Friday, December 29, 2017

Wilson's Words of Wisdom: Top 10 of 2017

It’s hard to believe that yet another year is in the books. 

The other day, my friends and were marveling at how quickly 2017 flew by. It feels like just yesterday we were writing out resolutions we were bound to break a few months later. 

But alas, the year's almost over, which means it's that time for me to compile my annual list of the biggest, baddest moments on the #WilsonsGuide blog this past year. 

Take a look at the most memorable highlights that yours truly has written about throughout the year and tell me: what were the highlights for you in 2017, too? 

Drop your thoughts in the comment section below and most importantly, have a fantastic New Year! 


#10) The inaugural #WilsonsGuide monthly Round Up series launched! … I kicked off the year with a brand new blog series that features different must-visit places around Los Angeles. The series started off as an accumulation of whichever interesting spots caught my attention for the month, but then organically evolved into each post having a particular theme. So now, you can find the best of the best in the city, whether it’s rooftops, hidden bars, coffee shops, fried chicken, cool outdoor places or fabulous day spas that you’re looking for. Definitely expect the series to continue next year, too!

#9) L.A. is the land of the brunches … And one restaurant that’s dishing out an incredible Sunday brunch is Firefly, in Studio City. There’s nothing like spending a few hours in the subdued but ultra chic outdoor patio, filling up on the inventive breakfast and lunch creations by Chef Perry Pollaci. You’ll find a wide range of options — from sweet to savory, healthy to decadent, and light to filling. Plus, the breakfast cocktails here put a typical mimosa to shame; one of Firefly Studio’s Bloody Marys is made with Sriracha sauce and the Pineapple Express — made with vodka, elderflower liqueur, lemon and pineapple — is as pretty to look at as it is to sip.  

#8) Some things must come to an end … And unfortunately, Studio City's Cocina Condesa was one of those cantinas that simply didn’t make it into the New Year, let alone into the second half of 2017. But it still deserves a nod for it incredible, unique take on Mexican street food. No need to get elote off the corner when you could grab some here, along with four types of guacs, ten different tacos, lots of vegetarian-friendly dishes and $5 margaritas on Mondays. Plus, there’s not many restaurants where you could bite into crunchy little toasted crickets; these critters were a hit in the Guacamole Loco, pictured below. My tears of sorrow at its closing are slowly drying and I’ll just have to check out some of the other spots — mainly The Woodman and Geezer’s Public House —  from this restaurant group.  

#7) Motown the Musical came to Los Angeles … To sweep us up in a fury of catchy show tunes, out-of-this-world dance moves and the incredible story of how the famous Motown record label came to be. Held at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, Motown the Musical serves as the biography of founder Berry Gordy, Jr. and also features more than 50 Motown hits. At times during the performance, it was hard to hear the actual performers due to the audience voraciously belting along to songs, but that’s just a testament to how contagious the energy was for this three-hour production. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait long for Motown to return! 

Photo credit: Motown the Musical website

#6) The list of Top Black-Owned Restaurants, Bars, Lounges & Eateries gets expanded … For the second year in a row, I chose to highlight some of the best black-owned spots in L.A. — adding 12 new places to the list I had started in 2016. It's now at 18 strong and includes everything from traditional Southern soul food to vegan Ethiopian and good ole Chick Fil A. And, they’re casual hole-in-the-walls to fancy white-table-linen establishments. I’ll let you in on a secret: I’ve been on the prowl for more places to include, so expect a few more entries, come next February!  

#5) We got our travel on … Whether it was a quick trip to Palm Springs — specifically for Tangerine-Glazed Mandarin Calamari at The Tropicale — or to Monterey, which is about a half-day’s drive north off the Central Coast and offers a wide variety of fun ocean-related activities, I wanted to highlight some low in cost but high in value destinations that aren’t too far from the greater Los Angeles area. One exception was Oahu, Hawaii, which I just had to write about because it’s so darn gorgeous. And if you think visiting Oahu is only about posting up on the Waikiki beaches, think again. My island guide will have you roaming through Chinatown at night, eating some of the best authentic Hawaiian food and visiting isolated beaches off the beaten path. 

