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In the shadow of Los Angeles City College, the intersection of Heliotrope Drive and Melrose Avenue boasts a collegiate, counterculture vibe, complete with avid bicycle activists, a smoke shop, tattoo parlor and a splash of colorful, graffiti-style murals. Yet this little pocket of shops and restaurants, known as “Hel Mel,” also offers the more refined pleasures of gourmet gelato, local craft beers and designer lingerie. The junction of grit and polish makes Hel Mel one of the most vibrant, up-and-coming neighborhoods on the hipster map.

The Bicycle Kitchen (706 N. Heliotrope Drive, [323] 662-2776, embraces the do-it-yourself spirit of cycling, offering tools, stands and assistance for people who want to learn how to work on their own bikes. Across the street, Orange 20 Bikes (4351 Melrose Ave., [323] 662-4537,, started by two members of the Bicycle Kitchen, stocks a range of fixed-gear and other bikes as well as accessories for the urban cyclist.

At Scoops (712 N. Heliotrope Drive, [323] 906-2649), owner Tai Kim combines unorthodox flavors to make outrageously delicious gelato creations which have included avocado vanilla, pistachio wasabi and soy-based banana Oreo. At vegan restaurant Pure Luck (707 N. Heliotrope Drive, [323] 660-5993,, wash down “carnitas” tacos or a BBQ “pulled pork” sandwich -- both made with jackfruit -- with one of the 10 rotating local craft beers on tap. Stop in at the deli at Rincon Chileno (4354 Melrose Ave., [323] 666-6075) for homemade empanadas and well-priced Chilean wines to go.


Cycling central

Good eats

Specialty finds

Jenette Bras (4308 Melrose Ave., [323] 665-7490, caters to curvaceous women as well as expectant and nursing moms with a selection of designer bras and pretty underthings in sizes D-K. Early California Antiques (4302 Melrose Ave., [323] 953-8330, specializes in pre-World War II gems like Monterey furniture, Catalina and Bauer pottery, and Spanish Revival lighting. Aldine Books (667 N. Heliotrope Drive, [323] 668-2305) offers a wide selection of used titles, especially in art and history.

Eclectic culture

The beautiful facade of Jensen’s Melrose Theatre, opened in 1924 to show silent films, now houses the Ukrainian Cultural Center (4315 Melrose Ave., [323] 665-3703,, a site for community events. Next door, Fake Gallery (4319 Melrose Ave., [323] 644-4946, hosts comedy nights and offbeat musicals. Sacred Fools Theatre (660 N. Heliotrope Drive, [323] 281-8337, mounts contemporary plays that challenge traditional theater conventions.