Echo Park: You could say it echoes Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and Bushwick; it could even be described as a less developed version of its neighbor, Silver Lake. This neighbourhood, about 10 minutes from downtown LA, has that artisan feel so prominent of local communities that attract a newly-moved-in younger demographic of artists, foodies, and entrepreneurs.
Take Brite Spot, for example. I’ll admit to having passed by it a few times, dismissing it as just another old school American diner. Hey, it’s painted bright blue, it’s on busy Sunset Blvd, and claims to be Echo Park’s Original Diner since 1949. Ever since I supposedly had the best margarita in New York – ugh, it wasn’t good – I have avoided places with any such (inflated) connotations. However, my husband twisted my arm based on favourable Yelp reviews, and so we drove inland one very warm Sunday in May for brunch.
What a pleasant surprise. As soon as you enter, the left side of the diner is outfitted with bronze vinyl curved booths and large windows that let in the gorgeous light. The perpendicular wall is lined with mirrors and intermittent black & white light sconces; wooden swivel pub chairs surround the breakfast bar. Its interior is a little bit retro crossed with some vintage, and complemented by wood paneling and exposed beams – it all works. Think: a 70′s ski chalet in the city. The menu features on-trend items like an egg topped kale salad and a vegan Garden Burger as well as modern twists of expected diner fare: 2 eggs any style with sausage and bacon (note: substitutes include egg whites, tofu, or veggie bacon). The diner’s dessert display case is filled with old fashioned favourites like the Chocolate Caramel Banana Creme Pie piled high with freshly whipped cream, and a sinfully sweet looking Key Lime Pie. The food is good. Really good, and fairly priced.
Served by a tattooed plaid shirt wearing waitress and surrounded by patrons, old school and new school, the Brite Spot feels like a microcosm of what’s happening in Echo Park today.
So, what is going on in this ‘hood, you might be asking?
Here’s what Eric Brightwell had to say in November 2011 via the Los Angeles Times:
All you hipster-haters need to check yourself. Yes, hipsters are offensive to the eyes, ears and nose and yes, they provoke violent urges in me but remember, the Echo Park you grew up in wasn’t always that way either. Echo Park began as a wealthy, white, Victorian neighborhood. Places change for the better and for the worse. I remember El Prado when it was a dive (I liked it then) and like it as a posh wine bar too (certainly there are more women in there now).
I miss some of the old Echo Park but it’s still got the Film Center, Pizza Buona, Echo Park lake, the Baxter Stairs, the memory of Room 8 the Cat, Jensen’s Rec Center (with its cool sign).
My advice? Ignore the haters, the hipsters and (most importantly) the hype. It’s not the Williamsburg of LA, it’s Echo Park… oh, and lying WEST of the LA River, don’t be an idiot and call it the EASTside.*
Today, this part of Sunset Blvd looks relatively unchanged – it is lined with burrito joints, markets, furniture shops, liquor shops, and tobacconists. Here and there, we’d notice a truck selling delicious smelling Mexican food. New condos developments stand in between many Craftsman-style homes built in the early 1900s. If you take a drive down Echo Park Ave, you’ll pass new coffee shops selling $5 pour overs and catering to WiFi dependents, as well as a yoga studio, a quirky boutique, hair salon, a bodega, and a real estate agent.
We scouted a beautiful home on Valentine Street. Designed by architect Raphael Sorriano and built in 1938, it is a salute to Modernism – sleek , simple, and lots of windows. Because the neighbourhood is so hilly, many homes have great views towards the Hollywood sign, Griffith Observatory, downtown LA, the Valley and the 5 Freeway. Some downhill descents are so steep that with the gradual build up of momentum, and a subsequent “woosh,” your car feels like a rollercoaster.
Echo Park is certainly an area to watch and has the familiar feeling of a community on the verge… It’ll take some time to get there but I am happy about that as things seem to happen way too fast in this technology driven world.