#4) Hawaii comes to Los Angeles … Speaking of Hawaii, over the summer, I got to attend the Chef Fest Preview Dinner — an amazing five course, Hawaiian-inspired dinner hosted by the Four Seasons Hualalai. Held at the swanky Redbird in DTLA, an intimate group of foodies, writers, bloggers and industry mavericks wined and dined, and most importantly, learned more about the resort and the actual Chef Fest food festival, which takes place each year in October at the Four Seasons Hualalai. From the oysters to the massive sea bass (pictured below) and roasted pineapple cheesecake, Four Seasons Executive Chef Thomas Bellec and Redbird Chef/Owner Neal Fraser made such an amazing dinner. 2018 goal: make sure that I attend the Chef Fest. Who’s coming with me?  

#3) The Gelato Festival debuted in the U.S. … For the first time ever, the Gelato Festival — already a hit in Europe that draws 50,000 attendees annually — launched in the States, making its rounds in four cities, including Santa Barbara. Just as equally exciting, yours truly was asked to be a festival judge, tasting and testing out 10 different gelatos made by gelato experts from around the world. I shared all about what it was like to be a judge, which gelato I loved the most and ultimately, which gelato maker ended up winning the entire contest in a blog post that you can read here.  

#2) Kerry James Marshall blessed us with his art … The MOCA Grand Avenue museum opened the “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry” Exhibition, which displayed the incredible paintings, artwork and larger-than-life murals that African-American artist Kerry James Marshall has created over the span of his 35-year career. Marshall positively highlights and brings undeniable worthiness to the multi-faceted black American experience, captured through his poignant and beautiful art. Running from March until July, the exhibition left the city all too soon, but you can still read all about it and catch a glimpse of his works here.

#1) A foodie festival for a very good cause … If there’s anything that I love more than eating good food, it’s eating good food for a good cause. The Masters of Taste took over the Rose Bowl once again, where more than 90 different restaurants, bars and food trucks — from all over the state — offered up bite-sized samples of food and libations. Better yet, 100 percent of proceeds — from 2,500+ ticket sales to be exact — were donated to the Union Station Homeless Services. And if you didn’t think it could get any better, it absolutely could. Even though a storm started to brew early into the afternoon, a little bit of thunder and lightning and lots of rain wouldn’t stop these festival attendees from sticking around in a wet, open field. Instead, guests cozied up and made new friends under the bright oranges umbrellas, the DJ played songs like Rihanna's "Umbrella" to keep the mood light and some brave souls even danced on the field. It was most certainly a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Wilson’s Words of Wisdom: December Round Up (Hidden bars in Los Angeles)

If there's anything I love more than a good cocktail, it's having to go through a top secret entrance in order to get it.

So for this monthly round up, I'm focusing on bars, speak easies, restaurants and lounges that don’t have typical entrances; you have to go through underground tunnels, hidden doors, the side of walls and other unusual — but super unique ways — just to get inside.

I won’t spoil the fun by giving away these seven places’ top-secret entrances, but I *will* highlight all of the reasons why you’d want to go through the trouble to check them out in the first place. Whether it’s showcasing alcohol from the 1900s or surprise musical performances, these places are providing great ambiance, great libations and of course, great ways to enter.

Are there any “hidden” gems that you adore (yes, pun intended)? Leave them in the comments section below! 

Old Lightning << no photo >>

Located within the swanky Scopa Italian Roots restaurant in Venice, Old Lightning is a comfy, mid-century modern lounge that serves up some of the oldest alcohols and most creative cocktails around. They have libations that have been around since 1906 and ones from every decade since. They also have a massive bible of cocktails that’s at least 40 pages thick, with hundreds upon hundreds of every type of drink you could imagine. Bar staff have suggested starting with a mood you’re in and then selecting a cocktail from one of the dozen categories that drinks are divided into. Or, you can also do makeshift tastings; name your price and liquor of choice — such as tequila or rum — and then get a round of tastings, based off the bartender’s preference. I did this once with whiskey and got Tennessee whiskeys from the ‘50s and ‘60s from distilleries that aren’t even around anymore! Old Lightning has a strict “no-photo” policy — hence the reason I don’t have an image up — and a very secret (but exciting!) way to get in that includes emails, checking in with multiple people and finally being guided into the actual space.

