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.