Editorial: Travel - Publication: GQ (Aus.)

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Another Day At The Drive In - Life and love in la la land

Better known for its cultural significance than aesthetic appeal, Los Angeles, "the city of angels," has much to offer. With an accent on size and diversity, the "entertainment capital of the world," wields more cultural influence than any other global city, brandishing a $50 billion a year entertainment industry that fuels unparalleled pace and colour.

Cliché for some, discovery for others - On the surface, Los Angeles and its iconic Americana can be vacuous and plastic to the extreme, branded the "worst coast" (as a play on west) by New Yorkers. Though in reality LA is no more superficial than larger Australian cities, it can be equally as educational and insightful, and if all else fails, amusing.

LA's liberalism is refreshing. Removed from middle America's whitebread moralism,. departure from the mortgage and 1.5 kids formula isn't a socially alienating disease.

The city is surprisingly tolerant of eclectic lifestyle choices, and is refreshingly unphased by age, sexuality, religion or personal politics.

Los Angeles is a truly amorphous city with no real center, sometimes called the big onion due to its infrastructure of layered cities. It's sprawling and often confusing metropolis comprises some 178 separate cities, occupied by around 17 million inhabitants; 42% Latino, 35% white, 12% Asian and 10% black.

Just like the TV show clichés there is crime in Los Angeles though it's usually a little less open. Muggings are generally confined to bad neighborhoods at night. Any shootings are a big affair, prompting the arrival of police helicopters fitted with search lights, better known as ghetto birds. Begging is rife, though usually legitimate, and like tipping a dollar is acceptable though don't be surprised if the beggar asks for more.

Gang warfare is said to have claimed more lives over the past ten years than the Northern Ireland and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts combined . Tragically its either black on black or Mexican on Mexican and usually confined to impoverished areas like Watts and south central. No glamour here, these clods usually drive small late model Japanese cars and wear knee high white socks, for more consult an old Ice T record

Geographically, Los Angeles sits in a broad, flat basin facing the Pacific ocean and enclosed by mountains. The San Gabriel Mountains and the Traverse Range come from the north, meeting the Santa Ana Mountains in the east of the city. The Santa Monica Mountains and the Hollywood Hills lie in the northwest split the basin, dividing the city center from the San Fernando valley in the north. The financial district of downtown LA sits in the center, while Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Santa Monica lie to the west.

A pitiful public transport system and distances of between 30 and 40 minutes between major hotspots makes a car a necessity in Los Angeles. America's disposable car culture and cheap gas prices are a refreshing change. Driving on an Australian license is legal and ample hire cars are available in all market sectors, from a $200 a day Ferrari or Hummer to a $20 a day 79 Dodge Dart.

Tinsel town is the true city of car culture, and the quality of your ride is of eternal social significance. For Angelenos a car is a badge of honor that speaks volumes about career achievements, artistic tastes and of course sexual prowess.

For the daring, a used car can be sought for under a thousand. As an indignant foreigner I wrangled some form of immunity from the car caste system, subversively evading embarrassment in a series of cheapo cruisers, including a tastefully weathered MX3 convertible that cost $800(US) and should last a few more months.

Road ethics are questionable in California, drivers seldom indicate, which can be decidedly hazardous at 90mph on a freeway. Parking tickets are infuriatingly common, liberally distributed at $45-$125 by several subcontracted companies throughout LA.

Navigating LA by road is best done with the use of the local street directory known as a Thomas Guide. In it inner LA is divided into regions, namely downtown, Beverly Hills, West LA, Santa Monica, Malibu, and Hollywood

Once you've endured the traffic, smog and madness you'll arrive at your chosen destination to find that beauty does lie beneath the smell of piss and glare of neon. Contrary to jaded preconceptions, LA can also be visually stimulating. From the impossible mansions of the Beverly Hills and the retail decadence of Rodeo Drive, to the coastal majesty of Malibu and Santa Monica, where surprisingly the water is clean.

