Los Angeles After Dark: Part I
Silver Lake, DTLA, North Hollywood, Santa Monica
Nightlife in Los Angeles unfolds very differently than it does in New York, despite abundant overlap in social circles and niches. The coasts are engaged in non-stop trade of their most creative people. Clubland hosts who make their name out east find their way here, relishing bigger venues, cheaper rents, and near perfect weather. Rising actors and artists build their portfolios here and then book gigs in Manhattan. A New Yorker piece by Cirocco Dunlap hilariously describes the constant crisscrossing.
I, however, am staying put. (My initial thoughts about the NY-LA axis of fame are here.) Two weeks into my move, I have done a juice cleanse, use an outdoor gym, and have an even tan. The only places I wear pants instead of shorts are campus or clubs. At the outdoor train stop at Cal State, I spot little lizards scurrying around foliage instead of massive rats eating garbage.
With LA nightlife, the parameters are different. Parties here end at 2 AM instead of 4 AM. This means that the night really gets underway by 11 PM, while in New York most hosts don’t arrive at a venue until a little after midnight. Also, car services like Uber and Lyft are much cheaper, so despite the sprawl of Los Angeles, it’s not incredibly difficult to bounce from a lame Mid-Wilshire event and head to a DTLA party (at least for those of us who are carless and didn’t have to locate and pay for parking). Consistently warm weather means that patios, terraces, and rooftops stay open even in January. A light jacket or wrap might be needed but it’s still pleasant enough that you can sit outside when you need a break from a crowded bar or dance floor.
The MLK Day holiday weekend coincided with a visit from my dear friend Suzie Hart, a Manhattan nightlife promoter (The Standard, Electric Room, Club Cumming) and fellow NYU instructor. She flew in to host with her collaborator, the fabulous bicoastal DJ Steve Cunningham. At Akbar in Silver Lake, the duo threw their 90’s-themed BUMP party, where Steve’s playlist kept the very mixed crowd moving. Suz arrived in an embellished and feathery David Dalrymple piece that shimmered magnificently under the disco lights. Billy Eichner, from American Horror Story: Cult and Hulu’s hilarious but now canceled Difficult People, stopped by and chatted intensely with a companion.
The next afternoon I met Suzie and Steve at Precinct in DTLA, where the organizers of Bearracuda were setting up for their traveling festival of the bearded and burly. Décor director and photographer Dusti Cunningham, whose bushy ginger beard perfectly complemented his blue glasses, had festooned the space with colorful phalluses, images of sexually suggestive emojis like peaches and eggplants, and massive printouts of angry or bizarre Growlr responses to their party invites. On the Precinct patio overlooking downtown streets at sunset, we spilled some tea about folks back east while sipping actual Long Island iced teas.
Later that night I toasted my thirty-sixth birthday at the Normandie Club in Koreatown and reunited with fellow east-to-west transplants and local performer friends like Sarah Johnson and Ingrid Praniuk. After a few rounds, Suz and I made our way back downtown for Bearracuda. The space was already packed with shirtless men, reminding me a bit of a Ladyfag party, but with bodies that were rounder and hairier. The go-go boys’ bouncing buttocks served as backdrop. We soon met notorious “terrorist drag” performance artist Christeene, who has collaborated with Peaches and Rick Owens, made-up James St. James for a Transformations round, and has been compared to beloved provocateurs Jayne County and Vaginal Davis.
I mentioned to Suz that I was reminded of my dear Rose Wood. In her interviews, Christeene talks about the grand universality of sex as filling holes, just as Rose describes it as rubbing parts. And like Rose, Christeene is also infamous for frightening stage acts but is extremely loving and kind in person. After dancing for a bit, we all made our way to the breezy patio. Christeene procured a cigarette and excused herself for a moment to absorb the downtown night.
The following night Suzie and Steve threw their disco-centric Crisco Disco at Bullet Bar in North Hollywood. Like the old Eastern Bloc back in the East Village, the venue screened raunchy gay porn and hired hot bartenders in tiny underwear to dispense drinks. But unlike any New York bar at that moment, Bullet had a spacious patio wide open to the night air, complete with a fire pit, fountain, and free burgers, hot dogs, and chili.
I filled my face hole with a burger and chatted with Suzie and a drunk young man who would later try to explain why his boyfriend voted for Trump. We fled his slurred justifications and Suzie kindly taught me the brass tacks of billiards, a game dependent on angles and impact — much like writing. A merry dentist sipped his fruity cocktails and playfully grabbed at me. He dispensed helpful pool counsel and cheered us on while twirling to Steve’s disco tunes.
We ended the night at the Santa Monica pier, where Suzie played skee-ball in her regal red couture and won three small stuffed Eeyore’s at a bean bag toss. We hopped on the Ferris wheel, entrusting our lives into the hands of happy teenagers operating the gigantic neon blue contraption. Selfies documented our spins: the twinkling shoreline behind us and the vast black void of the Pacific out in front. Suz had a flight to catch the next day so we made our way back inland. I encouraged her to consider joining me permanently in the Los Angeles sun. Back at NYU, a student who had been in both Suzie’s class and mine told me at the end of my last semester, “You’ll live your best life in LA.”