Friday, September 30, 2011

Semi Sweet October

With a pie shop set to open in a few days in the Arts District, you'd think things couldn't get any sweeter downtown but you'd be wrong. Sharlena Fong is closer to opening her brick and mortar "Semi- Sweet Bakery" on 6th Street. How much closer to opening? How does a couple weeks sound?

Sharlena Fong standing outside her new bakery
Sharlena Fong outside her bakery space at 6th and Main earlier this year.

You may know the Old Bank District resident by her famous maple bacon glazed donuts that put the Nickel Diner in the spotlight those early days. Maybe you've had her chocolate chip cookies, a favorite treat at all the past bookclub meetings at Metropolis Books. I spoke with her on the record back in March for a BlogDowntown article.

At the time she was hoping for a summer opening. Things don't always go according to schedule, especially when it's a storefront you're trying to open on your own, all while keeping your bakery company going. Passing by the shop every few weeks you knew something was progressing but what?

Husband Sean and I passed by Semi Sweet yesterday after lunch (at the Nickel of course) and we struck gold. Sharlena was in and we were able to get a quick tour and update on the bakery.

The shop's entrance is at an angle as the bakery is sandwiched between P&P and Las Perlas. As you walk in, your eye goes to the beautiful new bakery display case:
first thing you see as you walk through the door @ Semi Sweet

Here's a fuzzy view (it's with my iPhone and we were just leaving) of the neat wooden cases on the wall behind the bakery case:
cool wooden display boxes on the wall @ Semi Sweet

The walls are painted blue and a beautiful crown molding and medallion effect is installed in the seating area (the medallions will be replaced with wall sconces before opening). Here's a quick shot of that really nice long bar for window seating out front:
window seating at Semi Sweet..

The reason for the rushed photos is that while we were chatting about the kitchen and looking at the neat convection ovens and the six burner gas stove, the gas company showed up to turn the gas on. We had to cut our little impromptu visit short. Great excuse, no?

Before the gas man showed up Sharlena shared that if all goes as planned (and it should at this point hopefully) she may be soft opening Semi-Sweet the week of 17 October... So keep an eye out. Better yet, "like" Semi Sweet on facebook and see the neat photos of their kitchen area (including those convection ovens) and see the updates as they are posted there.

Semi Sweet Bakery
105 E. 6th Street (in the Sante Fe Lofts building)
L.A. CA 90014

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Last Day at Metropolis Books

Canadian Bldg Exterior
Exterior of the Canadian Building as it is today. Julie Swayze, owner & proprietor of Metropolis Books can be seen standing outside her storefront.

It's with a bit of Melancholy that I share the news that today is the last day of Metropolis Books operating in the brick and mortar location on Main Street. Owner Julie Swayze was busy packing away the last several boxes of books, loading them into a U-Haul (and later a van) as she was emptying her store out.

Last day at Metropolis Books

What book inventory that remained was being dispersed to various non-profits including a retirement home, a women's shelter and a couple public libraries, (to include the Pasadena Public Library). Julie says she hopes to wrap up today so it's finished. No lingering last quiet hours to contemplate this part of the journey of her life. She's a very busy women.

While chatting with her, one of the recipients of her donations had arrived to pick up their allotment of books. Within minutes, Downtown dweller and small business advocate Brady Westwater arrived with a cart. He was there to pick up one of the store's bookcases he purchased during the "everything must go" portion of the store's sale.. During the last couple weeks, pretty much anyone had a chance to purchase the store furniture, fixtures, framed art and poster prints straight off the walls. Now Metropolis Books will be not just a happy memory of place and time for many Historic Core neighbors but a a physical part of our home. (Yes, I too managed to pick up a small bookcase from Julie).

What's next? Julie will still have the online portion of Metropolis Books, but she will now be freed up to keep her main focus tending to an ailing family member, which will require much more of the attention, love and support that she gave to our neighborhood. Julie provided a place of community, a support for local artists and writers; A place where neighbors could get one on one customer service, a bent ear of commiseration or share a laugh.

Julie Swayze
Julie may have spent five years on Main Street, but she's earned a permanent place in the heart and history of Downtown LA.


disclaimer: If you think this is too sappy, come back and read this again in a couple weeks when the bookstore's closure has finally hit you. =) Hugs and best wishes to Steve and Julie and to Julie's family on the new part of the journey.

