This story is part of Image issue 7, “Survival,” a collective vision for the L.A. of our dreams. See the full package here.
I don’t know where you’ll be when you open this letter, or how you’ll feel when you see it, when you unfold it, hold it under the light. But I’m hoping you’ll take it somewhere special — that favorite bar of yours; you know which one — and read it alone.
I’ve been thinking recently about rites of passage. How the people in our family chart our own constellations in these infinite cities and hope it makes us feel like we belong. Your grandma Adrienne used to take herself to baseball games as an undergraduate in New York City, a rare thing for a woman to do on her own. You have always connected with her in that way. In L.A., you didn’t want to wait for anyone to sit in the rose gold seats of Bavel, or slurp frozés at Madre, or wind through the Santa Monica Mountains to weathered walls of Old Place. Without the buffer of friends or dates, solitude allowed you to listen to the city better, and made you sit and listen to yourself too. There is a difference between feeling like you move through a big city not by yourself but fully as yourself, and you knew the latter would take practice.
Solo nights out in L.A. were your thing. Remember the first time you sat alone at a bar in the city? You chatted with a friendly couple next to you eating sushi and drinking cold beer. You don’t remember what you talked about except that they worked in the film industry, because of course they did. They left and when you got the check they had already paid for your meal. You wondered if they were waiting outside to propose a threesome. But they were gone, and you were alone in the downtown heat glowing with sweat, beaming from the kindness of strangers — and the idea that the city’s possibilities would reveal themselves to you in its bars and restaurants.
Everyone loves to look and be looked at in L.A. but that doesn’t necessarily mean you connect. In observing the city, you missed the politeness of Istanbul, the solidarity of New York, the late-night jokes at Mexico City taco stands. There were times like when you entered that packed bar in Silver Lake in a fluffy white sweater, sticking out like a white snowy owl in a flock of black leather. You felt lonely and weirdly exposed for being covered in feathers. At Echo Park’s Bar Caló one day you stirred the ice in a mezcal Old-Fashioned, cocooned by blush pink walls and sexy red velvet couches. You remembered when your stepmom didn’t let you wear pink or shorts as a kid and how you still have to shed the influence of a backward militant feminism that makes you think too much about how to conceal yourself. The drinks didn’t bring out your demons, the act of being seen alone did.
One rainy evening, on your way to the Dresden in Los Feliz, a flash of a sparkly seafoam-green dress caught your eye as it twinkled through the doorway of the Louvre Banquet Hall. You peeked inside and saw a girl celebrating her quinceañera. She hovered next to her party planner until the DJ’s voice announced her into a hazy lavender glow of teenage screams. You crossed the street and made your own entrance into the quietness of the Dresden, a 1950s dive of Hollywood fantasy with black-vested bartenders and curved vinyl booths. You thought about how much work we put into announcing ourselves in L.A. and that maybe you should take a cue from a teenager and embrace being seen.
Inside Issue 7: Survival
Writer Rembert Browne investigates the mysterious ailments that just showed up one day
Writer Zinzi Clemmons wants you to be able to stay in the city as long as you want
Artist Muna Malik recycles the emblem of a failed democracy
Journalist Cerise Castle pays tribute to the city’s forgotten site of refuge and devastation
Actor Marque Richardson lets us in on the only 20-year-plan that matters
L.A. and its penchant for glamour can seem ridiculous sometimes, but you began to love the way people make their own rebellions against the quotidian instead of submitting to it. You and your closet could infuse magic into what could be an ordinary meeting, date, day. There was that year you were living in Topanga, headed to a date wearing a silk green scarf and a black faux-fur vest draped over worn jeans and a T-shirt, feeling like you had mastered Southern California winter. You came down the stairs and asked Django for his thoughts. He was 5 years old and already had firm ideas about what he wanted to wear in the morning. “Gorgeous, like fire, auntie,” he said. Later at the Normandie Club you would watch the bartender offer a crew shots of mezcal and reflect on how fire burns bright with no remorse for what’s around it.
The world might be a hot mess, but I hope this much for you, and your life, however it takes shape: You deserve to dress up, to talk to a stranger, to sip something somewhere. These small acts, as you know, are the makings of an unspoken promise to be present. I hope the world still affords you that privilege. You’re uncertain how many of our current rituals can continue. Your drink of choice, mezcal, is made with agaves that have reached their highest sugar content, which at minimum is six years but it can take longer than a decade. Once the plant is harvested it never grows back. You worry the demand for it is unsustainable.
But you still have fond memories of that peach and mezcal cocktail at Accomplice in Mar Vista, under a photo of a topless Ryan Gosling playfully tucked into the bar shelf by a former bartender. His abs were illuminated by a light-up plastic unicorn like an altar. A man with crazy eyes sat next to you and went on a misogynistic rant so cringey the bartender poured you a sympathy shot, and the two of you spent the rest of the evening laughing about it. You thought about that healer in El Segundo who said to wear a piece of jewelry or clothing that you could look at to embody whatever was left in your throat unsaid. Remember that night how you admired your long rose-pink leather jacket in the window reflection, a vintage score with deep front pockets and big silver buttons, and you felt unfazed and light.
Ferron Salniker is a freelance food and beverage writer with a focus on identity, origins and the systems behind how we eat and drink. She also produces food and spirit events across the country. She grew up in Oakland and is based between her hometown and Los Angeles.