In a city that can claim summertime weather year round, Los Angeles still has a few markers that signal to its citizens and visitors alike that it is officially summer. One of the most anticipated events, in a city whose temperature can quickly go from blistering to breezy, is the Hollywood Bowl.
The Bowl, nestled in Cahuenga Pass and just a short distance behind Hollywood’s tourist traps, has called this location home since 1919. Over the years, this L.A. landmark has hosted performances from almost every genre, and much of this music history can been seen at the on-site museum, an ideal place to idle away the time while you wait for a performance. Arrive at the Bowl early, beat the traffic, and take a minute to view what the Bowl calls a “living laboratory for experimentation and discovery of L.A.’s music history.”
Walking through the museum, I thought back to when I visited the Bowl as a child with my aunt, an envied season-ticket holder. I recall summers sitting under the starlit sky, soaking in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and then looking up wide-eyed at fireworks while Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture stomped and saluted our nation’s independence, puzzled by the choice of a Russian composition to honor an American holiday.
Now as an adult, I’m able to appreciate the diversity that the Hollywood Bowl calendar has to offer its patrons. Throughout the years, I have been lucky enough to see remarkable performances by Brazilian artists Bebel Gilberto and Seu Jorge, Jamaican icon Grace Jones, English songstress Sade, and classic rock legend Santana. In a day and age when people throw around the word “epic” at every turn, my definition involves swaying to Jones’ sultry hits under the full moon.
The Hollywood Bowl is not to be missed. Voted as one of the “Top Outdoor Music Venues” countless times by Fodor’s, Rolling Stone, and Architectural Digest, just to name a few, holding that honor is quite noteworthy in a city that can claim much of its activity outdoors. And outdoor dining is half the fun at the Bowl; to call it “picnicking” is an understatement. In fact, one of my favorite cookbooks in a collection that has some strong competition, is my copy of Picnics Under the Stars, a gift given to me by my aunt many moons ago. Besides featuring recipes from famous conductors like Itzhak Perlman and Christopher Hogwood, this cookbook has two features that I love: an index outlined by ingredient(helpful for those with food allergies) and tips for picnicking outdoors, which is something you’ll definitely be doing if you spend any time in Los Angeles.
Speaking of outdoor dining, there’s no formal designation of “Most Rooftop Bars Per Capita”, but Los Angeles can definitely stake its claim at the top of this imagined list. Adding to that list is the rooftop at quirky and colorful hotel, Mama Shelter. Accor Group’s recent investment in the boutique hotel brand brings the U.S. its first Mama Shelter, situated in the heart of Hollywood. A welcome addition to one of the few walking neighborhoods in this expansive metropolis, Mama Shelter adds some flair and fun that leads all the way up to its rooftop with 360 degree views of the Hollywood Hills, downtown L.A. skyline, and the Pacific Coast in the distance.
There’s no shortage of spectacular views from Mama Shelter’s rooftop bar. And this pulsating panorama sets the perfect backdrop for their “Sunday Sunsets” yoga series and their weekly “Screenings Under the Stars”, where guests can enjoy Hollywood classics while taking in the sweeping summer sky. But after you’ve snapped some enviable shots of those vibrant vistas of the Hollywood Hills and beyond, dive into Chef Gerard Sampson’s Mediterranean menu that is sure to send your taste buds on a trip of their own.
Where to begin with this tempting menu? Start with a sampler of Mama’s dips: the cauliflower hummus and roasted carrot hummus are my favorites. Add in the Turkish beet hummus and you have an Instagram-worthy food photo. There’s no shortage of flavor with the rooftop menu. After you’ve finished noshing on your food porn platter, taste the lamb or scallop brochettes, and don’t skip over the vegan friendly options like the Tokyo turnip and brussel sprouts. The refreshing cocktail to pair with this spicy feast: Mama’s Mediterranean Mule that blends rhubarb-infused vodka, ginger beer, and a bit of lime juice for just the right mix of sweet and sour.
Once you’re back downstairs in the rooms designed by Thierry Gaugain, a Philippe Starck protégé, there’s no shortage of kitschy toys to catch your eye. From the flirty costume masks encouraging guests to role play to suggestive sayings adorning their toiletries that you can use to clean up afterwards, Mama Shelter’s adult-friendly vibe fits right in with its Hollywood surroundings. Gaugain’s first U.S. design project is nothing short of playful, yet provocative.
