Monday, October 8, 2012

What condition my condition was in

Hipsters in their natural habitat
We just wanted to find a place for a drink. We were downtown, and wanted a place near the Red Line stop. I looked at the Yelp ap on my phone, and there was the Standard Hotel rooftop bar, a mere half block away. "Beautiful views" said the reviews, so off we went.

The Standard Hotel in downtown LA is part of a chain of "boutique" hotels known for their fashionable and hip vibe. Transforming a staid 1956 office building once owned by the Superior Oil Company, the Standard opened in 2002, splashing onto the pages of architectural and travel magazines for its unique, creative and quirky modern design. It also had a reputation as an exclusive place for the young, celebrated, and hip to party. But now it's 2012, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, so why not stop in for a glass of wine and a chance to see what all the buzz is about?

We didn't fully appreciate the hot pink custom-designed sofas in the lobby, nor the glass-clad columns and screaming yellow restaurant, though, because the effort of finding the rooftop bar was arduous enough to reinforce its reputation of exclusivity. Entering from the Flower Street doors with their S-shaped bronze door handles, we were told by the security guard we need a wristband to enter the bar. We wandered around past the Armani-clad reception desk and were pointed toward the valet entrance - apparently, no one who is anyone walks in from the street - and a lackadisical (yet hip and fashionable) young woman snapped the bands around our wrists, and sent us back where we came from.

Following the direction of the security guard, we took an elevator to the 12th floor, then wandered the generic-looking corridor to a stairwell door marked with a sign warning that wristbands were required for access to the bar. The sounds of loud punk rock wafted down the narrow stairs.

Click to "embiggen" the giant boobhead
We emerged on the roof.  In the corner, a band was rocking through its final encore.  One of the performers wore a giant pink headdress that looked like a boob. Edgy stuff. It was the kind of "grrrrl punk" band with snarling vocals and raging guitar that roared fresh out of Olympia, the 1990s.

Low grey couches were arranged to face the corner stage, backed by white cocktail tables and stools. Black, star-shaped umbrellas shaded the seating from the hot sun. A long, low orange bench divided the couch area from the main entrance and the bar - the center of the bench featured a strip of astroturf and a topiary animal. We found a seat at a high cocktail table and took a look at the view. It was pretty amazing. To the northeast, the polychrome ziggurat of the Public Library, the U.S. Bank tower, the post-modern Biltmore hotel tower, and the brutish Verizon telecommunications tower, crested with satellites and receivers.

To the northwest, the gleaming cylinders of the Westin Bonaventure and its pedestrian pathways over Flower Street made a spectacular showing. 

We sipped our wine and watched the scene. By the bar, two young women in short, flirty red dirndls, peasant bloused corsets, and black stockings flirted with a couple of young men in lederhosen. What was all that about? Some kind of Octoberfest theme? They saw my interest and came over to pose for a photo. Yes, Octoberfest, steeped in sunglassed hipster irony, complete with boot-shaped beer glasses.

A table behind us held a DJ turntable and bins of vinyl record albums for sale. In between sets, the DJ played early '80s MTV pop, notably Adam Ant hits. The girl singer and her entourage sprawled on a couch with paper plates of sausages - part of the Biergarten menu. She rocked a Debbie Harry platinum bob, and a pair of tight, high-waisted jeans.

I took a walk around, checking out the Biergarten, the outdoor fireplace, and then up the stairs to the pool deck. Here, the pool lapped at the feet of plastic molded recliners, and three red pod-shaped cabanas sheltered scantily clad couples. They lounged within, on water mattresses, stretching languorously and eyeing the bikini'd swimmers, like indolent crocodiles eyeing timid gazelles at a watering hole.

In the locker room/ladies restroom, one of the dirndled barmaids sweetly asked me "where are you visiting from?"  "Topanga Canyon," I answered, hoping to one-up her retro cred with some hardcore hippie-chic cred of my own.

On the couches below, girls in Mama Cass flowing gowns sat sipping from beer-filled boots with guys sporting wire-rims and shaggy hair like Cheech and Chong, or stovepipe slacks, Beatle-boots and Greek fishermen's caps.

