Last Night in Downtown Los Angeles: Food, Frenzy and the NBA Finals

by Tony Chavira

I ran from my office at 5:55pm, hoping that Shervin had somehow found a place to sit amidst the madness of L.A. Live. Above my head, helicopters circles. In front of me, police blocked and re-routed the streets. Horns blasted. Crowds cheered. Evangelists stood on each city corner, screaming to repent before God. The streets were dense with gold and purple banners, and had we all lived together a thousand years ago, I’d guess that our armies were readying for a final battle to determine the war’s outcome.

When I finally made it to the center of the square at L.A. Live, surrounded both by a gigantic display of humanity and digital boards, the Lakers game had begun and the crowd concentration was too overwhelming to ignore. Slicing through the dense crowds like a burning blade through butter, Shervin approached me quickly, smiled brightly and yelled into my ear, “This is crazy, let’s get out of here!”

Down we ran, from the grand crowd to Grand Avenue before we needed to make a choice: would we watch the game at home, or ride this wave of urban energy at a nearby bar? A quick decision thrust us a block east to J Lounge on Olive, where the entire back and open space had been crammed with televisions, tables and tenants fixated on the final, leaping into the air with Lamar Odom, grimacing with Ron Artest, clenching their fists with Kobe Bryant, screaming with Pau Gasol. From what was once an empty space, we collected spare chairs and a discarded table to link ourselves to the maddening crowd, ordered drinks, hot wings and French fries, and began to sway with the audience.

From behind, catching up, tying, going basket-for-basket, three-pointer-for-three-pointer, shot-for-excruciating-shot, our hearts raced as our stomachs began to growl. Forty minutes passed and we received our drinks, but now an hour and a half had passed and we still hadn’t received any food. With eight minutes left in the game, Shervin and I switched back and forth, from the screen to the kitchen desperately hoping that the next order out would be ours, that the next basket would clinch it, that the Lakers would compel a decisive lead, that the waiters would consign our delicious food. The check finally arrived, and no food has been ordered. In sudden disappointment I sign it, and we relegate ourselves to famine. Six minutes left. Five minutes. Four. Three. Two…

Lo and behold… A three pointer from Artest and our crowd’s on its feet! But as they look up to thank God and each other, we looked down in shock that a thoughtful waiter had brought us a basket of fries! As the French fries vanish in an instant, so did the Celtics’ chances at a victory. When Kobe threw up his hands, so did we. The crowd went wild and we lived to eat another meal!

A meal that was never really served… what was a single plate of French fries for three famished friends? So the hunger drew us forward, to the YardHouse at L.A. Live! Into the victorious crowds! To the honking horns and the screaming citizens… we won, all of us did, and the hugs, handshakes and high-fives only enforced the feeling of deserved victory to the tens of thousands surrounding us.

Storming the streets and preparing for the worst, Olympic Boulevard was blocked from us by the Los Angeles police department in full riot gear. Yelling from behind their clear plastic masks, we were told to move, wait, stay, go down the street, get out of the way with batons out, guns at their sides and a stare that meant they were ready at a moment’s notice. But we had not yet seen riots, violence or fear in the eyes of those around us. Only the same mix of elation and frustration we felt as we tried to maneuver our way across Figueroa. “We aren’t going to make it,” I finally had to say aloud and Shervin agreed dishearteningly. We turned back toward Olive, hoping something would come to mind… praying that the hunger wouldn’t eat us alive as we dove and ducked past vans and fans screaming, honking and wielding their flags with exhilaration.

As I reached my car, we witnessed a savior: a man and his son with a full plate of bacon-wrapped hot dogs! But three dollars and a burst of greasy goodness shared between the three of us later, we still had not felt our appetite’s whetted. So off we drove to whatever was open, calling one location, another and another. As 10pm drew closer, our options closed off… who would stay open for our merriment? To eat, drink and rest after a long night of yearning for sustenance and satisfaction?

Then, over the phone, our second savior… The Water Grill on Grand Avenue promised to stay open for another few minutes just for us. I parked and we ran, sat down quickly and relished our amazing surf and turf meal as if it has been the first or last thing we could ever eat. Outside, horns honked, rioters jumped on cars, smashed storefront windows, two police officers were hurt, thirty eight people were arrested, fifteen small fires were ignited and a bus full of people were assaulted while the attacking crowd was tear-gassed.

But inside, though the quiet restaurant was now closed and we were its last patrons, the staff kindly offered us anything on the dessert menu no matter how much time it would take to prepare. “No thank you,” we chimed as we paid our bill happily, tipped properly and waved goodbye thankfully. We each agreed that it had been a great night in Downtown Los Angeles, despite the noise and madness, as we stepped into my car and headed home filled to contentment with victuals and victory.

Oh, and all foods mentioned in this article are highly-recommended. But if you go to the Water Grill, get the clam chowder.


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