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Downtown Diaries

I love Los Angeles with a zeal reserved for transplants. Which means I still love to drive anywhere at the drop of a sun hat. Breakfast in the Valley, window-shopping in Beverly Hills, drinks in Echo Park and dinner in Malibu--Iím down.

MUSIC

El Rey Theatre

A grand chandeliered palace of a venue, the El Rey Theatre in Wilshire is my favorite place to see edgy acts without having to fight for parking in the Hollywood traffic.

The architecture alone is amazing. Built in 1936 during the heyday of art deco, it was originally a first-run movie theater designed by Clifford Balch (who has more than 20 area gems to his name). The sweeping staircases and streamlined modern lobby are still super-impressive.

The small capacity (771 people) and standing-room floor space mean itís a great place to catch acts on their way up--or even bands riding a renewal of popular interest (Superchunk and the Pixies will both play shows in the coming weeks).

This month, I plan to head over and check out Venice Beach native Sky Ferreira, whose electro-pop single ďEverything Is EmbarrassingĒ had me humming along last year.

CULTURE

The L.A. River, of course.

This 52-mile-long glorified drainage ditch is having a moment, thanks to the L.A. River Regatta Club, an organization devoted to getting us to love our increasingly cleaned-up waterway by hosting a bunch of quirky events throughout the fall.

On September 21, for instance, Iím signed up for a daylong adventure where Iíll get to tool along the shore and visit local businesses, including a surfboard maker and a pickle factory.

Lots of club events are open to the public, but the nominal membership fees (starting at $11 a month) are worth it, since members get first dibs on tickets to in-demand events.

ART

Dream Concerts

Though Iím forever impressed by the quality of art in this fair city, my latest discovery is really a must-see.

Dream Concerts, which runs through October 7 at MOCA Grand Avenue, is essentially a series of posters for epic rock shows that would have been amazing had they actually happened. Think: the Velvet Underground playing with Sonic Youth and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

The show comes courtesy of French-Portuguese graffiti artist Andrť Saraiva, who got his start in the late í90s by plastering his top-hatted cartoon figure Mr. A all over Parisian streets. Next, Saraiva devoted himself to running nightclubs with record producer Paul Sevigny, creating hot spots like Parisís Le Baron and New Yorkís now-shuttered Beatrice Inn. I worked the door one night at his pop-up club Paul and Andre here in L.A., and I remember the evening fondly for its naughty celeb behavior and bawdy stage show.

Perusing Saraivaís posters at MOCA, I felt like I was in on a particularly fun inside joke.

FOOD

Alma

Downtown L.A. is one of the countryís most happening food neighborhoods, and my favorite spot--the 39-seat Alma, helmed by 26-year-old chef Ari Taymor--is a real underdog story.

Taymor is a baby to be so skilled and celebrated. (He never even had his own restaurant before, and Alma was just named Bon Appťtitís Best New Restaurant of 2013.) But I totally understand the hype.

Perhaps most impressive is that Taymor effortlessly pleases both techie foodies (you know, the guys who like their molecular gastronomy) and terroir purists (the ones who want to keep things simple). As a result, his dishes are striking without being crazy-fussy.

The menu changes daily, so thereís no telling what you might be served. Best just to order the tasting menu, sit back and enjoy.

STYLE

Ten Over Six

Iím busy chasing the best of the best all over town, so I donít have time to browse high and low when Iím looking for a new outfit. When I need a dependable style infusion, I head to Melrose Avenue boutique Ten Over Six, and I never walk out empty-handed.

This boutique was started four years ago by Kristen Lee and Brady Cunningham, two cool chicks who have been friends since they were students at New Yorkís Parsons design school. Thereís always something new to love, from a small indulgence like hip RGB nail enamelto a fabulous Rachel Comey jacket or a cross-body bag by Lizzie Disney.

Thereís also a selection of super-cool art. I regularly stop by just to check out the rotating gallery show.

I've lived in the Dallas area since I was a kid, and I can remember a time when Fort Worth had no downtown and Dallas's Uptown was nonexistent. An equal opportunity shopper, I have no trouble contributing to both citiesí economies.