When you’ve recovered from any raucous play that you can record from your room, wander down to Mama’s lobby to see the footage. If you’ve built up an appetite, indulge in Chef Sampson’s take on American diner food in their communal restaurant or sip on one of their signature drinks, all with maternal monikers inspired by Hollywood films. My personal favorite is the “Y Tu Mama Tambien”, a spicy margarita with just the right amount of almond syrup drizzle to tempt your tongue for more.
Sipping on my seductively sweet cocktail, I can see how the design evocatively elicits what hotel founder Benjamin Trigano calls an urban kibbutz. “Guests are encouraged to engage not only with the space and the neighborhood, but with each other, too.” To achieve this, Mama’s ceiling is full of scrawlings and sayings that are good conversation starters for that stranger seated at the next stool. Or test your mental agility with games at the nearby tables, and then dance to a rotation of DJs that play throughout the week. There’s no end to the clever cues coaxing hotel patrons to get the full Hollywood experience.
And to truly do that, one must seek out some music while in Hollywood. Whether you’re looking for the big club bumping electronic dance music from internationally renowned DJs or seeking out those bands that have yet to make it on the big stage, Hollywood is a destination for music lovers.
This music mecca has long been a city known for bringing the best acts to the public. It was here in Hollywood where I saw Gary Clark Jr. perform in the back lot of Jimmy Kimmel, and where my mom reminisces of seeing Led Zeppelin on their first U.S. tour back in 1969. That Led Zeppelin debut at the Whisky A Go-Go launched a generation of boomers that would lead the way for rock and roll fans for generations to come. Walking along Sunset Boulevard, I have to admit I’m a little envious of my parents and the musical acts that they saw perform here on the Sunset Strip.
Although some of these musical greats are no longer with us, their memories live on in sounds and images for those of us that are left behind. Further down Sunset Blvd., I wandered into Mr. Musichead, a gallery featuring a diverse selection of photographs of music legends like David Bowie, Prince, and Tupac. Mr. Musichead, “L.A.’s first gallery devoted exclusively to Art by and about the world’s greatest musicians”, opened in 1998 by Detroit native, Sam Milgrom.
Looking at each of the photos, I thought about how music is tied to so many of my memories. And I’m not alone. It’s a central part of our existence, dating back to the beginning of time when our ancestors made music from their natural surroundings – definitely one of the oldest art forms. I eventually stopped at a photo of Jim Morrison, a genius gone too soon, and thought about a story my dad told me about his visits to the Sunset Strip back in the 1960s.
“Back in high school, your mother and I used to cruise the strip and one thing that always stood out to me was this billboard that was completely covered with a tan cloth. Each week, there was a pair of hands that would gradually pull away some of the cloth, slowly revealing what the billboard was displaying. It was the album cover of a new band, The Doors and the album was ‘Break on Through (To the Other Side)’, their debut from 1967.”
Beginning with a bossa nova beat, it’s no wonder that this is one of my favorite Doors songs, and I’m hoping that my dad will some day bequeath that album to me. Thinking about musical influences and how the great artists always drew on what came before, I wandered through the rest of the Mr. Musichead gallery, wanting to take home half of the pieces and adorn my walls with these inspiring and incredible images.
Maybe you aren’t a photography enthusiast, and would rather call your record collection a piece of art. If so, Amoeba Music should be on your itinerary. In the center of Hollywood, right off of this famed Sunset Blvd, you can spend hours browsing the expansive collection of music, truly leaving no stone unturned to find that rare, obscure record. Amoeba, staking its claim as the “world’s largest independent record store”, houses endless rows of hard-to-find vinyl, DVDs, CDs, 45s, and other memorabilia, making it the perfect destination for the music collector. Stick around for their live events that happen nearly every night of the week and mix it up with other music fans in the heart of Hollywood’s entertainment district.
If for some strange reason you haven’t found what you’re looking for at Amoeba, the Great Rock and Roll Flea Market is hosted at downtown L.A.’s Regent Theater once a month. Just like it sounds, this monthly bazaar hosts various vendors, mostly selling vinyl, amidst artisans selling eccentric creations, all to the beat of a live DJ spinning sets of funky tunes.
It’s easy to spend hours browsing through records; I know – I’ve done it. But save some time to explore the rest of what downtown Los Angeles has to offer. You can continue your urban adventures, whether it’s a stroll through an art gallery, an evening out at one of the free Grand Performances, or a dip in one of the sexy rooftop pool parties, don’t let summer pass you by spending it completely indoors. You can do that in January, also known as “winter” in Los Angeles.
