New Kids on the Block
Published: May 2009
By Lauren Paige Kennedy
Before the big developers move in and the name-brand coffee shops muscle onto every corner, T+L takes a tour through three emerging scenes in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Detroit where art meets commerce.
Always a magnet for the pinstripes-and-pearls set, the District is now attracting a fashion-forward faction rather than just the usual Capitol Hill conservatives. Instead of working for the government, they're opening shops and galleries on the once-shunned stretch of 14th Street that connects U Street to the Logan Circle area. In just two years, 14th has evolved from a dreary no-man's-land into a destination for independent spirits.
By Lauren Paige Kennedy
THE BACKSTORY The 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. ignited a three-day firestorm of destruction on and off U Street, an area once hailed as "Black Broadway" (it was a favorite haunt of Duke Ellington and other jazz greats in the 1910's). U Street's 14th Street offshoot is finally bouncing back, fueled by entrepreneurial pioneers undeterred by the occasional empty lot. The only protests they're staging are aimed at keeping the enclave free of cookie-cutter chain stores.
LOCAL FAUNA Newly transplanted young families of every ethnicity, a gay community, and young business owners have taken over old storefronts. "Most of the owners live within blocks of their shops—one more reason we're so committed to seeing this place thrive," says Eric Kole, co-owner of Vastu (1829 14th St.; 202/234-8344), a shop specializing in custom furniture made of aluminum, cork, and microsuede.
THE EPICENTER Café Saint-Ex, where young artists with goatees, retro-chic swingers, and stylish gay men all belly up to the bar for late-night cocktails.
HAMBURGER MARY'S No. 1337; 202/232-7010; brunch for two $30. The juiciest, messiest burgers and the greasiest chile-cheese fries in the District. Sunday brunch is a neighborhood tradition.
SPARKY'S ESPRESSO CAFÉ No. 1720; 202/332-9334; lunch for two $15. The café looks like a postcard of a fifties diner (red pleather booths, checkerboard floors). On weekend nights, fledgling rock bands amp up and aspiring poets share their verse; canvases by local artists are always on display.
THAI TANIC No. 1326A; 202/588-1795; dinner for two $30. The wall-sized mural of cavorting dolphins and goldfish is so kitschy it's cool; the rest of the joint is Caribbean turquoise and ship-hull steel. Aromas of Bangkok waft in from the kitchen: coconut-milk curries, minty spring rolls, and spicy-sweet pad thai.
GO MAMA GO! No. 1809; 202/299-0850. Noi Chudnoff began selling her collection of Japanese ceramics at Eastern Market, an outdoor bazaar on Capitol Hill. Two years ago, she set up shop on 14th, filling her shelves with eclectic Asian objets d'art, furoshiki (crepe) wall hangings, and Indonesian furniture.
MULÉH No. 1831; 202/667-3440. "Modern Zen" is how owner Christopher Reiter describes his Asian-infused recycled-teak dining tables, solid mahogany benches, and trellis-like screens.
TIMOTHY PAUL CARPETS & TEXTILES No. 1404; 202/319-1100. Featuring custom textiles, unusual lighting fixtures, and hard-to-find carpets such as TriBeCa-based Carini Lang's pieces and $20,000 antique Turkish Oushak rugs. The owners will happily assist the design-challenged with decorating tips.
PULP No. 1803; 202/462-7857. The serene space is stocked with one-of-a-kind, handcrafted greeting cardsthat speak to every race, size, shape, and inclination. There's even a "card bar," with dictionaries, writing tools, and swivel seats, inviting patrons to spend an afternoon inscribing messages or just hanging out.
CAFÉ SAINT-EX No. 1847; 202/265-7839; dinner for two $64. Owner Mike Benson's casual American bistro serves simple steaks, risotto, and seared tuna with wasabi sauce, but its yellow walls and dark-wood bar are pure Parisian Latin Quarter. Named for the author of The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Benson's favorite writer), the restaurant also has a smoky downstairs den with DJ's spinning Kool & the Gang, Edith Piaf, and Moby seven nights a week.
FUSEBOX No. 1412; 202/299-9220. Since opening in 2001, Fusebox has made itself D.C.'s top gallery for emerging artists. This fall, the space mounts "Sculpture Gardens," by photographer Vesna Pavlovic (September 13-October 26).
STUDIO THEATRE 1333 P St. (at 14th St.); 202/332-3300. Works by Neil LaBute, Tom Stoppard, and other contemporary playwrights are produced in this popular theater, which is currently undergoing an $11 million expansion. Two new stages, a lobby, and a marquee entrance on 14th Street will be added to the existing building, even as the regular season commences. Catch this month's staging of Topdog/Underdog, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Suzan-Lori Parks (September 3-October 19).
ON THE SCENE
They may live just blocks from the White House, yet 14th Street residents are anything but right-wing in style. Most common look on the block: downtown denim paired with a vintage item, and a dash of tongue-in-cheek raciness.