For more info

The Blind Barber

The Blind Barber in Culver City is a full-fledged barbershop, where a handful of barbers can shave, cut and trim you — all while offering a free beverage. But even though you may not need any hair services, you should still make a visit here — at least for the specialty cocktails and tasty grilled cheese sandwiches in the shop’s hidden bar / lounge. I’ll admit; it can be a little awkward just walking into the brightly lit shop space and having customers who are getting edged up stare at you as you walk past them to actually get to the lounge, but it’s still totally worth it! It’s in here that you can get 15 different grilled cheese sandwiches (pictured below) that are packed with artisanal ingredients like sautéed peppers and roasted jalapeños, and also gourmet cheeses, including smoked Gouda, Vermont white cheddar and manchego. I also love that there’s always at least one specialty cocktail that’s featured on the happy hour menu. Random fun fact #31: Dave Chappelle performed here earlier this year when he was in the city filming for his Netflix special, “The Age of Spin: Dave Chappelle Live at the Hollywood Palladium.”

For more info

Break Room 86

Photo from Break Room 86 website

Tons of Hollywood’s finest flock to The Line Hotel on Wilshire Blvd. in Koreatown for the Pot Bar Lobby, its trendy lounge, and Commissary, its rooftop restaurant. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see a line wrapped around the block to enter the hotel’s main entrance on any given Friday or Saturday night. But what’s definitely not as crowded is the entrance to Break Room 86, an energetic, ‘80s-themed bar / lounge that plays a nonstop rotation of alternative, rock and pop music from the decade. Always packed, Break Room 86 has nostalgic relics from the era, such as arcade games and boom boxes. While I’ve only peeked in and never participated, they also have karaoke rooms, if that’s your thing. And, the most fun part of all in my humble opinion — aside, of course from how you get there in the first place — is that Break Room 86 has surprise guest performances throughout the night from some of our most beloved entertainers of the past. Last time I was there, I got to "meet" the King of Pop himself just before a performance.

For more info 

La Descarga

Photo from Houston Hospitality website

Located in the heart of Los Angeles, La Descarga is the self-proclaimed old Havana speakeasy of the city. It’s a hot, sultry Cuban-themed bar and lounge that's been on the block for quite a few years. After entering, you’re standing in a space that’s soaring with chandeliers hanging from high ceilings and with vintage seats and tables hugging velvety walls adorned with knick-knacks like old books and portraits (note: for guaranteed seating, you have to make advanced reservations). Lively Latin-influenced music streams throughout and on specified nights, there are even live music and dance performances (see below). Food isn't served here — only cocktails — and off to the side is a cigar lounge. Tip: there is a dress code, which prohibits t-shirts, caps, sneakers and other casual items for the fellas and encourages “cocktail dresses and heels” for the ladies, according to its website. La Descarga is ran by Houston Hospitality, a nightlife group that runs Break Room 86 mentioned above and a host of other L.A. bars, including Pour Vous, Harvard & Stone (another fave) and No Vacancy in Hollywood, which also has a very funky entrance.

For more info

Photo from Houston Hospitality website

Birds & Bees 

DTLA’s Birds & Bees has made an appearance on the #WilsonsGuide blog quite a few times earlier this year and I can't help but to mention it once again, as it most certainly deserves to be on this list. Once inside this underground lair, you’ll be transported into a bona fide 1950s drinking den, complete with servers dressed in attire from the decade. The cocktail program features potent drinks made with curious and unusual ingredients — like Chinese five-spiced cordials and masala-infused cognacs. Right now for the winter season, they’re whipping up the Danny Kaye — a take on the Manhattan, with coconut infused bourbon, sweet vermouth, Pedro Ximenez sherry, cynar and bitters. It also comes with a crispy coconut treat on the side.

