“I meant to ask you, have you ever been to Redbird?” I direct-message my friend-slash-fellow-journalist Kristin Vartan on Instagram. Aside from a knack for words, we also have a mutual respect for places with a past— museums, old residences, historic restaurants and cafes. Redbird, I discovered, is that sort of place, and as it turns out, neither of us has ever been there.
Helmed by restaurateur Bill Chait, chef Neal Fraser and his wife, Amy Knoll Fraser, the restaurant is housed in the former rectory of a cathedral dedicated in 1876. The cathedral itself, which was converted into an event space back in 2005, still stands right next door. When I first saw photographs of the space, I just knew I had to drop in for a visit. Which is why Kristin and I make plans to brunch there, like, pronto.
After taking an art tour of the LA Metro (more about that in a different post), I meet up with Kristin, and we make our way to Redbird. Our Uber pulls up right in front of Redbird’s stone facade. There’s a sign that reads: “114 St. Vibiana’s Cathedral Rectory.” It’s subtle, painted in muted golds and blues. If you were passing by, you might even miss it. What you won’t miss, I’m sure, is the wrought iron gate, adorned with crossed keys, papal tiaras and other liturgical symbols. We’re ooh-ing and ahh-ing about the place, and we haven’t even stepped inside yet.
When we climb up the short staircase that leads to the restaurant, we’re greeted by a hostess and quickly swept away to our table. Brunch time is close to being over, so we have exactly five minutes to get our food orders in. I tell Kristin that, while researching the place, I read folks wax poetic about the blueberry pancakes. She orders just that. I opt for a gin-based cocktail dubbed “Grace’s Cup,”—a concoction whipped up with house-made pimm’s, lemon, cucumber, strawberry and tonic.
“What’s neat is how the restaurant, while very much in the borderless present, hums with a quiet classicism,” Los Angeles Magazine’s Patric Kuh wrote in a 2015 review of Redbird. The interior is stunning, decked out in orange stools and warm, beige sofas. Two giant fiddle-leaf figs tower above the main dining area. There’s so much light pouring through the windows, and the whole place seems to swim in it. It’s busy, but not too busy. It’s posh, but not too posh. It’s just the right amount of everything.
Then our orders arrive. “This is heaven,” Kristin says, slicing a piece off for me to try. She’s right, and the hilarity of her using such a religious reference when describing a flat cake is not lost on me. With all due respect to every other pancake I’ve ever had ever, Redbird’s is probably the best thing to come off a skillet. It’s very slightly burnished, studded on the inside with clumps of ricotta and served up with vermont maple syrup. As a gin enthusiast, I’m pretty darn pleased with my cocktail, too. Once we’ve cocktail-ed and dined, we ask one of the friendly waiters if we could quickly peek into the cathedral.
There’s a flurry of activity in preparation of an upcoming wedding, which apparently is an every-day kind of situation here at St. Vibiana’s. I can easily see why. You really do have everything you might need for the big day here, all clustered in one nook of the city. There’s a kitchen. There’s an outdoor garden area, a lush-but-cozy churchyard that feels so isolated from the rest of Downtown Los Angeles. And of course, there’s the cathedral itself.
From the ornate marble altar to the soaring baroque columns and arched ceilings, the interior of St. Vibiana’s is so astonishingly beautiful you could just stand there for hours, peering into some distant period. We don’t have that much time here, but in briefly looking around, I notice just how much for the 35,000 square-foot space, although long retired from its clerical duties, still heaves with a divine energy. To think that this space survived demolition by the skin of its teeth! And here’s another thing that being here makes me think about—the role adaptive reuse plays in the historic revitalization of our streetscape. Because it has to be said: this part of town wouldn’t be the same without St. Vibiana’s, and I definitely wouldn’t be the same without those ricotta pancakes.
What we also explored that day:
Gentle Monster Concept Store
Again, I could write an essay about this spot in DTLA. First founded in South Korea, Gentle Monster is a purveyor of super sleek, super avant-garde eyewear, you know, the kind that are pencil-thin and make you look like you’ve just stumbled out of the set of Blade Runner. But even if you’re not in the market for new frames, the store is definitely worthy of a stop. The space is like a gallery, chock-full of rotating art installations and some seriously impressive decor.
Based in Stockholm, Sweden, Acne Studios is rapidly becoming a major player in the luxury fashion industry. It currently touts retail stores around the globe, including Paris, London, Tokyo, and of course, Los Angeles. Known for its easy-to-wear and well-tailored basics, the Stockholm-chic merch at Acne Studios is definitely a must-see, must-touch, must-try-on. Not to mention, the store itself is oh so pretty! Another upside? There’s a wonderful coffee shop right next door if you’re in need of a caffeine fix before an afternoon of shopping.
Ace Hotel Cafe
This place—another historic location built back in 1927—is probably worthy of its own post, but our visit this time around was brief. A quick stop for coffee and a little looksy around. If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend popping into the Ace Hotel Cafe, which boasts the cutest outdoor seating area complete with the sort of woven-rattan chairs ubiquitous on Parisian sidewalks. Oh, and the coffee is fabulous.
“An elevated casual look. That’s what I was going for with this. Of course, you can’t ever go wrong with a Cult Gaia bag. It just MAKES any outfit you throw on, and my square-toe sandals were just the perfect thing to wear on a day out in DTLA.”