Barfly is a column that celebrates old haunts and new hotspots of Los Angeles nightlife. Sometimes playgirl and former sex writer Nicky navigate hangovers and heartache, one bar at a time.
Sunset Boulevard is the main artery running through the heart of Los Angeles, taking you all the way from the Pacific Ocean to Downtown LA. If you visit Los Angeles, you’re likely to cross Sunset at least once a day — it’s that prominent and that long, stretching roughly 22 miles through a dozen or so of the city’s most name-recognizable neighborhoods: Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Silverlake, Echo Park.
Dodger Stadium is situated along the far-eastern stretch of Sunset, adorably nestled in the hills of Elysian Park at the top of Vin Scully Avenue (formerly Elysian Park Avenue). My mother grew up in this suburb, Echo Park, and her father grew up here too. Now, as a third generation Angeleno, I come here quite often to not only pay respects to my Dodger roots, but to enjoy everything Echo Park has to offer. When I get to the neighborhood early enough, I snag a spot at a meter and grab a drink at a local bar before the game.
It’s Monday, and I don’t care who the Dodgers are playing. I don’t care that I’m wearing green satin loafers, the day’s work clothes and not a single item of team paraphernalia. I only care about the beautiful weather and the slightly-better-than-nosebleed tickets I have with my friends to this weeknight-in-May game, an annual activity that always signals summer’s arrival. I get to my seat just in time to watch the sun set behind the scoreboard; it’s time for a beer.
Dodger Stadium is a famously bad place to drink. The lines are long, the selection is small, and a quick scroll through my credit card transactions will reveal that a purchase of one Modelo, some garlic fries and a Dodger Dog (more of a rite of passage than a culinary experience) total over $30. If I’d spent $30 in a grocery store, the bounty would’ve fed me for days. But money is beside the point: I don’t come to Dodger Stadium for the food or the drinks. Plenty of fans don’t even come here for baseball. Personally, I come for the panoramic, cotton-candy colored, palm-tree lined views — that, and the sounds and smells – they’re perfect together. Throw in an $18 beer and that’s baseball, baby. Take me out to the ballgame.
The Dodgers are beating the Braves 5-3. After the 7th inning’s standard and somewhat-pathetic sing-along, buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks, I look over at my friend to remark that in all my life, I don’t think anyone has ever bought me peanuts, let alone cracker jacks. I let them know I’m going to start the long walk to my car, and wave goodbye to the group. I do care when I get back, and more importantly I care about grabbing a nightcap before going home. It’s normal for me to head out of the Stadium in the middle of the 8th inning. As a local, my trick is to never actually park at Dodger Stadium; I park a mile away, and walk.
As I navigate through the parking lot, through all the cars and people and lights, I’m hit with occasional whiffs of night-blooming jasmine and English ivy. I pass deeply rooted palm trees and dozens of razor scooters. I can’t help but chuckle as I watch the traffic start to pile up. Walking down this hill will take half the time it would for me to wrangle my car out of the parking lot they charge $30 for you to sit in.
I veer off onto a side road – a small shortcut back to Sunset – and end up trailing a group of older teens in jerseys laughing and talking post-Dodger victory. There are four boys and one girl who’s the tallest by far and I’m reminded of high school when the guys from body-shop class would drag me out here. We never had tickets, but they knew, even at 17, that we didn’t need them for a Dodger game. You only needed $15 cash and an outgoing personality and in minutes you’d scalp better seats than weeks of planning would’ve yielded.
My mom worries about my taking long walks after a night out. “You do it alone?” she always asks. As I pass El Compadre Mexican restaurant, famous for their flaming house margaritas, two old mariachis are trading stories while packing away their guitars. They greet me as I pass and I turn back around to smile longer.
On nights like these, even if I’m by myself, I’m the most not alone. Everyone is up. Everyone is out. People are sitting on stoops and chatting on street corners. Lights are on and windows are open because this perfect 65 degree night absolutely demands open windows — and perhaps one more drink before bed. The light breeze carries all the smells and sounds of the night, and at the close of a Dodger game with no shortage of noise, why not celebrate with the city? Why not have a drink and stay up a little too late? We’re all here. We’re all doing it. Root, root root for the Dodgers.
A block from my car I pause at the door of The Gold Room on Sunset. It’s been years since I was here, long before its sudden closure in 2017 for a much-needed upgrade. It quickly re-opened with a craft beer menu, digital jukebox and a commitment to better fitting into to the rapidly-changing (read: gentrifying) neighborhood. Despite the re-branding, the same family has owned it for over 35 years.
I haven’t been to The Gold Room since December, 2014 when I’d met a musician and artist in town from Berlin who was Airbnb-ing a house around the corner. He ordered gin and convinced me to order one, too, with the special power that strangers from the internet can wield. I hated gin then, I hate gin now, and after three gin and tonics and inexplicably getting topless on the deck of that house he was renting, I swore to never drink gin again. The place does look better, though.
I order a Coors Light and a shot of whisky and was pleasantly surprised when the bill came to only $8. I notice there’s a hand-written sign on the wall advertising this all-night special: “$8 shot of whiskey and beer of your choice” I love when a bar reads my mind. The bartender brings me a bowl of peanuts. Buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks — I don’t care if I never get back. I spoke too soon about the peanuts, apparently. And suddenly, I care much less about getting back to my car. I will eventually, but after walking three miles in satin shoes this cool, dark room is a welcome retreat.
The Gold Room was not my night’s destination, but a bar can be many things. A bar can serve as a refuge after a bad date, an excuse to keep a good date going, or a place to kill time for a nobody’s-business reason. A bar can simply serve as a footnote to a perfect, early summer night; it doesn’t have to be the main attraction. The only requirements I have for keeping the night going are a place for me to sit, a good crowd and something cold to drink at the ready. One, two, three strikes you’re out at the old balllllgame…
Although Dodger Stadium is amazing, a dive bar, like The Gold Room, which has recently decided to disguise itself as anything but, is a much better place to drink. I recommend visiting both the next time you find yourself in Echo Park.