No matter how short your stay, a short road trip can reveal a surprising variety of scenery. A two hour drive could see you surfing the beaches of the west or skiing or snowboarding in the mountains. The bawdy Mexican border town of Tijuana neighboring San Diego is reachable in couple of hours, always good for a laugh, its main street lined with bars and souvenir shops (check the firecrackers and wrestling masks). A two hour drive will also see you in Palm Springs, with nearby Joshua Tree National park, Death Valley and Salt On Sea definitely worth a visit. For a longer road trip try Las Vegas, the nearby Grand Canyon and maybe San Francisco if you're up for a six hour jaunt.

Where To Stay

Los Angeles has thousands of hotels in all shapes and sizes. Rooms can be had from anywhere between $100 and $2500 per night. Flavor of the month would have to be the recently renovated Viceroy Hotel, (1819 Ocean Ave Santa Monica 310 260 7500) . Chic, functional and pleasantly relaxed, this lavishly appointed, cleverly redesigned venue offers excellent dining and superb décor, definitely worthy of star ranking by local media. Hundreds of scenesters flock to its bar and restaurant from Wednesday to Saturday nights. The Avalon Hotel (323 6606733 )- Designed in the 50's, when it was first known as the Beverly Carlton, the now ultra stylish Avalon is renowned for its glamorous clientele, having been a home for Marilyn Monroe and Mae West, in the '50s. The Avalon's informal, though sophisticated service, and '50s retro visage are irresistible. Maison 140 (213 629 9213) As the name suggests, the former Beverly House Hotel strives to be all things French. Built in 1949, the 46-room hotel was once owned by Lillian Gish. Having since undergone a $2.3 million facelift, it carries the French theme well, from its crystal chandeliers, through to its impressive wine list. Shutters, Santa Monica ( 310 334 5676 Pico Blvde) - Nestling Venice Beach, Shutters in majestic Santa Monica offers 198 rooms and all you'll need for a decent night's sleep or a partial lie down. Decor is excellent, and dining magnificent. Old world Hollywood charm is the core attraction of venues like the Roosevelt Hotel ( 323 466 7000) Sunset Marquis ( 213 629 1600) Beverly Hills Hotel ( 310 887 2887) The Regal Biltmore ( 213 624 1011) and Westin Bonaventure Hotel (213 624 1000) with their deco interiors, grand lobbies and flamboyant bars and restaurants - if only the walls could speak. Budget accommodation is best sought along the coast, ignore downtown unless you're accustomed to the sound of gunshots and the company of crack dealers. For a room between $40 and $55 a night, try The Jolly Rodger (310 8229204) Venice Beach Cotel (310 452 3052) Nutel Hotel (213 627 1151) and Malibu Beach RV park (310 456 3037).

Where to eat - LA

Ever wonder why obesity is of epidemic proportions in America? Bigger is better when trying to understand the philosophy for basic American fare, just visit chain diners like Denny's or IHop to test theory.. The average US eatery is all about meat and potatoes, though there is some hope, a little searching can reveal all the international variety you'd expect of a major global city, with Indian, Italian, vegetarian, Japanese and of course Mexican, in plentiful supply. Don't forget an entrée refers to main coarse in American speak and tipping is expected, usually equating to about 20% of your bill (or check). Key areas for Asian are surprisingly Koreatown and little Tokyo and East LA for Mexican, Cuban and Nicaraguan. Alegria, 3510 Sunset Blvde Silverlake, 323 6643663 excellent Mexican, the best mole sauce in LA, along with burritos, tacos and the usual, nothing over $15 for a main open till 11 most days. Nice middle eastern can be sought at Marouch, just a 10 minute drive away at 4905 Santa Monica Blvde. Veg or carnivore kebabs, soups and even baklava, all mains under $13. Ph 323 662 9325. Wanna splurge or impress that blonde, bubble chested gal you just met? Try the Water Grill, with a corporate gloss and prices to match, at around fifty bucks for a main. Lots of seafood and excellent oysters, suits and Japanese beer. 544 S Grand Av, Downtown LA 213 891 0900. Feeling in groovy Hollywood mode? Make that West Hwood mode, try Alto Palato, with a variety of authentic Italian, including deep fried artichokes worthy of an hour long bus ride, also sample the wafer thin pizza and the best Gelato outside Rome, 755Nla Cienege Blvde 310 657 9271.Down the road in Beverly Hills you can sample some quality sushi at Matsuhisa. Nobu Matsuhisa was the first sushi master to introduce Americans to yellowtail sashimi, meanings he's a star. Nice combo dishes too, ranging from $15 -$50. 129 N La Cienega Blvde Beverly Hills, 310 659 9639. Border Grill, The Santa Monica Flagship restaurant of Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger has become a prime tourist destination. Still its worth a visit. Eclectic Pan Latino, with fat juicy tacos, refreshing ceviches and Aztec chocolate cakes, 1445 Fourth Street Santa Monica 310 451 1655, While in the hood, why not try Michaels, and its California nouvelle cuisine, piles of arugula that reach the ceiling, served with huge New York styled steaks, pretty expensive at around $35 for a main, though quality stuff, 1147 Third Street, Santa Monica, 310 451 0843.