MUSIC

Court Yard Hounds

Iíll admit it: Iím a giant Dixie Chicks fan. So Iíve obviously followed the careers of Emily Robison and Martie Maguire (a.k.a. the Court Yard Hounds) with serious interest.

Their newest album, Amelita, is definitely worth a listen.

Without Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Mainesís raspy voice, the duoís sound relies heavily on harmony. Luckily, Robisonís lead vocals are both powerfully soaring and sweetly catchy. I canít get the first single, ďSunshine,Ē out of my head.

Even when theyíre not channeling shades of Sheryl Crow, the Court Yard Hounds still have their tongues planted firmly in cheek. Iíve had the album on repeat for about a month now.

CULTURE

City of Love Art Project

I like a good public art installation as much as the next girl. But thereís a new community-wide initiative thatís really got me excited: the Dallas Love Project, which features some 20,000 pieces of original art, all about L-O-V-E.

For the budding artists among us, contributions are still being accepted; participants are encouraged to create their personal love testaments, which should feature famous quotes about things that get your heart jumping.

Still, Iíll probably hold out until the show goes live. From September 21 to November 30, the pieces will hang inside businesses along JFKís motorcade route (which started--appropriately--at Love Field). I canít wait to do a walking tour of the collection and stop at Mutts Cantina for a bite along the way.

ART

The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Despite its relative youth, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth is an iconic building--and Iíve really enjoyed exploring it in recent years.

From Anselm Kiefer to Francis Bacon, Gilbert & George to Rothenberg and Rothko, the Modernís 2,600-plus permanent holdings are enough to keep me entertained for pretty much an entire week.

But Iím also really into some of the newer acquisitions--for instance, Jenny Holzerís site-specific light installation called Kind of Blue and local artist Vernon Fisherís 84 Sparrows. You canít miss KAWSís 16-foot-tall sculpture Companion (Passing Through).

Even the food at the museum is terrific. I never miss a chance to dine at chef Dena Petersonís Cafť Modern, where I always get the Moroccan chicken salad.

FOOD

Hospitality Sweet

Downtown Dallas has plenty to distinguish it, but the area recently became even sweeter with the addition of Meghan Adamsís Hospitality Sweet confections shop. Iíve long loved Adamsís delicate desserts, which I first discovered tucked away in the Brit-furnishings wonderland Timothy Oulton). The feathery-light macarons and signature mini treats are insane.

Almost as good are the more savory options. The brisket sandwich is basically like elevated roadside barbecue, if roadside barbecue joints used Empire Baking Company bread.

STYLE

Ten Over Six

The new Ten Over Six clothing and gift shop in the revamped Joule Hotel is California-cool incarnate. (Though I like to think thereís also a hint of Dallas-inspired style.) Kristen Lee and Brady Cunningham, owners of the L.A. cult-favorite store of the same name, have amassed a loyal following for their boutiques by traveling the continent and buying fashion-forward clothing and accessories to sell in them. Think Rachel Comey shoes from New York and Ilia organic makeup from Vancouver.

I recently snagged a pair of Jenni Kayne díOrsay flats and a gorgeous mid-length trench from Apiece Apart, and Iím pretty sure theyíll both become part of my fall uniform. After Iíve worn out my shopping shoes, I love to grab a latte at Lee and Cunninghamís snazzy new Weekend Coffee, just across the lobby. Itís the perfect cherry on top of this downtown delight.

Arkansan by birth, New Yorker by choice, weirdo by nature. Most weekends you can find me planted on a bench in Tompkins Square Park with the love of my life, Bruce Wayne. (Heís a dog.)

MUSIC

Folksy locals

Remember when Arcade Fire shocked the country by taking home the 2011 Grammy for Album of the Year and then proceeded to close down the show jubilee-style? What about the first time you heard Mumford & Sons harmonize? Itís officially the decade of meadow-skipping indie rock.

And while we donít exactly have a wealth of wide open spaces here in NYC, we are home to a shockingly large contingency of folksy crews.

Take the Defibulators: Theyíre a seven-piece, old-timey country collective that reside in ďindividual, non-mobile homes in Hoboken, Harlem and Brooklyn.Ē As a Southern native myself, itís nice to have a slice of home, even if youíve lived in Manhattan for years.

