Whenever I encounter the phrase “hip neighborhood,” I’m overcome with both quiet contempt and even quieter envy. I’ve lived in a few hip neighborhoods, admittedly by accident, either by staying in one place long enough that the place became hip around me or by chasing some ill-fated dream of living in a hip neighborhood and failing such that I inadvertently moved into the next big thing, which was usually adjacent and cheaper by an exponent. I’m just not instinctively that cool.
I witnessed the hip brigade arrive in Venice, CA. (CUT TO: Mandatory montage of roller-bladers slicing past beach-bound pedestrians and bodybuilders caged within the cyclone fence of Muscle Beach). I was lured to the locale by a three-month house-sitting gig for a filmmaker who had gone on-location in Germany to direct an indie flick (my Venetian vacation eventually grew to three years when the movie’s financing inevitably fell apart and the filmmaker realized it was cheaper to stay abroad). In those years, I watched the main drag, Abbot Kinney (named for the developer who tried to import a water-logged slice of Italy to Californian shores), mature into a something of a cultural epicenter, brimming with cafes, bookstores and bars with doormen whose sunglasses cost more than my car.
Suddenly, my neighborhood was cool, which dare I say conferred some fleeting coolness on me. Until the Germans sent my absentee landlord home. Why this trip down Memory Lane to apartments past and garrets gone by? I believe another hip neighborhood is arising in our midst.
If last Saturday’s wine-drenched block party at Eighth Street East is any indication, I’d say the burgeoning vino mecca among the warehouses of winemakers and related industries is well-poised to seize the mantle (a brilliant time was had by all, including the mayor who was kind enough to drive my car home for me). And, yes, I dig that I’m clearly the last to learn about the Eighth Street East phenomenon, but permit me to be the first to say that live-work lofts will surely follow. They sprout like corrugated metal mushrooms wherever lifestyle and light-industrial concerns collide. Here, I do not condone or condemn, but merely observe (and, as always with these matters, the specter of gentrification looms, but I submit that if you’re developing near the tony enclaves of the wine trade, the gentrification has already occurred).
So far as I can tell, there are at least two rules an area must abide while becoming hip: 1.) Don’t try. Just like in junior high, exhibiting any aspiration to coolness invariably results in ultimate disaster.
For example, Petaluma’s relatively under-populated “Theater District” was developed by someone who should have been stuffed into his locker. 2.) Remain relatively inexpensive – at first.
Early adopters are often those brave few with artists’ souls and their corresponding pocket books. Warehouses and other industrial settings are traditionally prime locales for hipification. Consider New York’s lauded Meat Packing District, with its decidedly working class name (replete with a vague sense of gore) that now boasts rafts of restaurants with as many dollar signs as stars in the city guides.
Interestingly, while in LA, my agent once advised me to say I was from Sonoma County rather than San Francisco, which was theretofore my shorthand Northern California experience when navigating “whence and hence” small talk.
Though at the time, arguably more Angelenos knew San Francisco, those in the know appreciated the “SoCo” cachet, though anyone who calls it “SoCo” should probably be avoided.
The neighborhood in which I presently live with the Contessa was definitely cool before we arrived, which accounts for the fact that I was able to join a band in which all the members live in a four-block radius and Skanky the Clown’s Burning Man van is perpetually parked nearby.
That the slightly inflated value of our home has simmered down thanks to the economic chill, the general temperature remains – to borrow a phrase from Haskell Wexler – medium cool.
And that’s cool enough.