I spent my first years in Los Angeles in Silver Lake and, like so many others in the area, I had little reason to cross over the 101 to explore the neighborhood immediately south. Although I didn’t know it at the time, that neighborhood is Historic Filipinotown, also known as HiFi. For me, it was simply an area to maneuver through on my way to somewhere else. But when I found a punch card promoting the businesses sprouting there – a coffee shop, a barbecue joint, a house of porridge – it served as motivation and a map to see the neighborhood as more than a jumble of streets to pass through.
I took my husband along on my first date with HiFi. We started with a game of pool and a drink at Crawfords, its Portland vibe a perfect match for an evolving part of town that is toeing the lines of gentrification and local awakening. As the sun went down, we set out on foot in search of dinner. We walked past old bungalows and mini-marts and onto Temple Street, the main thoroughfare. We stopped to gaze at the meticulously placed goods of Graf Lantz, an artisanal studio that crafts durable goods made of felt and leather. We passed industrial businesses, liquor stores and the carpet showroom my landlord took us to in our first week of living in L.A. nearly 12 years ago.
Woon Kitchen was our warmly lit beacon, filled with Noguchi-style Japanese lights, oversize artwork and tables full of people talking over noodle bowls. The newly opened restaurant promised home-style Chinese comfort food by Keegan Fong and Mama Fong, who have cultivated a passionate following after years of pop-up restaurants. We were glad to get out of the cold to sample the signature beef noodles, fried rice, fried chicken and gai lan – all dishes that had me grateful the pop-ups had turned into a full-scale endeavor.
As at any Mom-and-Pop (er, Mom-and-Son) shop worth devotion, Keegan and Mama Fong came out to say hello, and Mama Fong told us her story. She had moved to the neighborhood upon arrival from China at 17, and marveled at coming full circle to open a restaurant in the same neighborhood with her son. When I told her of our next stop, Genever Bar, she told me to say hello to the owners, three local Filipinas with a love of gin. The Fongs also knew all of the other business owners from the punch card, all of them locals with an Asian American heritage and a love for what they do, united in a mission to create a thriving neighborhood in an area that was cut off from the lifeblood of Silver Lake and Echo Park when the 101 was built in the 1950s. Now, the blood is pumping again.
I thought about this history as we left Woon. We turned onto Beverly Boulevard, where a black door led to Genever Bar. With its low lighting, pillowed corners and Art Deco glamour, Genever immediately warmed our chilled bodies. Tuesday nights offer the chance to mingle with a featured bartender, and on this night Erika Brown (above) was at the helm. My husband sampled her Night Grazer – a superb hot coffee and vodka concoction – and I went for the fruity Pom Pom. We found a spot fit for sitting and talking all night long.
At date’s end, I glanced at the stamp card and thought about all the HiFi spots left to fill, but they’d have to wait till next time. We headed home with full bellies and happy hearts, and also a new perspective on an old neighborhood. What I had previously regarded as a drive-through area is simply a tight community that I had not taken the time to get to know. What I went to look for – and found – was the rising of local voices through food, friendship and the creative envisioning of an authentic “there, there.”