Local News

What Raleigh, Durham can learn from 'La La Land'

Posted January 27

In an era of countless movie ‘reboots,’ it’s fitting that Los Angeles should be giving its once desolate downtown the same treatment.

The city core that flourished in the early 1900s had by the end of century become a fading star as professionals and development poured into Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Venice Beach and other more-or-less gilded enclaves. During the ‘90s, when I lived in la-la-land, downtown Los Angeles seemed like an old black-and-white movie – full of rips and pops, a decided non-classic.

But then: The second act twist! By the dawn of the 21st century, the spotlight was shining again on urban cores, charged by bohemians and Yuppies looking for new frontiers along with urban planners and real estate developers eager to oblige them.

A Hollywood ending? Too early to say. Nonetheless, here are four plot points that downtown Charlotte, Durham and Raleigh and other North Carolina cities can crib from:

Food Market feast

A "food court" means quick burgers in a shopping mall. A "food market" means engrossing adventures in cuisine and, just as significantly, people-watching. At downtown LA’s Grand Central Market, crowds jostle for tastes of everything from Berlin currywurst to organic juice presses, Moorish kebabs to vegan ramen.

The food is splendid, but the main course is really those crowds! There are tourists, yes. But the Eggslut seems constantly swamped by indigenous skinny-jeaned hipsters waiting as reverently as they would for admission to an Animal Collective after-party. Meantime, a few booths down, workers dusty from one of downtown’s many construction sites shovel in the generous – and relatively cheap – portions served up by the China Cafe.

Carnitas

But the most visually pleasing booth is that of Villa Moreliana. The carnitas purists behind the counter slow cook pork in giant roiling vats, stirring the rich red/brown stews with the solemn flamboyance of high priests. It’s mesmerizing – not to mention delicious.

This is real "melting pot" stuff – beautifully contained on the airy ground floor of a 100-year-old landmark sandwiched between the legendary Bradbury Building and the historic Angel Flight cable cars. The placement couldn’t be better; the execution is nearly flawless.

With food markets in development in many North Carolina towns, this is a towering, drool-inducing model of how to creatively feed stomachs, hearts and minds.

Hot hotels

What’s an L.A. story without a temptress or two? Downtown’s sexiest attractions may well be its boutique hotels. This will come as no surprise to scenesters from NYC or Miami (or, for that matter, Durham), but it’s a revelation if you know only the beige formality of mega-brand chains.

These aren’t just transitory shelters for visitors – they’re sirens, tempting anyone, guest or not, seeking a stylish place to chill or glamour and thrills.

Occupying a sleek 1950s oil company tower, The Standard’s low-lit lobby thrums with trance beats from a nightly DJ as well as the conversations of beautiful people lounging on the posh, purple furnishings. It feels like Daft Punk’s take on a sultan’s tent from “One Thousand and One Arabian Nights.”

The Ace Hotel on Broadway is voluptuous almost beyond belief. The 1927 theater and tower that was once home to United Artists execs and productions now hosts hipsters and celebs. Gorgeous in its restored Spanish Gothic splendor, The Ace can offer up on any given night a meal, a drink and, in the 1,600 seat theater, an interpretive dance performance or, say, Elvis Costello.

It’s almost enough to make you want to spend the entire evening in one place. But in a downtown this dynamic, monogamy just won’t do – no matter how tempting.

READ MORE: Raleigh & Co: La La Land lessons for ambitious downtowns

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  • Brian White Jan 27, 3:11 p.m.
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    This sounds terrible. If you want NY or LA, then go there.