Drinking in L.A.: How to Do It Well in 24 Hours

Ever since I heard the Bran Van 3000 song “Drinking in L.A.,” I have maintained a sort of obsession with the idea of sipping gin and juice in City of Angles. Naturally, once I visited Los Angeles I had to tipple and found a range of places to do it in the 24 hours I was there.

The first bar was right next to our hotel on Sunset Boulevard and had a baseball theme. Called the Short Stop, this quaint dive bar could easily have been in Williamsburg. The main difference: space. They had a huge, empty dance floor, full bar, a dark, tiny room that appeared to be the make-out spot, and a back room with a pool table and Photobooth machine. A perfect way to start the adventure.

The next day, my first adult beverage was a glass of California chardonnay at The Getty Center. Normally a drink at a museum wouldn’t be something to write about, but sipping the cool white wine under Richard Meier’s magnificent structure and taking in the sprawling city below, well, it’s highly recommend. Plus, it’s one of the best views in the whole city.

After the museum, we headed to Fairfax Village and downed a couple beers at Rosewood Tavern while waiting for our table at Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook’s Animal across the street. The dark bar serves plenty of craft beer and scotch, plus a fine selection of steaks. Once at dinner, Animal provided a lovely wine selection that paired lovingly with the meat-centric (duh) dishes.

Now, the real drinking in L.A. happened at Cana Rum Bar downtown. When I walked into the smuggler’s den nestled in a carport, I knew it was something special. Here, Allan Katz is making an array of innovative rum-base drinks from their list of over 140 bottles. Since we were not only drinking in L.A. but also driving, I couldn’t try them all, but I did enjoy the simple coconut and rum drink, which came in a young coconut, and the Pleasure and Pain that also had mezcal in the mix.

Finally, our drink tour ended the next day at Baco Mercat with their fun and creative drinking vinegars. Some say L.A. isn’t a drinking town, but I have to disagree. You just have to know where to go, and how to do it right. 

Ryan Heffington’s Sex on a String: In a House Near You

I’ve only been in L.A. for a little over a year, and I’ve generally had a good run. But in the last few weeks, after a couple of mishaps, I was starting to get down on the old girl. It’s isolating, there’s no energy and excitement in the air, and there’s this annoying thing called traffic. I was due to take a field trip from Santa Monica to the other side of the earth—Echo Park—on Saturday night, to see Ryan Heffington’s collaborative performance, “Sex on a String,” and frankly, I wasn’t feeling up for it. Two friends had canceled because of a family emergency, and the thought of going to the far East wasn’t very appealing. But boy, am I glad I went.

The performance, the evening, the entire experience—and it was quite an experience—made up for my glumness and 60 minutes spent in the car (and even, the fiasco of my car battery going dead at evening’s end). We were told, mysteriously, to show up at Short Stop, a cute divey bar, with a side room and a pool table, lit with a red glow, on Sunset Boulevard at 7:30. There, were give red strings, which Ryan noted mischievously, made us appear to be followers of Kabbalah.

A motley collection of Los Angeles hipsters, as well as some regulars from Ryan’s Sweaty Sundays class (which I chronicled for the Grey Lady) formed, including Chloe Sevigny, who seemed a bit aghast that I’d moved to Los Angeles. “My friend just told me to come here,” she shrugged.

We went inside for a quick drink, and chatted with Michelle Carr (formerly of the Velvet Hammer) and another former New Yorker, Anna Curtis, who burlesque followers might remember as Lady Ace, when a shrill alarm went off and we dutifully followed our “guides,” two men wearing Mexican tuxedo outfits, and hats with strings that hung ominously over their faces. One had an accordion that he played as we were told to quietly follow up the adjoining neighborhood street, which turned out to have a *very* steep hill. (Of course, I thought, Ryan would make us exercise for a night out.)


For the first stop, we knew something was gonna be up when we saw a man with a mask rolling around in the street. Ominous. We walked—around 150 or 200 of us—to the back of an apartment complex and waited. We looked at the cars in the open garages and thought, “would something be coming out of there?” Suddenly, the windows on the left side lit up and silhouettes of half-naked bodies writhed and danced and cavorted. The show, it turned out, was inside someone’s apartment.

I then thought: Ryan Heffington is a fucking genius.

We watched this scene play out—it was murderous and violent—-the entire night seemed to be a play on sex and violence—before applauding voraciously. If that was all that had happened, it would have been enough. But there was more.

We walked through the woods—the woods!— and came upon a woman in a clawfoot bathtub, reading a letter and weeping, alternately relaxing and thrashing in the water. She was lit elegantly with a string of lightbulb hanging on a wire.


That was not all: we walked through the woods again to a place on top of Elysian Fields and were told to hush up. Suddenly, down below, far, far away in the field, a spotlight illuminated a mattress, with a couple having rough dance sex–toss and turning and fighting for position and power. So far away, so intimate.One of the hosts played the accordion for accompaniment. It was so dramatic and beautiful and simple.

Say it with me: Ryan Heffington’s a fucking genius.

Our journey continued–we encountered a newlywed couple in the forest, with a bride wailing and complaining weird nonsense–before ending at a house of sexo y violencia.