Where to find culture

LA has a great depth of history when it comes to culture, the glamour of the movie business is just one aspect of its expansive cultural scene. The museums of LA reflect the city's great diversity, collections range from contemporary history to native American artifacts. Try J Paul Getty Museum (310 456 8432) Museum Of Tolerance (310 215 1675), Film &TV Museum (818 241 0180), MOCA (818 415 7754), Universal Studios( 818 904 5875), Disneyland (319 567 6800) Beyond the entertainment industry, LA's art scene is huge and vibrant, you could devote hours to wading through its wealth of galleries and peripheral social scenes. While New York has long been revered as the epicenter of the global art scene, LA is emerging from overt associations with body augmentation, car worship and porn to itself qualify as a serious force on a global scale.

In the face of established markets, socio economic and academic elitism and general seniority, big changes are afoot, signaling a reassessment of the traditional power structure and a narrowing gap between the east and west coasts. Galleries are usually clustered together in areas throughout LA, with group openings that attract hundreds of local hipsters and in turn provide ample opportunities to meet and greet. Check Bergamont station in Santa Monica (2525 Michigan Avenue Santa Monica), a huge complex housing over 30 galleries, Chinatown's Chung King Road for fun after show parties, or Mid Wilshire and its galleries, Acme, Roberts & Tilton and Double Vision. Other favorite's include Gallery 4016 Silverlake, Cirrus Gallery downtown, Bedlam Art, Los Feliz, Orbetello Silverlake, and Circle Elephant, Loz Feliz.

Where to meet women

For a city with such a wild reputation, its a little ironic that everything closes at 2am in LA ( well technically) due to it's draconian licensing laws. For hardened night owls this could be a problem, though for meeting a certain caliber of woman its fine. Afternoons will reveal thousands of irresistible sheilas melting at the sound of your Aussie accent, you can enjoy hours enlightening them about the real Australian identity. Check out the cafes of Los Feliz (Vermont) or Santa Monica, (Third street Promenade) or the art galleries of Chinatown (Main Street), Beverly Hills (Melrose Blvde) and Silverlake (Sunset Blvde).

If you're venturing into the dark unknown, there are thousands of venues to cater for your every whim, from stylish eateries and cocktail bars in Los Feliz, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills through to the grungy dive bars and music venues Of Sunset Boulevarde and Silverlake.

Angeleno's on average dress down, though a visit to more stylish venues like The Edelendale Grill (310 479 1500) or classier clubs like Deep or The Standard will see you surrounded by legions of meticulously dressed groovers, no doubt you'll feel right at home. You'll probably spot the odd celeb there too. The Standard's (323 969 0055) DJ's are often celebrities who spin everything from70's wavy gravy to dub reggae, guest DJ Tim Roth kept spinning Sid Vicious, hits last time I was there.

If you're the type hell bent on an all nighter, there's an array of venues still open but no longer serving the sauce. Then there's always a visit to an illegal 24 Hr "after hours" venue/ bar, averaging $20 admission and $7 a beer add more for spirits and tips. If you're wondering what all those little plastic trays are for, look closer at the white powder coating, don't worry, no sniffer dogs here, where do think the admission price goes?

