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Eat Drink | LA’s Arts District

by Patrick J. Comiskey
June 6, 2018

Food trucks at the Sunday Smorgasburg, outside ROW DTLA.

This spring, while exploring Los Angeles for a new West Coast office, LA native Samantha Johnson and I roamed Downtown (DTLA) to check out its many emergent neighborhoods and ended up in the Arts District, a buzzing cultural engine east of Downtown, and a teeming enclave for some of the most exciting food and drink trends in the city.

Like an island off the eastern shores, the Arts District is separated from Downtown’s high-rises by hulking warehouses, a huge wholesale flower market, a gaudy fashion district and not least, by the vast squalor of Skid Row. A decade ago, artists and developers began rescuing old warehouse spaces, expanding south and east, toward the river. The neighborhood feels defiantly urban: there are no palm trees, there’s no Hollywood sign in the distance, and the ocean breezes have long since petered out.

Now murals burst from every wall, cafés proliferate like butterflies in indoor-outdoor spaces, and what was once bleak and industrial has become pedestrian, and human. So after more than 30 years in the Bay Area, Wine & Spirits’s West Coast offices have a new home, in the Arts District. As we’ve gone exploring, we’ve found a vibrant community of restaurants and bars, and newcomers generating some of the city’s most anticipated openings.

Ryan Ibsen is into his fourth year as wine director at Bestia Ryan Ibsen is into his fourth year as wine director at Bestia
The restaurant Bestia remains the area’s biggest draw, backing onto the LA River on the District’s eastern edge. There, Ori Menashe churns out wildly creative, quasi-Italian food while wine director Ryan Ibsen fashions a high-acid, whites-heavy wine list to counteract the rich dishes, like the famous veal tartar crostino, or slow-roasted lamb neck with salsa verde.

Closer to our new digs, the multiple venues run by chef Angelo Auriana and restaurateur Matteo Ferdinandi have us all but surrounded. Their three restaurants, Factory Kitchen, Officine Brera and the soon-to-open Sixth & Mill, constitute a veritable duchy of Italian kitchens. Officine Brera is the flagship, in a high-ceilinged space with what LA Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold calls one of the best risotto plates in town; all have wine programs—not all Italian, but nearly so—headed up by Francine Diamond-Ferdinandi. It is a comfort knowing that one block away from our office is a bar pouring Berthona Timorasso by the glass.

Just down the street from the Greyhound terminal is Everson Royce Bar, an outgrowth of a Pasadena wine shop. Envisioned as an industry hangout by owners Randy Clement, April Langford and Joe Capella, ERB has kind of a split personality, or, as they used to say about mullets, business in front, party in the back. The bar is sleek and elegant: a long marble surface, a wall of backlit spirits and a long leatherette banquette. And then there’s the patio, with picnic tables, string lights and a beer-garden vibe. The kitchen is run by Matt Molina, who not long ago manned the kitchens at Campanile and Osteria Mozza; Chris Ojeda oversees the bustling cocktail program.

Graffiti in the Arts District. Graffiti in the Arts District.
Church & State Bistro qualifies as the Arts District’s pioneering upscale restaurant, a stunning indoor-outdoor space occupying the first floor of the equally stunning National Biscuit Company lofts building. Next door is Daily Dose, an alley café and lunch spot; nearby, the Little Bear bar and the Pour Haus wine bar will assist with any thirst.

For daily bread, you can head to the Bread Lounge for a sandwich or a country loaf; the bakery supplies bread for a number of area restaurants, including Church & State, and baguettes for our tastings as well.

Speaking of Drinking
Four years ago, Greenbar fired up its still on Eighth Street, becoming the first spirits producer to open in Los Angeles since Prohibition. They’re making a huge array of clear and amber spirits, amaros and liqueurs, drawing, in particular, from the bounty of citrus available here in Southern California—and all of it organic.

Behind our office, in the Factory Building, is YSA (Young State America) Distillery, distilling smallbatch vodka, while the Spirit Guild makes gin and a vodka they call Vapid, presumably to highlight its purity. Lost Spirits Distillery, three doors down, has already signed for some of our errant wine shipments (and a new office rug). They make brown spirits—rum and whiskey, ostensibly—and through some impossibly high-tech accelerator, subject their spirits to ‘esterification,’ a process which, they say, replicates 20 years of cask aging in less than a week. That’s right, it’s a time machine for booze, and the result has already won several awards, including one from Wine & Spirits: It was included in our Best Spirits of the Year roundup in 2015.

Francine Diamond-Ferdinandi is beverage director and partner at The Factory Place Hospitality Group, which includes Officine Brera. Francine Diamond-Ferdinandi is beverage director and partner at The Factory Place Hospitality Group, which includes Officine Brera.
Not sure what it is about warehouse districts, but they seem to attract breweries, and we have three within walking distance. The closest is Iron Triangle Brewing Company on Industrial Street, its taproom lurks unmarked among the produce terminals in an elegant, old red-brick building (though a food truck inevitably gives away the location).

