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FriendsWithYou Loves the 'Dirty Optimism' of Downtown LA

We hit up Samuel Borkson from the FriendsWithYou art collective to fill us in on his favorite spots in the city and to tell us why Downtown is the eclectic wonderland of LA.
Photo Courtesy of FriendsWithYou

In honor of our new VICE Guide to Los Angeles, we asked some LA-based musicians and artists to act as our virtual tour guides and fill us in on their favorite spots in the city. This time around, we hit up Samuel Borkson from the FriendsWithYou art collective to tell us why Downtown is the eclectic wonderland of LA.

VICE: How long have you been at your studio in Downtown LA?
Samuel Borkson: Like three years now.


What spots do you recommend to first time visitors?
For food, I lucked out by being really close to Grand Central Market—an amazing place that has all these little spots with their own flavor and unique take on fast food. I think it would be a toss up between there and Little Tokyo. They're both places that are great to explore.

Why do you love downtown?
Downtown is really dope because I feel like there are so many little sections. There's a whole universe down here where you can find art supplies, or warehouses, or amazing food. There are so many good restaurants and stores popping up. It's like a nonstop pulsing of energy.

It feels like it's a lost city that's now being revitalized with new kinds of life, and there are all these really amazing buildings that have incredible interiors from very old buildings. We lucked out and we're right next to the Bradbury building, which is where they filmed Blade Runner—it's incredible inside. I was lucky enough to have dinner in there with an artist friend and it was just so beautiful. There are all these treasures all around you. But I feel like that about all of Los Angeles.

What are your favorite places to eat?
Sushi Gen is one. It's very simple. One of my best friend's favorite is Sushi Zo. There are just so many amazing parts of concentrated culture in a very small span of space, which is what makes downtown really crazy. There's Kazunori, the little hand roll spot, or Guisados tacos, where I've had some of the best tacos I've ever had. And that's just two blocks from our studio.


One of my favorite restaurants is La Tostaderia. It's a ceviche place in Grand Central Market. I eat it almost everyday. It's incredible.

Where do you go when you need quiet time?
I have this one spot right outside of Grand Central Market where, when it's sunny out, I pick this rock that I sit on. It's right in front of Angels Flight. It's grimy, but also kind of beautiful in a weird way.

Describe the vibe of the people you'll meet in Downtown.
There's every kind of strange person. From a frontier-looking person with a big hat, to punks, to artists, to hip-hop kids, to business people, to cops—it's just a strange array of people.

Where do you like to shop?
When we go shopping it's mostly looking for materials to make art with, and there's plenty of stuff like that to look at in Santee Alley, which is mostly clothes, and then there's the Piñata district, and the Toy District. There's all these strange little districts full of trinkets and weird treasures all over the place. It's really cool. At the Piñata district there's a variety of fabrics and beads. Whatever you want, you can find.

What's the most distinctive characteristic of Downtown?
I would call it dirty optimism. It's dirty and gross, but growing. There's lots of really sad, dark moments of people living there on the street, but then there's a lot of new businesses and some of the best restaurants. I see it as a hopeful thing but still kind of grungy, you know?

Do you have a favorite neighborhood character?
The dudes that work in our building are really nice. I have this one guy, his name is Miguel, he's such a sweet dude. He housekeeps the grounds and he's just always smiling. He has a really cool mustache and is a really small, sweet, older man. There are just all these nice characters around. The lady at La Tostaderia always fucks with me a little bit, and I think she's really cool.

What's the weirdest thing that's ever happened to you in Downtown?
Well before the area was really established, before we were even living here maybe seven or eight years ago, we'd would come down here to go to La Cita. One night when we were leaving, and had no idea where we were, we were driving on and off the freeway and we kept passing the same shit 30 times. It was just so confusing because there was nothing in the area at this time. Downtown looked like a completely Blade Runner apocalyptic type of thing—there didn't seem to be people there, you know?

Is there anywhere you like to drink/party?
I really like The Last Bookstore. That's a cool place to party in a nerdy kind of way. They have this maze of books and stuff, it's a pretty unique place. Also, the Ace Hotel has an amazing theater. The interior architecture looks like the Sagrada Familia, but the reverse interior. It's really beautiful, gothic, and dark.