By Andrew Ramirez
There are different ways of getting around LA.
In badass fashion, you can—a la Kurt Russell—roguishly do it Escape from LA-style, surfing on a rolling city wave, or more methodically like Ryan Gosling in Drive, drifting around in a satin Scorpion jacket and bumping your head to that killer soundtrack….But more practically (just whatever you do, don’t lose the jacket), the 206 runs right up Hoover and for a couple quarters that’ll take you pretty much anywhere you want to go too.
Like the other night, when I went to Echo Park. But just real quick—a few reasons why I didn’t go to Echo Park:
1) Because I wanted to revamp my hipster aspirations at this supposed hipster holy land. (Why does NOT wearing O’Neill board shorts automatically make you—at least trivially—a hipster anyway?)
2) Because Echo Park offers me all this culture that icy sterile downtown LA doesn’t. (Have you ever walked up Vermont Street? Have you ever been to Leonardo’s?)
3) Because I flipped a coin and heads was Echo Park. (Tails was Silver Lake.)
Only that last one’s not entirely inaccurate. I do have lots of quarters, but the thing is: It’s only because I don’t have so many dollars right now. I collect massive amounts of change and contrary to its name, the Gold Room in Echo Park turned out to be the perfect accommodation for my cheap-as-shit bar hunt over these past few weeks.
Lately (by no fault of this blog—I would have gone anyway) it’s been too many six, seven, and eight dollar drinks. And the other night when Echo Park was offered as a possible nighttime activity, I cringed, biting my lip but ultimately submitting to a friend of mine who lives around there.
Of course I want to go, I said into the phone to my friend.
No, no, no my wallet screamed.
What was that? That was nothing, I said. I grabbed my coffee can of coins off my desk. See you soon, I said.
We met and took a quick walk in the pleasant Echo Park evening air. My friend and I stopped outside this little bar where we showed our IDs and waited in line for about ten minutes before being shown into a tiny barroom with an eight-foot high ceiling, mirrored walls, and a handful of hipsters but mostly Hispanics in very unskinny jeans. Neon signs buzzed on the walls, all glowing the names of beer and tequila. A large Mexican guy immediately materialized in front of my friend and started up with the chit chat. I went to the bar.
In typically hipster fashion, a Pabst/tequila shot combo was offered as the special. I ordered it and to my utter amazement the bartender said four dollars. I coughed up a little blood.
Excuse me? I said.
If you want, sure.
But I don’t have to?
It’s four dollars total.
Am I the three hundredth customer or something?
I put a lot of quarters on the bar. He counted them.
You’re short, he said.
I reached down into my pocket and pulled out more change. To my surprise, more than a few of those golden Sacajaweas were speckled in the silver and bronze pile. I ordered three more specials. Using both hands, I clinked the four beers together in a diamond shape and carried them over to my friend and her Mexican suitor.
No wait, I said to them both. Wait, wait, wait.
I came back with the tequila and a bowl of limes. Both their eyes bulged.
My friend was looking at me like I’d been walking with my head on backwards, dripping green sludge. Are you all right?, she said.
I’m fine, I said. Who’s your friend?
The big Mexican guy nodded at me, then put back the shot and followed it with a long pull from the beer. He kept on talking to her. I didn’t mind. I was in this place I’d never been before, a thirty minute bus ride from USC and a twelve hour car ride from my home in El Paso, Texas. But there was something strangely authentic about the Gold Room. I wanted to spread the strangeness of it to everyone there. Living downtown by USC gets you thinking about Los Angeles and the future in a certain way—there’s crazy poverty to the south, painful excess to the north, and everywhere in between a variety of disenchantment, fear, insanity, a pending earthquake, no jobs after graduation, an economic swallow, years that won’t stop rolling you over, and too many people telling you to stay in school, widen your skill set, keep on keeping on, but add to that list a four dollar beer and tequila special, paid in coins, and see how fast life is simplified.
And when that Mexican guy stopped talking to my friend and started throwing fists at the other guy who had moved in to talk to her, and when three men in black shirts rushed them and everybody started cheering–hipsters and Hispanics and hipster Hispanics alike–this bar became the greatest, most perfect place to sink my quarters into.
Can the right bar save a city? C’mon. But it’s still miles better than the wrong one.
Gold Room (1558 W. Sunset Blvd)