WeHo made me feel like a new man…
This part of the world is “kind of like the wild wild west,” says Joseph Hawkins, director of the ONE Archives at USC Libraries, which boasts of being the largest repository of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer materials in the world. “There’s this idea that people come to California to remake themselves.”
That’s a philosophy I keep top of mind as I homo hop about West Hollywood (a.k.a. WeHo). It’s known for its gay nightlife, complete with a courtesy bus Friday and Saturday nights, and Sunday during the day for “Sunday Funday.” The bus makes 15 stops along a 6.5-kilometre bar route (wehopickup.com). I can’t resist jumping off at one hotspot, the Chapel (692 N. Robertson Blvd.), for a “religious” experience of gyrating go-go guys and meeting locals – but what I really want to explore is West Hollywood’s other offerings, from art to food to health.
A great starting place is the ONE Gallery (626 N. Robertson Blvd.), a satellite space to the ONE Archives that curates LGBTQ content in the area. For nerdish gays like myself, it’s worth the US$25 Uber ride to explore the archive’s rare collection of science fiction fanzines of LGBTQ publishing pioneer Jim Kepner. But if you’re pressed for time and want to stay in the traditional gay area of WeHo, the gallery provides curated exhibitions that explore the artistic works of queer artists from various decades.
It’s a short walk from the ONE Gallery to MOCA at the Pacific Design Center (8687 Melrose Ave.). The gallery is free and during this visit, it features an exhibit of playfully fluid and genderless denim clothing by “69,” an anonymous Los Angeles–based designer.
MOCA is also a great jumping-off point for a self-guided exploration of West Hollywood’s murals, which I do using the route provided by visitwesthollywood.com’s Design District Outdoor Mural Tour. Unfortunately, new construction is obstructing some of the pieces outside the West Hollywood public library (625 N. San Vicente Blvd.), so I have to meander some side streets to see the elephant and dove by artist Shepard Fairy (well-known for his iconic Obama “Hope” poster). Be sure to go into the library itself: it was one of the sites for this year’s community-curated events for Lambda Literary’s annual literary festival, and the library regularly has gay-themed temporary exhibits. Arguably, the library itself is an art piece. The staircase feels enchanted from the light streaming onto the trunk of a stylized white sycamore tree; the upstairs ceiling is polished wood with undulating patterns; the children’s storytime theatre looks like a giant wooden crate. The library parking garage has murals on the interior of the ground and second floors that are not listed in the WeHo walk but are worth checking out.
All that walking (and selfies) works up an appetite! Keeping it healthy, I lunch at Gracias Madre (8905 Melrose Ave.). This all-vegan eatery serves trendy takes on Mexican favourites using only the freshest of locally grown ingredients. The vibe is hipster rustic with white walls, colourful fabrics, and a mix of wicker and black metal pendant lights. I admit, I go overboard on the coconut ceviche (so good and tangy!), the gorditas and the hibiscus iced tea.
To balance out my binge, I head to one of the latest fitness options in the area, Rise Nation: think Soul Cycle, but with stair climbers. If you want a quick half-hour cardio session, this will get your heart rate going. Be prepared for a nightclub vibe – dark room, pounding music, and a light show from the space-age ceiling withpyramidical architectural patterning.
After rehydrating, I head to Shape House for a sweat of a different kind. At this sweat lounge, the lights are dim, relaxing music plays, and clients have memberships for use of the sweat beds. I am set up in a private curtained area, and wrapped in a full-body heating pad that emits far-infrared wavelengths. Purported benefits include weight loss, better sleep and improved skin. It’s an awesome way for me to let go after an active day…and catch up on my Netflix.
After the session, I lounge and stretch in the chill-out area, shower, and find myself in the perfect mood for my upcoming date with a local. We decide on the chic (yet reasonably priced) French restaurant Tesse (8500 Sunset Blvd.). The decor here is warm-modern with lots of wood to offset sterile concrete. As with many first dates, we have our awkward lulls, but our waitress is the perfect mix of sassy and efficient to help warm us up to each other, especially when she shares the Harry Potter quote (“open at the close”) tattooed under her clavicle. The “epigramme” of lamb is perfectly tender and, as a whole, Tesse feels like California meets French, toning down the richness with subtler, herbier tastes, and a healthier, lighter fare.
The perfect way to end the evening? Gazing out at the skyline from the rooftop terrace of the Andaz West Hollywood boutique hotel just a few blocks away (8401 Sunset Blvd). Its semi-private cabanas are great for cuddling. The lobby has wonderful art pieces, like a set of bright angel wings that are perfect for flirtatious portrait taking. The hotel’s claim to fame is its connection to rock and roll. It was once frequented by The Doors, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and more, whose ensuing antics earned the hotel the name “Riot House.” Those days are in the past, but earplugs are still provided; the hotel is quiet, but the Sunset Strip can be noisy.
After my day of art touring, stepping up and sweating it out, I sleep great. The next morning, I enjoy a healthy breakfast at the hotel’s Riot House restaurant, indulging in an omelette, chia pudding with berries, and an almond milk cappuccino that has a perfectly smooth kick. I may not have reinvented myself, but WeHo has made me feel like a new man.
STEVEN BEREZNAIis the award-winning, bestselling author of the young adult dystopian novel I Want Superpowers and the gay teen superhero series Queeroes.
WeHo made me feel like a new man…