Is Downtown LA the New New York?

On a recent Friday afternoon I cleared out and headed south on the 101 looking for my latest fix of urban energy. First stop was the indispensable Downtown Standard, Andre Balazs’ oasis of cool on 6th and Flower. Everything about this place works, from the lobby, which now includes a branch of Rudy’s barbershop, to the jusitifiably famous rooftop bar and swimming pool. It’s a rare venue that can sustain this level of hip comfort and satisfaction for years on end, but the Standard Downtown, despite the crowds on weekends and the occasional presence of industrial strength dorks, continues to make guests feel like they have nowhere (else) to go and nothing (else) to do—in a very good way. Thanks to musical director Diallo Riddle, the common areas of the Standard are continually awash in uncanny mixes that cull the best of the newest music and contextualize it in a way that makes it all go down smooth. While the nighttime activity on the roof gets most of the ink, the really fun party is during the day, when the boys and girls in bathing suits mingle in the pool to Riddle’s daytime soundtrack.

Friday night I went to a show sponsored by the Echo but held at the Cooper Design Space, a loft in the vicinity of South Los Angeles and 8th. The triple bill put a DJ, Diplo, on last, and gave the coveted midnight hour over to the spirited Brazilians known as Cansei de Ser Sexy (translation: “I’m too tired to be sexy.”) These girls tore it up, with a sound that lands them somewhere between early Beastie Boys and Miami Bass. Singer Lovefoxxx climbed the sound system, dove off the stage, and encouraged the hyper-trendy crowd to “act a fool” when security tried to calm her down. It was a great set, showing just how accessible brand new whole genres can be when they are presented in the right way to the right crowd. The emaciated kids who populate Mark Hunter’s Cobra Snake photoblog were out in force, and even my jaded LA friends were impressed by the energy. “It’s like a rave!” marveled Natalia, a dancer with one foot in the desert and another in the stars.

Saturday night offered two more specifically downtown, decidedly trendy events that were, paradoxically, not initially intended for or marketed to the hipsters. The Los Angeles Tofu Festival, held outdoors in Little Tokyo, is a community event that has been colonized by the people in the tight pants, but which retains its ethnic flavor quite nicely, thanks. While waiting around for headliners Blackalicious to take the stage one could feast on a truly mind-bending assortment of tofu treats, including okonmayaki (Japanese pancakes), tofu burritos from East LA, and tofu pad thai. Gorgeous young people mingled with Japanese and Korean families while the downtown cops looked on and the smell of fried tofu ascended to high-rise heaven.

Over at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the Rauschenberg exhibit anchored the Night Visions event, which keeps the place open on Saturdays until midnight. The crowd at MOCA was better dressed and slightly older than the average at Cooper Design Space on Friday, but the energy there was also terrific. Slam poet Saul Williams was booked on the main stage, but other engaging activities were stratetgically situated throughout the space. While the Rauschenberg show deserved to garner the most attention, as it is big, beautiful and incredibly rich, the Eva Hesse drawings exhibition is also of great interest and subtle, steadily increasing appeal. Art museums all over the country are moving in this nightclub-ward direction, but MOCA’s event, one of the first, remains among the best.

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