Certain cities are notorious for being up all night. Not so Los Angeles. Its bars and liquor stores close at 2 a.m., its subways around midnight and its overnight buses run about as regularly as an obese smoker. If you've been out drinking and you're not big on DUIs, your best bets are a $50 cab ride home and a swift dive into bed.
No wonder lines like "Want to go back to my place and watch Comedy Central? I think I've got some Triple Sec" are commonplace on late-night street corners. It's also another tired excuse for New Yorkers to scoff at L.A. With their whooshing 24-hour subways and 4 a.m. last calls, they think they've got the all-night thing wrapped up.
But they're wrong. The discerning Angeleno knows that when it comes to after-hours activities, Southern California is rife with possibility. You just have to know where to look -- and when. You also have to accept that night crawling in the entertainment capital of the world is like leaping into a bowl of scrapple. The city's offerings are a hodgepodge of the legal and the illegal; the tawdry and the tame; the predictable and the wildly offbeat.
Also, because much of the city tends to shut down (illegal speak-easies notwithstandng), the term "after hours" can be interpreted loosely. For our purposes it means anything that happens during a time frame when it normally wouldn't. A far-out example could be "Late Night at American Girl Place." For $225, your little lady and her precious plastic pal can hang out in the store at the Grove until well past closing time (americangirl.com). Or how about singing your lungs out until 4 a.m. at Karaoke Yuu Yuu near Sawtelle and Olympic boulevards (karaokeyuuyuu.com)? They're only the start of our night crawl.
-- Jessica Gelt
Night at the museum
You don't have to swim with the sharks to sleep with them. You just have to sign up for a $70 "Adult Sleepover" at the Aquarium of the Pacific. "It's so lazy there at night," says the aquarium's public programs manager, Elizabeth Keenan. "When the lights go down on the exhibits, you can see the shadows of the fish swimming around, including the sharks."
Before bed you get a pizza dinner, a tour and a chance to dip your hands into a "touch pool" containing invertebrates or bamboo sharks. You can also participate in a yoga or meditation class, or watch a movie in the aquarium's theater. When it's time to sleep, cuddle up next to the 350,000-gallon tropical reef habitat with its 2,000 animals or the sea otter exhibit featuring a giant Pacific octopus and Japanese spider crabs (aquariumofpacific.org).
Prefer landlocked activities? The Natural History Museum hosts slumber parties geared for children such as "Camp Goo," dubbed "an exciting night at the Tar Pits" (nhm.org). Then there's "Zoopendous Nights" at the L.A. Zoo. Participating families (who are encouraged to book their evening far in advance) get an after-dark zoo tour as well as pizza and salad and "beastly stories" at bedtime (lazoo.org).
And the Los Angeles County Museum of Art holds an annual nocturnal romp dubbed "Late Night at LACMA." The last event (held June 21) featured a screening of John Waters' "Hairspray" and a performance by the electro-rock band Ima Robot and the fetishized turntable stylings of hipster demigod Steve Aoki (lacma.org).
Midnight movies at the Nuart in West Los Angeles are a SoCal institution. Q&As, door prizes and titles such as Peter Jackson's campy horror classic "Dead Alive" (Sept. 28) will keep you on the edge of your seat (landmarktheaters.com).
The same goes for the New Beverly's biweekly Saturday midnight screenings, featuring spine-tingling titles such as Oct. 13's "Army of Darkness" (newbevcinema.com).
Flirt until dawn
Scenesters troll the Hollywood Ralphs -- dubbed the "rock 'n' roll Ralphs" -- on Sunset Boulevard or the Silver Lake Vons across from the Vista theater in search of late-night flirtation and the occasional firm breakfast melon. Others speed to the 24-hour Sherman Oaks Newsstand seeking media-fueled love and conversation. And although it is discouraged, late-night lore is full of stories of besotted hipsters raiding the dumpsters surrounding the L.A. Flower Mart -- which runs its wholesale business from 2 to 8 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays -- looking for the perfect bloom for that special someone (laflowerdistrict.com).
