This progressive and picturesque area has witnessed a huge boom in recent years, inspiring filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, along with all of the artists and entrepreneurs who are setting up shop next to mom-and-pop operations and historic institutions.
Owner of Iron Curtain Press and Shorthand
It’s easy for Rosanna Kvernmo to spend all of her time in Highland Park. “The two main streets [Figueroa and York] have so much to see and do,” she says. “Several weeks will pass and I’ll realise I haven’t even left the neighbourhood!”
Kvernmo launched her own stationery manufacturing business, Iron Curtain Press, in 2010, after which came the opening of Shorthand, an aesthetically mesmerising office supplies shop located on the same site as Iron Curtain Press.
Once you’ve stocked up here, head over to design firm and home boutique Matters of Space. Owned by PJ Roden and Katerina Gabbro, also Highland Park residents, the store is full of conversation-starting pieces made by artists and craftspeople from around the world. “It offers an interesting selection of beautiful items for your home,” Kvernmo says. “The owners have put so much heart into what they’re creating.”
Overall, Kvernmo feels like she’s nestled into a neighbourhood with good company. “I am thrilled to be on a block with so many other women-owned businesses selling awesome products [such as Dotter, Matters of Space, Big Bud Press and Crush],” she says. And if all that shopping leaves you hungry, she suggests hitting up Joy for delicious Taiwanese food and Kitchen Mouse for vegetarian-friendly meals.
Co-owner of Highland Park Bowl
Stepping into Highland Park Bowl feels like walking into a movie. The skylights pour a soft, hazy glow over the restored interior of the Prohibition-era bowling alley, which reopened for business in 2016 following a US$2 million renovation.
Bobby Green and his business partners first came to Highland Park in 2003 with the opening of a bar called the Little Cave (now La Cuevita). “For years it was the kind of neighbourhood where you just wanted to get in and get out,” says Green. “It was sad for me because it was just so beautifully old LA.” They had eyed the Highland Park Bowl space for years and, in 2015, bought the property and saved a piece of the area’s history. For lunch, Green takes advantage of the sunny weather and often heads to Texan taco spot HomeState. “I like anything with a patio,” he says. For dessert, there’s Mr Holmes Bakehouse nearby, which serves up a range of delicious pastries.
When he isn’t sticking around at night to bowl a few games at his own place, Green goes to the nearby Café Birdie for dinner. “It’s got [a] New York meets Paris city vibe,” says Green of the restaurant housed in a 1920s building. “The atmosphere and the lighting are really beautiful.”
He suggests ordering some small plates and is a fan of dishes such as the pork cheek ragù pappardelle and hanger steak. Should you want to linger, there’s a bar behind Café Birdie called Good Housekeeping for a nightcap.
Co-owner of Civil Coffee
For visitors coming to Highland Park for the first time, Alex Morales has just one piece of advice. “Soak it in. This is all so special,” he says. Morales and his brother, Alan, started Civil Coffee as a pop-up serving espresso all over
Southern California. Their goal was to open a brick and mortar shop, and on a momentous morning walk through Highland Park, they discovered the ideal space. “It was perfect. It was romantic and timeless. It was old LA,” Morales says. Now, their coffee shop, with its 5.2m ceilings and massive inviting windows, is one of the most popular places in the neighbourhood. “It seemed like destiny, this space, waiting to be restored and reimagined. Sometimes we feel like Highland Park picked us, not the other way around.”
Morales is one of Highland Park’s biggest hype men and can point you in the right direction for anything you need in the neighbourhood. “Delicias Bakery has some of the best pan dulce (Mexican pastries) you’ll taste. Also, the green chilli tamales are mind-blowing,” he reveals. He also suggests stopping by the family owned and operated Quiet Life store for the freshest caps, graphic T-shirts and street wear apparel. The sunny menswear boutique stocks co-owner and designer Andy Mueller’s seasonal collections, in-store exclusives and other niche brands like Sander Studio from Japan. “They do small collections of hats and street wear [and] you can get unique goods,” Morales says.
Chef and owner of Otoño
It was on a trip to the southern Spanish city of Valencia that Teresa Montaño found inspiration for her new Highland Park restaurant, Otoño, which opened this August. Montaño was struck by the old cathedrals juxtaposed with intense street art, Spanish gin and tonics and complex paellas, and brought these elements back to her place on Figueroa Street.
Located within a century-old building now decorated with colourful murals by Spanish artist duo Pichi Avo, Otoño executes Spanish cuisine through a multicultural, seasonal and produce-driven Los Angeles lens. “There’s Mexican influence, Japanese influence and Chinese influence,” says Montaño. “We’ll always have a vegan paella on the menu and try to be as vegetable-forward as possible. That’s how I like to cook.” Don’t leave without trying the pan con tomate, sourdough toast topped with garlicky grated tomato.
A three-minute walk down the block is the new Roman pizzeria Triple Beam, which happens to be one of Montaño’s favourite spots in the area. “I could eat it at any time of the day,” she says. Next door is Highland Park Wine, where you can pick up some natural wine to pair with your meal. Montaño also suggests the salsas and ceviches at Peruvian restaurant Rosty. “It feels like it’s always been in this neighbourhood,” she says. “There’s care and love put in…that you don’t get every day.”
After dinner, check out the Blind Barber, a barbershop and speakeasy located adjacent to Otoño that’s a testament to the street’s variety and creativity. “Everyone offers something different so there isn’t a competitive atmosphere,” Montaño says. “We’re all just excited to be here and see the [area’s] potential.”
Photography by Mathew Scott
Singapore Airlines flies to Los Angeles two to three times daily, with direct flights on selected days. To book a flight, visit singaporeair.com
This article was originally published in the November 2018 issue of SilverKris magazine