This weekend, the poker world descends on Southern California with the kickoff of the Bicycle Club's $10,000 buy-in Legends of Poker Main Event. Though the Bike is one of the most beloved venues for tour pros (especially now with it's snazzy new renovations), its immediate surroundings in the southeast L.A. suburb of Bell Gardens do leave a bit to be desired. Fortunately, downtown Los Angeles is only a fifteen-minute drive away and offers world-class cuisine, hip lounges, sparkling hotels and close proximity to everything the city has to offer. First things first, though — do yourself a favor and pick up a rental car on your way out of LAX. A set of wheels is everyone's #1 necessity in the City of Angels.
Places to Stay
If you're all about convenience and getting in as many table hours as you possibly can, try and get a room at the Doubletree Commerce, the Ramada Inn-Commerce, or the Commerce Casino itself. Whatever you do, don't stay at any of the motels along Eastern Avenue in Bell Gardens (that is, if you don't mind a little police tape in the parking lot or loud domestic disputes echoing through your paper-thin walls). Our recommendation, however, would be to drive the extra fifteen minutes each day and get a room downtown. Check out the Standard Hotel which not only sports a hip vibe and features sleek, modern rooms, but is home to two things every poker player needs while on the road-- a 24-hour restaurant and a quality watering hole. The 24/7 Restaurant serves satisfying, upscale diner fare at every hour of the day while the Rooftop Bar offers 360-degree views of the city, a pool, an outdoor fireplace, and is the perfect place to unwind after a long day on the felt.
Places to Eat
If a stack of pancakes and an omelette are calling your name, head over to the Original Pantry Cafe (877 S. Figueroa St.). The all-night greasy spoon is an L.A. institution and has been in business since the 1940's. In the mood for the best burrito in the city? Put El Tepeyac (812 N. Evergreen) on your agenda. The pork-and-chili monstrosity of their Hollenbeck burrito is what we call a prop bet waiting to happen. If you're thinking about a night out surrounding some more refined cuisine, head over to the newly-opened Katsuya Downtown (800 W. Olympic Blvd.), a Phillipe Starck-designed temple to raw fish. The other Phillipe making his mark on downtown L.A. has been doing it since 1908 at Phillipe The Original (1001 N. Alameda St.). Phillipe's is all about one thing — the French dip sandwich and though your arteries will take a while to forgive you... it's well worth it.
Places to Drink
For an old-school place to knock back a beer and watch the game, look no further than Hank's Bar (840 S.Grand Ave.), an unpretentious "dive" that takes you back to the 1950's as soon as you walk in the door. If you prefer your libations a little stronger, Seven Grand (515 W. 7th St.) is all about whiskey; there are more than 100 varieties available and there is $3 parking around the corner. For a hip, upscale lounge experience, try The Edison (108 W. 2nd St.). A renovated boiler room in the historic 1910-built Higgins building, the Edison is all about 1920's glamour, so you'd be wise to ditch the hoodie and the baseball hat for a nice button-down.
Should you bust out early or find yourself with some extra time on your hands, discover for yourself why we Angelenos tolerate the traffic, the smog, and the crowding. Hop on I-10 westbound, take it until it merges with Pacific Coast Highway, and roll down your windows as you cruise up the breathtaking coastline to Malibu. Stop at Zuma Beach and we promise, all the bad beats will wash away. If you've brought a special someone on the trip with you, indulge a little and check into Santa Monica's Shutters on the Beach (1 Pico Blvd.) for your last night in California. Each room feels like your own private beach house and it's within walking distance to attractions like the Santa Monica Pier and shopping on the 3rd Street Promenade.