To the north are two mainstays of the early brewery incursion: Angel City Brewing Company, on Traction Avenue, in the site of an old plant responsible for, among other things, the steel cables that suspend both the Brooklyn and Golden Gate bridges. And, just down the street, the Arts District Brewing Company, whose ambiance is enhanced by its proximity to Fritzi Coop, a resource for beer-friendly chicken snacks—roast, fried and sandwiched. And speaking of sandwiches,Wurstküche is one of the area’s first food ventures; they stuff any number of things into casings, including exotic animals. It’s your go-to place for rattlesnake, elk, pheasant and alligator sausages, which you can wash down with any one of 50 beers on the menu.

If you’re seeking wine, the partners at ERB have opened Arts District Wine, the sister shop to Silverlake Wine, or there is Wine-Stop, on Santa Fe, a retail outgrowth of the eclectic JK Imports. There, partner Alvaro Cardenas will help you find small-production gems from Italy, Spain, Portugal and Georgia.

Randy Clement and April Langford, partners at Everson Royce Bar and Arts District Wine. Randy Clement and April Langford, partners at Everson Royce Bar and Arts District Wine.
And There’s More…
There are significant projects waiting in the wings. Bestia’s Ori Menashe is opening his second restaurant, around the corner from the first, called Bavel, and meant to reflect Menashe’s home cuisine in Israel and the Middle East. Former Manresa chef de cuisine Jessica Langey is assembling a crack team of beverage and cocktail specialists for Simone, devoted to new California fare and slated to open in late spring on Hewitt Street. And a West Coast location for Cosme, Enrique Olvera’s popular Manhattan Mexican restaurant, was just announced across from Bestia on Seventh Place and Santa Fe.

And then there is ROW DTLA. Once the home of a vast produce terminal that was linked to the Southern Pacific Railroad,ROW DTLA is slowly being populated by small design firms, bespoke retailers and offices, and promises boundless food and drink options. At the moment, your best bet is the Sunday Smorgasburg, where food booths and trucks serve everything from banh mi and porchetta sandwiches to tacos to arepas, Amazebowls and Bumblecrumpets.

Perhaps the best part of ROW DTLA is yet to come: Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt, the forces behind the San Francisco culinary multiplex Tartine Manufactory, have teamed up with LA-restaurant developer Bill Chait to open a 38,000-square-foot version here, with plans to house a bakery, restaurant, café, coffee roaster and bar space. We’re anxiously anticipating a late summer opening.

DIRECTORY

Restaurants
Bestia, 2121 E. 7th Pl.; 213-514-5724, bestiala.com

Bread Lounge, 700 S. Santa Fe Ave.; 213-327-0782, breadlounge.com

Church & State Bistro, 1850 Industrial St.; 213-405-1434, churchandstatebistro.com

Daily Dose, 1820 Industrial St.; 213-935-8189, dailydosela.com

Everson Royce Bar, 1331 E. 6th St.; 213-335-6166, erbla.com

Factory Kitchen, 1300 Factory Pl.; 213-996-6000, thefactorykitchen.com

Fritzi Coop, 814 Traction Ave.; 213-537-0327, fritzidtla.com

Little Bear, 1855 Industrial St.; 213-622-8100, littlebearla.com

Officine Brera, 1331 E. 6th St.; 213-553-8006, officinebrera.com

Pour Haus, 1820 Industrial St.; 213-327-0304, pourhauswinebar.com

Würstküche, 800 E. 3rd St.; 213-687-4444, wurstkucherestaurant.com

Wine Retail
Arts District Wine, 1948 E. 7th St.; 213-335-6235, silverlakewine.com

Wine-Stop, 1025 South Santa Fe Ave.; 888-946-3329, mywinestop.com

Distilleries
Greenbar Distillery, 2459 E. 8th St.; 213-375-3668, greenbardistillery.com

Lost Spirits Distillery, 1235 E. 6th St.; 213-505-2425, lostspirits.net

Spirit Guild, 586 Mateo St.; 213-613-1498, thespiritguild.com

YSA Distillery, 1300 Factory Pl.; 213-290-4074, loftandbear.com

Breweries
Angel City Brewing Company, 216 Alameda St.; 213-622-1261, angelcitybrewery.com

Arts District Brewing Company, 828 Traction Ave.; 213-519-5887, 213hospitality.com/project/artsdistrictbrewing

Iron Triangle Brewing Company, 1581 Industrial St.; 323-364-4415, irontrianglebrewing.com

Coming Soon
Bavel, 2121 E. 7th Pl.; TBD
Cosme, 2124 E. 7th Pl.; TBD
ROW DTLA, 777 Alameda St.; rowdtla.com
Simone, 447 S. Hewitt; 213-221-2837, simonartsdistrict.com
Sixth & Mill, 1335 E. 6th St.; sixthandmill.com
Tartine Manufactory; tartinemanufactory.com

> photography by Jeremy Pangilinan

This feature appears in the print edition of the June 2018.
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