Jessica Sample

On Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, the boho-chic enclave of L.A., one-of-a kind shops and restaurants worth the wait give new meaning to the idea of going local. T+L takes a stroll.

July 13, 2011

When residents of Venice say they are AWOL, they’re not talking about their military whereabouts. In their case AWOL stands for Always West of Lincoln, meaning Lincoln Boulevard, the street that divides this bohemian neighborhood from the rest of Los Angeles’s urban sprawl. In the past few years another thoroughfare, Abbot Kinney Boulevard—one of L.A.’s only “walking” streets—has become a destination for shoppers in search of unique fashion and home décor finds. Early adopters, including dress designer Pamela Barish and botanical perfumer Alexandra Balahoutis of Strange Invisible Perfumes, chose the location because of the strong sense of community. These days you can find Jack Spade (enjoy a game of Ping-Pong in the front yard) and another New York City import, Steven Alan, along with vintage-inspired shops such as Aviator Nation, Bazar, and Bountiful.

What you won’t find are mass-market brands. Thanks to Venice Unchained, a local community group, chain stores have been discouraged from hanging their shingles here. Several years ago a branch of the popular yogurt shop Pinkberry opened but quickly lost most of its business after the arrival of N’iceCream, a family-owned gelato shop next door.

When fine jeweler Liseanne Frankfurt set up shop in 2007, pioneers such as Hal’s restaurant and the Brig, a popular neighborhood bar, were drawing regulars, but the rest of the 1 1/2-mile stretch between Venice Boulevard and Main Street was a shopper’s wasteland. “People thought I was insane to open here,” Frankfurt says. “But my jewelry is very under the radar, and so I wanted to be in a part of town that was under the radar.” A few weeks later A+R home design arrived across the street, followed by, more recently, Mona Moore, which stocks hot-off-the-runway Martin Margiela pumps and Ann Demeulemeester mesh jewelry. Handbag designer Kendall Conrad, a former Venice resident, chose to launch her namesake boutique here a year ago because Abbot Kinney is one of the few Los Angeles streets where shoppers can park easily and walk.

Historically, Venice has always been a destination, dating to the turn of the last century when Abbot Kinney, a Renaissance man from Morristown, New Jersey, who was fascinated by the social and cultural heritage of Venice, Italy, purchased a vast tract of marshland south of Santa Monica to build what he called the “Venice of America.” The result was the Pleasure Pier, with an auditorium, a miniature railroad, a lagoon, and several canal waterways. The crowds soon followed and Ocean Front Walk promenade was officially on the map. The neighborhood’s bohemian roots can be traced to the Beats of the 1950’s and the hippies of the 1960’s. The roller-skating scene took over—along with drug dealers and gangs—in the 1970’s. But by the 1990’s Venice was fast becoming a haven for artists and Hollywood heavy hitters such as Julia Roberts. Abbot Kinney Boulevard, originally called West Washington, was renamed in 1992, and palm trees were planted to improve the streetscape—and property values.

These days Abbot Kinney is also attracting chefs such as Gjelina’s Travis Lett, who serves up lamb-sausage pizza or roasted artichokes with burrata until late into the evening. At the newer Tasting Kitchen, Casey Lane offers such fare as house-cured meats and local organic vegetables. There’s also plenty of casual cuisine: Abbot’s Habit, an early pioneer, has great sandwiches, and on the first Friday of every month food trucks—Kogi BBQ’s Korean tacos are a favorite—converge on the street. Local art galleries keep their doors open after hours, too.

Most Abbot Kinney residents agree that the street’s newfound popularity has strengthened the community. “I’ve been here long enough that I’ve met couples walking their dogs past the store, then made engagement and wedding rings for them,” Frankfurt says. “And now I’ll see them pushing a stroller around the neighborhood. I love that.”

Kate Betts is the author of Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style.

Shop

A+R Store #1121-1; 310/392-9128.

Aviator Nation #1224; 310/396-9100.

Bazar #1108C; 310/314-2101.

Bountiful #1335; 310/450-3620.

Detox Market #1524; 310/909-7277. A funky take on organic beauty products and fragrances—everything from freshly made Odacité skin creams to all-natural Honoré des Prés perfumes.

Firefly #1409; 310/450-6288. Great gifts such as Mistral hand creams and straw fedoras from San Diego Hat. Two doors down, Kid Firefly has darling baby clothes.