Take advantage of these balmy summer nights and enjoy a meal at one of the many al fresco dining options around town. One of my favorites is Pez Cantina, whose decor evokes a nautical mood, with varied hues of turquoise and marine-inspired details throughout the restaurant. This ideally situated restaurant, the first project of husband and wife team Chef Bret Thompson and Lucy Thompson-Ramirez, showcases a Mexican seafood-centric menu with influences from Europe and the Middle East, all places where Bret had worked during his tenure with the Patina Group. Lucy tells the story with a gleam in her eye. “We were vacationing on a little island near Loreto, Mexico – it was literally something out of a Corona commercial – and we had just enjoyed some freshly caught fish, with the juicy pico de gallo.” What stood out to Bret was the simplicity, freshness, and high quality of this seaside feast, eventually inspiring them to open Pez Cantina.
As Lucy and I mused over the intricacies of Mexican recipes like mole and chile rellenos, she highlighted the Middle Eastern flavors of pickled vegetables, earthy nuts, and succulent seafood, all of which I could taste in one of their feature mariscos menu items. The simplicity and freshness are married together in this delicious dish that combines grilled octopus with a marinated cauliflower salad, topped with light and crispy chicharron, all dressed with a spicy pomegranate walnut sauce. While savoring every morsel, Lucy pointed out that this dish is infused with muhammara, a Middle Eastern spice that Bret discovered while working in Beirut. This fusion, which Lucy calls “Mexiterranean” clearly brings together the best of Bret’s culinary travels around the world.
When Bret and Lucy travel, they’re drawn to explore different foodie destinations, leaning on recommendations from fellow travelers to take them to places like Grand Central Market, where you can try a little bit of everything that entices your palate, or they’ll sometimes seek out those trendy hot spots. When speaking of great food destinations, Lucy immediately mentions Mexico. “There’s a movement in the food and wine scene, and it’s nice to see that there is finally some international recognition of this amazing cuisine that is thousands of years old.”
Continuing with my courses, I enjoyed Pez Cantina’s spicy ahi tuna tostada, a hearty appetizer that gives your taste buds a bit of a kick, and their delicately sweet Hibiscus Berry Margarita. What I love about every dish at Pez Cantina, besides the beautiful presentation, is that each dish is unique and surprises diners with an unexpected take on Mexican cuisine. My main dish, Ahi Tuna wrapped in Smoked Bacon, was a playful mixture of textures and peppery overtones, all on a bed of roasted vegetables and cilantro mashed potatoes.
Both L.A. natives, Lucy and I talked about the resurgence of downtown Los Angeles and how it has become a cultural hub with the myriad of museums like the Broad and MOCA, the nearby arts district, and the musical centers right up the street. Whether or not you make it here in the summer, you’ll definitely find plenty to do with the endless options around every corner.
Walt Disney Concert Hall, the newest addition to the music venues that line Grand Avenue, has housed the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 2003. This architectural and acoustic masterpiece that “embodies the energy, imagination, and creative spirit of the city of Los Angeles” has since welcomed Venezuelan prodigy, Gustavo Dudamel, to a long line of talented conductors. Dudamel and the LA Phil, who won a Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance for their recording of the Brahms Symphony No. 4 in 2011, bring vigor and passion to the L.A. community through their orchestral artistry.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of listening to a titillating performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E Minor led by celebrated conductor and virtuoso violinist, Itzhak Perlman. At the post-performance reception, I was delighted to learn about Dudamel’s community outreach program, Youth Orchestra Los Angeles(YOLA), which aims to develop musicians, and a new appreciation for music, to underserved communities.
During the summer months, the L.A. Phil’s creative calendar livens up the Hollywood Bowl, until they return to Walt Disney Concert Hall for their 2016/17 season which commences in September. But don’t let that stop you from at least walking by the Concert Hall and standing in awe of Frank Gehry’s carefully crafted curves that look good from every angle.
Luckily for those who want a respite from the heat, what does run throughout the summer are the programs right across the street at the Music Center. Walking through here always brings back childhood memories of seeing musicals like Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, or my family’s annual trip to the Nutcracker Ballet during the Christmas season.
This year marks the L.A. Opera’s 30 year anniversary, which just wrapped up with a production of La Bohème and will begin the next 30 in September with Shakespeare’s Macbeth. There’s never a shortage of programming at the Music Center. This summer, the American Ballet Theater, along with L.A. area natives Misty Copeland and Stella Abrera, will enchant us with a few performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. There’s also outdoor performances on the plaza, with everything from Argentine tango to electronic-fusion to liven up the plaza that overlooks Grand Park and City Hall in the distance.