An L.A. neighborhood that you can actually explore on foot?Once known for being home to the city's lunatic fringe, this half-mile stretch of reworked lofts and shop-gallery hybrids near Venice Beach is the place to find the next generation of bohemians, who are turning the oceanside strip into an avant-garde retail retreat.
By Christene Barberich
THE BACKSTORY Venice had always been L.A.'s only affordable beachfront neighborhood, luring musicians, immigrants, and even gangsters since the twenties. Once word got out (before Julia Roberts moved in) that space was plentiful and the area reasonably safe, a handful of galleries set up shop. Now upstarts are snapping up the remaining beat-up bungalows that line the street, filling them with artisanal food shops, galleries, and design boutiques.
LOCAL FAUNA Despite frequent sightings of Arnold cruising Abbot Kinney in his Hummer, the neighborhood is still relatively low-key, evenly integrated with boardwalk hippies and film-industry millionaires hiding under baseball caps. But at the heart of the area are trend-setters with caviar taste on a fast-food budget.
THE EPICENTER Because it's a pedestrian zone (just off the sand, no less), everyone—visitors, residents, celebrities—shares the same sidewalks; they also get equal attention at the coffee shop Abbot's Habit (1 No. 1401; 310/399-1171) when ordering a soy mocha before work. After hours, the Brig draws waves of surfer kids, indie filmmakers, and Hollywood A-listers avoiding the paparazzi.
WABI-SABI No. 1635; 310/396-8857; dinner for two $50. Crowds wait for tables in the sun-drenched front lounge; in seats beside the soaring brick wall, shoppers recount the day's finds. The crunchy shrimp and lobster rolls, wild-mushroom wontons, and attentive service have guests lingering for hours.
STROH'S GOURMET No. 1239; 310/450-5119; lunch for two $16. Regulars filling up on barbecued pastrami sandwiches and Zapp's potato chips rely on owner Jason Stroh for deli-style comfort food. To keep them coming back, he also offers quantities of epicurean lunchtime snacks, such as imported cheeses and charcuterie.
AXE No. 1009; 310/664-9787; dinner for two $70. Nearly every item on the menu is made with organic ingredients from the nearby farmers' market. At dinner, patrons gather at rustic wood benches for Bibb lettuce-and-herb salad, braised bacon with lentils, and trout roasted whole.
PEARCE No. 1225; 310/399-0040. The Lilliputian space serves as an oasis for Alma Allen's Brancusi-like sculptures crafted from found objects. Co-owned by Allen and designer-filmmaker Nancy Pearce, the shop also displays local craftswoman Kelly Mulloy's handmade felt rugs.
SURFING COWBOYS No. 1624; 310/450-4891. Owners Wayne and Donna Gunther are obsessed with beach culture. Vintage boards, hula-girl lamps, and Hawaiian housewares and furniture are just a few of the funky treasures to be found in their time capsule of seaside life. Check out "Ride the Wild Stoke," an exhibition of old prints and surfboards (September 20-27).
STRANGE INVISIBLE PERFUMES No. 1209; 310/314-1505. Perfumer Alexandra Balahoutis (the stepdaughter of producer Jerry Bruckheimer) puts as much time into the look of her shop as she does into her evocative scents. Rich brown lacquered floors and fresh orchids contrast with the science-lab accessories (Bunsen burners, catheters, Erlenmeyer flasks). Those in the market for a custom fragrance can indulge in a two-hour consultation with Balahoutis herself ($500).
JACOBS VAN DYKE No. 1644; 310/396-8886. Longtime friends Kevin Jacobs and Käaren Van Dyke partnered to open this bright, countrified outpost for modern indoor-outdoor housewares. In addition to stocking garden furniture by Munder Skiles and Venice artist John Harris's hand-carved side tables, the pair also produce their own textile pieces, such as lamb's wool-and-shearling pillows.
FRENCH 50'S-60'S No. 1427; 310/392-9905. Paris-born Michele Sommerlath scours the markets of France for unusual housewares and one-of-a-kind furnishings from the fifties and sixties. Coveted small-scale desks and vanities from noted designers such as Pierre Guariche and Pierre Paulin are her shop's standouts.
THE BRIG No. 1515; 310/399-7537. The fifties landmark diner was resurrected from its dilapidated state and turned into a futuristic drinking room. Grab your blood-orange martini and head to one of the stainless-steel tables, where towheaded surfers and their groupies brag about their near-death experiences. Live acid-jazz is performed on Tuesday nights.
SANDRONI REY No. 1224; 310/392-3404. The most respected gallery in West L.A. champions American and European artists, such as photographer/video artist Sue de Beer and Iona Brown, who paints in the Japanese Ukiyo-e style. This fall, Brian Alfred displays his architectural images, which he creates first on his computer and then transfers onto canvas to paint.
ON THE SCENE
Body-conscious Angelenas take a break from glam, dressing down in yoga pants and opaque sunglasses. Steve McQueen look-alikes sport flip-flops, vintage T-shirts, and the latest pseudo-retro Dior frames.
