In an age of rapidly shifting landscapes, we’ve become accustomed to such hyphenate spaces as the factory-turned-gallery or the bank-turned-café. But in the case of L.A.’s Arts District, reclamation for art’s sake seems written into its DNA. Once an artist colony back in the 1970s (hence the name), the district was home to Paul McCarthy, Coleen Sterritt and, later, emerging bands such as Sonic Youth and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
On the heels of downtown’s renaissance and the opening of The Broad museum in 2015, the Arts District has blossomed yet again into a hub for emerging talents. Here, you’ll find hip boutiques, cafés, and a rich foodie scene. And sure, there are the requisite condo developments, but unlike similar districts in other cities that glisten with the logos of international brands, this ’hood still feels distinctly local.
In one of L.A.’s rare truly walkable neighbourhoods, you’ll encounter lively, un-ironic people watching (see: skaters sunning themselves while enjoying avocado toast), passionate shop owners, and murals not yet swarmed by the Instagramming masses.
The NoMad Hotel
The NoMad just opened its first L.A. outpost inside the downtown landmark, Giannini Place, first used as the Bank of Italy back in 1922. It’s the latest from the Sydell Group, the hospitality group behind some of the buzziest properties stateside, including The Line, The Freehand and The Saguaro. The historic building has retained much of its neoclassical grandeur through extensive preservation and inclusion into a new plan created by French architect and designer Jacques Garcia.
The newest NoMad takes opulent cues from its New York predecessor, but its interiors are distinctly L.A., right down to the tropical embroidery on green-velvet settees that greet you in the lobby. Upstairs, you’ll find its rooms a breezy palate cleanser, complete with custom-designed furnishings, mix-and-match artwork and pedestal bathtubs.
The hotel offers several dining options, all of which have been dreamed up by chef Daniel Humm and restaurateur Will Guidara of New York’s Eleven Madison Park(which currently tops The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list).
The NoMad also has multiple well-stocked bars, and a forthcoming rooftop pool, but you’d be remiss not to visit the restaurant on the mezzanine, where chef Chris Flint whips Humm and Guidara’s vision into such heavenly highlights as celery root tortellini with black truffle and parmesan, Hamachi marinated with citrus, daikon and agretti, and truffle-and-brioche-stuffed roasted chicken, which is presented in all its glory before carving. Wash it all down with one of NoMad’s artful, award-winning cocktails (our vote: the jalapeno-infused Hot Lips) and you’ve done it just right. The hotel has 241 rooms and suites, ranging from US$315 to $3,000 per night. 649 South Olive St., thenomadhotel.com/los-angeles.
Bestia has been buzzy since its opening in 2012, and the Italian eatery is still booked solid more than five years later. Its industrial interiors are surprisingly homey, which is likely due to its inspiration: lively, modern-day Italian spaces that contemporize ancient builds. That, or the husband-and-wife duo behind the operation, Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis, whose “from scratch” approach to food imbues Bestia with its easy vibe.
The restaurant is known for its inventive pizzas (think spicy ’nduja, Tuscan kale and fennel pollen) and house-made charcuteries, but even the simplest sides become unexpected standouts. Case in point: a gem lettuce salad of ricotta, shallots and walnut vinaigrette that is so perfectly piquant, you’ll go back for seconds. 2121 East 7th Place, bestiala.com.
Church and State
Known as the pioneer of the Arts District, Church and State opened in an old Nabisco factory back in 2008, before the rest of the area’s revitalization. It’s a classic French bistro, sans the pretension, which is expressed through chef Tony Esnault’s take on classics such as cassoulet and coq au vin. Its wine list is similarly spot-on,exclusively featuring French wines. 1850 Industrial Street, churchandstatebistro.com.
At one point in time, most of America’s produce came from from L.A.’s Terminal Market, a sprawling concrete complex built along the Southern Pacific Railroad in the early 1920s. Still in part home to a regional fruit and vegetable hub (and location of the popular Sunday market, Smorgasburg L.A.), the 33-acre space is being transformed into ROW DTLA, a still-growing collective of shops, restaurants and offices sure to signal the Arts District’s arrival.
Unlike similar shopping areas in other cities, such as, say, Miami, ROW DTLA isn’t interested in the titans of the fashion world. Instead, it houses rising L.A. talents such as Shades of Grey by Micah Cohen, an accessible collection of progressive classics for men and women, and Galerie. LA, the first store by Dechel Mckillian, a celebrity stylist who focuses on emerging, eco-friendly brands.
Its tenants are trickling in, and once fully occupied, ROW DTLA will be home to more than 100 of the city’s most anticipated businesses, including Tartine Manufactory, a two-storey food hall, restaurant and bakery hailing from San Francisco that tourists have already begun lining up for, despite the fact that it doesn’t open until the end of the summer. 777 South Alameda Street, rowdtla.com.
3.1 Phillip Lim
While you’ve likely encountered this New York brand in plenty of contemporary boutiques, Lim’s first and only concept shop represents everything that’s appealing about the Arts District: art, fashion and idiosyncrasy. Alongside the brand’s directional men’s, women’s and footwear collections, the store stocks ceramics, artwork and collectibles by M. Crow, Patrick Parrish Gallery and MastBooks. 734 East 3rd Street, 31philliplim.com.
Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Previously known as the Santa Monica Museum of Art, ICA LA just opened as a bridge between contemporary art, local talent and the broader downtown community. It aims to make art accessible with interdisciplinary exhibitions such as Harald Szeemann’s Grandfather: A Pioneer Like Us, in which the famed Swiss curator and artist (who passed away in 2005) recreated his grandfather’s apartment complete with original mementos (on through April 22). 1717 East 7thStreet, theicala.org.
Hauser & Wirth
This Zurich-based contemporary gallery has several outposts, and the L.A. edition is perfectly situated inside the Arts District with its open-air mix of exhibits, shops and a buzzy eatery, Manuela. Art heavyweights such as Louise Bourgeois are curated alongside under-the-radar talents such as Geta Bratescu, a 91-year old Romanian conceptualist getting her first solo show (both exhibits on through May 20). 901 East 3rd Street, hauserwirthlosangeles.com.
The writer travelled as a guest of Discover Los Angeles. The company did not review or approve this article prior to publication.