Old haunted haunts, troubled waters and secret rooms
Pick your poison, noir tourist, and the City of Angels will intoxicate with its beauty-on-the-edge-of-gloom aura and time-bubble pit stops.
Pop by downtown’s Millennium Biltmore Hotel (506 S. Grand Ave., millenniumlosangeles.com) and suck in the ghosts of Golden Eras past, specifically the Jazz Age, while tying one on at its sprawling gold-hued bar. Order a Black Dahlia, named after a failed actress whose evisceration became so famous that it nearly drove a young James Ellroy mad. This is where they shot “Pretty in Pink” Mission Impossible 3, Wedding Crashers and Dreamgirls.
The walk of shame and love for sale
Meanwhile, up in Hollywood, on Santa Monica near La Brea Avenue, voyeurs can troll L.A.’s notorious transvestite hooker strip, famous for that pre-dawn morning when Eddie Murphy was arrested for allegedly soliciting a “Lo-Lo-Lo-Loooola” of the night. For a wider breadth of broken souls, hit the star-embedded Hollywood and Vine sidewalks, where once-aspiring actors now drift like aged zombies through mens’ shelter lobbies: The real Hollywood Walk of Fame.
But for bona-fide stargazing, get that snapshot of Hollywood-land’s famous sign out of the way, then go down the hill and dare to stand outside the gates of the imposing 1920s-built mansion compound that is the Scientology Celebrity Center International (5930 Franklin Ave.). But not for too long…… ‘personality’ testers will pounce…
Watering holes, night-owl dives and final calls
If you’re taking a noir bar crawl seriously, hire a car (or find a designated driver) and make it a night, with destinations including: the nautical-themed HMS Bounty Bar (3357 Wilshire Blvd., thehmsbounty.com), in Koreatown; the tiny Tiki-Ti lounge (4427 W. Sunset Blvd, tiki-ti.com), in Silver Lake, with its neon-hued cocktails and eclectic clientele; and the duo of dark-wood echoes of 1940s Hollywood that are the Frolic Room (6245 Hollywood Blvd.) and Boardner’s (1652 N. Cherokee Ave., boardners.com). It got a gussying up some years ago, but the Formosa Café (7156 Santa Monica Blvd.)—with its Chinese lanterns and old-school “Oriental” vibe—remains a must-stop on the noir trail, and hosted a “reveal” moment in “L.A. Confidential.” By all means do order a vodka gimlet at Musso & Frank Grill (6667 Hollywood Blvd., mussoandfrankgrill.com), in continuous operation since 1919. Noir god Chandler wrote “The Big Sleep” in the joint’s now-defunct “Writer’s Room” and hung out at the still-intact bar with Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Orson Welles. And if you’re downtown, head to the King Eddy Saloon (111 E. Fifth St., kingeddysaloon.com), a former bootlegging headquarters and the last surviving Skid Row-era bar, featured in John Fante’s L.A.-set noir “Ask the Dust.” The King Eddy acts as a self-conscious rebuttal to the trendy faux-speakeasies that have overrun downtown’s bar scene. On its website, a menu footnote reads: “Bet your ass we use a microwave.”
Go-go bars, pickup parlors and derby dames
A dozen notches further down the degradation scale are L.A.’s infamous “bikini bars,” with their exhaust-fume-dulled, flashing-neon “NUDE GIRLS” signs—most of them more 1960s nostalgic than “gentlemen’s club” prurient. Crazy Girls (1433 N. La Brea Ave.) has been amusing bad-boy actors and cheap-thrills seekers for years with its $3 happy hour drinks and a setting straight out of a Roger Corman flick. But nothing quite tops Jumbo’s Clown Room (5153 Hollywood Blvd., jumbos.com), the crème de la crème of this type of operation. It’s essentially a stripper pole on a stage, in a tiny bar, in a nondescript strip mall, in the middle of Thai Town. With its potent cocktails, you won’t leave unstirred.
Gregg Segal for The Wall Street Journal
If your fancy runs more toward girls beating one another insensate for sport, perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to find yourself in La-La while roller derby season’s hitting the boards. The tough-love L.A. Derby Dolls have built a gritty little mini-empire at The Doll Factory (1910 W. Temple St., derbydolls.com/la) on the east side of town, in a neighborhood where you wouldn’t take your grandmother (unless your grandmother already lived there).
Diners, coffee shops and late-night bites
Hungover from the hair of the dog the morning before that turned into evening? Head to one of the many L.A. spots that cater to the hairy set, by day and by all night. You can always do the “Grand Slam” at Denny’s. But a more “Pulp Fiction” alternative is the 101 Coffee Shop (6145 Franklin Ave., the101coffeeshop.com), featuring brown leather booths and ’60s décor, housed inside a 1930s-era motel a few blocks from the highway exit that provides its name. Catfish and eggs will do.
More old school, though, is the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Fountain Coffee Room (9641 Sunset Blvd., beverlyhillshotel.com), a no-fuss fixture where insider Hollywood drops in for counter flapjacks and real coffee, as they covertly read about how “boffo” the box office treated them Monday morn. Is Robert Evans there? You bet he is. Nearby, on Rodeo Drive, you could step farther back in time and have a noisy lox plate next to Larry King and a bickering gaggle of truly “old” school agents at Nate N’ Al deli (414 N. Beverly Drive, natenal.com), circa 1945, unchanged from the golden day of the yenta. Honorable mentions go to: Cole’s (118 E. Sixth St., colesfrenchdip.com) downtown, home of the salty French Dip; the mahogany rush of Hamburger Hamlet (9201 Sunset Blvd., hamburgerhamlet.com); and the 24-hour-pastrami-since-1931 Canters Deli (419 N. Fairfax Ave., cantersdeli.com).
High-wattage spots, bold-faced tables and read all about it
In L.A., you’re only as good as your luncheon table.
The power lunch spots come and go, but some don’t—ever.
Take The Ivy (113 N Robertson Blvd.), or the jungle-shrouded garden at the Chateau Marmont Hotel (8221 Sunset Blvd., chateaumarmont.com)—all of them formidable venues where careers are made and dreams are broken, or so you imagine but don’t really know because you weren’t invited to the party.
Fast cars, drive-thrus and motor lodges
Treat yourself to some retro-ambiance, be in your own noir movie and rent a 1959 Cadillac or some other vintage make, courtesy of Cinema Vehicles (cinemavehicles.com). The operation can provide any mood you want as long as you have $400 plus for the day (and your own insurance). The cliffhanging, menacing Mullholland Drive, famous in too many chase scenes and body drops to name, is always a good choice. Head up Laurel Canyon to the top of the drive, turn right or left, and you’ll find “killer views” on either side. For maximum sleaze effect, gaze northward over the San Fernando Valley, where 85% of the world’s porn films are made. Then venture into some of the world’s worst traffic toward the Malibu Riviera Motel (28920 Pacific Coast Highway, maliburivieramotel.com), open since 1947 and perched over a rotting cliff by the shore.
You’re in L.A, home to some of the greatest and most enduring drive-thru burger stands and quick-stop doughnut shops in America—
Cons and cops have been dipping glaze in java amicably at the city’s doughnut joints since the ’40s. But as you leave L.A., why not stop at the mother of them all: Randy’s (805 W. Manchester Blvd., randys-donuts.com), out there in Inglewood, near the LAX turn-off, since 1953? The drive-up’s now-iconic plaster doughnut sign—most recently close-upped in “Iron Man 2″—makes an apt metaphor for all of L.A.: One big, but delicious, fat free hole.