Wednesday, September 28, 2011

26. Chapman Plaza

If you find yourself feverishly lost in Koreatown, Los Angeles during the day, you'll think you've somehow been transported to the minimum security sector of hell. The place is dirty, ridden with traffic, terrible drivers, and a gaggle of signs advertising who-knows-what by some big-tittied cartoon character.

Patience is a virtue, friends. Trust me, give yourself until about 8pm and you'll truly see how and why Koreatown comes alive when night falls. Watch as the neon signs hum with life, bums are transformed into well dressed Korean socialites, and streets lined with broken, garbage infested 1984 Toyota corollas are somehow swapped for shiny new Mercedes and Bentley's.

K-town at night reminds me of what Hollywood must have been like back in the 50's. Amazing bars weren't posturing with big lines, and people who mingled together actually "networked" and made things happen. You smoke cigarettes? Well fuck, if you're a paying customer, smoke all you like in any restaurant in K-town, where the customer reigns supreme.

K-town by day.
K-town by night.
Chapman plaza is probably the easiest place to go get a slice of K-town life. As it's the home to about 7 bars, 3 lounges, 5 Karaoke clubs, and a hell of a lot of young Koreans acting the fool. It's also ground-zero and all directions are in relation to Chapman Plaza. The place is lit up like a Roman Candle inside and everything is spectacularly clean and presentable. Last night we ate at Gaam, a Korean bar/lounge for my friends birthday. The inside is frankly stunning, and rivals any high-end lounge in Hollywood. The major difference though is the price. Two large bottles of Grey Goose, unlimited chasers, 5 entrees, Soju, and 4 large Sakes, all served with attentive service ran a group of 10 about $40 each...amazing value. Also, not packed.

The key to enjoying Chapman plaza and frankly all places in K-town is to roll deep, ie bring a lot of people. The more people you bring, the better value it will end up being. The other trick though, is to bring a couple Koreans with you. If you come to Chapman plaza sans Koreans, you'll be a lost and bewildered kitten as most places will gladly seat you, but deciphering a menu and being able to talk with most waiters will be a stressful exercise in humility. Also, you wont be able to read the signs of the places you're going into anyway.

Also, the locals knows the awesome deals. Here are some things I've found out in K-town only because Koreans showed me-

1. A bar that lets you buy bottles of booze for roughly $80, and will write your name on the bottle and hold it for you for a month. Meaning its ready for you on your return visits.

2. A deserted 3rd story mall storefront that, upon gaining secret entry into the mall and even more secret entry into the club, serves a 24-hour full bar and nightclub.

3. A bamboo-lined 24-hour Korean restaurant with cigarette smoke so prevalent that you feel like you're an extra in Ladder-49. Also, booze served 24 hours.

4. A social scene so tightly knit that if rolling with the right crowd, no bartender will charge them for a drink, ever.

5. A club that only allows entry with special permission from the waiter, of all people. and when inside, you're free to summon any and all girls from the dancefloor and your beckon call to mingle. (good luck if you only speak English).

That's just a tease of the K-town underbelly. The place is really fun.If I had to make any real complaints about the nightlife, is that you pretty much have to pay for parking anywhere you go if you plan on driving around. But it gets better, chums. If you opt out of driving, you can call whats called a "K-town Kab" that is a gypsy tazi that will take you anywhere in K-town for $5 a trip. Amazing! Need their number, you can find it on any of the FREE lighters liberally given away at all K-town bars...stock up! PS: Odds are if its a phone number and Korean written on your free lighter, its a K-town Kab. (Hopefully they speak English)

I suppose I should give quick consideration to the food in Chapman plaza and K-town. It's good, but if you have a western palette, a lot of the stuff is weird and frankly, gross. You need to have a good Korean interpreter with you to sample some of the finer foods, lest you end up with Hot Dog soup (real thing). But with that said, if you're sick of the Hollywood scene and want to meet real, fun people in a fun setting then check out Chapman plaza. Bring cigarettes.

