Lovingly referred to as the home of Hollywood’s hipsters, Silver Lake is situated in northeast LA between Echo Park and Los Feliz and just a short fixie-bike ride from Hollywood proper. Host to a thriving alternative gay and lesbian scene in the ‘70s, Silver Lake underwent a vast transformation through the late ‘90s and ‘00s to become the nexus of LA’s burgeoning indie rock scene. While these days you are just as likely to see sinewy yoga devtotees drinking kale smoothies at a vegan eatery in Sunset Junction as you are scruffy musicians doing shots in one of the suburbs infamous dive bars – it is with good reason that Silver Lake is now considered the west coast’s answer to New York’s original hipster enclave, Williamsburg.
Cheap rental properties saw arts and music communities flock to Williamsburg in the ‘90s, where they set up independent music venues, hip eateries and actual real life baristas – not just those horrible drip-coffee machines New Yorkers love so much. For a whole decade Williamsburg was the place to be, but when the secret got out “the professionals” and “the families” started to move in and house prices sky-rocketed. While the evolution of Silver Lake has very much mirrored that of Williamsburg, without a Manhattan on which to hitch its cart Silver Lake’s ascent to hipster haven has been a little slower. So where late-noughties gentrification has meant Williamsburg’s artistic elite have had to pack their bags for Bushwick – taking their low rent and indie cred with them – Silver Lake is still both affordable and undeniably cool. Below are the best bits.
Location, Location, Location
LA is all about real estate and Silver Lake ticks every box. Just as standing on a rooftop in Williamsburg is the best way to take in the Manhattan skyline, Silver Lake provides killer views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith observatory – even on a typical smoggy LA morning. It is within close proximity to classic tourist destinations like the Walk of Fame, but not so central that you feel overrun by camera-touting tourists. And it even has its own picturesque reservoir, around which the town’s “hip” celebrities can often be spotted walking their pooches or tanning their lithe limbs. Taking up a whopping 96 acres a brisk stroll around the “Silver Lake” is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle and a more “off-the-beaten-track” alternative to a hike in the Hollywood Hills.
The (Fancy) Food
It may be the home of In-N-Out Burger and the Fatty Melt but the “foodie revolution” has not passed America by. Over the last few years many of LA’s best chefs have settled into Silver Lake, which makes choosing where to eat a daunting task. Opened in May 2014, the suburb’s newest addition Pine & Crane (1521 Griffith Park Blvd) serves up a contemporary and affordable take on traditional Taiwanese fare. With items starting at $3, menu highlights include Potstickers, Sanbeiji (three-cup chicken) and their famous Dan Dan noodles. The dine-in atmosphere is cool and casual and while they don’t take reservations (and the line often snakes out the front door) the service is efficient and the kitchen won’t start cooking an order until you have secured a seat.
Some more well-established eateries include Café Stella (3932 West Sunset Boulevard), which does upmarket modern French cuisine in the evenings and a reasonably priced mid-morning menu famous for its eggs. The newish “local favourite” Forage (3823 West Sunset Blvd) specialises in community-sourced seasonal fare. Bulan Thai (4114 Santa Monica Blvd) offers some of LA’s more interesting “veggie meat” options. While Sunset Junction Coffee Shop (3916 West Sunset Blvd) – which with its wood panelling and minimalist paint job is like a hipster version of the classic LA diner – is a popular destination for fries, a good ol’ American stack of pancakes and cup of drip coffee.
The (Not So Fancy) Food
If you are visiting LA it is absolutely essential you eat at least one taco. Not doing so is akin to visiting New York and passing on the $1 slice. While Silver Lake is fast becoming the kale and quinoa capital of California it is also home to some of the country’s best street food, and Ricky’s Fish Tacos (1400 North Virgil Ave on the border of Silver Lake, East Hollywood and Los Feliz) is the business. It may look like a two-bit operation running out of an abandoned car park, but Ricky’s is the stuff of legends and serves up the freshest Baja-style shrimp and fish tacos north of the Mexican border. With a crispy batter – an old family recipe – and an array of hot sauces you’ll be going back for seconds (and thirds and fourths).
Americans still love to guzzle over-sized cups of caramel-infused iced lattés from Starbucks, but the coffee cringe is well and truly over in the USA, especially on the west coast. If you’re craving a cappuccino, mocaccino or even a babycino then Silver Lake is the place to be. Want a little ‘tude from your moustachioed barista and don’t mind waiting in line? The unnervingly hip Intelligentsia (3922 West Sunset Blvd) will fulfil all your single origin needs – and make you feel as though you’ve been transplanted into a Portlandia script. Alternatively, LAMILL Coffee (1636 Silver Lake Boulevard) is like the Mensa of coffee shops, offering a five-page menu of coffee and tea plus various brewing options. It’s a confusing but rewarding experience for even the most casual caffeine connoisseur.
Musician Elliott Smith worked and lived nearby up until his death in 1998; Les Savy Fav wrote the song Sleepless in Silver Lake about it, and Dangerbird Records – home to Silversun Pickups, Fitz and the Tantrums and Minus the Bear – is one of the many record labels that has set up shop in this hipster haven. Silver Lake’s history is steeped in indie music folklore and it is still a large part of what makes the area so cool. Wander past the Elliott Smith memorial wall (4334 West Sunset Blvd) – the mural featured on the front of Elliott’s Figure 8 album which has since become somewhat of an unofficial shrine to the late singer. Check out a gig at the famed Spaceland rock club now known as The Satellite (1717 Silver Lake Blvd). And drop into Vacation records (3815 W Sunset Blvd) to pick up some rare punk and rock vinyl.
The Dive Bars
Dive Bars are to LA what hot dog vendors are to New York, and no visit to Silver Lake is complete without a night out at the dingy 4100 Bar (4100 Sunset Blvd). Famous for its pickle back shots, the décor is red velvet, the bartenders are charming, the clientele is rock‘n’roll and the jukebox is second-to-none. And once you stumble out of there at 2am head straight to Smog Cutter – LA’s most infamous dive bar-cum-Karaoke den (864 North Virgil Avenue). Rumour has it this place was an old haunt of Charles Bukowski, and with its surly (and occasionally aggressive) bar staff, dodgy bathrooms and rotating cast of karaoke wannabes, you could see how he would have fit right in. Most locals will tell you: You haven’t done Silver Lake until you have had a few beers and belted out a faded ‘70s classic at Smog Cutters.
(Lead image: Ann Althouse/Flickr)