Young suburban dwellers starved for city legitimacy have discovered this Little Warsaw (pronounced 'ham-tram-ick') and moved back into Detroit. 'There's an energy to the streets, this quality of expectation,' says Carrie Hazel, who opened one of the area's first galleries, Primary Space, in a former meat-packing plant in June. 'Plus, it's extremely cheap.' Hamtown is a classic postmodern stew—polka and punk, pierogi and piercings.
By Michael Hodges
THE BACKSTORY Hamtramck hit the skids in the early eighties when the main Dodge plant closed, but in the past decade immi- grants—both hipster and foreigner—have been diligently performing CPR. The result is a 21st-century version of New York's punk-era East Village, where Detroit garage bands are cutting their teeth and everyone is lured by rock-bottom rents. And unlike much of Detroit, where storefronts remain barren and empty, shops here are open for business, encouraging further urban renewal.
LOCAL FAUNA In addition to club kids, serious artistes, and wannabe musicians with hair of many colors, newly arrived Yemenis, Bosnians, and Bangladeshis throng the sidewalks on Saturday evenings.
THE EPICENTER With poetry slams, open-mike nights, and a chess set in nearly constant use, Urban Break has become the magnet for Hamtramck's young and politically involved new guard. Indeed, one city council old-timer gripes that you can't even get appointed to a municipal commission unless you hang out at the coffeehouse.
SALVADOR DELI 2753 Yemans Ave.; 313/873-2700; lunch for two $16. This amusingly retro deli, named for the madcap painter, is done up in 1960's colors. The corned beef is cooked on the premises; great milk shakes, too.
URBAN BREAK COFFEEHOUSE 10020 Joseph Campau St.; 313/872-1210; brunch for two $16. Hungover poets and scruffy Bosnian intellectuals crowd the futuro-plastic seats in this coffee shop. Weekend brunch is a mob scene, with everyone swaying to the deep house and soul laid down by the resident DJ.
POLISH VILLAGE CAFÉ 2990 Yemans Ave.; 313/874-5726; dinner for two $20. When President Clinton dropped by in 1996, the Secret Service locked everyone inside for a few hours. But with dill-pickle soup to die for, no one much cared. Polish octogenarians and scenesters in ironic T-shirts bump elbows as they down their goulash.
NEW THREE STAR BARBQ 11941 Joseph Campau St.; 313/365-9494; dinner for two $20. Customers rave about the "chewy" ribs in this somewhat cheesy diner (cracked tile floors, faux Tiffany lamps), but third-generation owner John Mitrovich corrects them: "Meaty," he says. "Meaty."
DETROIT THREADS 10022 Joseph Campau St.; 313/872-1777. The Hamtown rag shop is rich in seventies schlockwear and clothing lines such as the saucily acronymed "Detroit Industrial Clothing Kartel."
POLISH ART CENTER 9539 Joseph Campau St.; 313/874-2242. Less a gallery than a polyglot general store; both Emeril and Martha have raved about the imported dried Borowiki mushrooms. Matrons in babushkas come for the crucifixes. Cool cats with attitude treasure the kitsch. And someone, somewhere, will love the Polish Kama Sutra.
RECORD GRAVEYARD 11303 Joseph Campau St.; 313/365-8096. A monument to fallen technology—vinyl only, please—that draws a reverential following. Collectors browse through the 50,000 LP's like acolytes anticipating the Resurrection.
SMALL'S 10339 Conant St.; 313/873-1117. A neighborhood dive, a little on the noir side, had a big dream: rock-and-roll magnificence. So last fall the owners bricked in the patio, ponied up for a deafening sound system, and started booking national and local bands like Detroit's noisy punk favorites the Gore Gore Girls and the Riots. Wildly popular, and well on its way to becoming a shrine to anti-pop music.
MEPHISTO'S 2764 Florian St.; 313/875-3626. This great-looking space devoted to devilish pleasures opened in June. The college crowd sweats up the dance floor while professional swells lounge with the pink flamingos in the backyard tiki bar.
THE ATTIC 11667 Joseph Campau St.; 313/365-4194. Nightly blues and jazz performances pull music fans into Hamtramck's well-worn tavern, where nobody much cares if you spill your beer.
PRIMARY SPACE GALLERY 2750 Yemans Ave.; 313/870-9470. Spanking new and luminous, this onetime meatpacking plant is hung with post-Pop canvases ranging from political satires to soulful send-ups of Japanese manga (comic books).
HAMTRAMCK DISNEYLAND 12087 Klinger St., in alley behind the house; no phone. An elderly Ukrainian autoworker lovingly created Detroit's answer to L.A.'s Watts Towers. Its propellers, bicycle rims, and Mickey Mouse cutouts revolve in the breeze 25 feet above a garage; for a private tour, knock on the front door.
ON THE SCENE
Luminaries of all types troop to Hamtramck, from Claire Danes to Pope John Paul II. To hear bar owners tell it, Jack White of the Detroit-based White Stripes spends all his free time hanging out at Small's and Mephisto's.