Monday, September 26, 2011

NOLA's A Taste of New Orleans

NOLA's opened a month or so ago in the former E 3rd Steakhouse location. It's owned by the same people that brought you E 3rd, Zip Fusion, and K-town BBQ. They're open for lunch, dinner and have a Jazz Brunch on Sunday.. but honestly you can come by for lunch or dinner and still enjoy some live jazz.

NOLA's
NOLA's Taste of New Oreans at 3rd & Traction..

They have about six beers on tap: Spaaten, Sierra Nedava, Blue Moon, and for those that want a little New Orleans: Jackamo IPA are the ones I recall seeing behind the counter a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately they don't have a menu online but they do have images of the menu on their Facebook page.

Last week after the Arts District neighborhood walk we had dinner there. I ordered the Cajun Bloody Mary and was pleasantly surprised. My favorite bloody mary is still the one I got at Commander's Palace last year, with the one from Jazz Kitchen in Anaheim (it's got that crab boil on the edge and is zesty & spicy)

The one at NOLA's is in my top five. They put the jalapeno in the Bloody Mary, not on the side. That definitely gives it a bit of kick. I will definitely order it again!

How authentic are they? As far as menu offerings there's something for everyone. As far as that spiciness I like, my Bloody Mary was the best part. Thankfully there's Tabasco for everything else. I'm guessing it's tame so those who've never had New Orleans style food can season to taste (and I suggest you do or you'll leave disappointed like another friend of mine did on another visit)

DSC_5187
Mini Cornbread muffins with cinnamon butter spread.. were sweet and just the right size.

DSC_5189
Red Beans and rice, a New Orleans standard had bits of turkey meat cooked in it

Sean ordered the Beans and Rice with fried chicken.
fried chicken
While I didn't try the chicken, Sean said he thought Popeye's was better.. =(

I ordered the Jambalaya:
DSC_5188
Jambalaya is a rice dish with chicken and pork andouille sausage mixed in. YUM!

The dish was huge. I wasn't sure if this was supposed to be family style or not, but based on how much is served in the entree, you can easily share the dish with one or two other people.

DInner was a little bit pricey. The total for 2 entrees and 3 drinks came to around $70. Not something we can do too often. Sean suggested when we come back that we do a split plate. We each had a cup of my own dinner and about a cup of Sean's beans and rice and still had a considerable amount of leftovers to reheat the next day for lunch. Splitting our plate would also have allowed for room for dessert which I wasn't able to order as I had no room, even after walking a couple hours that night.

I would definitely want to come back here, perhaps try the Jazz brunch. That said you can hear music of varying styles (and decibels) every day. One thing I would suggest for those trying to go on a date or have a conversation, sit toward the back of the restaurant (near the entrance). Otherwise, you will want to bring a notepad & pen with you. In their defense, I'd been here a couple weeks ago and the band playing that night was not only good, but played at a moderate level so you could converse with the person at the bar next to you.

NOLA's A Taste of New Orleans
734 E. 3rd St. (at Traction)
Los Angeles, CA 90013

Friday, September 23, 2011

Changing Concepts on Broadway

One wouldn't be wrong in wondering if this location next to the Broadway McDonald's was cursed. There's any number of places around downtown like this, where a new restaurant or cafe will open and shutter within a year only to open a new concept just to close yet again. From "Hoagies & Wings" to "Kalbi BBQ" to "Teriyaki and Burgers" (which should be opening 'soon') you keep hoping for these mom & pops to make it.. to pull through and keep going.

I liked Hoagies & Wings.. It wasn't anything I could eat regular on my current lifestyle plan, but it was good (& greasy in a good way). They seemed to do alright for lunch but aside from the initial lunchtime hype, business seemed to taper off. Whether it was location, hours, or delivery options.. who's to say? They closed.

A few months later the Kalbi BBQ opened up and they too seemed to make a go of it, but like Hoagies & Wings they seemed to be empty of customers many times I passed by there. I am a bit embarrassed to say I never made it over there to try it. I always thought about it after the fact (after I'd eaten lunch at Starry Kitchen which I am still happy and amazed with). The Kalbi place sounded good and simple. I don't know if it lasted a year.. It shuttered maybe a month or two ago.


