Every time I visit Boyle Heights, I fall in love with the neighborhood a little bit more. I’ve visited several times lately, first to research a piece for Singular Magazine, and then to research a piece for the Los Angeles Times. The Metro Gold Line Extension (“La Linea de Oro“) is poised to open there this summer and promises to bring changes (hopefully positive) to the neighborhood. The metro will let you off in Mariachi Plaza, ground zero for all your mariachi needs. There’s Casa del Mariachi, where you can pick up a sombrero or embroidered charro suit. There’s La Casa del Musico, which sells accordions and vihuelas for mariachi orchestras. You’ll spot mariachi musicians in full regalia gathered around the plaza’s gazebo waiting to get picked up for a gig or going to/from La Serenata de Garibaldi, a venerable restaurant where they sing serenades.
In the midst of all this old world Mexican tradition, there’s a thriving hipster art scene. I’m enamored with Eastside Luv, the “cholo chic” wine bar where burlesque cabaret and Latin rock bands share the stage. Just up First St., Brooklyn & Boyle is a new literary and cultural salon that puts up monthly art exhibits. I also discovered Teocintli, a boutique that stocks ironic T-shirts with Chicano imagery, from lowriders to Subcomandante Marcos. Hopefully, this hipster strain will continue to thrive in Boyle Heights without bringing the dreaded specter of gentrification.
Other pleasures: Hollenbeck Park, which is surprisingly serene despite hugging Interstate 5. Budget fashion shops along E. Cesar E. Chavez Ave. (Melrose-trendy stuff at bargain prices). The smell of freshly baked tortillas coming from La Fortaleza tortilla factory. Fresh horchata at Moles La Tia. The Breed Street Shul — a magnificent remnant of when the Jewish community dominated in the neighborhood in the early part of the 20th century. The people — there’s warmth and pride and hospitality in all of the family owned businesses.