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Friday, August 5, 2011

Los Angeles Travel: Hipster Hotel and Swingers Diner


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Usually when my family travels to California we stay with my friends and family. But over the last winter break, my wife, son and I took an unexpected trip to California due to an illness in my family. Due to the short notice, we stayed in a motel rather than with friends. Which allows me to do a review for my readers who might travel to Los Angeles.

We flew in on Christmas day. Late. We got our luggage and rented our biodiesel Jetta and drove to our hotel.

I picked out hotel based only on proximity to my mother (who lives near the LA County Museum of Art and La Brea Tar Pits) and low cost. Looking through a bunch of hotels, mostly too expensive or too far from my mother (we could have gotten a GREAT deal on a room in Little Tokyo in a NICE hotel, but it was too far). But one was a perfect balance of cheap and close to where we needed to be in the Mid-Wlishire district: The Beverly-Laurel Moter Hotel on the corner of Beverly Blvd and Laurel.

When my wife looked into it, we got worried. It was billed as a "hipster" place where young, cool people stay and party all night. Well...we are not so young, not hipsters and have a three year old. I was worried that we would have trouble sleeping and would spoil the hipster image of the hotel. I mean a nerdy family with a three year old doesn't exactly make for "cool."

We got to the hotel about 11 PM. By the time we parked our biodiesel (next to a prius), checked in and put down our luggage, it was about 11:45. And we hadn't had dinner.

On the ground floor of the Beverly-Laurel Motel is a diner called "Swingers." It is open to something like 4 AM...and open again around 6 AM for breakfast.

As we entered the late night "Swingers" diner at nearly midnight on Christmas with our 3 year old, we did acheive a kind of coolness as the twenty something hipsters inhabiting the diner at that hour looked at us with some awe. I guess a nerdy, fourty-something couple with a three year old coming in at nearly midnight really is cool to your average twenty something. We got actual stares and you could practically hear them thinking, "Wow, what COOL parents!"

The Beverly-Laurel Motel is a cheap and very decent place to stay in Los Angeles. It is well placed near enough to almost everything without being too far from anything. Near great museums, Beverly Hills and Hollywood and not too far from Downtown, Westwood and the Airport, it is a good place to stay. Very basic but comfortable. Our room had two comfortable beds (doubles). Our 3 year old was absolutely amazed that he got a big bed to himself. It was one of the high points of his life to date to have a whole big bed to himself. Okay, he fell out twice during our stay, being used to a crib. The first time he barely woke up and I got him resettled and back asleep in no time. The second time he woke up and was upset, but not too badly. He's ready for a bed of his own...

There is also a kitchenette that has a fridge, microwave and stove...and a random assortment of kitchen ware. No coffee maker. We brought some instant coffee and fair trade cocoa to make it palatable. We also had to steal a spoon from the diner (we returned it our last day) and had to buy mugs (which we left in the room for the next guests). But there were some pots and pans and dishes.

We all liked the motel. For a basic base of operations it was ideal for us and we'd do it again if we ever are in LA with no place to stay. And I recommend it for anyone on a budget.

Swingers diner was also a nice surprise. I think I can safely say it was the one of the best diners I have eaten at. We tended to eat there as our default, partiularly since our son decided we HAD to eat breakfast there. The one day we went elsewhere (to Loteria, a Mexican place at the Farmer's Market that is supposed to have great breakfasts according to Zagat's) he cried the whole way and it took us forever to get out of him that he was upset because we weren't going to the diner for breakfast. We got him a bagel and promised him we'd go to the diner the next day and he calmed down.

The diner's logo is an American flag heart that seems right from "Love American Style" (for those of you old enough to remember THAT). The earlybird special breakfast (served weekdays before 11 AM) is a steal. For about $4 you get 2 eggs with either 2 pankakes or a thick slice of challah-based french toast and either bacon or really good sausage. That was my default for breakfast, though I also tried the Hell's Kitchen (organic eggs with pork sausage, corn, jalpenos, potatoes and toast) once and a jerk chicken omelete once (very moist, flavorful chicken...the flavors weren't quite an ideal combination, I thought, but it was quite good anyway).

And the coffee wasn't bad. Now in NYC I find the coffee at diners is abyssmal. You have to load it up with sugar and milk to make it even barely tolerable to force down to get the dregs of caffeine it might contain. The coffee at Swingers wasn't great, but for a diner it was respectable. I was satisfied with the caffeine options.

We also had dinner there a few times. Good burgers, good onion rings and, if it is possible to say this without irony, perhaps the best tuna melt I have ever had. Yes...the tuna melt was done perfectly. It was the tuna melt perfected, for what it is worth. My expectations were low and I was happily suprised at the quality of the food.

Oddly, I was slightly disappointed in their hot turkey sandwich, which I would have considered safe at any diner. It wasn't bad by any means, but it was far more typical than the rest of their food. Most of what we had I considered a solid notch or two above any other diner. The turkey sandwich (open face with gravy, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes) was more typical of diner fare. Still good, but not as surprisingly good as most of the food.

For the budget traveler to Los Angeles, I can recommend the Beverly-Laurel motor hotel and it's partner, Swingers Diner, as your base camp. They are basic, but worth the price. If you can afford better, well go for it. But if you want to save some money but still be satisfied, I can recommend these.

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