A sense of place in downtown L.A.

Special to The Times

A friend told me once that if you fold your business card in half and place it carefully in the fishbowl of free lunch contenders, you'll double your chances. A wise man, my friend, for now I am sitting at Pete's enjoying my free blue cheese fries and salad. I have won something. Thanks, Pete.

Eight years ago, having relocated to Los Angeles from San Francisco, I took one look at downtown and didn't return for several years. They call this "downtown"? Please. It's not a downtown until there are people lingering after work at their local pub, half on/half off a barstool, complaining about their boss.

So really, since it opened in late 2002, Pete's has saved this city, with its flair for the perfect martini and noble high ceilings to contain all that office gossip. It is hard to speak at all, however, while partaking of the macaroni and cheese, which will swear you off the boxed version. For cleansing your palate, there are homemade sorbets -- but do protect yourself against incoming spoons.

The happy-hour crowd is as diverse as you'd expect downtown. There is Moody Artist, in faded jeans that meet up with worn loafers and a wrinkled gray T-shirt. He lets out a sigh. You imagine that minutes before in his shadowy loft, a color palette betrayed him and he fears he may never find the right blend for a turbulent sky. He tossed the palette, yelled curses in French and came here to Pete's for a semblance of normalcy. He orders some white wine.

Then there is Bob the Sales Manager, in a tight white shirt starched to the breaking point. His tie slopes over an enduring beer belly that he pats as he sits down with his reluctant sales team. He snorts, "I've got a fire in my belly called 'Winning,' guys." Harrumph. "Now let's hit those goals out of the park!"

I glance up at the television, stationed on something sporty, and wonder why baseball deserves all the zealous metaphors for excellence, and what sales managers in Boston used before the Red Sox finally triumphed.

Bob blows his nose on his napkin, beams at his lackluster employees who are already scanning the menu for the most expensive items, determined that in some small way, they too will win. After all, it's Free Lunch Friday with a side of chastising. Get what you can, mourn the rest.

Moody Artist takes a swig of his wine and I think he is motioning me over, but he is just doing a no-hands flip of his bangs, a skill inherited by many artists to avoid paint hair.

No matter. I was a winner long before he got here.


Katie Love can be reached at weekend@latimes.com.


Pete's Cafe & Bar

Where: 400 S. Main St., L.A.

When: 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays, 11 a.m. to midnight Sundays

Price: Martinis, $7 to $10; macaroni, $11; sorbet, $6

Info: (213) 617-1000, www.petescafe.com

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