PS: Valet is $2 and worth it.

Name: Chapman Plaza
Genre: Hub of Koreatown; bars, lounges, clubs, restaurants, etc.
Value: Expensive, sliding scale the more people you bring/Koreans you know.
What You'll Need to Enjoy Your Meal: Cigarettes and Korean Parents.
Rating: 4 / 5

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

25. Big Ass Fruity Drinks

It was a dark dreary Tuesday night, and the fog loomed heavily over the San Francisco skyline. It was a balmy -20 degrees outside and the evening called for cocktails.

My friend James was celebrating his long overdue 29th birthday at a place called Smuggler's Cove near the Civic Center. Being up north for work, I was flown up and without wheels. So I donned my heaviest coat, harnessed in my ipod, packed a sandwich baggie full of cashews and walked miserably towards the nearest bus stop.

The Ipod and cashews proved to be a great idea, as they provided two barriers to social interaction with others. I'm a pretty social person, but the people you encounter walking through the civic center post-11pm are not the type of thespians who you'd want to discuss Yeats with. If a drunken derelict decides to brazenly inform me through alcohol swigs that I'm a "Honky devil fucking fuck you bitch cocksucker" I can politely reply "Sorry, listening to this Ipod" or "Sorry, eating these cashews," and proceed on my merry way.

Anyway, I digress. I got to Smuggler's Cove with minimal altercation and met up with the crew. Smuggler's Cove walks a fine line between hokey and campy. When you make the decision to build a Pirate Bar, you go beyond the notion of thinking Pirates are "Kinda cool." You've now entered a very dangerous place of staking your financial livelihood that Pirates are not the next stupid fad. Maybe a Transformers bar would be better.

One thing the Cove does well, regardless of decor, is their cocktails. While expensive, they are stacked to the rafters with alcohol. I mistakenly began my evening with a double vodka with soda and lime. A frustrating $16 later I had my drink and returned to our table. What did I find there, but a hilarious massive punch bowl with massive straws that everyone was collectively sharing. I immediately felt ostracized and cursed myself for buying an individually sized drink on such a social occasion. I was then informed of the existence of a 7+ page menu of specialty cocktails which made me feel even more stupid.

When round 2 came around I offered to buy the next cocktail bowl. I asked the barkeep, a young, pointlessly cynical chap, what he would suggest as a fun bowl drink.

"The Volcano," he muttered in a cold, monotone voice.

"Oh," I replied, "That sounds interesting. Whats in that?"

"Pineapple juice, passionfruit juice, guava juice, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and two kinds of rum."

"Jesus," I said, "That sounds like an awful lot of sugar in a cocktail. It sounds like a recipe for a massive hangover.  Can you suggest anything else?"


A good 20 seconds passed while I wondered if this was his poor attempt at dry humor. turns out it wasn't.

"Oh, I guess I'll take one of those."

Some of Smuggler's Cove's more memorable cocktails.
When the bowl arrived, they performed a spectacular display of setting the entire bowl ablaze and somehow showing us that a mixture of cinnamon and nutmeg is highly combustible. They also provided long novelty straws in which we could communally drink aplenty. And as my friend Sean exampled, could be pieced together to make massive super-straws, capable of drinking from everyone's cup in a not-so-sleuthy but overall hilarious manner. Good times.

The drink was sugary as hell and got the lot of us plenty drunk. Laughs were shared, butts were pinched, and a good time was had by all.

Would I recommend this place? It's certainly fun every now and then, but your wallet and diabetes will thank you if you keep it in moderation. Also, parking is ample when you catch the bus.

Hopefully pirates stay cool.
Name: Big Ass Fruity Drinks (Served at Smuggler's Cove)
Genre: Colorful Cocktails and Liquor
Value: Not very good.
What You'll Need to Enjoy Your Meal: See above tattoo.
Rating: 3 / 5