A couple in one window competed for power, dunking each other’s head in the sink; another woman sat on a chair, gagged and blindfolded, while a man cut a buzzsaw around her platform. In the last room, which we didn’t completely see, a woman was naked with strings coming from her nether regions; in an adjacent room, a man appeared to be knitting, apparently, with those strings.

It was the single most interesting evening I’ve had out in my many years of going out. It was such a simple idea in a way—use private spaces for a public performance—that could only be pulled off by someone with ingenuity and cunning. Thanks Ryan Heffington for making me love L.A. again.

Industry Insiders: Alexis Rivera, Pied Piper

Alexis Rivera, the underground force behind Echo Park Records and Little Pedro’s Blue Bongo, on putting together the illest acts in town, guzzling expensive drinks with cheap women, and getting sucker punched by veteranos as he brings music to the peoples.

How did you got your start in Los Angeles, and how did you became such a heavy in Echo Park? Well, after being trapped in shit cities like Boston and London for college, I had to come home to California, or I was going to turn into a teabag or something. I moved into my place in Echo Park, and after three weeks, I shattered my left knee, and since I live 100 steps up a hill, it took me about 10 minutes to get up to my bungalow on the crutches. I guess as a result of this, I dreaded going home, so I kind of limped around Echo Park talking to people, and probably being a nuisance to everybody.

What do you do now? [Smiling big] I’m a viejito: I get up pretty early, walk around the lake for an hour reading the Los Angeles Times listening to music, and then I come home and drink green tea and eat apple sauce and oats. I manage bands. That’s what I do, I guess. A lot of the business for the acts that I manage is out of Europe or New York or Mexico City, all places that start their day earlier, so my mornings are really busy talking to those assholes. By about noon, I’m mostly done with the majority of my work, so I’ll go eat lunch with some friend who has a regular job.

What do you think makes Echo Park such a good music destination and hot neighborhood these days? Well, there are two venues with regular live music. The Echo and Echoplex, and Club Bahia, and they kinda bookend the neighborhood. In between that, you have what I call the STD barns, Little Joy and the Short Stop, and the local, the Gold Room, and three restaurants with very stiff drinks: El Compadre, Barragan’s, and Taix. So, you got a lot of stuff going on in just a few blocks. Also, price-wise, Echo Park is good for drinks, and there are a lot of horny people, young and old, so that’s a wild combination. When you’re not working yourself, where do you like to hang out in the city? If I go to a bar, I go to Hank’s to watch sports, eat popcorn, and bet. And I go to Hop Louie for Scorpion Bowls and to enjoy sitting down. But my local is the Gold Room. It’s a block from my house, and the security guard Raul is funny as shit, there’s always a good mix of friends and strangers there, and the bartenders know what I like to drink.

I also like “A Club Called Rhonda” … my friends Gregori and Loren and Kimi put it on, it’s at Guatelinda, and the music is great, and I’m just very proud when I go there. It’s lush that my friends put on such a fun club. Also, there’s a night called “Mas Exitos” at the Verdugo Bar on Tuesdays that’s really fun, they play amazing stuff.

What do you think makes a truly great party different from just a good party? At a club or at a house? Liquor and loud music would be my answer for both, I guess. Beer and tepid tunes don’t do shit. When I throw a party, whether it’s at a club or at my house, I just invite my friends, and word seems to spread. I’m not good at promotion. It seems kind of vain, and I’d rather watch videos on YouTube or sit on my roof. Another thing that makes a great party is the unexpected, like an ex smoking meth in my closet and making out with a girl. When stuff like that happens, I don’t remember it until I see the photos, so that’s pretty great I guess.

Los Angeles’ nightlife has a reputation for being very douchey in spots. I think LA has so many amazing people … it seems like every time I go out, I meet someone new that I think is great. People don’t get in your shit here because they’ve got their own crazy shit going on, and I like that. But there are a lot of assholes here as well. When I house-sat in Santa Monica for a summer, I couldn’t believe how lame the people, especially the young ones, were there. Boring as shit. But then there’s a lot of boring people around Echo Park now as well, so who knows? And who would you say is your crowd? I don’t know if there’s a set crowd that go to my parties, but I would imagine it’s like 25% music nerd cholos, 25% cute Asian girls, 25% friends, and then the final 25%, which are brown friends dressing like yellow trannies, who like good music.