Now this:

Teriyaki & Burger "coming soon"

I guess if I want to put my money where my mouth is literally I need to be sure and check this place out when it opens. I"m honestly not excited about teriyaki and burgers.. like the predecessor, it's a simple concept that should attract a wide range of customers around downtown. It's up to locals to support it and for the business owners to get the word out about their place and have hours that are attractive to loft dwellers. It's not enough to be a lunch place and leave the loft dwellers out of your business model. It's not enough to have delivery (no idea if this place will have it or not) but only deliver to a short radius, or close early. Yes the stores on Broadway might close early but the thousands of potential hungry customers that live downtown are always looking for good, fast, affordable meals.

So now that it's on the radar we'll keep an eye out for it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Pie Hole LA Arriving Soon!


The Pie Hole "coming soon!"

News of "The Pie Hole" taking over the former Ay Carumba! restaurant location at 714 Traction has circulated as early as June or July, (maybe earlier?) So the fact they are working on their build-out isn't news, nor that they'll be opening by the end of September.

The fact they have a facebook and twitter account (where you can read in 140 characters or less about the Strawberry or the Chocolate Silk Pie).. or perhaps the fact they are working with GroundWork Coffee to provide some excellent roasts to accompany their sweet and savory pies might be news...

With only a handful of weeks before the planned opening, visible change is evident including a cutout of what is rumored to be a service window:
Pie Hole's 'window'
It's yet to be seen if this is the case or if it's another store window to bring more light into what was previously a dark kitchen and self-serve cooler area.

Word on the street is that the mural that was painted for Ay Carumba! will be painted over with new art.

The Pie Hole LA
714 Traction Ave
Facebook and twitter: @ThePieHoleLA

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

LA Reflection Plans to Open Next Week

thru the fence..
Located at the breezeway of the LAPD Headquarters courtyard, LA Reflection has been poised to make its debut for weeks (if not months). Pending a Health Department visit ("within the next day or two") the upscale restaurant will be given the OK to open..


Speaking with an unnamed source at the restaurant, they might have sneak preview tastings on Thursday or Friday around lunch,(no specific time was given). Monday the 19th is a private dinner. They'll be soft-opening to the public for lunch Tuesday the 20th,(breakfast and dinner service will be added in approximate two week, staggered increments).

According to their website, the menu will offer a mix of International flavors: American or Mediterranean meals, specialty pizzas (including a "build your own" pizza) sushi, soups, salads, and desserts. The menu may firm up some based on feedback from patrons.

LA Reflection
155 S. Main Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213)625-5011

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

"The Archway Theatre" Coming to Al's Bar..

The sun had already set in the Arts District near Traction and Hewitt as our small group, [Scot Ezzell (Joel Bloom weekly walk torch-bearer), myself and the 2 Arts District BID officers] returned from our travels around the Arts District.

The American Hotel was bathed in semi-darkness, but you could still see there have been some recent changes. Most of the paste-up art and graphics were peeled off the back half of the building's wall and a door to the left of the hotel's entrance was thrown open.

As the light spilled out the door of the former Al's Bar, movement and voices were perceived. Work was well underway as we spot two gentleman renovating the interior.

"Is it a new Bar?"

"Is it a restaurant?"

Archway Theatre

Steven Sabel,(Managing Artistic Director of the new theatre on Hewitt) replied that no, not a restaurant or bar, but a Studio/Theatre.
The Archway Studio/Theatre.


The Archway will be the scene of various plays,musical performances, comedy shows and special events, among other activities.. They aspire to a grand opening on the 15th of October with their first production to occur on the 27th.

That first production will be a variation on MacBeth.. "Macbeth: Shakespeare's Natural Born Killers" Sounds like fun, doesn't it? A call for auditions has already gone out in several theatre/ trade magazines and will be held this weekend, September 11th and 12th.

You can view the casting notice HERE

As for us who are either too shy and don't have that acting resume, we have well over another month before we see the finishing touches on the theater. Word on the street is that the pastings have been peeled off so a mural can be installed on the wall outside The Archway.

Once open, (according to their website) the studio will offer "..a full complement of available classes in a variety of yoga practices and styles, theatrical skills and techniques, and stage performance."

