Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Fairfax: The Third Wave

a little local color

In the near-seven years that I've lived a quick walk away from Fairfax Village, that stretch of the eponymous street between Beverly and Melrose, it went through an odd transformation. While its traditional mix of old-country Jewish establishments and gritty punk rock sensibility still held strong, a new urban hip-hoppy scene developed there over the last couple years: think Japanese kids in baggy shorts and fancy Nikes stopping for mandelbrot at Schwartz Bakery. Now Fairfax is changing once again, to something hipper, a bit more grown-up, and far more delicious.

I have walked this stretch of Fairfax maybe five million times, so I quickly learned what it's about: guys decked out in skinny black jeans, pale gaunt scowls, and spikey dyed hair share the sidewalk with headkerchiefed bubbes picking up their Sabbath rugelach from Diamond Bakery. At Canter's Deli, you can order your matzoh ball soup from a booth dedicated to none other than devotee Rodney Bingenheimer, local hero who pretty much created an alternative music scene here in Los Angeles. Or do some late-night brooding in a dark banquette at Damiano's, then wash down the sausage pizza an ornery tattooed waitress threw on your table with a bottle of kosher wine you picked up at Sami's market up the street.

Hall of Fame

But in the last few years, the vibe took an unexpected turn -- to streetwear. It started with Supreme, with its giant stylized skate bowl taking up most of its shop; and now every other storefront is some riff on the streetwear theme. Shops like Flight Club LA, Hall of Fame, and alife elevate the scene with stark, gallery-like stores, while Reserve teaches the skater kids some hip-hop history with its collection of vintage art and graphic design books.

peaceful coexistence

Lately a whole new thing is going on. Somewhere amongst Fairfax's Jewy punk-rock history, the street-kid finery, and the tiny art-nerd subculture held down proudly by the Family bookstore and Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theater, things are getting fancy. But it's a kind of fancy that still suits the neighborhood. Delicious things are afoot, but they don't seem to come with pretentiousness.

Schwartz kosher bakery and Animal, together in perfect harmony

John Shook and Vinnie Dotolo's restaurant animal opened last week, and while definitely a fine dining establishment, it also has, even with no art on the walls yet, a bit of edge, not to mention a sense that it will quickly become a go-to for regulars looking for a casual place to dine on artful market-fresh dishes.

Largo no longer

Even the French restaurant slated to open in the Black Sea space can't be too snotty. I mean, it's owned by the former manager of Dominick's -- a place that beautifully walks the line between an elevated dining experience and an unostentatious atmosphere. And, it's going to be called Mec -- French for dude. Dude.

soon to be Golden State

And then of course, there's Golden State. Granted I'm biased, as the owners, Jason Bernstein and Jim Starr, are close friends of mine, but this also means I can tell you more about these guys. Between the two of them, they have an encyclopedic knowledge of food, wine, and especially beer -- they're really thoughtful about eating and drinking. But don't expect their restaurant, taking over the Nova Express Cafe space, to be stuffy: their goal is to bring the best of what California has to offer -- in beer and wine, as well as pub food and a few impressive culinary tricks up their sleeve. To me, Golden State could be exactly what our neighborhood needs: good food and drink, reasonable prices, in a casual, but not dumbed down, venue.

what will come?

I'm guessing this is just the beginning -- now that Largo has moved to the Coronet Lounge space on Beverly, its old space is available, and there are a few others up for grabs as well. Here's hoping, as the Fairfax District grows and changes, that it gets more and more delicious.


  1. All that you need now is a subway or light rail so that I can go there without driving or parking. Or Raytheon could open an office in the Grove already.

  2. What a great street history run down! I love the stories and the pics! Thanks!


  3. brad: yes yes, we TOTALLY need a light rail. how about a trolley? how about if they just extend the rail for the grove trolley up fairfax? that'd be supersweet, right?

    and brooke, you're welcome for the history. here's a more in-depth one i found recently.