Searching for Action After Sundown in L.A.

Times Staff Writer

It's Friday night in Westwood and 22-year-old Norma Montez and 18-year-old Giselle Villalon are sitting in the back of a pedicab explaining the way things are here.

"There's no other place to go," said Villalon.

"You ride around, meet people like Fred here," Montez said, looking over at 19-year-old pedicab driver Fred Solomon.

Where else but Westwood are two girls from the Valley expected to hang out? It's a fact of L.A. life--this is not a 24-hour town and there are few pockets suitable for late-night people-watching.

It explains why Westwood turns into a circus on weekends where people pour in and out of shops, movies and restaurants that stay open late, guys hang out on sidewalks to check out girls, and cruisers jam streets filled with litter. And it's all done to the thump of rock music blaring from car stereos loud enough to make the sidewalk vibrate. (This was the last weekend cars would be allowed in Westwood Village at night. The City Council voted to ban them from the center of town to cut down on traffic and crowd problems.)

Deede Smith, a 32-year-old engineer from Los Angeles who just came out of a record store with a friend, said: "I'm a late-night person, but there is nowhere really to go. I come to Westwood, but I'm kind of old for this crowd."

City Closes Early

After Westwood shuts down at 2 a.m., where to go from there? Most Los Angeles restaurants close between 10 and 11, stores rarely stay open past 9 and by state law bars must close at 2 a.m. The evidence is there but the question remains: why?

Theories vary widely, from the fact that Los Angeles is too spread out to encourage a steady late-night crowd to the fact that many businesses start work shifts early. One person even speculated that the city's love of daylight is a holdover from its roots as an agrarian society.

A comparison of Los Angeles and New York is unavoidable. Manhattan is famous for its all-night restaurants, jazz clubs that stay open late and nightclubs that shut their doors at dawn. At night, streets are filled with a diverse assortment of people. Los Angeles has sizable night-time crowds too, but fewer places to find them--Westwood and Hollywood are two.

Part of what makes the two cities' schedules different are the liquor laws. In Manhattan, alcohol can be served until 4 a.m. In Los Angeles, bars and restaurants must stop serving at 2 a.m. (Restaurants may stay open later, but cannot serve alcohol.)

Marcus Felson has his theories, too. He is a USC associate professor of sociology and editor of a sociology journal who believes that L.A.'s sprawl has something to do with why it has never developed as a late-night town. "In general you need a high density for night life," he said. "And as time goes by L.A does seem to be developing more urban density. Hollywood is somewhat like Manhattan. A lot of zoning laws prevent high density. But also you need to have wealthy people in high-density areas, people with money to spend on night life, not just poor people. It will be interesting to see whether the clog on the freeways will make more people want to live in the city instead of commuting."

No Traditional Street Life

He added that without subways and fleets of streetcars the city's diverse communities were never linked. Cars are "almost antithetical" to a bustling night life. Mobility has made living and working in the suburbs more attractive. "When the labor force has cars you can move factories away from town. That means you have dispersed residents and shopping areas. When it's spread out like that it's difficult to rebuild a traditional street life. L.A. will have some central city growth because of the number of people here."

Towns with heavy industries (coal, steel), he said, often operated on around-the-clock shifts, keeping a steady flow of traffic and activity in the city.

Now most work shifts are more standard, but they start early. For instance, most employees of Lockheed Corp., which has 17,000 people at its Burbank plant, start work anywhere from 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. At Arco, many of the 1,900 people who work in the downtown office are tied into their 8-4:30 schedules because of car pooling.

Felson believes that the computer age might bring back varied hours because people working with computers at home have more flexible time.

But if Los Angeles is suffering from urban sprawl, what will become its bustling city center? Felson believes it's the shopping mall. "We'll see developers building malls with entertainment. It's likely merchants will extend their hours beyond 9. There is already some sign of it; for instance, movies have moved to shopping malls."