For more info

The Varnish

Photo from The Varnish website 

The Varnish in DTLA was actually one of the first speakeasies I ever visited and eventually wrote about — seven years ago when I first launched this blog, and I'm delighted to see that it's still chugging along, all these years later. This tiny, one-room bar was once a storage room and now has some pretty cool features, including a dark, cozy atmosphere, live jazz on select nights and bartenders who are as knowledgeable after their craft cocktails as they are dapper and charming (and they’re pretty darn dapper and charming). Part of The Varnish’s allure is also where it’s located; it’s in Cole’s The Originators of the French Dip Sandwich, a historic sandwich shop that originally opened in 1908 and reopened in DTLA in 2008. There's nothing like grabbing the “French Dipped Sandwich” — thick slices of meat stuffed between a French roll and accompanied by savory au jus sauce — before throwing back a few drinks in The Varnish!

For more info

Laurel Hardware

Photo from Laurel Hardware website 

The first time I entered Laurel Hardware in West Hollywood, I did a double take. I wondered: was I even in the right place?? The hostesses kindly reassured me that I was and proceeded to take me through a decked out, decadent space that includes a bar area, indoor seating and a quaint outdoor patio. And whether it's indoor or outdoors, there's most certainly no bad seat in the house. The bar area gets packed and can be standing room only, but if you're lucky, snagging the chairs perched right next to the ceiling-to-floor glass wall offers great views of the patio. The patio itself has a ton of great options, too, under a canopy of lush, vibrantly green trees. The restaurant offers American classics for weekend brunch, happy hour and dinner. I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed their seasonal cocktails; a few of the ones I recall trying during the spring were very colorful, light and refreshing, with a great taste.

For more info

Photo from Laurel Hardware website 

Monday, November 20, 2017

And Where Do You “Where To?”: 7th Annual Thanksgiving Edition

It’s that time of the year again!

Aside from pumpkin spiced lattes, apple cinnamon scents and fiery autumn colors, it’s also the season of Thanksgiving — yes, the time for copious amounts of turkey, but also the time when I turn my blog over to other fantastic bloggers to share the places that they're “thankful” for throughout Los Angeles. I love doing this because it’s a chance for all of us to put more restaurants, bars and lounges on our radar to check out!

This year, four phenomenal ladies have shared their recommendations below — from outdoor dining in the marina to indulging at down-to-earth Mexican eateries. Check them out below and of course, don’t forget to drop the places you’re thankful for in the comments section below.

Most importantly, have a wonderful holiday with family and friends. 

Happy Thanksgiving! 

“No matter the day or time, I can always go to Post & Beam and feel at home. I’ve ventured here for brunch and dinner on multiple occasions, taken girlfriends and family, or gone for date night, and always had the best experience. The food is what I call ‘conscious comfort food’ and the ambiance is warm, cozy and inviting! My favorite things about this spot are the live jazz on weekends, the shrimp and grits and that they grow their own herbs in the back! Often times, the owner will seat you or come by and check on you… it just feels like an extension of home in L.A.!”

- Ashley Tyrus

“Looking for strong drinks, appetizing cuisine and a great time? Casablanca Restaurant is the place for you! Located just a few blocks from the beach, Casablanca has been serving Venice, California for over 30 years with their famous homemade flour tortillas, Mexican food, live music and their very own 'Create Your Own Tequila Experience.' With a selection of over 250 tequilas, Casablanca brings the party to your table with their Tequila Express bar, which is just one of the many reasons this small restaurant has become a local favorite. Get ready to embrace this charming restaurant's love for old Hollywood, delicious food and let the drinks flow!”