If you like your tunes a little less country and a little more rock íní roll, check out the í70s-style reverb of Country Mice. The Kansas and Upstate New York natives always make for a solid road-trip playlist. Opening track suggestion: ďFestival

But the absolute must-download of the bunch is Sharon Van Etten. Her voice is impeccable, her melodies are relaxed, and her sound isnít overly down home. If youíre a Joni Mitchell fan, sheís the girl for the next generation. Let ďSerpentsĒ convince you.

CULTURE

Museum

I hope youíre ready for the absolute strangest thing in New York City. Sorry to report itís not the Coney Island freak show (although thatís not too far off). Itís the worldís smallest museum. Itís literally the size of an elevator since, well, itís in one.

Simply known as Museum, this hodgepodge of oddities is housed in a freight shaft along Cortlandt Alley right below Canal Street at the corner of Franklin.

If you pop by on weekends from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., you can step inside and browse tip jars from around the world, rejected Cambodian menu photography, foreign toothpaste tubes and childrenís bulletproof backpacksÖthat also happen to be Disney-themed. (I told you itís weird.)

Any other time in the week, you can still get in on the action by peering through the eye-level viewing windows and calling into an audio tour. Just be sure to catch it before the season closes on October 1. Iíd hate for you to miss the shoe that was thrown at George W. Bush.

ART

Citywide Murals

Guys, New York is the s#%t in so many ways, but especially when it comes to art. But one can take only so many trips to the Whitney, the Guggenheim and the Gagosian before it all starts to blur together.

In my opinion, the most fascinating works in the city arenít hanging in a gallery; theyíre spray-painted onto the side of a building. And I just so happen to live by two of the cityís most rad canvases. (Humble brag.)

First, the mural wall at Bowery and Houston Street is a no-brainer. The displayed works usually incorporate vivid colors, but the current pop-art explosion by REVOK and POSE takes it to the next level. And while youíre in the hood, hook a left up Bowery and swing by the Ideal Glass Gallery on Second Street. The smaller rotating facade--like so--never ceases to blow me away.

But naturally, Brooklyn is in on the action too. Take the F train to York Street to see Shepard Faireyís peace-and-justice-themed work for Dumbo Walls. Or if youíre making a Robertaís run, take the L train an extra stop to Jefferson Street for a stroll by the Bushwick Collective. Prepare thy Instagrams.

FOOD

White Pike Whiskey

Cocktails are like water in these parts. But itís not always how you make the drink; sometimes itís just what you make it with.

Thatís why Iím in full lockdown-obsession mode over White Pike whiskey, which is distilled in the Finger Lakes (and was the brainchild of an NYC ad creative).

Its sweet, buttery finish will make you weep over the years youíve wasted on vodka sodas. Substitute the smooth clear whiskey in your favorite cocktails(oh Lord, yíall, the Bloody Marys youíre about to have). Or get crafty and infuse your own old-school Cherry Coke. You may never look at a gin and tonic the same way again.

STYLE

Return of the Backpack

If thereís one thing New Yorkers know, itís the power of the ďitĒ bag. It makes a statement and hauls our crap everywhere--whatís not to obsess over?

Naturally, Iím still riding the Cťline Trapeze high, but despite the everyday need for a structured lady bag, thereís a style at the other end of the spectrum that has the town abuzz. Iím talking about the triumphant return of the backpack.

Sure, the Cher Horowitz-inspired sacks were ripe to make a comeback at some pointÖalong with every other í90s fad. (I see you, crop tops.) But the real reason this trend is blazing the street-style charts is because of Citi Bikes.

Ever since the sharable two-wheelers descended in May, weíve seen an onslaught of double-strapped Alexander Wangs, Brian Atwoods, Madewells and even Topshops in every line from Balthazar to Birch Coffee. But thereís still one unicorn of a bag Iíve yet to spot: the vintage Chanel. If you snag one of those, itís game over. You officially own this town.

The thing I love most about living in Chicago—this gorgeous city Iíve called home for 12 years—is Lake Michigan. Just sit on the beach and squint your eyes, and youíll always feel like youíre on vacation.

MUSIC

Green Mill and Lincoln Hall

Nothing makes me feel cooler than a night of top-notch jazz at the famous Green Mill in Uptown. Iíll never forget the first time I went there and encountered the clubís no-talking-while-the-band-is-playing policy, which I initially thought was extreme but now totally appreciate. (Iím so over shouting in bars.)

