In South Los Angeles, West Adams—one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city—spans from Culver City to Downtown. Historic homes built in a dizzying array of styles from Georgian Revival to Alpine Craftsman, Queen Anne and Dutch Colonial line the streets. The Glen Lukens Home and Studio (designed by mid-century modernist Raphael Soriano for ceramicist Glen Lukens) has been painstakingly preserved by its new owner. A Beaux Arts Italian Renaissance palace is home to the Peace Awareness Labyrinth & Gardens. The Britt Mansion and Gardens houses the Helms Athletic Foundation library for sports research. Yet another mansion is the site of the Ray Charles Foundation and Library. On Adams Boulevard, the charming Art Deco venue Fais Do-Do has hosted performances by the likes of the Fugees and Kamasi Washington, as well as community arts groups including the Shakespeare Youth Festival.
An important neighborhood for the Black LGBTQ+ community of LA, West Adams was reinvigorated in the 1940s by Black residents who also fought racist property covenants. More recently, plenty of new independent businesses have opened in West Adams, with hotel Alsace LA just joining the neighborhood near many galleries, shops and restaurants—including Mian, Mizlala, Bee Taqueria, Delicious Pizza (a local favorite since 2015 thanks to their community block parties) and others—that add to the vibrant cultural landscape.
Band Of Vices
Spending time in West Adams a common theme emerges: there’s a collective desire to connect with community and be part of the fabric of the neighborhood. Founder and creative director of Band of Vices gallery, Terrell Tilford grew up in West Adams and lives nearby with his family. Creating a space for cultural programming has become much more important to Tilford than simply having a place to sell art. The gallery exists as a love letter to the community. The building’s exterior was painted a vibrant pink as a symbol of hope. Tilford says, “We call it a sacred house. It is a temple for artists.” Band of Vices showcases a growing roster of local and international artists, and their current show C11H17NO3 (Mescaline) features work by 26 artists including Timothy Mitchell, Lauren Pearce, REWA, Robert Peterson and a large assemblage by Timothy E Washington. The idea for the show came to Tilford in a dream and was inspired in part by The Matrix. “We want to be thought provoking, fearless, and unapologetic,” he explains. Appointments are recommended for visiting the gallery.
A new addition to West Adams, 48-room hotel Alsace LA was designed by NMDA Architects, with interiors by Brooklyn-based Home Studios. Their guest rooms have been built around a central patio developed as a gathering space for the local community. Bauhaus-inspired curves reveal handmade tile wall installations, oak floors and ceilings, and bright spaces throughout. A secluded pool, fitness center and private meeting room will be joined by a restaurant set to open in the next few months. Alsace LA has also set up various collaborations with local businesses Hi Lo Liquor Market, High Fidelity Records, West Adams Bike Tour and Adopt A Bike LA.
Celebrated neighborhood restaurant Alta Adams, opened by executive chef Keith Corbin with Daniel Patterson, serves soul food that makes a connection between traditional West African dishes and California cuisine. With wine director and sommelier Ruben Morancy, the team at Alta recently transformed their coffee bar next door into the Adams Wine Shop boutique (though their espresso machine is still set up too, with coffee beans roasted by Red Bay Coffee in Oakland). There, they focus on stocking wines by women and BIPOC winemakers from around the world. Everything up until now has been hand-picked by Morancy, who championed a large selection of natural wines in store and spotlighted one winery each month. Customers will find everything from OPP Pinot Noir from Maison Noir (helmed by Andre Hueston Mack) to Zanj Rum made in Haiti, where Morancy grew up. With Morancy’s recent passing, the Alta team will continue to honor his legacy by continuing his thoughtful mission.
Open Face Food Shop
Featuring open-face Danish smørrebrød sandwiches, the menu at Open Face Food Shop celebrates and combines culinary traditions of Denmark and the vibrant produce of California. Chef Lene Houck (born and raised in Horstens, Denmark) and her husband Mark Houck are known for their elegantly catered events, and they bring that quality and precision to their walk-up window and outdoor patio. Houck works with farm fresh, seasonal ingredients, and tops her creations with everything from trout to roast beef. Also on the menu, an open-face burger, Danish-style hot dog and fish sandwiches are served alongside salads and house-made shrubs.
Further east, Babylon not only set up their flagship store on Adams Boulevard this year, they also built a skate bowl in their backyard that’s free to use and open to the public. Known for their playful, bold merch and many collaborations (with brands including Beams and Dr Martens), Babylon was partly inspired by punk music. Founder Lee Spielman grew up in Sacramento in the scene and is a founding member of punk/hardcore band Trash Talk. More than a skate shop, Babylon is a place to hang out, a youth center, a gallery and a community space. The Cody and Jared Hager-designed bowl has been crafted from refurbished ramps and was built as a place for kids to enjoy, and feel safe to be themselves.
Originally opened in 1956, Jonny’s reopened in 2020, serving up the classics: pastrami sandwiches, tacos, loaded fries, burgers, matzo ball soup and banana cream pie. Their parking lot has been transformed into an outdoor dining space with a stage set up for free performances on the weekends. Walk into the building next door to find a full cocktail bar created by M Winter Design. Winter’s vision layers historic tile and lighting fixtures with framed art and greenery to give the space a warmth and softness.
Inspired by Australian breakfast culture, but incorporating flavors from around the globe, Highly Likely‘s all-day menu includes a Japanese breakfast bowl, griddled halloumi salads and schnitzel. The coffee bar, set up in the middle to offer Common Room-roasted coffees, also serves beer and wine at night. The Highly Likely concept was created by Here Studio (with interior design by Klein Agency) and provides plenty more than breakfast. There are live music performances and pop-up stores—selling everything from records to flowers—setting up inside the space or outside. Just around the corner on Potomac Avenue is a noteworthy mural by LA native Mister Cartoon, on the ILLA Canna building, that’s worth looking at.
Up on Washington Street near Flora Animalia sits Greg Okawachi and Gary Indjian’s Brother Brother, which opened in 2019. Their laidback shop sells apparel, vintage ephemera, international magazines, books and homewares. Shoppers will find 1733 bags, PRMTVO tees, Engineered Garments jackets and Lite Year hats alongside all kinds of other objects. Brother Brother also hosts record swaps, culinary pop-ups, vintage bazaars, coffee bars, music and more in their gated parking lot. Chef Niki Nakayama’s n/soto will also open up soon, right across the street.
Hero image by Julie Wolfson