Remains of L.A.

Traces of L.A.'s past can still be found, in the kitsch of '50s diners and the decayed glamour of '40s hotspots… and sometimes the food is good, and there are nice people.

(1975) El Compadre, Hollywood

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signelcompadre04David (my husband) and I went to El Compadre with our friends Vanessa and French, and their daughter Helene who is almost three, and who I’ve been babysitting since she was a tiny baby, and who is awesome.

-Lots of xmas lights, some shaped like peppers, dim lighting from large round red and yellow hanging lamps, tables with red tablecloths, lots of dark wood, maroon booths with brass tacks, some of them rectangular and some round and cozy, oil paintings of street scenes and flowers, tall vases of lilies, a bar with Corona banners and sombreros hanging on the wall, mirrors in ornate oval frames.

-I got the combination that included a chicken tamale and a cheese enchilada, both quite delicious, although the tamale was almost too spicy for me, and remarkably good beans ecinteriorelcompadre12and rice, and also guacamole and chips and salsa. In the spirit of adventure French got a lobster enchilada. I’d never known that was a thing, but I tried a bite and it was incredible; I wanted to go back the next day to have it again.

-There was loud Mexican music–but not unpleasant or so loud it was hard to hear. A mariachi band set up while we were there, but they didn’t wander around the restaurant playing, to my great relief. I never know what to do with my face when that happens. At first it’s delightful, but then a minute or two later they’re still there and I feel like I’d die rather than hurt their feelings, but just sitting still listening to lyric-less music isn’t really my thing most of the time. I mean I like it if I’m also reading, or dancing, or doing something else. But just sitting there, listening, with the musicians a foot away so they’ll notice if you look anything other than incredibly happy?  Ugh.

ecinteriorelcompadre20-Over the bar are two round… Trays, I guess? pasted all over with crumpled handfuls of money, some of it US currency and some of it not, like a found art collage of money. I asked David (my husband) how he would describe it and he said it was like someone with gum on their shoe walked through the messiest bank robbery ever.

-Behind the bar, on the sides of the wall near the floor, are some beautiful colored tiles. I liked them because they weren’t something most people would ever see–you really had to lean on the bar to spot them. So they were sort of a hidden surprise.

-A woman by the bar said “give me a coconut pineapple.” Of course I knew deep down that this was some sort of drink, but I preferred to believe that she was asking for a bizarre hybrid fruit known only to the best bartenders, and that he was going to bring it to her with a knife, fork, and large chisel.

ecinteriorelcompadre10-As we were waiting at the hostess station, a long line of men came through the restaurant from the back patio, all carrying large bags of ice and hollering, “coming through!” It was strangely exciting.

-Behind our booth was an oil painting of a young woman in a hat holding several other hats for reasons unknown. She had a missing lower tooth, made apparent by her wide smile. Probably happy because she had so many hats.

-A guy came by and asked if we wanted a souvenir photo, but we decided against it. I didn’t know they still did those, at least at places that aren’t resorts.

-French’s drink was on fire when it came to the table. He had to blow it out before he could drink it. I don’t drink alcohol myself, but still I don’t understand why all drinks aren’t on fire whenever possible.

-There was a lantern-style lamp hanging quite low over the table. I showed Helene that she could push the lantern gently to make the light swing and shadows dance on the wall. I quickly regretted it, as she didn’t want to do anything else after that.

ecinteriorelcompadre15-There were two women sitting at a booth nearby who seemed very unhappy. They both ate in absolute silence and didn’t look at each other even once. I figured at least they had each other, but then I thought that maybe that was why they were unhappy. Sometimes I see people eating alone and looking sad and I wish they had someone to eat with, but I often see people eating alone who look a lot happier than these women.

-Vanessa’s iPad has a game on it that lets small children cook meals for Elsa. It was a perfect way to distract a hungry toddler till the food came, but we all felt a little nervous by the way the animated knife seemed about to cut her fingers.

-I dropped my knife on the floor and the waiter was very kind about it. I’m sad I’m so clumsy but I’m glad there are nice waiters.

doorelcompadre28-Over the ladies’ room door, painted directly onto the plaster, was a little picture of the sun tan oil girl who gets her bathing suit tugged at by the puppy. Only there wasn’t a puppy, instead the red of her bathing suit swirled into the word “Ladies” written in cursive. I forgot to go and see what the sign on the Men’s room looked like.

-In the ladies’ room stall someone had written “Ame loves Bruce” but someone else (I assume, it was in a different sort of pen, anyway) had crossed out “Bruce” and written “Caitlyn.”

-On either side of the patio door, which also leads to where the bathrooms are, were (possibly) velvet paintings of big-eyed children sitting on potties. I’m sure they were quite adorable and kitschy and fun, but I’m afraid I have a hard time approving of pictures of people on toilets.

patioelcompadre22-The patio is pretty and breezy with tile and light furniture, very different from the dark and cozy interior. It strikes me as a very good idea, to have this sort of variety. I think that probably back in the seventies lots of stars like Burt Reynolds probably came here, and the people who wanted to see and be seen sat on the patio while the people who wanted a little bit of a break from being seen sat in the darker corner booths. The ones who couldn’t decide probably sat inside at the tables and less-cozy booths, where it was light enough to see people and greet friends, but harder to take photographs and all.

-Helene and I went for a walk around the restaurant before we left, and looked at the people and the decorations and examined a bunch of the lights shaped like peppers, strung through the bannister near the steps going up to the bar. It’s funny how when you’re with a child, you get a new appreciation for things that are near the floor.

What I Ate: Chicken tamale, cheese enchilada, beans, rice, chips, salsa, guacamole, a bite of lobster enchilada.

Who I Ate With/Things We Talked About: David (my husband), Vanessa, French, and Helene; how fruit trees seem magical to non-native Californians, the rumors that Elsa might be a lesbian in the next Frozen movie, Sacred Fools theatre, David (my husband)’s turn as Leonard Ennis on Criminal Minds, French’s upcoming trip to Chicago to be in the play “Voice Lessons,” all the wonderful things Helene is learning, like gymnastics and bodily autonomy.

What Sort of Ghost I’d Expect to Find if I Believed in Ghosts Which I do Not: A young man who worked as a dishwasher until one night when the guitarist in the Mariachi band got sick. He was too shy to speak up, but a waitress he sometimes talked to on break remembered that he played guitar and told the manager. The young man was quickly put into costume and told to do his best–and his best turned out to be better than any of them had ever heard. He played in the Mariachi band every night for a month until a talent scout heard him and swept him off to–well, if not stardom, at least more money and fame than he’d ever dreamed of having. But no matter how well he did, he never forgot the joy he felt playing in the Mariachi band at El Compadre, and whenever he could he’d drop by and grab a guitar.

7408 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90029


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