The Spoke Bicycle Cafe sits on the last lot of the last block of a dead-end Los Angeles street. It can be remarkably sunny here, in a way that makes your eyes hurt. The street stops at a chain-link fence, bringing what little traffic exists here to an abrupt halt. Street parking is generally not a problem. The day of my visit, in fact, I was the only customer to arrive via car. Most of Spoke's customers arrive instead by bike, and they enter through a different door, one that opens onto the LA River Bike Path, on the other side of the chain-link fence. The bike path runs for eight miles along the Los Angeles River. Eventually, if plans are realized, it will run for 51 miles, along a completely re-imagined and reinvigorated river. As far as I know, Spoke is the first business to sprout up specifically in service of bike path traffic.
As the project evolves, this neighborhood, Elysian Valley -- colloquially known as Frogtown -- will be transformed. Frogtown for now is one in an endless list of those neighborhoods existing in Los Angeles that, while locate-able on a map, hasn't ever registered on a collective radar. You've seen neighborhoods like this in the movies, always representing a character with vaguely depressing fortunes and steeped in the sadness of anonymity, neither striking enough nor decrepit enough to draw attention, just like the neighborhood. Such neighborhoods are usually pleasant places in real life, full of interesting inconsistencies and mélanges. Despite its proximity to Silver Lake and Echo Park, areas currently favored by the hipster set, as yet no one has moved in on the mixed ordinariness that endures in Frogtown. Real estate developers, in anticipation of a renewed and fashionable LA River, are now trying in earnest.
Read more about Frogtown over on Flung Magazine.