At one couch, an older man, slim and grey-bearded in a white panama hat, leaned in to talk with a neighboring table and suddenly slid right off the couch on his butt. Quickly, a black-clad fellow with a curly wire in his ear swooped in and righted him.

At another table, a young man wore a tie-dyed t-shirt with a Crosby Stills Nash and Young logo - freshly printed off the screen. Beyond, another man seriously finger-combed his Kim Thayill beard.

Onstage, a guitarist in an Indian embroidered tunic tuned up and went into a Strawberry Alarm Clock riff,  and the skinny old guy, none worse for the wear, got up and started a solo dance groove. 

The boys in lederhosen watched, laughing, and shot video with their i-phones (of course, obviously, so did I. But with respect, I tell you!).

I don't know whether the old guy was in on the act or not, but the condescension was annoying, and mirrored a little of the attitude taken toward us. I wanted to rant to all the dirndled fishnet stockinged barmaids, the fake Carnaby Street dandies, the bare-chested Cat Stevens wannabees -  Listen, kids, you don't hold a candle to that old dude - or us.You wanna talk psychedelia? I'll give you psychedelia. I was frugging in crushed velour bell-bottoms to the Zombies before you were even a gleam in your daddy's eye!  Lemme tell you what the real '80s were like! You think you know about punk rock? Cocaine-fueled discos? Gogo boots? Pet rocks? And don't you look at me like I'm a tourist!

But of course I didn't - because, really - everyone was very sweet and nice to us old codgers. It was just a little bit lame.

The whole atmosphere was one of banal, domesticated and studied depravity - and, more strikingly,  it was so unoriginal. '60s bands, '80s bands,'90s bands,  '70s fashion, vinyl - Everything "retro" was thrown into the mix!  A little mid-century lounge with a dose of British Invasion mod, throw in a grunge reference and a little Late-Elvis-era Vegas glitter. The vinyl salesman even told us that cassette tapes are popular again - cars that have cassette decks are hot sellers to this generation. There are craftsmen making new and - no doubt - "artisanal" cassettes!

Sign in the stairwell to the  bar
Why all they looking backward? I don't remember during my young adulthood looking toward the music and style of my parents' youth for inspiration. None of us in the '60s would have been caught dead listening to music of the 1940s, wearing those styles. The last thing we wanted to do was groove to our parents' music.

Here we were, in a bastion of hipster LA culture, and they're all living in the past - in fact, in MY past. Well, except for the lederhosen. I may be getting old, because I don't remember the lederhosen.


Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I love this so much. What a phenomenal piece. I would read this in Rolling Stone.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

I second Jenn's Rolling Stone vote.
You have cred with me.

Poodle skirts were only for a campy 50's day dress up, and bell bottoms were out of style by the time I grew into my sister's hand-me-downs. I have no desire to return to the style of my younger days.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

You tell those kids to get offa your lawn!


Jen on the Edge said...

What a great post!

I admit that back in the 80s, we occasional worked a retro 50s vibe, but that was it.

Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

What a great post! It sounds exhausting to try to be a hipster these days. Love your visiting from Topanga Canyon line. Oh, and YES, you should submit this to Rolling Stone or whatever the LA version of the New Yorker is. Great writing.

Anonymous said...

I am embarrassed to say I just discovered the metro (how LA have I become!). Went downtown to the Grammy's Museum last week (more in an upcoming post) and walked over the Ritz Carlton and had a drink and some appetizers on the 24th floor, at WP 24, Wolfgang Puck's Chinese restaurants. Both drinks and food were delicious but the best things were the views and watching traffic go by while my car was happily parekd in Culver City!

Sheila said...

I grew up with the Beatles, the Stones, The Who, Janis, the British Invasion, and Motown. And no firm-thighed, wrinkless, little wanna-be hipster can ever be as cool as that. Sorry punks!

Anonymous said...

Things are probably much cooler in Topanga. Jenny