Heist #1100; 310/450-6531. A well-edited selection of Isabel Marant Etoile jackets, Pedro Garcia sandals, and NSF shirts.

Jack Spade #1132; 310/396-3781.

Kendall Conrad #1121; 310/399-1333. Unique leather goods, including her Manolin clutch in colors ranging from tangerine to fuchsia.

LFrank #1116; 310/398-6334. Delicate puzzle rings and dangling earrings made with freshwater pearls, semiprecious stones, and sculpted 18-karat gold.

Mona Moore #1112; 310/452-4070.

Pamela Barish #1327 1/2; 310/314-4490.

Steven Alan Annex #1601; 310/452-3413.

Strange Invisible Perfumes #1138; 310/314-1505.

Tortoise Shop #1342 1/2; 310/396-7335. Unique Japanese housewares, including Shigeki Funishiro polyester baskets and Ryota Aoki ceramics.

Eat

Abbot’s Habit #1401; 310/399-1171; lunch for two $22.

Gjelina #1429; 310/450-1429; dinner for two $80.

N’iceCream #1410; 310/396-7161; gelato for two $9.

Tasting Kitchen #1633; 310/392-6644; dinner for two $100.

Strange Invisible

At home amidst the boho-chic atmosphere of Venice’s Abbot Kinney Boulevard, this perfume boutique combines the romance of old-world fragrances with a modernist design featuring sleek white counters, mirrored walls, and simple, vibrant displays. On the counters, miniature marble busts sit beside small wooden trays lined with scents, while dark wood shelves house more bottles interspersed with bright flower vases. Owner Alexandra Balahoutis is a perfume purist, shunning synthetic components for fragrances comprised of organic botanicals, such as tuberose, ginger, and cedar. Her fragrances feature names like Fair Verona and Narcotic and are artfully displayed in understated glass bottles.

Gjelina

You'll typically find chef Travis Lett at the farmer's market when he's not behind the stoves at his restaurant, the bright new light on ever-trendy Abbot Kinney. His surfer-boy looks—perhaps you caught him in Vogue—belie his talent for the earthy, assertive, locavore cooking that makes even vegetarian dishes (wood-roasted Tahitian squash with rosemary and unfiltered olive oil; braised chickpeas with harissa) taste as hearty as the short ribs. Lett’s intensely flavorful, flame-kissed plates find an ideal setting in the dark, candlelit dining room.

A+R Store

Pop culture stylists Andy “A” Griffith and Rose “R” Apodaca source functional design objects from around the world at their glass-front Abbot Kinney shop. Whimsical design can be found in everything from carved wooden boxes resembling whales and llamas to gadgets like self-watering planters. Find a variety of gift items like animal figurines from Sweden, handcrafted belt buckles, and organic felt toy animals. For the cook, there are modern wood cutting boards, bowls, and cups. Shelves are also stocked with clocks, candelabras, and colorful phone headsets, while globe-shaped lanterns hang from the ceiling.

Bazar

This eclectic antiques shop on Venice’s lively Abbot Kinney Boulevard specializes in Art Deco furniture and objects from the ’30s and ’40s. Take the time to sort through the fine collection culled from owner Tina Wakino’s travels across the globe. On any given day you might find a handblown-glass chandelier, a Louis Vuitton suitcase, or textiles from Mister Freedom designer Christophe Loiron on the shelves.

Mona Moore

A cursive neon sign marks the entrance to this designer accessories shop on Venice's trendy Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Resembling a minimalist art gallery, the white-walled interior contains Moooi chandeliers, huge vintage mirrors, and a bare concrete floor lined with avant-garde shoes and handbags. After founding the original Mona Moore in Montreal in 2002, owners Lisa Bush and Anna Maria Varriano opened this West Coast branch two years later, stocking the space with runway-ready pieces by designers like Ann Demeulemeester and Balenciaga. The ever-changing inventory might include wide-brimmed leather hats, black-net ankle boots, and faux-crocodile clutches in cherry red.

Aviator Nation

Bountiful

Detox Market

Firefly, Venice

Great gifts such as Mistral hand creams and straw fedoras from San Diego Hat. Two doors down, Kid Firefly has darling baby clothes.

Heist

Jack Spade

Kendall Conrad

LFrank

Pamela Barish

Steven Alan Annex

Tortoise Shop

Unique Japanese housewares, including Shigeki Funishiro polyester baskets and Ryota Aoki ceramics.

Abbot’s Habit

N’ice Cream

Tasting Kitchen

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