- Chelsea DuHaime

“I love to highlight amazing designers for the petite fashionistas out there. However, a (petite) girl's got to eat, too! My favorite sit-down spot would have to be SALT Restaurant and Bar. I found it while scouring the Westside for a new, fresh seafood restaurant. SALT is located in the Marina Del Rey Hotel. The restaurant has a very upscale look, but the vibe is everything and then some! Upbeat electric music playing, giant flatscreen TVs all over and dim lighting set the mood here. If you are looking for a great lounge, this one comes with a view of the marina and communal fire pits for relaxing outside. The prices aren't cheap, but if you come during happy hour, you can get a host of drinks and appetizers for under $15! I highly recommend this place if ambiance is high on your list. Food was amazing and well worth the price. Be sure to check in for 10 percent off of your meal (does not include happy hour items). If you haven't already, go check it out! Love and Lux!

- Jessica Blackwell

“My recommendation is Boxwood on the Roof — that is on the roof of The London West Hollywood. When you want to rise above the chaos of living in Los Angeles, this rooftop bar — and there is a pool on the other side — offers 270-degrees view.”

- Sarah Harris 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Where to Travel: Monterey, CA

There’s surely no shortage of quaint coastal cities and towns spanning the California coastline, and I had the opportunity to visit one of these places during a recent Fall weekend adventure: Monterey!

A five-hour drive from Los Angeles, at first glance, Monterey looks like a sleepy little town. It’s hard to imagine that in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was the capital of Alta California, part of Spanish colonial territory, and that at one point, it was also home to the state’s first-ever newspaper and public building.

But lo and behold, Monterey has a very rich history and better yet, a lot of present-day attractions that are close enough to one another that you can see several within a day.

Plus, being so close to Monterey Canyon (the largest and deepest Pacific coast submarine canyon) and to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (a federally protected area thriving with an abundance of marine life), many points of interest in Monterey are related to the sea. Whether it’s venturing off on a wild whale watching excursion, passing by former sardine canneries on Cannery Row or opting for seaside dining, you’re never far from the majestic, deep blue Pacific Ocean.

I literally can’t wait to get back and should you ever find yourself wondering if you, too, should visit, the answer’s yes, and here’s the #WilsonsGuide Top List of Monterey to know what to do when you’re there! And if you've already been, leave your suggestions for what to see here, in the comments section below!

Not more than a mere several blocks long at most, this main drag of New Monterey is packed with touristy attractions — restaurants, hotels, gift stores — many which are housed in former industrial and canning buildings that have been renovated and painted in bright, crisp colors. Walking down the street, you get a sense of what it must have been like at the height of Monterey’s fishing industry boom, right at the turn of the century. Make sure to also go behind the buildings on the east side (pictured below); not only will you get incredible views of the water, but you can see remnants of the old docks and buildings that haven’t been torn down yet.

For more info

I got a lot of raving recommendations to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium and prior to going there, I really didn’t understand all the hype. I mean, it’s just a bunch of animals behind glass walls, right? Wrong! This place is teeming with diverse marine life — more than 550 types of species to be exact, ranging from penguins to crabs, sea otters, jellyfish and sharks. You’ll be able to get up close and personal to the tiniest of invertebrate sea creatures to massive turtles. Better yet, you can definitely sense the care and substantial amount of knowledge that the staff has about the animals. When checking out the afternoon feeding for the sea otters, the staff gave so many interesting tidbits about the lifestyle and diet of these little creatures. Tip: Set aside at least 3 to 4 hours for your visit here. I went for two hours and it still didn't feel like I got to see everything!

For more info

5) Where to Be Merry: Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf is tiny compared to wharfs in other cities, say like San Francisco, but it still has old-fashioned charm and a special magic all unto its own. There’s something serene about wandering up and down it, in the early morning, before all the stores and restaurants open, inhaling the strong smell of raw seafood and feeling the crisp, chilly air gently glide across your face. By midday and the afternoon, it’s wide-awake and action-packed, humming with tourists and restaurant workers hollering at people to try free samples of clam chowder and confectionery stores tempting kids of all ages with sweets like candy apples, cotton candy and salt water taffy. As the hub to access many marine activities — such as whale watching, sailing and fishing — you may certainly find yourself coming here, so make sure to spend time looking around and even having a meal at one of the eateries (yes, it’s touristy, but totally worth it). There are lots of picturesque views, including of the nearby marina.

