Gorky's sign still hangs over DTLA

Helen Ly / viewfromaloft

Downtown chronicler Ed Fuentes blogs at View from a Loft that the sign for Gorky's Russian cafe still hangs over the corner of 8th and San Julian streets. It's kind of like looking back in time at the early days of the downtown Los Angeles renaissance. "It may be time to find this downtown neon artifact from Gorky's a place in a museum," Fuentes writes.

Gorky's was opened in 1981 by former Manual Arts High School librarian Judith Markoff and immediately became popular as a late-night outpost of drinking and gnoshing for artists, professionals and yuppies willing to travel deep into Skid Row. A second Gorky's opened in Hollywood. That one closed first; the downtown Gorky's changed ownership and finally closed in 1993, but not before some civic handwringing about the future of downtown.

Gorky's from a blog item at Los Angeles Magazine in 2013.

From a story by Jesse Katz in the L.A. Times in 1992, quoting owner Fred Powers:

"A lot of people, even friends, tell me they don't want to come down here anymore," Powers lamented this week, his eyes puffy and his face drawn from 18-hour days of trying to keep the cafe afloat. "If Gorky's goes, it's a very sad day for Los Angeles."

Civic leaders concede that these are difficult times for downtown, which a decade ago was being touted as the city's next cultural hot spot, with trendy nightclubs, a bustling artists colony and plenty of well-heeled professionals living in redevelopment-funded condos.

Last October, the Los Angeles Theatre Center closed. Many of the artists who flocked to industrial-sized lofts have been priced out. The nightclubs are struggling and some condo-dwellers have begun to lose hope for a slice of sophisticated life in the city's urban core....

City Councilman Michael Woo, a frequent customer of Gorky's who claims that its apple pie has the lightest crust in town, also was saddened by the news. "Downtown is in a lot of trouble," he said. "I hope this won't discourage other pioneer business owners from taking chances on the future."


"It was kind of a forerunner of bigger and better and more wonderful things that were supposed to come downtown," said Huell Howser, a reporter for KCET-TV whose "Videolog" series has chronicled life in Los Angeles for the last seven years. "A place like Gorky's leaving is kind of like admitting defeat. . . . It would really be a blow to the soul of the city."

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