The East Village Arts District is known for its lively bars, funky shops, and tantalizing restaurants. In recent years, it’s become the place to be for unique inspiration and a charming art scene that invites people of all walks of life. And, floating just above the buzzy storefronts and sidewalks is something many notice but few fully understand. The near-100-year legacy of architecture that weaves this neighborhood together.
To really understand a place is to spend time there, right? So, despite having called downtown Long Beach our home for over 2 years now, we pack our bags for a weekend staycation in one of Long Beach’s most historic pockets of town to get a better understanding of where we are, and where we’ve been, as a city.
On an overcast yet promising Saturday morning, we check into the Hotel Royal on Broadway. The hotel’s 23 suites are nestled within a building that boasts over 90 years of legacy, and you notice from the moment you walk in to the lobby that there’s a real personality to the place. Built in 1923, Hotel Royal is a proud institution of the East Village, with signature Art Deco characteristics peppered throughout its exterior blue and white walls. This family-owned hotel is known for bringing a sense of family and home into every element of your stay, from the cheerful staff, to the pension-style rooms, to the communal kitchen and fresh cookies that greet you when you arrive on your floor. But nothing instills this sense of community more than its guests, which we encounter plenty of. On more than one occasion throughout the weekend, hotel guests excitedly chatter to me just how many times they’ve stayed with the Royal. “7 or 8 at least” seems like the number to beat. I start to imagine that this kind of fierce devotion has been a part of the building’s identity for as long as it’s been around.
Our room was in the Hotel Royal East, a brand new (5 weeks old, at the time of writing) annex of bigger, more modern accommodations that boast king size beds and a keyless entrance. A text-for-assistance concierge by the name of Ivy helps us remember what the code to our room is just moments after we were told, and promptly forgot, at check-in. The contrast of using Ivy on our Google Pixels while in a historic building turns out to be a really staggering and fascinating experience.
The moment you step outside Hotel Royal to explore the eclectic neighborhood, which you can do on foot or with one of the hotel’s bikes, you begin to notice the sheer number of other remarkable buildings lining the sidewalks in front of you. I find myself in a moment of strange contemplation – where these buildings always here? How have I not noticed before? Or have I? What else haven’t I paid attention to?
For instance, the Lafayette Complex on Linden is the kind of building that you can’t help but wonder about. I peer deep into the windows of the former hotel’s lobby, ornamented in gold with rich, dark carpets, trying to imagine its heydey. This Spanish Renaissance style series of buildings dates all the way back to 1928, so I can only pretend to grasp the stories it has to tell. After a few moments of being nosy, I shrug away my curiosity and go straight for the wine – District Wine, that is, which is located on the ground floor. This place is everything from a casual hangout spot to a meeting place of Long Beach’s working professionals, which, I think, seems fitting for the building that it’s located in. We are met with a couple wine flights and a selection of tapas – roasted bar nuts (quite honestly, the most sophisticated and delicious bar nuts I’ve ever had in my life) and jalapeno jam with goat cheese, and we drink up the buzzy energy of the space.
Across the street is the Broadlind (Broadway + Linden, get it?) Hotel building, also built in 1928. We have it on good authority that Thai District is the place to be, so that’s where we head. Now this is where I begin to get a little nervous. I hate Thai food. At least, I think I hate Thai food. I do, don’t I? I grew up repulsed by the idea of peanut sauces, and I smugly let that thought extend to become my definition of an entire country’s cuisine. But we go anyway, drawn by the brick building and the warm, lantern-lit space inside.
What happens next is a flurry of disorienting sensations. I’m happy. Everyone is happy, and friendly, and proud. So proud. The two-story restaurant is beautifully decorated and the smells that fill the air are inviting. We order a crab and ricotta-filled appetizer called Golden Bags, and they taste better than any other bag I’ve ever seen, or worn, in my life. Enjoying that, I get bolder, fueled by the tang of lychee sangria, and decide to go all-out and order drunken noodles. I find myself sitting back and questioning how I let 20+ years of my life go by assuming Thai food wasn’t for me. A nightcap of coconut panna cotta and a second lychee sangria reassure me that there was so much more life to be lived, now that Thai food is a part of it.
We leave, thanking the owners of the restaurant, Andre and Ty, profusely for converting me into a Thai food supporter, and grab a bottle of rose at the Village Market before heading back up to our room at the Hotel Royal to watch Netflix and pass out in a food-induced coma. I feel surprised at how unique my perspective of this city became after staying in a hotel not far from my own home. If you stay here, you’ll see for yourself exactly what I’m talking about.
Just before crawling into bed to go to sleep, I open the curtains to peek out at the beautiful buildings we just spent time in, and I wonder what kinds of evenings have been spent in these buildings over the past 90+ years. No Netflix, and no Golden Bags, sure, but I’d like to think there was dancing, and champagne, and ritzy business meetings, and romance, and friendships. 90 years from now, if these buildings still stand, I hope people think of us, and the new era of lives, and restaurants, and hang-out spots we’ve come to call home in the new, but also old, East Village.
By Rachel-Jean Firchau and Jacob Sigala
@racheloffduy / @jacobsmedium