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The Archway Theatre
305 South Hewitt St.,
Los Angeles, CA 90013

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Revisiting the Past at Metropolis Books

Noted local author, proprietor of Libros Schmibros (a lending library in Boyle Heights), "bookstore activist" and former NEA staff member David Kipen revisited Metropolis Books on the 230th anniversary of the founding of Los Angeles. He appeared in support of Los Angeles in the 1930s a WPA guide to the city, now re-issued and includes an introduction by Kipen.

Kipen's appearance brings a closure on the bookstore's five year run supporting local talent and books. It was noted by proprietors Julie Swayze and Steve Bowie that Kipen was the first local author to appear at Metropolis when they originally opened, and as they are nearing their last month in business, he's closing out as their last book signing.

Los Angeles in the 1930s

Kipen read an excerpt from the book,(a description of the former Stock Exchange on Spring).. The Federal Writers Project authors' use of word was something that was a joy to read and poetry on the ear. Kipen took questions about the book itself or just about anything on LA... One person inquiring about the social community of artists and writers of the WPA.

David Kipen reads an excerpt from "Los Angeles in the 1930s"

The event finished with a request by Kipen to sing "Happy Birthday" to the City of LA before he met with attendees and signed copies of his books.

Julie videotaped this event as she has done for events many times in the past and I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes part of the documentary she's working on.. The working title is "The Last 30 Days: the Closing of Metropolis Books" If you go to the Metropolis website, you'll see Julie's getting coverage by local news along with some of the press she's received in the last couple months.

The store's last day of business will be the 29th of September.. so a few more weeks to visit our neighborhood store and pick up some books (at the moment most of the books are going for 30% off).

As an aside, I consider Julie and Steve downtown neighbors and friends. Despite knowing it's because of family and their need to start a new path that doesn't include the bookstore, they and the bookstore will be missed. It was indeed part of the community and a quality place to find some very good reads.

METROPOLIS BOOKS
440 S. Main Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
@metropolisbooks

Lunch at Cole's


If you want to 'getaway' without leaving the neighborhood there's not a better place to go on a mini vacation than Cole's.

Cole's was the place I went back in June 2006 for "Brother Mike" Schneider's 100th Rate a Restaurant meetup.. I can't say I could feel anymore like a tourist than I did that day.

It was talk of downtown that fateful day with Eric Richardson of Blogdowntown and Celia and Jim (Winstead) that put to mind the things we were lacking out in the burbs.. that put our wheels spinning to eventually move downtown.

We did move downtown October 2006, and we're pretty happy. DTLA lacks many of the conveniences we were used to living in the Bay Area (where Sean is originally from) but it's a city in transition. It feels like it's kicking the training wheels off after having not been up to speed in a while. Lots of bumps along the way.. It's not the city our friends think it is.. not the booming glamorous metropolis our out-of-state friends imagine; nor is it the grimy, crime-ridden death trap that some not so local think it might be.

I like my neighborhood, I like downtown. If I'm going to live in SoCal this is where I'm glad to be.. Just enough community spirit and activism and just small-town enough to make it cozy.

I'm going off the track for a reason I guess because having lunch at Cole's made me ruminate on that. The years that people have tried to make it here, find their own local spot and their own niche.. I don't hang out at Cole's. Since it's transition from hole-in-the-wall hangout to clean, retro chic. It's a hangout of another kind. Still worthwhile, still historic.. and they do make those dip sandwiches.

"Skinny" combo.. half a dip with side of your choice..

I'm not going to go on about whose is better.. I will say I am a big fan of the bacon potato salad. It's always a treat.. and for another time, the once New Orleans resident in me noted the Zapp's chips in the host station at the entrance (on our way out of course). Assuming there's a next time.. I might have to go with that just so they keep them in stock.

The thing is, we don't go to Cole's too often.. maybe one or two times a year for all the years we've lived here. Few enough times I always feel like a tourist when I eat here and can enjoy the cushy booths and the quiet solitude of not running into anyone in particular. At night it's a totally different story, with plenty of locals and Westsiders and business folks fresh off work hitting up the Association or trying to squeeze into Varnish, the little "speakeasy" in the back.

I'm not a bar scene kind of person.. I think those days are long gone for me. I do like the neighborhood scene though, and that's enough.