Bars - Short Stop, (4427 Sunset Blvde, 323 669 9381) quirky, fun fashionable, bawdy gals galore, Bar 4020, (4020 Sunset Blvde, Silverlake 323 4625890) The Sky Bar ) , intimate and fun, The Dresden Room, fashionable and chic, this bar featured heavily in the movie Swingers, Dresden Room, 1760, Vermont Blvde (323 665 4294), Shoe Bar, 3446 Hollywood Blvde, for the foot fetishist, also sells women's designer shoes, lots of young models. For more traditional American bars try Sunset Marquis,(323 654 3467) The Sky Bar at the Mondrian Hotel, (8440 Sunset Blvde, 323 848 6025) or Bar Marmont (323 558 8077 ) each oozing grandeur and charm.

Clubs/music- It's a little dubious, though the entertainment capital still claims to have the best music and club venues, remember its quantity not quality in these parts. Better known venues such as The Whisky A Go Go (323 651 5828) and Viper room (323 653 5526) are a little retarded regards music (as the locals say). Better venues include Hollywood's Knitting Factory (323 288 8701), The Wiltern Theatre (mid Wilshire), The Troubador (Beverly Hills) and The Key Club Hollywood on Sunset) with its Thursday night soopagroup residency featuring members Slim Jim Phantom (club owner) and Tracy Guns. Like most Sunset Blvde venues, the Key Club is stereotypical LA rock and rool, with more white cowboy hats, tattoos and leopard skin then you'll see in a lifetime. Check street guide, LAWeekly for more.

Where to meet men

Like Sydney, Los Angeles has a huge gay scene, boasting a high concentration of California's gay population, second only to San Francisco's Castro District. West Hollywood is by far the gayest community . Anywhere west of Western Ave on Santa Monica Boulevarde is a gay friendly zone, with stores, bars and restaurants galore. You can even check out the parade of trannie hookers along Santa Monica Blvde on the drive down. The beachside cities of Santa Monica, Venice and Longbeach also have big gay communities. Gay and Lesbian Center 323 993 7400.

Bars - Revolver Beverly Hills (310 659 8851) , Spike, West Hollywood ( 323 656 9343), Faultline, Silver lake ( 323 660 0889) Trunks, West Hollywood ( 310 652 1015), Hyperion (323 660 2649), Roosterfish, Venice ( 310 392 2130) Babylon, Venice (310 371 7859). Clubs - Axis West Hollywood (310 659 0471), Love Lounge ( 310 6590471), Klub Banshee ( 319 228 1601), Probe Silverlake (323 461 8301, Arena, West Hollywood (323 461 8301).

Where to shop

From high end to thrift store, LA encapsulates everything when it comes to buying clothes. The downtown fashion district presents some ideal fossicing opportunities, with great deals on shoes, suits and sports goods, with top brand trainers and track wear at bargain prices (15-$40). You can also chase down an eccentric tailor willing to craft whatever you desire at ridiculous prices. From Prada to Fred Segal, higher end fashions are located around Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. Check out Rodeo Drive if you're feeling decadent or foolish and The Beverly Center for a mix of every high end label imaginable. Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica offers a nice mid range selection, with a nice collection of groovy stores.

Others worth checking include Vice in Silver lake (323 937 5000), Urban Outfitters (323 683 5861) X Large Los Feliz ( 323 433 0966) Vatican's Shoes (323 243 2526) David's Formal Wear (323 653 9500). From pictorial to vintage fiction, bookstores are in plentiful supply throughout LA. Try Book Soup (323 465 3208), Sky Books with its weekly readings (310 327 2796) or Barnes and Noble (310 410 0180) where you can sip coffee and read a magazine. Music collectors should try Centimeter Records (310 274 4400) or American Pie (310 822 4955) for books, vintage vinyl and memorabilia. For food and wine of international standard and variety, try Trader Joe's, Silverlake, West Hollywood or Santa Monica (323 851 9772) and The Wine Merchant (310 278 7322) .



Written by Craig Stephens

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