LA began life as a series of hamlets connected by cable cars, the old money concentrated in its downtown and the surrounding areas of Hancock Park and Pasadena. Located three miles west of downtown, Koreatown was a middle- and upper-middle-class residential area with a handful of landmarks like the Brown Derby restaurant and the now-demolished Ambassador Hotel, a celebrity hangout and Academy Awards venue in the 1930s.
As the city spread out along its freeways, much of its wealth decentralized even farther from downtown, making way for immigrant families from Mexico, El Salvador, and Korea to slowly transform the neighborhood — now the most densely populated in all of Los Angeles — into the vibrant scene that exists today. It’s a vibe nurtured by its uniquely diverse array of residents and public transportation in a city notorious for its car culture. (A total of four K-Town subway stations make getting around easy, while a fifth line down its primary artery — Wilshire Boulevard — will soon extend another nine miles westward.)
Posh newcomer Terra Cotta is complete with improbably tall, canoodling-conducive booths.
Between its Deco architecture, the ease of mass transit, and the trilingual symphony you hear on its avenues, Angelenos are realizing, yet again, that Koreatown is a palm-lined gem in the center of the city. And for many this discovery is made at night, when Koreatown beckons with an unmatched variety of dive bars, speakeasies, and karaoke clubs, not to mention 24-hour spas to chase away the inevitable hangover.
Like the Pellissier,
The Linehotel has undergone its own reinvention. Built in 1964 and rebranded in 2014 by local legend and Korean chef Roy Choi, it is unquestionably the after-dark hub of Koreatown. Pot, its lobby bar, slings potent Slurricanes alongside expense-account bottle service, while a line to get in weaves around the corner. Found through the hotel’s loading dock, Breakroom 86 nods to the area’s most beloved activity, karaoke. It pulses with an all-’80s playlist and a live band complete with Michael Jackson impersonator.
Just a block away, the opulent Hotel Normandie, another Jazz Age rethink, lures the late set with no less than four options: secret-door lounge, retro burger joint, high-concept French boîte, and clubby cocktail bar. These recent arrivals are joined by foodie-minded karaoke den The Venue, glamorous, nuevo-Latin-meets-Korean eatery Terra Cotta, and rowdy, SoCal-style bistro Here’s Looking At You. Of course, these newcomers have to compete with neighborhood mainstays and the best traditional Korean fare this side of Busa: Park’s BBQ’s grill-it-yourself Kobe beef, Sun Nong Dan’s comforting stews, and Myung In Dumplings, a
California Donuts in Koreatown
After that, anyone looking to continue the festivities can either search for that elusive 4 am soju happy hour or dip into a late-night spa like
Wi or Natura, which is tucked into the basement of Wilshire’s gleaming, I. Magnin department store building, circa 1939.
And for those looking to fully detox come sunrise, the
Koreatown Run Clubmeets every Saturday morning outside the The Line. (It’s organized by the guys behind Instagram handle @koreatown.) One of the founders, Mike Pak, wanted to make a small contribution to bring the community closer together. “We all party hard,” he says, “but we all come together once a week to work out.”
And that’s a good thing — because Saturday has only just begun.
4 Hot Spots to Hit Koreatown edition Breakroom 86 Accessed through a hidden entrance on The Line hotel’s loading dock, this bar puts a 1980s spin on K-Town karaoke. thelinehotel.com Here’s Looking At You This Asian-inflected bistro, nestled into a low-slung Deco building, encourages splurging on the $26 mai tais. hereslookingatyoula.com The Prince Housed in a 1927 apartment tower, its horseshoe bar has cameo’ed in New Girl and Mad Men, but the real star here is the Korean fried chicken. theprincela.com WiSpa The 24/7 spa offers a two-hour Korean service of milk body scrub, aromatherapy, and gold powder to eliminate all traces of debauchery. wispausa.com