This must be Silver Lake
Long before Silver Lake became the kind of place where throngs of 20- and 30-somethings flock on a Saturday night to sip natural wine and run from one dance floor to the next, there was a man named Herman Silver.
Get to know Los Angeles through the places that bring it to life. From restaurants to shops to outdoor spaces, here’s what to discover now.
He was a city councilman and water commissioner at the turn of the 20th century, and he’s the one who pushed for the creation of a reservoir among the hills east of Hollywood and and west of the L.A. River.
That was 1907. Once city officials named the reservoir for Mr. Silver, people started calling the area Silver Lake. (Yes, the name is two words — not Silverlake, as some local businesses would lead you to believe.)
These days, the area is best known for the Modernist architecture that clings to its hillsides, the chic young families who cavort in Silver Lake Meadow and the bustling nightlife that thrives along Sunset Boulevard. Also, you probably couldn’t swing a boom microphone in this neighborhood without hitting a writer, actor or musician.
You could argue that Silver Lake’s creative spark goes back a century, to the first silent films shot at the Mack Sennett Studios or the early cartoons drawn by Walt Disney and company in his first animation studio a few blocks away. For most of the ’90s and ’00s, the music venue Spaceland (now closed) was a magnet for up-and-coming indie rockers including Beck, Elliott Smith, the Silversun Pickups and Rilo Kiley.
And for decades, one of the neighborhood’s signature events was Sunset Junction, a street festival designed to build bridges between the area’s substantial Latino and gay communities. (Though New York’s Stonewall Riots are better known, two years earlier Sunset Junction’s Black Cat Bar was the site of one of the first public protests for gay rights.)
Now celebrities like Lady Gaga, Jay-Z and Martin Scorsese use the Mack Sennett Studios on Fountain Avenue. As for the Disney studio that stood from 1926 to 1940 at 2719 Hyperion Ave., where Mickey Mouse was born? It’s been torn down and replaced by a Gelson’s supermarket.
But all is not lost. Though pricey, this Gelson’s is a neighborhood hub and not a bad place for celebrity-spotting. To catch locals at ease on any evening, belly up to the Gelson’s wine bar. If it’s a weeknight, they’ll have “Jeopardy!” on at 7.
Anyway, Silver Lake will surprise you. It has a flamenco club (El Cid on Sunset) but no movie theater. Its German beer garden (the Red Lion Tavern) used to be an English pub. For decades, somebody has been hanging hand-cut metal letters that spell KOOK on utility poles near busy street corners. It has an entire neighborhood (along Rowena Avenue) where streets are named after characters in Sir Walter Scott’s novel “Ivanhoe.”
And who knows? Maybe, at a sidewalk table on some Silver Lake street tonight, you’ll find some unexpected genius drinking an Intelligentsia iced coffee and dreaming up the next Mickey Mouse.
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What's included in this guide
Anyone who’s lived in a major metropolis can tell you that neighborhoods are a tricky thing. They’re eternally malleable and evoke sociological questions around how we place our homes, our neighbors and our communities within a wider tapestry. In the name of neighborly generosity, we included gems that may linger outside of technical parameters. Instead of leaning into stark definitions, we hope to celebrate all of the places that make us love where we live.
Sip like a star at Intelligentsia Coffee
Hatch a scheme over a Veggie Mess at Millie's Cafe
Load up on blueberry pancakes at Modern Eats
The restaurant has a covered patio and a bright, tidy dining room with concrete floors, yellow walls and a high ceiling. These people aren’t trying to be fashionable, just tasty and bright. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday and Monday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Choose among mushrooms and vinyl at the Silver Lake Farmers Market
Log some steps (2.2 miles' worth) around the Silver Lake Reservoir
Break bread (and sip wine) with your dearest queers at the Ruby Fruit
Yes, the Ruby Fruit is a wine bar — and the whole classy-wine-bar-in-a-random-strip-mall shtick is undeniably charming — but I’d stop by just to enjoy a meal. From divine shallot-topped hot dogs to tinned-fish plates and the most sophisticated loaded fries (topped with raclette, speck, sliced cornichons and pickled red onions), everything on the menu would take the gold in the Girl Dinner Olympics. And though it’s easy to run up a triple-digit bill sampling all the enticing snacks, the drinks are rather reasonably priced, from the $5 Miller High Lifes to the $18 glasses of wine.
Pick up some witty salt and pepper shakers at Yolk
Slurp beef noodle soup and other Taiwanese specialties at Pine & Crane
If you have to wait for a table, check out the black-and-white photo on the wall: Pine & Crane noodle factory, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, 1965, an enterprise run by Pine & Crane chef Vivian Ku’s grandfather. Noodles and rice dishes run $9.50 to $16 and the selection of loose-leaf tea, wine, beer and sake is intriguing. If you want to eat outside in the Sunset Triangle, ask for your food to-go — the staff can’t do table service out there. Open Wednesday through Monday, noon to 10 p.m. The eatery opened in 2014 and now has a sibling in DTLA.
Huff and puff up the Music Box Steps — and then savor the view
Enter the lush hideaway that is the Speranza patio
Grab an esoteric red or white at Silverlake Wine
Opened in 2004 by Randy and April Clement and George Cossette, Silverlake Wine specializes in small-volume wineries, including many organic and biodynamic operations. You’ll find plenty of bottles under $20 and many over $300 too. The shop also sells beer, cider and sake.
The Clements also are behind E.R.B., also known as Everson Royce Bar, a wine bar in the Arts District downtown. But the Silver Lake location has a singular distinction: It’s next door to Rockaway Records, a beloved source of vinyl, CDs and music memorabilia since 1979. So you can buy a $500 Grand Cru and a $500 1971 Yoko Ono T-shirt on the same quick shopping trip. Silverlake Wine is open daily, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sample rare handmade pastas at Blairs Restaurant
Catch an eccentric comedy show at Zebulon
As far as programming goes, past events include music by Sun Ra Arkestra, a “Gumby” screening followed by a Q&A with animator Rich Zim and a comedy night led by “Saturday Night Live’s” Sarah Squirm. Though some of the shows are free, the vast majority of Zebulon’s tickets are less than $30. Most shows are standing room only and you’ll usually find free earplugs off to the side as you enter the back room. Drinks are reasonably priced (beer cans and bottles are $8 or less) and the food menu includes thin-crust pizzas, chickpea crepes, $5 tacos and classic bar snacks like nuts and fries. Between Zebulon and Salazar — the delicious Mexican restaurant next door — street parking is scarce.
Dance the night away with fellow gays at Akbar
The front room of the bar tends to be more relaxed, with bead curtains, comfy seating and a jukebox filled with music by all the essential gay icons. Head into the back room and you’ll find a rowdy dance floor that’s nearly packed every weekend, where sweaty masses romp along to old and new pop hits. The back room doubles as a venue for the sweetest craft night every Wednesday and transforms into a performance space for events like the monthly variety show “Planet Queer” and Tony Soto’s popular lip-syncing competition “Learn the Words, Bitch!”