Rise, shine, brunch. The Breakfast Bar (70 Atlantic Ave. Tel: 562-726- 1700. www.the-breakfast-bar.com), a beloved local eatery is inexplicably located within a Travelodge. But hey, I’m not complaining about Uncle Marcee’s Omelet Casserole, a menu item that has been passed down three generations and prepared 24 hours in advance. It’s exactly what I want with my morning latte: meat, veggies and eggs oven baked to fluffy perfection and served with a potato pancake and a side of fruit. Items like French Toast, “naked cakes” and meatloaf steak round out the menu.
I am now strolling vibrant downtown Long Beach. In the 1930s an earthquake leveled the city and much of the town was rebuilt in Art Deco. Many of those buildings still stand which makes Long Beach something of an eye-popper for architecture buffs. Equally impressive is the city’s more recent revitalization which has turned the city’s core into 1.38 “un square miles” (as the city likes to say) of bars and breweries, eateries with expansive sidewalk patios and a mix of indie and chain retail. Try not to be impressed by how many people hang out here on a weekend night.
My favorite downtown shop is MADE by Millworks (240 Pine Ave. Tel: 562-584-6233. www.madebymillworks.com) an enormous showroom where everything for sale has been crafted within 25 miles of Long Beach. I peruse items like tank tops, greeting cards, accessories, lgbtq knickknacks, fine art prints, jewelry and more. There’s also an art gallery. But wait, it’s even cooler. Behind a door in the back of MADE is speakeasy Elinor, a tucked away taproom named for Elinor Otto the longest serving Rosie the Riveter and a SoCal native who made airplanes for more than 50 years until she was laid off a few years ago at age 95. In October 2019 she turned 100!
Speaking of airplanes, definitely fly into Long Beach Airport (LGB) if possible. It’s a total charmer with a mid-century design that recalls the Golden Age of Aviation and is celebrated for its stellar dining options. Even if you fly into LAX, Burbank, or John Wayne Orange County, make time to hang around The Hangar at Long Beach Exchange (4250 McGowen St. Tel: 949-760-9150. www.thelongbeachexchange.com). This former airport hangar was turned into food hall and in addition to soaring ceilings and famous quotes from aviation giants like Orville Wright and Amelia Earhart splashed across the walls, it’s a legit foodie mecca where I find myself artfully trying to swivel my strawberry and dark chocolate with hazelnuts popsicle from Popbar back and forth so that I can catch it all from dripping onto the floor. Other food vendors include Plaid Sheep (a grilled cheese bar), Bite Mi Asian Kitchen, Amore Cito (a taqueria), Bottlecraft (a beer tasting room), and many others. The back entrance spills onto the Long Beach Exchange, a sprawling outdoor shopping plaza.
After eating, I duck into the fantastic Aquarium of the Pacific (100 Aquarium Way. Tel: 562-590-3100. www.aquariumofpacific.org). I’m a sucker for anything with tentacles, scales, and flippers, so naturally, I love this place. West Coast-centric exhibits like the Southern California and Baja Gallery and the Northern California Gallery offer the requisite hat tip to the region, like all visitors I’m here to see animals and the Aquarium boasts more than 11,000, including sea otters, rays, large sharks (including a touch pool), penguins, sea lions, octopi, jellyfish and of course thousands of fish.
From the aquarium I see the Queen Mary (1126 Queens Hwy. Tel: 877-342-0738. www.queenmary.com), the transatlantic ocean liner that made its maiden voyage in 1936 and has been retired in Long Beach since 1967. Today, she’s the city’s most visited attraction and also a 346-room floating hotel and events venue. I last boarded the ship during Dark Harbor, a wildly popular and month-long Halloween event in which the ship’s hull is transformed into a series of haunted mazes. Even if you don’t stay at the hotel, visit the Queen Mary if only for a drink at the Observation Bar, formerly the ship’s first class lounge and now a hangout featuring torchiere lamps, Art deco fixtures, and the original artwork.
It’s now early evening and I need a pick me up so I head inland to the Bixby Knolls neighborhood to check out SteelCraft (3768 Long Beach Blvd. www.steelcraftlb.com), a collection of shipping containers stitched together around a large courtyard and featuring walkup eateries like Tajima Ramen, Waffle Love, Desano Pizza and Rori’s Artisanal Creamery among others. Not much of a day drinker, I do the unthinkable and order myself a beer from Smog City Brewing and join the young families, hipsters, and working stiffs hanging out at the large wooden tables that give SteelCraft an Oktoberfest beer hall vibe. As dusk turns the sky from its ubiquitous robin’s egg blue to shades or orange, pink and purple, a string of lights that zigzag over the courtyard begin to flicker on.
Downtown’s big city energy is calling me and that’s where I find myself at dinnertime. With so many restaurants to choose from, I end up eeny meeny miny and mo-ing my way onto a bar stool at packed eatery The Ordinaire (210 The Promenade N. Tel: 562- 676-4261. www.theordinaire.com), a joint that is jumping on this warm Saturday night. There’s a New England pilgrim vibe to the place and I order a lobster pot pie off the seafood-focused menu. My bearded bartender is a cutie and while slurping lobster I decide to sneak a peek on Scruff and Grindr to see if his profile pops up. No such luck.
Tiny bar, The Falcon (1435 E. Broadway. Tel: 562-432-4146. www.falconbar.com) is more about chatting, carousing and bending over the service area to order another vodka soda. Named for the street it sits on, the Falcon is a charming LGBTQ saloon with an attic vibe and too many televisions for my liking. It’s only 10 P.M. on this Saturday night, but already the bar is hopping. I overhear a gaggle of gays extolling the virtues of Long Beach: “All of the LA’s pluses without the snobbery” and decide The Falcon is a great little bar to begin or end a night.
Right where microfiber meets ass cheek, I find myself sliding a buck into the thong of the beefy gogo otter gyrating to Prince’s “Erotic City” at the Silver Fox (411 Redondo Ave. Tel: 562-439-6343. www.silverfoxlongbeach.com) and survey my surroundings. I don’t think the name is meant to be taken literally, but there sure are a lot of daddies in the room tonight. This place is priceless. The floor is covered wall to wall in black carpet streaked with rainbow zigzags and the furnishings and fixtures imply the bar hasn’t had a makeover since the early ‘90s. This place feels like “Saved by the Bell” if it had been set in a gay bar, and I absolutely love it. The crowd is racially diverse and some youngsters are scattered among the more mature nightlife goers.
I end up in conversation with a preppy guy named Tom who is chaperoning his friends Grant and Eduardo from San Francisco. When the gogo otter saunters by us with a tray of shots, he stops and squeals in delight at the sight of Todrick Hall’s “I Like Boys” video which features the singer in the desert surrounded by a half dozen nude dancers covered only by sheets. “That one’s me!” he says pointing to a chiseled chorus line dancer in the buff. Later I get showered with compliments from Jay, a beefy school teacher who introduces himself to me because he recognizes my bare booty on Instagram. It’s not gonna get any better than that so I call it a night.
The next morning I decide to stroll downtown’s promenade one last time before heading back to Los Angeles. Some of the eateries I pass are preparing for the Sunday brunch crowd and from one restaurant’s patio I hear Jace Everett crooning “I don’t know what you’ve done to me but it’s true, I wanna do bad things to you.” Oh Long Beach, I could so do bad things to you.