For more info

Domenico’s right on Fisherman's Wharf is delicious, reasonably affordable and offers a hard-to-beat view of the nearby marina (check out the view from our table, pictured above!). The clam chowder was by far the best on the wharf — and we tried a lot of free samples from other places. Domenico’s free calamari appetizer (pictured below) and its cheap happy hour with surprisingly decent wine and tasty margaritas make stopping by here feel like a good value. Recommended entrée: the lobster ravioli. With so many restaurants on the wharf, it can be hard to figure out the best one to try, but my bet would be on Domenico’s!

For more info

Located right on the edge of Cannery Row, Schooners features spectacular seafood and stunning views of the Monterey Bay. While its bright and colorful bar is beyond inviting, it’s really on the outdoor patio where you want to be. It’s here that you’ll have sweeping views that stretches for miles and miles. It’s so peaceful and calming, you just may find yourself kicking back and relaxing for a few hours, like I did. Aside from a priceless vista, Schooners offers a wide selection of seafood, from appetizers like the Steamers, pictured below — Chardonnay-steamed clams swimming in a garlic, lemon, butter broth — and entrees such as the Seafood Salad, a staple that’s never left the menu since the restaurant first opened, and includes Dungeness crab, shrimp and seared tuna, all tossed in a creamy mango sauce. Also, throw in an order of the Baja Style Tacos, topped with guac. You won’t regret it!

For more info 

2) Where to Drink: Starlight Rooftop Lounge @ Vesuvio Bistro Italiano

I had asked a Monterey local for a good place to grab a cocktail, and he suggested I head over to Vesuvio. Technically not in Monterey but in Carmel instead (which is like a 15-min. drive away), Vesuvio is this charming Italian restaurant right in the heart of Carmel’s tiny town square. But here's the catch: once you enter the restaurant, the key is to act like you know where you’re going, head directly past the hostess stand and take the stairwell that leads up to Starlight Rooftop Lounge — a dazzling space decked out in hanging lights, roaring fire pits and a small bar. Apparently, this is the place where locals go to drink and it’s the only rooftop lounge in Monterey County. While there were certainly people dapperly dressed, it has a very low-key vibe and is a tranquil place to grab a nightcap. While I didn’t try any of the food, it is available from the restaurant below.

1) Where to Be Merry: Discovery Whale Watch

There are a handful of different whale watching companies to select from, but Discovery Whale Watch most certainly sets itself apart from the crowd for a few good reasons: 1) the maximum number of passengers they take out is 30, while a lot of other places can take out way more 2) there are always two marine biologists / naturalists onboard each excursion and 3) hands down, this is one of the liveliest, rowdiest, most fun crews around! Discovery Whale Watch offers morning and afternoon tours that last about three hours long. We had the incredible opportunity to see a pack of humpback whales chasing off a team of orcas, who were busy “playing” with a bird they severely injured and simply wouldn’t kill off (these orcas had noooo chill). Aside from whales, there’s literally so much wildlife to see, from the seals sunbathing on rocks in the marina to the thousands — and I do mean thousands — of jellyfish floating in the ocean. The crew made sure to point out that each trip is different, and sometimes there may be no activity at all and other times there will be a lot, but they always try their hardest to get up-close-and-personal to the action. A trip to Monterey simply isn’t complete without a whale watching excursion. And as a tip, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium before going whale watching; it’s a great way to quickly get familiar with all of the different sea life that resides within the bay and that you may see while you’re out!

For more info

Quietly tucked away from all of the action in downtown Monterey, the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa is a sprawling hotel right on the edge of the Del Monte Golf Course. A wide variety of amenities are available here, including the Marilyn Monroe Spa, tennis courts, two pool areas, several restaurants and a lounge, which features live jazz bands on weekend nights. Surrounded by looming California pines and buildings painted in a rich forest green, the grounds really offer a calm ambiance — a great getaway for couples and for families. Stay in one of the View King rooms directly overlooking the golf course; it's cozy and affords beautiful views of the golf course.

