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Paul Smith
Photograph: Courtesy Paul Smith

The best of Melrose Avenue

Explore an eclectic collection of vintage shops, chic restaurants and comedy clubs along Melrose Avenue

Michael Juliano
Written by
Michael Juliano
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Melrose Avenue rose to fame in the 1980s as an underground cultural hub. Though some of that sartorial punk attitude has since settled in nearby Fairfax Village—for now—Melrose is still an essential destination for vintage stores and, increasingly, brand-name fashion imports as well as inventive restaurants and outdoor patios.

Though the street stretches from Silver Lake to the Beverly Hills border, when we refer to Melrose we tend to think of a cluster of shops, restaurants and galleries between Highland Avenue and La Cienega Boulevard. The colorful storefronts and vintage shops are mostly to the east; head in the opposite direction and the street transitions into concept stores, brand-name flagships and design showrooms as you reach the West Hollywood border. You'll want to explore both ends, though, for the full experience. To help you out, we've rounded up our favorite restaurants, bars, shops and more in our guide to the heart of Melrose Avenue.

The best restaurants and bars on Melrose Avenue

Spartina
  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • Fairfax District
  • price 3 of 4

Pork meatballs, burrata raviolo and bongo cioccolato—Spartina is a fantastic dining addition to fashion-conscious Melrose. You could curate an entire meal around appetizers, which range from a scrambled egg and sea urchin panini to a wood-grilled duck heart spiedini. The pork meatballs are fantastic, a shallow bowl of four crispy spheres that will make you re-think any kind of spaghetti and beef meatballs commitment you may have had.

  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Fairfax District
  • price 2 of 4

Fighting the brunch crowds at Blu Jam Café, which has locations in Sherman Oaks, Hollywood and Woodland Hills, requires a special kind of patience. But with an eggs Benedict that makes your shoulders slump with happiness and crunchy French toast that is hard to top, it's well worth the wait. Fantastic service adds a neighborhood feel to the chain, which opened its Melrose location in 2006.

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Melrose Umbrella Co.
  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Fairfax District
  • price 2 of 4

The mystique of prohibition lives on at Melrose Umbrella Co., a pedigreed saloon from the inspired minds of nightlife bigwigs Austin Melrose, Ian Shepp and Zach Patterson (Bagatelle). Step inside this next-level watering hole and, quite suddenly, it's 1933. Immaculately attired staff shake up some of the best drinks in town. What the nine-option menu (five house specials and four classics) lacks in quantity, it makes up for in craftsmanship.

  • Restaurants
  • Sandwich shops
  • Fairfax District
  • price 1 of 4

Connoisseur of all things cheesy, chef Eric Greenspan has brought his savory grilled cheese sandwiches to Melrose Avenue. Satisfy your hunger pangs with toasted bread, oozing melted cheese and a slew of creative concoctions for one great, all-American sandwich. It has grilled cheese in the name, people—they know what they're doing.

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Maré
  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • Fairfax District
  • price 2 of 4

Head to the back of Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese, turn right and climb some short stairs, where you’ll enter a small office before stepping through what looks like a freezer door. And then, suddenly, there’s Maré, a patio restaurant with twinkling lights, a foosball table and the soft sounds of Spanish music drifting throughout the small space. There’s nothing even resembling grilled cheese on Maré’s menu; Greenspan has, undoubtedly, created an entirely different concept here.

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary American
  • Melrose
  • price 4 of 4

When it comes to "cooking" with liquid nitrogen, nobody in California does it better than Michael Voltaggio. Sugar snap peas arrive at the table smoldering. At first glance, they appear to be steaming hot. But when you pierce one of these peas with your fork and bring it to your lips, it delivers a shocking icy blast. Voltaggio is one of the few chefs who truly understands how to use molecular tricks like that without turning every dish into a repetitive one-trick-pony show.

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Ink Sack
  • Restaurants
  • Sandwich shops
  • Melrose
  • price 1 of 4

A few feet from his fine-dining Ink, is Michael Voltaggio's ode to all things sandwiches—Ink Sack. The lunch crowd lines up for sandwiches like spicy tuna and cold fried-chicken—a steal at less than $8 from one of the country's most buzzed about chefs. Seating is limited, so take your (black) paper bag lunch to-go.

Crossroads
  • Restaurants
  • Vegan
  • Melrose
  • price 2 of 4

Simply put, Crossroads is a high-end vegan restaurant for carnivores. Plant-based, chef-to-the-stars Tal Ronnen—he counts Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres as clients—is reinventing meat-free meals with flavorful and imaginative dishes that are reasonably priced and served in a cozy, white-tablecloth Melrose Avenue dining room.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Fairfax District
  • price 1 of 4

Young Japanese visionary and entrepreneur Ryu Isobe brings handcrafted, customizable recipes to this unique little nook on Melrose. Pop in before 3am on weekends to place your order on one of the iPads secured to a wall up front—a popular set up in Japan. Interacting with only the touch screen, you choose a base ramen bowl before flicking across the screen to select your add-ins, such as pork, tofu, green onions and dried seaweed. Grab yourself a beer, swipe your credit card and within a few minutes, you’ll wonder why every late-night dining experience can’t be so comfortingly anti-social.

The Hart and the Hunter
  • Restaurants
  • Soul and southern American
  • Melrose
  • price 2 of 4

The Hart and the Hunter sits inside West Hollywood's Palihotel, but adorable animal illustrations decorating pastel blue subway tiled-walls and dishware borrowed from Grandma's cupboard suggest another location—a Wes Anderson film, perhaps. Then there's the menu from an entirely different place: the South. You'll find lively dishes that are both comfortably hearty and casually refined.

The best comedy clubs and attractions on Melrose Avenue

Groundlings Theatre
  • Comedy
  • Comedy clubs
  • Fairfax District

The holy hall of improvisational and character-based sketch comedy operates a popular theater alongside its extensive program of improv classes. Kathy Griffin, Will Ferrell, Phil Hartman and innumerable Saturday Night Live cast members have all shot to stardom from here.

Duff's Cakemix
  • Restaurants
  • Bakeries
  • Melrose
  • price 2 of 4

Fake your very own Charm City Cakes-made creation at Duff Goldman's decorating studio where you'll pipe, color, roll, sprinkle and airbrush with the help of on-site professional pastry chefs. If you're feeling hungry, the on-site bakery has cake slices and cupcakes in flavors like lemon-poppy seed and red velvet, along with beverages for sale.

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Hollywood Improv
  • Comedy
  • Stand-up
  • Melrose
  • price 2 of 4

The flagship Improv on Melrose is one of the most legendary clubs in Los Angeles, as well as all of America. It’s not just a club. It's a scene. On any given night you can walk in to see one of your favorite comics from TV sitting at the bar, and the main room acts are never a letdown. Next door, at the Lab, you are privy to some of the finest up-and-coming talent in the industry. The shows are an eclectic mix of experimental and independently produced, often boasting appearances by well-known and respected comedians.

  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Melrose
  • price 2 of 4

After endless teases of a cat café coming to L.A., Crumbs & Whiskers has set up the first such permanent operation in the city. Founder Kanchan Singh describes the D.C.-based café as a place where you can grab a cup of coffee and cuddle with some cats. The swanky digs complement its adorable—and adoptable—feline tenants. Like all efforts at adoptable animal cafés in L.A., there's a small catch: You can't actually prepare food in the same space as you house animals. As a result, Crumbs & Whiskers sources its drinks and snacks from the nearby Open Space.

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  • Shopping
  • Tattoos and piercings
  • Fairfax District
  • price 2 of 4

Since '92, this masculine tattoo shop, with its dark leather furnishings and exposed wood beam ceilings, has been inking and piercing human canvases from all over L.A. The shop's laidback, creative staff will put you at ease as they drill that beautiful custom sugar skull into your thigh. Old school, all-inclusive and open later than most shops, Body Electric is a centerpiece in L.A.'s tattoo scene.

  • Art
  • Galleries
  • Fairfax District

Perhaps best known for launching the “iam8bit” art shows, Gallery 1988 has continued to host awesome exhibitions focused on pop culture. Since opening in 2004, the gallery has mounted solo shows by popular artists like Luke Cheuh, Joe Ledbetter and Mike Mitchell, as well as the annual Crazy 4 Cult group show curated by Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier. With fun shows that pay tribute to stars like Pee-Wee Herman, directors Judd Apatow and Edgar Wright, Adventure Time, and a host of zany classics, 1988 never loses its sense of humor. In 2007 they opened a second location further up Melrose. Hit up both.

