Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: Playa Del Rey | KCET
Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: Playa Del Rey
Before the late 1800s, Playa Del Rey was nothing more than wetlands. The first true attempt to build a community came in 1887 from a real estate developer named M.C. Wicks. He had planned to turn the estuary into a major commercial harbor, however after investing $300,000 to dredge and develop the area, he soon went bankrupt and storms destroyed what was left of the project.
The next, more fruitful attempt came in 1902 when Henry Barbour of the Beach Land Company bought up 1,000 acres of wetland and named the area Playa Del Rey. Barbour intended to build a resort that would include a hotel, a casino, and a grand pavilion. His plan hinged on the upcoming arrival of the Pacific Electric Railway "red car" system that would connect all the beach cities from Santa Monica through Manhattan Beach. The red car line was completed in 1903 and soon the resort was up and running. The area was hugely popular throughout the early 1900s, with tourists flocking to the beautiful resort to dine, dance, and bowl in the glorious pavilion.
The resort's promise was short-lived as a fire destroyed the pavilion and hotel in 1913. For the next few decades, nearby developments including Loyola University (now Loyola Marymount University) continued to spur interest in the area. When the red car line stopped running in the 1950s, tourism took a sharp decline.
These days, it's hard to imagine Playa Del Rey as a thriving tourist destination. The mostly residential enclave feels like a sleepy oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. The local hot spots tend to be old-fashioned beach dives rather than the upscale cocktail bars and celebrity chef restaurants that draw crowds in other parts of the city. While that vibe is changing with the emergence of start-ups developing the area into "Silicon Beach," there are still plenty of wonderfully old and iconic places to visit in Playa.
Prince O'Whales: While Prince O'Whales was opened in Playa Del Rey in 1955, it didn't always have such a noble title. In fact, it was originally named "Bowsprit," after the spar that still hangs over the bar today. The current owner, Steve Mayer, bought the bar in the summer of 1972 and renamed it Prince O'Whales. The spot, which locals affectionately call P.O.W. (or "Pee Oh Dubs"), is the oldest sports bar in Los Angeles and certainly one of the most unique. The entrance to P.O.W. brings you into an open patio with two bright blue stucco buildings on either side. Each takes you into a different half of the bar, both with multiple HDTV screens playing all the big games. Even if you're not much a sports fan, the bar's range of activities, including darts, karaoke, Rolling Stone pinball and backgammon, surely won't disappoint. If you stop by, be sure to grab a seat by the back patio or the aptly-named "Cool Kids Corner" so you can get the true Pee Oh Dubs experience. 335 Culver Blvd., (310) 823-9826
Harbor Room: Some readers may have heard of the Harbor Room having the smallest bar in Los Angeles County. However, there is much more to this itty-bitty bar than meets the eye. This classic watering hole was opened in the early 1950s when the Playa Del Rey Resort was in its prime. Current owners Bob and JoAnn Blye bought the place in 1978 and have raised and built their family around it. The limited wall space is lined with photos of both blood relatives and loyal clientele, who have become an extension of the Blyes' family. As the owners' granddaughter Amanda Davenport puts it, this wonderful little dive is "known for the fact that it never changes" -- both the jukebox and the bartender, Steve, have remained the same for 37 years. With all the changes happening around Playa Del Rey, the Harbor Room is the perfect place to grab a cold beer and relive the area's more tranquil times. 195 Culver Blvd, (310) 821-6550
Cantalini's Salerno Beach Restaurant: Opened in the 1960s as Giovanni's Salerno Beach, this classic Italian eatery was given a makeover in 2000 by current owner Lisa Schwab. Schwab changed the name to Cantalini's after her grandmother's maiden name. The shift was fitting as the dishes served are based on said grandmother's recipes from her hometown in Abruzzi, Italy. Signature dishes include the ravioli and gnocchi, which are made fresh daily and come in many variations. If the food is influenced by Grandma, the live music Sundays are inspired by Schwab's grandfather, whose accordion is on display near the front of the restaurant. If you're looking for a traditional Italian dinner, don't look any farther than Cantalini's. 193 Culver Blvd., (310) 821-0018
Hank's Pizza: Like many of the spots on this list, Hank's Pizza is a classic hole in the wall joint. While the year it was opened is up for debate depending on whether you reference the menu (1969) or the front awning (1970), this tiny restaurant has nevertheless been serving pizza and other Italian fare to Playa Del Rey's residents for generations. There is nothing pretty about Hank's -- the walls are covered floor to ceiling with a random assortment of faded movie and sports posters, the dessert fridge is littered with crumbs, and the dress code is beyond casual. But what Hank's lacks in ambiance, it makes up for with its pizza. When you take a bite of the mountain of meat on a slice of the deluxe pie, it's easy to imagine why this shabby shop in a quiet beach town has stood the test of time. 442 W Manchester Ave., (424) 228-5251
The Shack: The current owners of The Shack bought the spot in 1972 and have managed to maintain the feel of a classic '70s So Cal surf bar ever since. Directly across the street from both the Harbor Room and Cantalini's, this beach-y hangout is a favorite of locals and Loyola Marymount University students. Many of the clientele can be found in swim trunks and tank tops, but that goes along just fine with the decor, which includes a Corona surfboard hanging from the ceiling in the back room. The best seat in the house is at the bar on the covered patio, where you can enjoy the Shack's signature French Fry Funnel Cake with a view of the ocean. If you can't make it out to Playa, don't fret! Since its establishment in the early 1970s, the Shack has expanded to six other locations across Southern California, Colorado and Hawaii.185 Culver Blvd., (310) 823-6222
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