The Beverly Center and Westside Pavilion are examples of this. The Beverly Center has 14 theaters and a slew of restaurants inside, most of which close about the same time as the mall. However, the center's street-level restaurants and clubs stay open past midnight and mall management is considering leasing remaining street-level space to tenants with extended hours. The Westside Pavilion has late-hour restaurants on its street level, too, as well as a multi-screen movie theater inside.

Lately, more business owners are realizing there is a sizable population of night owls. Not far away from the Beverly Center on Third Street is one of L.A.'s newer late-night haunts, Lights On. Owner Sofi dreaded facing another coffee shop when she went out late with her friends, and in January started serving fish, hamburgers, salads, calzone and desserts at moderate prices from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. in this quiet setting. It's just a couple of doors down from her first restaurant, Sofi, which serves Greek food.

Mark Werts keeps his new vintage clothing store American Rag Cie. open late to satisfy customers. It sits next to City restaurant on La Brea and stays open till 10:30 p.m. most nights. Werts said many people who frequent City and the nearby art galleries take advantage of the late hours, especially those who work and don't have time during the day to shop.

Pirogi and Pumping Iron

Late-nighters who are also fitness buffs can pump iron in the wee hours at Beverly Hills Health & Fitness, open 24 hours. Also open 24 hours is the downtown cafeteria Gorky's, which draws crowds from all over for Russian food and live entertainment.

Just who are the people who frequent these after-hours places? Midnight and beyond is usually thought to be the domain of "arty" types--musicians, writers and artists who don't have to punch time clocks. Carole Naff, 35, who is co-owner of a florist business and is married to an artist, goes out six or seven nights a week despite there being a dearth, she said, of clubs open weeknights. Naff prefers the underground clubs that are scattered around town, but says they only stay around until liquor-law violations force them to close. She won't step foot inside a club until midnight, and by 2 most are closed. "People don't want to drink and drive, and they don't want to drive all the way downtown to go to a club and then worry about leaving their car. And a lot of people don't like to go to a place if they can't drink. And for kids under 21, there's no place for them to go."

The club crowd isn't the only group that's prowling around at night. Jimmy's restaurant in Beverly Hills attracts celebrities and studio executives, and owner Jimmy Murphy finds his customers often stay until closing at 2. But even he laments the fact that there are few places to go after that.

Irish Pub for Night People

"There are very few places to go at night," Murphy said. "It's a shame, really. I'm basically a night person, and I wouldn't mind leaving here after closing and going somewhere for a cappuccino. I think L.A. is growing, becoming more international. And I also think some new restaurants opening should consider (staying open later)." Murphy plans to open Murphy's Tavern in Century City in November, an Irish pub for young people. And he's thought about starting a nightclub as well, one that would stay open till 4 a.m. serving desserts and non-alcoholic drinks after 2.

But not everyone is--or can be--a night owl. Perhaps Angelenos have gone so long without a steady night life they've grown used to an early-to-bed, early-to-rise schedule. Wallis Annenberg, one of the city's premier hostesses, said, "My parties don't go late. I've always thought that anything that can't be done before midnight isn't worth doing at all. I've never been one to encourage a late night. I think a good party is measured by quality, not quantity."

Marcia Koch, president of the Cedars-Sinai Women's Guild, said most of the charity balls she attends are held on weeknights (not to conflict with weekend schedules) and end between 10:30 and 11. "I think they take into consideration the fact that people work," she said.

Those who can't afford to stay out late include 30-year-old Evelyn Dorian, a stockbroker with Merrill Lynch. Her schedule is ruled by East Coast time; when the stock market opens at 9 a.m. in New York it's 6 a.m. here. Dorian rises at 4:30, is at work at 5:30 and turns in about 10 p.m. "If you're up till 11 or 12 you're just exhausted the next day. But here I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything since there's not much to do (late at night). In New York I would feel that way."

Movie production schedules start early, too; according to one Columbia studios production executive, actors must be on the set at 5:30 or 6 for makeup, shooting begins at 8 and sometimes goes all day, leaving little time for anything else.

Perhaps those schedules explain why places like Hugo's restaurant in West Hollywood are packed during breakfast with men and women getting an early start on things. Or maybe those are people just ending their day.

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