Dance, dance, dance
There are plenty of opportunities to explore the ancient art of the dance after closing time. Of course, most of these rhythmic rituals begin with the prefix "lap" or "table," and unfold to the beat of a $20 bill dropping every three or four minutes.
A few alternatives remain for those purists who wish to avoid paying a per-song fee for their dance partner. True to its name, Insomniac Events regularly promotes raves at L.A. venues with some of the biggest names in progressive house and trance DJ-dom, and co-promotes one of the most popular weekly "house" parties in town, Giant at the Vanguard, 9:30 p.m. to 4 a.m. Saturdays (insomniacevents.com).
Not to be outdone, Avalon Hollywood hosts not one but two all-night raves: Spider After Dark, a true after-hours event at 2 a.m. that generally runs until 7 a.m. Saturdays; and Avaland, which starts at 10 or 11 p.m. Saturday and lasts till 6 or 7 a.m. Sunday . . . or even later. "As long as the crowd and the DJ want to continue," says Avalon publicist Alastair Duncan, "we'll keep the party going" (avalonhollywood.com).
Speaking of parties,downtown Los Angeles' Nocturnal Festival at 7 p.m. Sept. 29 lasts until 4 a.m. and features trapeze aerial performances along with five stages for live music and an art and sculpture garden (nocturnalwonderland.com). Feeling a bit more participatory? Get sweaty at an all-night milonga sponsored by Caltech's Tango Club (once a month from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.) (tango.caltech.edu/milongas.html).
A strike on sleep
Shatto 39 Lanes -- a bowling alley and pool hall on the edge of Koreatown -- keeps its lights on until 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays for a nightcap that may just leave you in the gutter (shatto39lanes.com). But that's nothing compared with Canoga Park Bowl, a kind of holy grail for insomniac pinheads. Its balls are ready for action 24 hours a day.
"We get a lot of kids -- teenagers and 20-year-olds -- that come in after 2 a.m.," says Ron Riffert, a four-year veteran of this Valley alley's late shift. "They're not very good bowlers," he says with a laugh. "But they definitely have fun" (canogaparkbowl.com).
There are eight licensed card rooms for poker and its various card-carrying cousins in L.A. County, and they're open all night. Backed by Larry Flynt's inscrutable charms, not to mention wallet, the relatively recent Hustler Casino in Gardena has received more than its share of attention (hustlercasinola.com).
But with an impressive 243 tables, Commerce Casino is perhaps a better bet for testing your poker face -- after all, it claims to be "the world's largest poker casino" (commercecasino.com).
Say you've just spent a night out boozing it up in Hollywood and need to sober up. Sure, you can head to Mel's, Canter's, Denny's or IHOP, but shouldn't you at least try to introduce something a bit healthier into your alcohol-soaked body?
Nova Express is a short stumble from Canter's across Fairfax Avenue. Though it may resemble an Amsterdam coffee shop, this space-themed cafe offers greenery of a different sort: salads, such as its fresh mushroom-loaded Solar Flare (novaexpresscafe.com).
Bossa Nova, with its busy Sunset Boulevard location, offers up equally interesting options for the inebriated WeHo masses. The Brazilian hot spot, open until 4 a.m. nightly, also provides large salads. But Bossa Nova's specialty is flavorful grilled meats and fresh fish -- try the mahi mahi or sea bass (bossafood.com).
For the antithesis of burgers and fries, Los Feliz hipsters eschew Fred 62 in favor of Thai dishes at Pattaya, open until 4 a.m. nightly. Chile-laden larb (ground chicken sprinkled with red onions, lime juice and cilantro) is just what any aspiring homeward-bound driver needs to revive. Wash it down with Thai iced tea, followed by a mango dessert with sweet sticky rice and you are ready for the 101. (323) 666-0880.
Koreatown, of course, is not lacking in late-night dining options. But for the true 24/7 experience, insomniacs have been heading to Hodori for years. And they don't explicitly come for the food -- which can be mediocre. Still, there's nothing like an order of jjol-myun (cold, chewy noodles with spicy sauce) thrown on your table by a busy waitress at 3:30 a.m. to jolt you back to sobriety. Kamsahamnida (thank you) and good morning. (213) 383-3554.
--C.A.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun