Chasing the Dirty Old Man’s ghost through the City of Angels.
Remembered today for his cool, to-the-point style, Charles Bukowski also left his mark on literary history by perpetually seeking out the next cheap watering hole. Following an early teenage drinking experience, the writer recalled thinking, “This is going to help me for a very long time.”
Bukowski stomped the dive bar scene for nearly his entire stint in Southern California — which is to say, for most of his life. Born Heinrich Karl Bukowski in Andernach, Germany on August 16, 1920, the writer-to-be and his family emigrated to the United States while he was still a child, settling in Los Angeles in 1930. Traversing the dizzying streets and freeways of L.A., it isn’t difficult to find a bar, liquor store or other watering hole, but these were some of old Hank’s favorites:
Located between Argyle and Vine on Hollywood Boulevard, Frolic Room feels like a staple from Bukowski’s down-and-out settings. A seedy little bar with its quaint cigarette machine nestled in the muggy, musky dark, the place evokes the days when smoking was still legal in L.A. bars — you know, Bukowski’s era. From the large mirror behind the bar hang portraits of everyone from Sylvester Stallone to John Belushi, and of course no Los Angeles dive would be without the requisite Dodger’s memorabilia. Despite the image of Christ squeezed next to the cash register, walking into Frolic Room feels less Biblical and more like entering one of Bukowski’s novels.
Set against the gorgeous San Gabriel Mountains in Arcadia, roughly 13 miles northeast of downtown L.A., the Santa Anita Racetracks are a testament to the shattered dreams of society’s downtrodden. Naturally, Bukowski relished the place.
Physically speaking, the racetracks are resplendent. But a few yards in from the entrance gates, Santa Anita’s stark reality becomes apparent. The prodigious rectangular bar centrally placed is easily accessible, ready to fill the gap between races, always willing and able to buoy or drown the results. Before each race, jockeys parade their horses around a circular public viewing space. The animals’ beautiful raw strength is then best juxtaposed against the crowds’ brutal longings for cheap cash and quick fun. All of these aspects of Santa Anita were well known to Bukowski as the racetracks appear time and time again in his work. Their unsparing characteristics are undoubtedly what drew him.
No proper Bukowski itinerary would skip his favorite local liquor store. Located in between Franklin and Hollywood on North Western Avenue, Pink Elephant is just a few blocks from Frolic Room, making it the perfect stop before the bar opened or after it closed. On any given day in riotous Hollywood, there are all sorts of characters running amok just outside — and occasionally inside — Pink Elephant’s doors.
In keeping with its jovial theme, Pink Elephant sports an enormous pink neon sign featuring — What else? — a cartoon elephant, as well as a detailed mural with the store’s mascot on one entire wall of the building. Inside, it’s pretty typical: Customers stroll up and down the well-stocked aisles, searching for their poison of choice. Bukowski was not a picky drinker, making due with as much as he could afford with as little money as he had. A devoted boozehound, his visits to Pink Elephant surely got him through many a lonely night at the typewriter set in his kitchen.
Bukowski’s lifelong affair with both Los Angeles and the bottle cast him all around the city. Aware of another one of the Dirty Old Man’s favorite haunts? Tell us all about it in the comments below or add it directly to our map!
Alfredo Madrid is a Los Angeles-based writer with keen interests in cultural, artistic and street knowledge. Educated at Cal State University Northridge (CSUN), he earned a B.A. in Magazine Journalism and also has a background in theater. In his downtime, he enjoys skateboarding, taking long solitary walks and keeping up with historical literature.
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