Restaurant Diary: The curious case of the Prince in Koreatown
The Prince in Koreatown is located in one of those trapped-in-time rooms in a building dating back to the 1920s. It was originally opened as the Windsor, back when Wilshire Boulevard was the grandest road in town, cutting a ritzy swath through a former barley field and housing the Prince's elite neighbors, the historic Ambassador Hotel and its legendary nightclub, the Cocoanut Grove.
The Ambassador is gone, as is the Cocoanut Grove, but the Prince soldiers on in the only way it knows how: as a quintessentially L.A. hybrid. It's a Korean restaurant inside an early 20th century American steakhouse with Latino influences (fresh chips and salsa are served gratis before your meal). To add to this contradictory but pleasing mix, the music played during dinner service is usually a variation of late 1990s rap.
On a recent Friday, my boyfriend and I cozied up in one of the restaurant's cushiony red, tufted booths, ordered martinis and discussed whether or not the people who owned the Prince had any idea what a resplendent jewel of a room they had on their hands. As we sipped our clear booze nectar we talked about how nice it would be if the music playing were not Alvin and the Chipmunks performing some sort of gangster rap, but rather, jazz or blues from the 1940s or '50s.
Then we stopped ourselves. If the Prince were not the Prince, with its layering of cultural influences, stink of deeply embedded smoke, questionable bathroom facilities and heart-stopping dimness from another era, we probably wouldn't frequent it. If it were owned by self-aware hipsters with a sentimental streak for all things "Mad Men"-esque, the martinis would likely be $15 and the room would be full of smug industry types winking at each other from behind their iPads.
No, let the Prince remain the Prince. We'll take a plate of the boneless spicy chicken, please, and some fat-marbled galbi with a side of seasoned green onions and kimchi fried rice speckled with fat cubes of ham and topped with a greasy fried egg. And we'll listen to Biggie Smalls, and we'll like it.
Later, when we want to wallow in whiskey and Dean Martin's melodies we'll wander down the street to another early 20th century gem, the H.M.S. Bounty in the Gaylord apartments, where an old man wearing a baseball cap will glare at us, somewhat fondly we think, like he always does.
Thank you, Koreatown.
The Prince, 3198½ W. 7th St., Los Angeles, (213) 389-1586; www.theprincela.com.
Photo: A bounty of goodness at the Prince. Credit: Jessica Gelt / Los Angeles Times