Side Hustle: I used to be a teacher at a community center around the corner from my house, and although I don’t have the time to teach anymore, I still see my kids around the neighborhood, see them at the bakery or whatever, so I’ll buy them rice pudding and we’ll catch up. I used to be a spy, I don’t do that much anymore, but it’s good money and a lot of crazy shit happens. I used to be a big gardener, I was involved in the Echo Park Community Garden when it was still around, and I wound up in the New York Times for my garden at my house, which is hilarious. Yeah, all I see is a discarded shoe sole in your dead garden. Who are some of your associates in the city? And who are your famous friends? My friends are the usual suspect group of derelicts and petty thieves. Different ages, different jobs … I don’t really want to associate with “nightlife personalities,” unless it’s like, the Filipino nurse who dances like crazy at the Gold Room, I guess that’s a nightlife personality. I guess I have a couple of friends who are known for their music, but I don’t know any actors or people like that. And most of the time when I meet someone that’s known, it’s in a very weird way. My friend Dave, he’s that producer Switch who did the M.I.A. and Santogold albums, I met him in Beverly Hills. Or my friend Jeppe, who was Senior in Junior Senior, I went up to ask him what his problem was because he was maddogging me [laughs]. I thought he wanted to fight, but he was staring at me because I had a Moroccan gown on and I was so drunk, I’d forgotten about it. Cute. You seem to really enjoy what you do, and are always chilling watching the shows with real glee on your face. I love music, and I love to see people have fun, so it’s very enjoyable. I’m an only child, and we didn’t have a lot of cash lying around, but my parents always had great music on and everything seemed okay, so I guess I enjoy how freeing music can be. When I put on a show, most of the stress is before the show, not during it, dealing with the booking agents and travel and crap like that. During a show I put on, I like to move around, see if everything is cool with the musicians and DJs, see if my friends are having fun, if the door person needs a drink or change, shit like that.

Any secret spots in LA you want to reveal? Well, that dude Jamaal had a crazy after-hours reggae spot in Hollywood, but I just heard that it was no more. He came up to me at Guitar Center about five years ago and we started talking, and he told me about his spot, and I went and couldn’t believe it, it was amazing. Then there’s the Japanese whorehouse afterhours here in Echo Park, but the drinks are too expensive. And the women are too cheap. I’m glad I asked. Is there anyone you particularly admire in the city who you see doing their thing in nightlife? Most club people and promoters are gross, but most of that shit is in Hollywood and I don’t go out there, but I have a couple of friends I really admire: DJ Dam Funk who has a night on Mondays all the way out in Culver City, but with no cover, and the crowd is really nice, and everyone’s having fun. I can’t recommend Dam enough as a DJ cuz he’s “all wax, original pressings!,” as he likes to say … or as a friend, the guy is just super cool, and that’s reflected at the club. Also my friend Omar, he puts on shows in his driveway in East L.A. and they’re awesome, he always had three or four bands, a DJ, and there’s all these kids and parents, they’re a lot of fun. Also, on a more professional level, Liz Garo, who books the Echo. She’s great, and she’s really nice and has great taste in music. What was the coolest event you’ve been involved with? Sometimes people come up to me, they go, “I was there that night when …” That’s pretty cool. I gotta say, though, it’s starting to make me feel like an old man. Having Joe Bataan play at Little Pedro’s back when I owned it was pretty cool. We had Dolemite too, and Blowfly once, those were memorable nights. Doing a post-Katrina benefit show with Eddie Bo was really special for me … that might be the party I’m most proud of. Flying Yo Majesty out here for my birthday party at the Echo, when no one knew who they were, and they’ve never been out of state, that was cool, it was like a punk show the energy that night, and then having Arabian Prince DJ, I mean you can’t have a better birthday than that. I remember when I flew Chromeo out for Halloween in 2005, their only previous show in LA was for 13 people, so they were expecting it to suck, and the place was slammed and everyone was dancing. When I see them now, they still bring up that night, so that’s cool. What’s the craziest shit you’ve seen while partying in LA? The craziest shit I ever saw at one of my parties was when Peaches DJed at Little Pedro’s, one woman was going down on another woman in the middle of the dance floor, and everyone around them kept dancing, like it was no big deal. That was impressive. I had a cousin visiting from Arizona that night, and his eyes popped out of his head. I don’t think he gets to see things like that in Tucson.

Because the Echo is so close to my house, if I’m in a good mood and the show was good, I’ll invite a bunch of people over. But sometimes I’ll invite people over but then not want to have a party, and by the time I walk home from the Echo, there’s already people on my staircase, waiting to get in. When that happens, I just go to Tommy’s, order a #2, and just wait it out.

The Black Lips did a secret show at the Echo at 1 a.m. on a Tuesday night, and afterwards, they all came over, and I woke up the next day with the worst hangover, not having any idea what had happened, other than apparently I had had people over, as my place was trashed and tequila bottles were empty. Then the following day I was washing my desk and realized the scribble marks on it were the signatures of the band, and that they’d come over after the show.

Also, the day after my birthday when Yo Majesty played, I woke up to one of the members walking out of my shower butt naked, going into my closet and putting on a pair of my boxers and a t-shirt, and then getting back into bed next to me and falling asleep, like nothing had happened. I was so scared we’d hooked up or something, but it turns out she just crashed in my bed because all the sofas were spoken for.

Fuck or fight anyone interesting lately? Nothing too crazy recently, although some old veterano punched me at the Gold Room the other night, but I deserved it … Projections: I’m talking with the Echo about doing a monthly or weekly club. I just need to see if I have the time for it. And I might be starting a record label, but I can’t talk about that yet. And there’s an old theater that I might be renovating with some friends, but we’ll see about that.

What are you doing tonight? I’ll probably go to Barragan’s and see what’s up. I’ve been going there since I was a baby, and for better or worse, the place hasn’t changed. But when the margaritas are two bucks and I can walk home, I can’t really complain.