New York is known as the city that never sleeps. If you can make it there … well, you get the idea. It’s a city that’s set in its ways and works for some. Across the country, though, is Los Angeles—a city whose story is as malleable as the thousands (and thousands) of film and TV scripts that course through the industry town’s veins daily. Nothing is written in stone—or even pen for that matter—in L.A., and that’s exciting.
Want to be in a city that never sleeps? Head to Koreatown. Need to feel like an ant under the weight of towering skyscrapers piercing into the night sky? Downtown’s got you covered. Craving sand in your toes and the sea breeze in your hair? Yeah, L.A.’s got that too.
With a sprawling landscape and an inherent mandate for constant reinvention, L.A. is limitless. And that can be empowering or daunting, but either way you should still take the plunge, because there is always a community that will accept you with open arms and a stiff drink.
We spoke to a few patron saints of the city’s reemerging nightlife scene about what makes Los Angeles so electrifying right now.
“LA is having a moment right now,” says Masha Martinovic over the phone. There’s excitement in the 26-year-old’s voice. As one half of Dig Deeper—a DJ/production duo and curatorial outlet—Martinovic’s pride is warranted because after three years of throwing some of the greatest underground parties that LA has ever seen, she knows what she’s talking about.
Along with Alison Swing, Dig Deeper brings the duo’s discerning ear and unique aesthetics wherever the music takes them—“from glittering rooftops to desert scenes and grimy warehouses.” This breadth of locales might sound like an exaggeration, but, if anything, Martinovic is being modest.
On any given night, she and Swing are transforming any space that they occupy—all in the name of spreading the good sounds that they’ve defined as “warm house.” “We started [Dig Deeper] out of mutual love of the same type of music,” says Martinovic (MASHA behind the decks). “We just weren’t hearing that sound around the city [when we were starting out].”
The exclusionary atmosphere of that wealth-driven movement inspired the pair to take their parties to private residences and old warehouses. “The underground scene that we’re a part of has developed so much in the last few years… You don’t have to go to Berlin or Europe to see the [best] DJs because we’re booking them and bringing them here.”
Martinovic’s thrilled by the explosion of this curatorial mindset in LA’s underground: “Friends are booking people that I’m not too familiar with or I haven’t heard of, but because this promoter is booking it you end up trusting them, checking out the show and discovering new sounds.”
Trust is what keeps Dig Deeper growing, especially in the face of the underground’s fragility. “Overall, the music is most important to us,” stresses Martinovic. “We’re not the only underground party that’s out there, but by showcasing these sound, we’re contributing to the city’s cultural landscape.”
TAKE A MUSICAL JOURNEY THROUGH L.A. WITH DIG DEEPER
“Korean culture… is work hard, play hard.” Beer Belly’s Jimmy Han is getting ready to open for the day. “Koreatown has always been its own little bubble. The [biggest] change since we opened five years ago is a lot more people are discovering Koreatown who aren’t Korean.”
Conveniently located in between downtown, Hollywood and Beverly Hills, Koreatown has become an essential nightlife hub. And smack dab in the middle is Han’s quintessentially not-Korean establishment. “I didn’t want to do the same thing that everyone else is doing in Koreatown,” Han explains. “There were great places that do that already, so for me [opening Beer Belly] was more about bringing what’s outside of Koreatown to Koreatown.”
Beer Belly focuses on craft beer and elevated American comfort food. “I wanted to make sure we were unique and different,” says Han. “It was about giving people new discoveries.” Han attributes the Koreatown boom to hungry foodies and an iconic figure to lead them: “It’s a crazy melting pot in LA, so when [Jonathan] Gold started talking about ‘hole in the wall’ places for pork neck soups, that’s when people started coming into Koreatown to try different bars and restaurants.”
When entering Koreatown, night owls have endless options for a “choose your own adventure” evening. “It’s getting much more diverse,” says Han about Koreatown’s after-dark options for unique eats and secret spots for debauchery in karaoke booths and 24-hour spas. “It’s always evolving and a lot of it has to do with the culture and the community: there are a lot of liquor licenses, it’s dense… Even in 2008, when the market took a crash and everything wasn’t on the up and up, Koreans supported Korean businesses. People here are still going out, to drink and eat, even if it’s not the best of times.”
Now that feeling of community is expanding to a new demographic who want to immerse themselves in the neighborhood. “Koreatown’s always been a different beast and now, finally, the rest of the city is discovering that it’s got everything you need.”
At UCLA, Kushan Fernando and Jose Guzman threw ripping house parties and after college they didn’t want to stop. Thus, Brownies and Lemonade was born. Or, really, according to Fernando, it was slowly born through sporadic parties and a lot of meetings.