My favorite midsize venue for hearing on-the-rise bands is Lincoln Hall , where acts like local singer/songwriter Andrew Belle or Copenhagen-born artist Oh Land play in a modern space with great acoustics. Thereís also an awesome view from the balcony (get there well before the show to snag a spot) and some truly irresistible tater tots in the restaurant downstairs.

CULTURE

Hubbard Street Dance

Little-known fact: I was a band nerd in high school. Maybe thatís why Iím always seeking out the newest in Chicagoís vibrant theater, classical music and dance scenes.

Iím pretty much in love with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, the contemporary troupe that tours the world and graces the Harris Theater stage for a few days each season with its awe-inspiring programs. A night of watching these dancersí magnificent bodies float, glide and leap is truly a donít-miss. (Confession: Iím so entranced, I always spend the intermission poring over their bios in the program.)

The next in-town Hubbard Street series kicks off on October 10, and it includes the world premiere of a new work by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, plus a romantic duet, Passomezzo, set to familiar folk songs.

ART

The Art Institute of Chicago

Have you ever noticed how well dressed everyone is in an Impressionist painting? I mean, just imagine if Seurat painted a scene of todayís Chicagoans lounging by the river on a Sunday afternoon? (Hello, sea of skinny jeans and Lululemon.) But I digressÖ

Anyway, thereís no chance Iím passing up on the opportunity to see the Art Institute of Chicagoís fabulous Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity exhibit one last time before it closes at the end of September. Itís the perfect union of good clothes and high art.

Iím also a big fan of photography, so when Iím in the mood for a low-key gallery experience, I stop by the free Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College. Right now it has a striking exhibit of three artists who tell autobiographical stories through their photos. As an avid Instagrammer, Iím inspired!

FOOD

Downtown Indulgences

When I want to hobnob with movers and shakers, I do lunch at Le Colonial, the Gold Coast French-Vietnamese restaurant where the potted palms and rattan chairs make you feel like youíve found a little slice of paradise. I always start with the soft salad rolls, and my favorite dish is the trout steamed in a banana leaf with cellophane noodles and a rich curry sauce on the side.

Speaking of indulgences, lately I canít stay away from the cheeseburgers at old-school-meets-new-school diner Au Cheval. That place is one of the reasons Iím glad fall is here--itís a much better season for a restaurant thatís dark and moody.

Just a few doors down is an even newer favorite, Little Goat, where I canít seem to get enough of the chickpea salad and the sinfully good French toast with fried chicken and maple-bacon syrup.

My favorite drink? The fruity rum cocktails at the just-opened tiki bar Three Dots and a Dash. Once the first snowfall hits, itís going to be my in-town vacation spot.

STYLE

Local Boutiques

I have a few big parties on my fall calendar, so right now Iím dying for a gorgeous embellished cocktail dress from Chicago designer Azeeza Khan. Most of her pieces are feminine, flowy showstoppers--you definitely donít need to wear jewelry with these feisty numbers.

That said, when Iím in my usual fall uniform of black on black, I like to keep things interesting with a big vintage necklace or chunky earrings. For those, I head to the 900 Shops--my favorite place to wile away the hours when itís either too hot or too cold to walk around outside. There, Iíll browse the jewelry at LuLuís on the Avenue or Ladybug Vintage.

Outside and right across Walton Street is Sofia, a boutique I like to hit up for work-ready outfits and casual pieces with edge. They donít do boring at Sofia, and I love that everything feels a little rock íní roll--especially the black diamond bar earrings by Chicago jewelry designer Dana Rebecca. Iíve had my eye on those for way too long.

A former New Yorker, I moved to oft-foggy San Francisco almost two years ago. I've since learned the merits of farm-to-bar cocktails and hiking in Marin, though Iíve yet to master dressing for the microclimates.

MUSIC

Sean Hayes

You might recognize SFís resident singer/songwriter Sean Hayesís song ďPowerful StuffĒ from the 2011 Subaru commercial, but his impressive catalog goes way beyond that one iconic jamÖand Iíve been a fan for quite some time.