The hotel also has worthwhile points of interest, if you're staying there or not: 
  • TusCA Ristorante - Led by Chef Logan Sandoval, this casually upscale restaurant has a big focus on sustainability, working with local vendors like the Carmel Honey Company, the Twisted Roots winery and the famous Niman Ranch. With a focus on fall, TusCA dishes out simplistic, but still homely dishes. For more info 

  • Knuckles Sports Bar - While much of the rest of the hotel might be snazzy, Knuckles is quite casual, with a plethora of TV screens streaming all sorts of sporting events and popcorn kernels freely strewn all over the tile floor. Expect much more than standard bar food, though; gourmet burgers and other American faves are as hearty as they are flavorful. Definitely opt for the wings. They're crispy and come in zesty flavors, like Thai chili and Honey-Sriracha. For more info
  • The Lobby Lounge - A hotel lounge may not be the first place in mind as a weekend evening destination, but this isn't any ordinary lounge. It transforms into a swanky hangout where jazz bands that take special requests rotate in and out. Bartenders also whip out cocktails that are creative with a gorgeous aesthetic. For more info

Disclaimer: Courtesy complimentary services were provided by Discovery Whale Watch and the Hyatt Regency Monterey; all opinions are still my own. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Wilson's Words of Wisdom: October Round Up (Indoor-Outdoor Coffee Shops in Los Angeles)

There’s most certainly no shortage of amazing cafés and coffee shops in Los Angeles. Whether it's the ambience, the coffee itself, the pastries or some other factor, there are literally hundreds upon hundreds of places, that on any given day, can give you that perfect coffee experience.

For this monthly round up, though, I wanted to narrow down the large list and specifically focus on places with incredible spaces — both inside and out.

From the gorgeous to the out-of-the-ordinary, I'm talking about places that have patios that look like gardens or have motorcycles proudly displayed throughout. Whether ultra-modern, classic or homely, however they may differ in style, they don’t differ in offering outstanding coffee in a highly detailed ambiance.

So whenever you’re ready to engross yourself in a good book, connect with friends for a few hours or find a location for a first date, below are the coffee spots to have on your radar!

Bar Nine

If you didn’t know to look for it, you’d probably never find it. Bar Nine sits right on the corner of National Blvd. and Helms Ave., within a slightly residential, slightly industrial part of Culver City. It has a minimalist, open and airy space, with stark white walls accentuated by hints of greys and natural browns. The vibes are super casual, with a couple of metal bleachers lining some of the walls, a few barstools paired with long, thin tables and a record player accompanied by vintage speakers and records that look like they’ve been around for decades. Outside, patrons can lounge on old crates. The staff is super serious about coffee, even boasting an onsite roastery in the back (see pic below). Aside from coffee, there’s a limited menu of pastries, brunch items and other beverages like teas, which come served in mason jars.
For more info

Deus Ex Machina

It’s an art gallery! It’s a men’s specialty store! It’s a café! Wait — no — it’s all of those — and more! Holding it down as the only location in the States, Venice’s Deus Ex Machina has one of the most unique — and coolest — coffee shop spaces I’ve ever seen. Unassuming from the outside, once inside, it’s like the millennial “man cave,” with an array of hip apparel and accessories for men in the store and motorcycles, literally everywhere — from the giant mural on the outside wall to actual bikes, poised front and center all around. Deus Ex Machina baristas take the purity of coffee extremely serious; don’t expect any additives, like sugar here (and yes, I’m speaking from personal experience; I asked a barista for a side of sweetener one time, and he looked at me as I had asked for bleach. He was literally like, “I don't understand what you mean.”). From the large communal tables to the superior coffee and tasty snacks — like toast with almond butter — Deus Ex Machina is definitely worth visiting!
For more info

