The Arts District has it rougher than most neighborhoods in LA. Many of us subconsciously scrutinize every available detail for even the slightest hint of pretension. The area’s name implies creativity and freedom, but many of the restaurant names seem to be shackled to a very routine, trendy approach to naming. Like Thu’s rant about un-pho-nny Pho puns, I have a bone to pick when it comes to restaurant names.
When EightyTwo (a totally tubular bar space with retro arcade games, pinball machines and a pop-up chef residency in the works) opened last month, I thought, “OK, ‘1982’, like the golden age of arcades. I get it.” The name makes sense in a cryptic way, but it is borderline-obnoxious and I wished that they’d picked something a little more fun. I love EightyTwo: I feel totally at ease around the arcade and pinball machines: Popping quarters in and failing miserably at every old-school game, kicking back in the patio, hearing the bleeps, bloops, and familiar theme songs. Bathing in the nostalgia as the sun sets… But calling it “EightyTwo”? It just doesn’t do justice to such a funky fresh spot! And shouldn’t spelling out numbers just be eighty-sixed at this point?
More recently, I passed by a new hoity-toity restaurant on Santa Fe coming home from work. The valet was pulling up to the curb in a shiny Maserati – or a Tesla, I can’t really remember – and the throngs of immaculately-dressed guests were beginning to line up for their reservations. I didn’t know that a new restaurant had opened next door to Bread Lounge (home of the $10 over-medium egg on flatbread), so I tried to get a look at the name on the front. The place looks gorgeous, and it’s called… “Fifty Seven”.
I thought, “Fifty Seven, what does that even mean?” Apparently, the location used to house a Heinz factory, and sections of the old loading dock were used in the dining room. But I initially assumed that the restaurant just uses steak sauce in all of the dishes.
I’ve come to find out that this new restaurant actually has a brilliant concept that features revolving chefs. Apparently, every few months, the executive chef is replaced and much of the menu is customized to the style of the reigning king of the hill (currently David Nayfeld). LA Downtown News called it a “revolving kitchen door”, which is actually a much more descriptive and interesting name. The name “Fifty Seven” is a massive “missed opportunity”, bringing to mind a Prohibition-era speakeasy instead of a progressive place to dine finely.
At least EightyTwo and Fifty Seven have a somewhat well-developed idea behind their names. It’s a toss-up between which one has a deeper, more layered meaning: Is it the restaurant named after a product that was manufactured in that location at one time, or the bar paying homage to an iconic period in it’s culture? For that matter, is it snobby to give your restaurant/bar such an uppity name? Do I have stronger snobbish tendencies because I take offense to overly-cryptic names? Is the Arts District merely holding a mirror to my own hidden bourgeois attitudes towards trendy naming conventions? Sadly, the Arts District ain’t THAT deep.