Hayes has been making music here since the í90s, when he moved to SF from Charleston, bringing his gravelly voice to various venues around town. Influenced by R&B, reggae, folk and gospel, his sound is raw and soulful. His new album, Before We Turn to Dust, was written and recorded the year he became a father, and you can definitely sense that gravitas in the songs. The title track is one of my favorites.

Hayes is playing at Long Meadow Ranch on the 15th, and then has two shows at the Independent on November 8 and 9. Itís one of the best places to see a show in the city--and itís conveniently within walking distance of my apartment. So, um, see you there!

CULTURE

Weekday Wanderlust

I recently went to my first Weekday Wanderlust gathering at the Hotel Rexís Library Bar and was blown away by the literary talent assembled there. The monthly reading series is devoted to showcasing local travel writers, both veteran and up-and-coming, who share fun stories about their recent globe-trotting.

When I went, Natalie Baszile (whose debut novel comes out in 2014) recounted a frog-hunting expedition on the Louisiana bayou, Suzanne Roberts (recently named the ďnext great travel writerĒ by National Geographic Traveler) offered a side-splittingly funny tale about a brush with a dangerous Florida storm, and Rachel Levin (a San Francisco magazine contributor and member of the Writersí Grotto) detailed her trek to Canada for an ex-boyfriendís funeral after his tragic death. I was in tears by the end of it.

Afterward, everyone sticks around to chat with the writers over cocktails. For a book-and-booze-loving fool, it was the perfect Monday night.

ART

Museum of Craft and Design

Some museums have such a--how do I say this politely?--stuffy feel, like you have to tiptoe around and use your library voice. Not the new Museum of Craft and Design in Dogpatch. This is a thoroughly modern, welcoming place that engages with the community and encourages interactivity.

I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek right before the opening in April and have been dying to go back ever since--I was kind of obsessed with Arline Fischís copper-wire jellyfish.

Currently on view through October 6 is a fascinating exhibit for design junkies, which explores the evolution of Herman Miller furniture. But what Iím most jazzed about are the monthly Etsy Meet & Make seminars, where local artists lead two-and-a-half-hour DIY tutorials. Past guests include Workshopís Kelly Malone, who led a session on moss-on-wood art. On September 12, Rebecca Saylor of OodleBaDoodle will teach you how to craft your very own sunglasses case. The $10 admission fee includes all supplies and ďadult beverages.Ē Not a bad deal.

FOOD

20th Street between Florida and Alabama

Itís virtually impossible to choose a favorite restaurant here--this city is breeding James Beard-nominated chefs or something. But there is one corridor in the Mission that Iíve unofficially deemed the foodie (and booze) triple threat : 20th Street.

Letís start at Salumeria, run by acclaimed chef Thomas McNaughton. Stop in to order one of their insane sandwiches (like salami, pepper relish and mozzarella on a pretzel roll) or pick up fresh provisions to make your own.

I ate one of my favorite meals of all time next door at Central Kitchen, also run by McNaughton. On a recent menu (it changes regularly), a roast hen was accompanied by crŤme fraÓche potatoes and yellow elder flowers. Herbs and produce are grown on the restaurantís roof.

Before or after dinner, Iíll grab a cocktail at the Trick Dog, run by the Bon Vivants. For a real kick, sip on the Evil Woman, made with chile liqueur, scotch, cinnamon, lime and Mandarine Napolťon.

STYLE

Temescal Alley

There are plenty of places to do some quality shopping in the city--Fillmore Street is a regular stop for me, especially with the new additions of Joie and Sandro. But lately, my favorite strip of stores is on Temescal Alley over in Oakland. It has become this concentrated microcommunity of talented local designers who are making and selling their goods within steps of one another.

On my recent visit to Ali Goldenís boutique, the owner was there behind the counter, working on one of her signature waxed canvas bags. Though itís a small space, itís brimming with her drapey, well-tailored pieces that are just so NorCal cool.

A few doors down, pop into jewelry designer Marisa Haskellís shop slash studio to see her latest global-inspired baubles--Iím particularly into the leather fringe Amsterdam necklace. Another crazy-talented jewelry maker, Lauren Wolf, sells edgy gems (witness her claw rings) at Esqueleto, right down the alley.

Go and embrace the un-Union Square-ness of it all.

COMMENTS