G&B Coffee @ Grand Central Market

Grand Central Market has been a #WilsonsGuide fave for years, but it’s only recently that I discovered G&B Coffee, a coffee stand located inside of the market, right next to the South Hill St. entrance. High circular barstools surround an island where baristas churn out cups — and shots — of coffee. Speaking of shots, G&B Coffee has this “Magical World of One & Ones” menu, where shots of coffee are paired with goodies like ginger beer, ice cream and cappuccinos. G&B Coffee has a quick, no frills, fast-paced ambiance and it's the perfect location to take a quick breather while checking out all of the action happening in Grand Central Market or outside, on the bustling DTLA streets. Best selling point: Its real estate, right in the heart of a historic L.A. landmark.
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Rose Cafe

Separated into several different sections — a restaurant with two patios, a deli / coffee stand and a bar section — Rose Cafe boasts a vibrant space that’s absolutely enchanting. A chic, California vibe with lots of rustic accents and shrubs and greenery permeates throughout, and I just love the hanging plants over the communal tables in the bar section (pictured above). Coffee’s bold and delicious, always served with a nice presentation. Stop by for a quick bite to eat, grabbing one of the premade sandwiches or salads / sides that change daily, or stay for a longer meal, such as the weekend brunch. And if you do decide to dine at the restaurant, go ahead and order that side of curry fries. Other fun facts: it’s popular amongst celebs, and literally every single time I’ve gone with friends, we’ve spotted some actor casually dining with friends or associates.
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Society Kitchen 

With everything from daily happy hour, weekend brunches and frequent paint nights, Santa Monica’s Society Kitchen is the quintessential neighborhood hangout spot (and very, very kid-friendly, should inquiring minds want to know). The café makes a respectable cup of coffee, but honestly, I find myself also dropping by for everything else — the sangria, the open-faced smoked salmon toast (pictured below) and the decadent desserts, like the carrot cake. Painted in blacks, whites and shades of grey, the interior has a clean, classic look and a patio that shines underneath the strings of circular nights at night.
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Urth Caffé

With six locations from Santa Monica to Laguna Beach and everywhere in between, Urth Caffé has been a SoCal staple for decades. And, it’s one of those landmarks where if you’re in L.A., you have to visit at least once, because it is such a household name. It’s known for its tantalizing meals, exquisite pastries (like the fruit tart, pictured below) and assortment of coffees and teas. One of my favorites is the Spanish Latte Granita (also pictured below), a frothy, ice-blended coffee drink loaded with flavors like cinnamon and lots of caffeine. I’ve been to the DTLA and Beverly Hills locations, the latter, which I adore. It’s reminiscent of a cozy cottage, complete with a white picket fence and a fireplace inside, also with prime seating on its patio. Tip: there’s no wifi in the Beverly Hills location, so if you need the internet, bring your own hotspot.
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Verve Coffee Roasters

Verve Coffee Roasters’ patio in WeHo may be small, but it has tons of charm and character. Engulfed by overgrown shrubs and decked out with strings of hanging lights and wooden fixtures, it’s like being in an urban garden setting. There’s also a smaller patio that has just stools facing out towards Melrose Blvd. Aside from featuring coffees roasted on vintage roasters, the menu features very health-conscious options, like Chia Pudding and a Farro Beet Salad. Although personally, I’m going straight for the pastries, pictured below! Verve also has locations in Tokyo, Santa Cruz and San Fran, and two additional cafés in L.A.
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Zinc Café & Market

Situated in a somewhat obscure, but “up-and-coming” (read: gentrified) part of the Arts District near DTLA, Zinc Café is part-coffee shop, part-specialty store, part-restaurant and all kinds of cuteness. There are two patios — one that’s for the coffee shop, which isn't anything special — and one that’s affiliated with the restaurant. That patio is charming and quaint, and the place to sit, so definitely ask to sit out there, when you go. Nestled between two buildings, it has a bright feel, with leafy trees and white umbrellas providing ample shade. After a cup of joe and a pastry out there, make a quick stop at the indoor market (pictured below) before you leave, to pick up all kinds of high-end knick knacks and snacks, from cookbooks and aprons to wines and food to-go.
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