Whether you’re enjoying this medley of music on the plaza or visiting the Mark Taper Forum to take in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Disgraced, the ideal location to enjoy a meal before or after your Music Center escapades is Kendall’s Brasserie and Bar. Located conveniently at street level, Kendall’s offers traditional French brasserie cuisine, all orchestrated by Chef Jean Pierre Bosc, who brings with him a depth of culinary expertise honed in France, London, the Caribbean, and here in Los Angeles.
Chef Bosc draws on his extensive training with star chefs from all over France, including Jean Paul Lacombe, Yann Jacquot, and Michel Chabran from his home region in the south, as well as his tenure as a restaurateur here in Los Angeles as the former owner of critically acclaimed Mimosa to “remind our guests that eating should first and foremost be a pleasure.”
And what a pleasure it is. While I’ve been to Kendall’s many times and thoroughly enjoyed the brasserie classics like moules frites provençal and steak frites, on my most recent visit I took the recommendation of Chef Bosc and tried some of the more experimental dishes that truly highlight his culinary background. After sampling a platter of cheeses that included an aptly named “Saint Angel” brie, I was served the Skuna Bay salmon. Chef Bosc prepares this dish sous vide, a method that ensures each mouthful is marvelous. “I love to use this technique because it controls the temperature and guarantees that your fish will be perfectly cooked every time.” This skillfully prepared salmon dances together with a balanced medley of asparagus, leeks, Meyer lemon confit, piquillo pepper, and Castelvetrano olives, sending your mouth into a state of bliss.
I recommend allowing enough time to enjoy every gastronomic gem that Chef Bosc sends your way. Each and every bite is delectable – and not to be rushed. So if you’re trying to make that evening show, do as my aunt does and book your reservations the minute you buy your show tickets to get those ideal times to savor the entire experience. Or just come and sample their oyster bar during happy hour or partake in their nightly prix fixe menu. Whenever you visit Kendall’s, you’re sure to leave perfectly satiated.
Of course this experience wouldn’t be quite the quintessential French fare without a nod to a culture that sets the bar extremely high for superb, and skillfully prepared, desserts. Scanning the menu, I was pleased to see île flottante amongst the other tempting selections. Having only had it one other time at Bofinger in Paris years ago, it was quite a treat to relish every bite of this delicate meringue floating on a bed of crème anglaise, piled high with caramelized almonds. It’s enough to make anyone swoon.
Sitting amongst Toulouse-Lautrec inspired images, my family and I reminisced about our favorite performances, with my mother sharing the time when I met the Phantom backstage after a performance, and my shocked expression when meeting him unmasked. As we sat there and mused over our favorite performances, and the ones that we’re looking forward to, I felt so grateful for these memories and the gift of music appreciation that they all instilled in me at a young age.
Heading out into the breezy summer evening, I made my way to a preview of Los Angeles’ tallest building that has now added an open-air observation deck appropriately called Skyspace. Sitting atop the 70th floor of the U.S. Bank building, this dynamic experience offers 360 degree views of the cityscape far below. Skyspace presents Los Angeles with a modern design with first class vendors for your next event, and of course an unparalleled point of view for your guests. If you’ve got an extreme fear of heights, also known as “acrophobia”, then maybe it’s better to just take in the interactive technology displays on the 54th floor. There’s no windows, so you won’t be reminded how far above ground level you really are when you see the skyline below.
But if you’re brave enough to head to the top of this building that currently holds the title of “tallest building in the world with a helipad on top”, it’s worth the wait. The highlight of your visit will definitely be the adrenaline-boosting Skyslide, which sends you down a glass slide on the outside, yes outside, of the building. You’re enclosed as you quickly glide down to the 69th floor, but that doesn’t make it any less thrilling. Just try not to look down as you step inside!
Walking around the perimeter of the lounge, I was careful not to step too close to the edge, worried that it might deter me from actually going down the slide. Staring down at the Biltmore, the Central Library, and nearby Pershing Square, my knees became a little wobbly and I backed up to take in more of this expansive view. You can literally see all of the city: the maze of freeways, the hovering helicopters, the staggering skyscrapers, and sprawling suburbs beyond. As I took it all in, and let my heart rate return to normal, I was glad that I completed this daring 15 second adventure. It’s truly a unique feeling. You feel like you’re on top of the world, when in fact you are.