By day, the streets around Wilshire Boulevard in Koreatown are among the city's busiest with thousands of office workers crowding the sidewalks, delivery vans fouling traffic, and noisy construction crews forever digging up pavement.
But in the evenings, the urban landscape takes on a different cast becoming a little-noticed world of restaurants, pool halls, karaoke parlors, cocktail lounges and discotheques amid the darkened highrises and steel-gated storefronts.
"This is like Hollywood for Koreans," says Jenny Lee, a 27-year-old fabric buyer from Cerritos, nibbling on a spicy tuna hand roll at Nin Gen, a spare and stylish Korean-style sushi restaurant located in Chapman Market, an upscale shopping center on 6th Street.
With her multi-hued hair, dramatic eye makeup and dizzyingly high-heeled sandals, Lee would fit right in on the Sunset Strip or any of L.A.'s other trendy nightspots. But she prefers Koreatown.
"It's like (Hollywood), but in a Korean way," Lee said. "You don't see a lot of Koreans hanging out on Melrose."
The bulk of Koreatown's new nightlife is centered just north of the Mid-Wilshire office district on Sixth Street, which some call the "Korean Melrose." Even on weeknights, venues in the area tend to do a brisk businesses, with local office workers looking to unwind as well as twenty-something Korean trendies from across Southern California.
Koreatown is probably best known for its sprawl of smoky barbecue restaurants, noisy noodle houses and discount retailers along Olympic Boulevard.
But with a new generation of Korean American entrepreneurs steadily pushing Koreatown north from its traditional core at the intersection of Olympic and Vermont, a new Korean culture is beginning to emerge in Los Angeles.
Sixth Street "is like a mediator between the old generation and the next generation of Koreans," says James Kim, a 41-year-old telecommunications executive who works on Wilshire Boulevard and frequents the area.
"This is a place for the younger generation," says Kim, who emigrated to California two decades ago, and admits he often feels too old to be hanging out in the area. "But the atmosphere is like being in the middle of Seoul."
That may be true, but it's Seoul with a decidedly California twist, says Victor Han, owner of Classic Intercrew, a cafe in Chapman Market.
Eerily lit, with a Hollywood sign, posters of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, and Fender Stratocasters artfully arranged on the wall, the cafe presents a curious collision of '50s Americana kitsch and 21st century Asian chic.
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