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  • Comedy
  • Fairfax District
  • price 2 of 4

The energy at the Parlor's weekly comedy show is electric. Booker and producer Jay Davis, of Tourgasm fame, knows how to put together a solid lineup, often getting his famous buddies to come down for a show. But he also gives chances to funny unknowns on the same stage. If you stop by this upscale bar on a Monday, grab a cocktail, sit back and enjoy the show.

The best shops on Melrose Avenue

The Reformation
  • Shopping
  • Boutiques
  • Melrose
  • price 3 of 4

We’ve all been there—you find a vintage dress in the most perfect shade of cerulean silk, but with a ripped seam or set of ’80s puffed sleeves that render it all but unwearable. At Reformation, designer Yael Aflalo takes such diamonds in the rough and makes them shine, cutting vintage garb and surplus fabric into thoroughly modern silhouettes, from cropped blouses to breezy maxidresses and flirty shorts. Everything’s made right in the store, ensuring that the breaking trend you’re coveting today could quite possibly be approximated (and sustainably so) by next week—fast fashion, indeed.

Nasty Gal Melrose
  • Shopping
  • Womenswear
  • Melrose
  • price 3 of 4

Online retail mecca Nasty Gal set up the brand's first venture into a brick and mortar on Melrose Avenue. The store features the brand's regular retail merchandise (think: Nasty Gal dresses paired with Jeffrey Campbell boots) as well as lots (read: in every corner of the store) of vintage Chanel. The bright 3,500-square-foot space features a shoe salon on the back near the corner with records and indie magazines, and at the center of the store a massive mirrored fitting room space.

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Decades
  • Shopping
  • Designer
  • Melrose
  • price 3 of 4

First-time visitors to L.A. are often surprised at the lack of so-called Hollywood glamor on our streets: So much messy beach hair! Denim galore! Not the case at Decades, a vintage and designer consignment shop that’s orchestrated countless red carpet moments over the last two decades. Expect a mix of show-stopping vintage gowns fit for awards season; late-20th century day dresses and skirt suits plucked from socialites’ overflowing closets; and a host of pristine pieces from more recent runway seasons.

TenOverSix
  • Shopping
  • Boutiques
  • Melrose
  • price 3 of 4

This pastel-painted boutique is hard to miss and often referred to as one of the city’s best spots for gift shopping, but we prefer to stop by when we’re looking to buy a gift for ourselves. Accessories are the name of the game, with a roster of so-hot-right-now names and lesser-known designers, many hailing from our own fair city.

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  • Shopping
  • Cosmetics
  • Melrose
  • price 4 of 4

A staple for in-the-know scent fiends and well-heeled jet setters, Santa Maria Novella—founded in Florence—has been handcrafting scents from candles, soaps, oils and colognes since 1221. Inside the ivy-covered storefront, luxe, pricey items are minimally displayed for your shopping (and sniffing) pleasure.

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  • Shopping
  • Boutiques
  • Melrose
  • price 3 of 4

The interiors of this L.A. flagship mirrors the brand’s minimalistic and edgy style. Shop for modern pieces for men and women, mostly in black, white and cool neutral colors.

Agent Provocateur
  • Shopping
  • Boutiques
  • Melrose
  • price 4 of 4

Agent Provocateur strikes the perfect British balance between naughty and nice—ideal for a bride-to-be who doesn't want to wear anything too fashion-forward (or too raunchy) under her pristine white dress. Along with a host of stunning corsets and bra-and-panty sets there are also plenty of garter belts, stockings and bedroom accessories.

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  • Shopping
  • Womenswear
  • Fairfax District
  • price 1 of 4

This cute culture shop on Melrose specializes in Japanese crossover collections. It's a go-to destination for products from kawaii brands like Sanrio, tokidoki, San-X and Pokémon, as well as occasional pop-up collections.

  • Shopping
  • Boutiques
  • Melrose
  • price 3 of 4

Oh, you mean there's an interior to this store? A "so British" atmosphere is cultivated with wood paneling, antiques, old books and bric-a-brac, much of it for sale along with the colorful shirts and knitwear in which Smith excels. But most will know this outpost for its very pink exterior, an inescapable backdrop on Instagram.

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