the latter on weekends, when patrons take the mic. Either way, the line for the booth usually is shorter than the line for a song or the wait for chicken strips. And at least as of this writing, the price says $3, but the camera starts shooting after $2.10400 Culver Blvd., Culver City, (310) 839-3892, backstageculvercity.com.
A bar called Darkroom probably is legally bound to have a photo booth. “People look for places that have the black-and-white photo booths. A lot of places have digital ones, and they're not the same,” says Dean Geistlinger, the Darkroom's general manager. Tucked in the back by the darts and below a TV screen playing campy movies or sports, the Darkroom photo booth glares its white light into the mostly black space. Emblazoned with non-photo-booth photographs of “Sarong Sisters,” the booth prints clean pictures stamped with the bar's name. If you take a shot here, you'll know at least one celebrity has sat on the same adjustable stool. “Lindsay Lohan has come here a million times and she loves it,” Geistlinger said. 7302 Melrose Ave, L.A., (323) 931-3800.
One of the longest-standing booths in Los Angeles, Edendale's sits beyond a long bar on an outdoor patio (visible through the arches in the photo above). Its accordion-like metal facing appears in stark contrast to the stucco, red tile and wrought-iron splendor of the patio, sitting next to the only other ugly mechanical thing in sight — an ATM. A sign on the booth assures users “you ought'a be in pictures” and provides a handy check-yo-self-before-you-wreck-yo-self mirror. Host and server Michaela Zapell recently recalled the family that took holiday portraits in the booth wearing identical striped T-shirts — and the time when she attempted to take a topless photo. “The curtain kept blowing open,” she said. 2838 Rowena Ave., L.A., (323) 666-2000, theedendale.com.
6. Cha Cha Lounge
The Cha Cha booth, next to foosball tables and a vending machine that doles out cigarettes, is unusual in several ways. It's only $2, cheaper than most locations. And, despite the tougher upkeep of such booths, it prints color photos. But Photobooth.net's Meacham likes it for its design, with a wooden façade to match the décor, and hung with velvet paintings and Christmas lights like the other walls. “I like it when a place is devoted enough to its photo booth to make a special home for it in its architecture or interior design,” Meacham said. “There are only a few places that do that.” 2375 Glendale Blvd., L.A., (323) 660-7595, chachalounge.com.
5. The Satellite
The photo booth at the Satellite is for people not paying attention to the music. It's tucked far from the band — up a half-flight of stairs, next to pool tables, a back bar and a few couches, behind a sound-muffling partition. The booth's mirrored façade offers ample chance for touch-ups. In case the self-reflection is not quite affirming, a sticker on the mirror promises, “You are beautiful.” During the tour, Evelyn Weston, an operator with Photobooth Services, which is in charge of keeping up the Satellite's booth, explained the photo booth's appeal. “It's a public space that has an element of privacy. It exists outside reality. And it makes a memento, a precious item,” she said. “There's only one copy.” 1717 Silver Lake Blvd., L.A., (323) 661-4380, thesatellitela.com.
4. Mohawk Bend
Unlike most bars with booths, Mohawk Bend actually owns it (as opposed to having one run by an outside service), leaving it responsible for upkeep. When the photo booth appeared to break down during the tour, every tour-goer offered his or her repairing abilities, but the booth whirred mysteriously back to life on its own. Mohawk's booth sits immediately to the right of the entrance, opposite the hostess stand, pinned with patrons' photo strips and offering itself for amusement in case there's a wait for a table or a lull between courses or rounds. “This is a place to spend your entire evening,” said Mohawk manager Jennifer Aaron. “The photos say Mohawk on them so you can remember what a great night you had here.” 2141 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A., (213) 483-2337, mohawk.la.
3. The Standard Downtown
The slick hotel best known for its rooftop pool parties and custom condoms also can lay claim to L.A.'s sleekest photo booth. Unlike the retro organ, on garish display in the lobby, the photo booth is camouflaged next to the bathrooms, with only its rough curtain, metal stool and glaring white light to give it away. Booth fans or guys waiting for their girlfriends to finish touching up can duck into the mirrored stall before joining the organization men upstairs at the pool or the hungover hotel guests at the all-night diner. 550 S. Flower St., L.A., (213) 892-8080, standardhotels.com/los-angeles/rooms.
2. One-Eyed Gypsy
The extravagantly decked-out One-Eyed Gypsy seems a natural fit for a photo booth. “Photo booths are for visual people,” said Meags Fitzgerald, a Halifax, Nova Scotia-based illustrator on the photo-booth tour who is working on a graphic novel about booths. “It's for people with an open mind and obscure interests.” Gypsy's booth is in a hallway in the back, below a sphinx statue and a chevron-striped chandelier. The bar, in the former space of Bordello and Little Pedro's on the eastern edge of downtown's on-again off-again renaissance, has one of the few attractions that can compete with a photo booth: free skee ball. 901 E. First St., L.A., (626) 340-3529, one-eyedgypsy.com.
1. Playland Arcade, Santa Monica
The Playland Arcade spot recalls unironic times when photo booths attracted kids waiting their turn at Pac-Man instead of mustachioed men waiting for their third tallboy of PBR. Two dip-and-dunk booths sit in the dense, dank phalanx of buzzing and pinging arcade games. When the booths work, which is far from always, a four-shot strip runs $4 in quarters — the most expensive and annoying charge of any booth in town. But at least you can use the other four quarters from your five-dollar bill to play Dance Dance Revolution, which no other place on this list offers. 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, (310) 451-5133, playlandarcadesmpier.com.
See also: Our coverage of the 2012 International Photobooth Convention.