“I told everybody on our team that if we really put some effort into this and make this a really serious thing, we could turn [Brownies and Lemonade] into something that people would really like and follow,” he says. The group, which now includes Chad Kenny, Alai Tseggai, Evan Washington and Dan Kagan, settled into a groove once they started presenting regular gigs at The Lash. “We started to go on a consistent basis doing things based on emerging artists or artists that we thought had a cutting edge sound. We felt really strongly about getting artist out here to perform in LA.”
Hearing Fernando talk about artists that B&L have nurtured through their showcases, he sounds like a proud papa. He rolls through names like Lido, Jai Wolf and Louis the Child with the same, if not more, excitement as when he mentions the heavy hitters that the group attracts like Skrillex and Dj Quik.
And even with their stacked schedule—two to three shows a week—Fernando knows that he’s in the only city where his dreams could become a reality on his own terms: “LA is one of the few places where music thrives…where people are constantly looking for something that’s new. Everyone wants the coolest, newest stuff in the worlds of music, fashion and even electronics. LA’s just always the type of place where people feel like they want to discover—and there is so much to discover!”
But before your heart melts, don’t forget that Brownies and Lemonade isn’t just a bunch of friends anymore: it’s a well-oiled machine now, thanks to Fernando. “I’d rather focus on what we need to do to make our events run really smooth.” The suits at UCLA would be proud.
Lina Lecaro is looking through her inbox to finalize weekend plans. She’s got enough invites for Friday alone to last her over a month. To say she’s busy is an understatement, but this isn’t anything new for the veteran writer. “This is the story of my life,” she says with a chuckle.
Lecaro is a professional partier; she’s been LA Weekly’s go-to after-dark expert since the ’90s and her passion for the scene is stronger than ever. “I don’t try to hide my experience,” says Lecaro. “That knowledge is what I’m proud of.”
The native Angelino was even one of the first people to sense the impending wave of DJs as gods: “I have a great appreciation and respect for people can [curate music] well, so the influence of the DJ has changed LA’s nightlife scene…and I mean in all kinds of music, not just electronic and hip hop.” While Lecaro has embraced DJs’ overwhelming power, there are some other aspects of today’s nightlife culture that she wishes would just slink into the shadows. “I think that bottle service caters to one segment [of partygoers] and prioritizes [them] above others,” says Lecaro. “To me, that’s not so great. I’m going to Hollywood-type clubs less and less. It doesn’t feel as creative and organic as seeing a new band or going to a gay club.”
As velvet ropes feel more antiquated, Lecaro has faith that the fun of going out in Los Angeles will bubble up again: “I think we need to remember that [going out] about coming together, celebrating life and enjoying music.” And what kind of music does Lecaro think will rise to the top in the next few years? “I’d like to see gritty cock rock back again,” says Lecaro with a toothy grin. “LA was just as vital as New York in the early punk scene and with our state of politics right now…we need some angry, aggressive music!”
Bobby Green of 1933 Group has always been ahead by looking backwards. In 1999, the woodsy and warm Bigfoot Lodge was born in the just up-and-coming neighborhood of Los Feliz. “It wasn’t a conscious thing,” says Green about the now-trendy location. “It’s more like I’ve got 100 friends here and they said that if we built a bar here that they would come and hang out there.”
With his partners, Dmitry Liberman and Dimitri Komarov, Green continues to follow the sprawl of Los Angeles’s arts community while transforming the city’s bar landscape along the way. 1933’s bars transport patrons to a different time and place before they even take their first sip: “I kind of think of it’s kind of like a day at Disneyland. How could you not be swept away to all these different lands and time periods and worlds?”
As a self-described “vintage person” Green has been integral to the recent surge of renovating old LA buildings. “It’s hugely important,” Green says with an air of seriousness added to his usually playful nature. “It’s been a source of great frustration and great exhilaration my whole life, seeing some wonderful things torn down and some wonderful things saved. I think that restoration of older buildings—along with the restoration of other old things—is in fashion, finally!” Starting with Idle Hour, a cocktail bar inside a giant barrel, 1933 has taken their attention to detail and historical accuracy to renovating some of LA’s overlooked gems.
From the outside, Highland Park Bowl is unassuming. Once you step inside, though, Green’s research (“I do tons and tons of research!”) comes to fruition with gorgeous stained wood lanes from 1927 and big, comfy leather couches. “You have to bring something about yourself to your design. That’s what makes it real and that’s what makes people feel like there’s some authenticity there.”
Green knows that what’s most important to the future of LA’s bar scene is that the neighborhoods feel at home: “Cater to the neighborhood because that’s who your client is—you can be a destination bar, but you might not be a destination forever so you can’t alienate the neighborhood.”