First off, The Prince is haunted, and, of course, at the same time, a class joint. Let’s get that out of the way. And that’s a good thing. I’m “open” to spirits (and not just the boozy kind either) and they have found me in the most unusual places: Vegas hotel rooms, my parents’ bedroom, old bank buildings converted into arty performance centers, and here, in the men’s room of The Prince (more on that later). Coming into fruition in 1927 as “The Windsor Hotel” literally across the street from “The Ambassador Hotel” and its famed “Coconut Grove” club ensconced within, on the corner of 7th & Catalina, one block south of Wilshire Blvd, in the heart of Koreatown, a place that entertained the Hollywood elite of the old timey Tinseltown era of the 1920s-1970s, how could it not have ghosts? For the love of God, Presidential candidate and brother to slain President John F. Kennedy, Robert, was even assassinated at “The Ambassador” just steps away. The air permeates with the acrid scent of yesterday.
But before we can go Scooby-Dooing around The Prince we must emphasize that this is a bar. Make no mistake. A damn famous one too. Hell, episodes of Madmen were filmed here. Freakin’ CHINATOWN was filmed here! Picked for its blood-red ambience by filmmakers it is also a major reason for us little people to come sniffing around too. Plush. Lush. Everything red as the blood spilling out of the elevator from The Shinning. For indeed you enter the nether regions of an L.A. long past. Yet still throbs, breathes, you feel it immediately as you descend the steps into this fun zone of your own personal episode of Twin Peaks.
A giant-goddamn-horseshoe-shaped-bar gobbles up the middle of the room while crimson walls and carpeting and private booths surround you, look at you, tease you, invite you to stay a for a drink or three. An ancient decadence. Worn. Musty. Forbidden. Tempting.
The booze and food you partake in are decidedly Korean now and all the better for it. Choice of Korean beers, Soju, and the food. Oh my God the food! Huge menu. The Prince is famous for its deep-fried chicken. Healthy, not oily, fresh, less salt, just goddamned delicious. Or you can just booze up. There’s this pleasant little gem: Miller Genuine Draft in bottles are TWO-FREAKING-DOLLARS!! Now if that ain’t old school or bar-divey I don’t know what is. Um, yes, hi, here’s a 20-spot; may I have 10 beers please? Good Lord!
You can relax around the bar and watch the Dodgers on giant screen TVs or take in the scene from a booth (the joint feels like an old Hollywood movie set and you’re surprised that the beer taps actually work and serve real beer). Teachers, local office dwellers, lawyers drink here. A lot of industry people (techs, runners, writers, personal assistants, and whatever other job title you can think of that belong to that tribe). It reminds me of that scene in Barton Fink where Barton (John Turturro) seeks advice from cynical producer Geisler (Tony Shalhoub) in the studio commissary and Geisler says, “You need guidance? Talk to another writer.” Barton says, “Who?” And Geisler comes back with, “Jesus, throw a rock in here, you’ll hit one. And do me a favor, Fink: throw it hard!” Ha!
OF NOTE: another subset of circus folk have found their way into the bar…date app users. Behind me all night, booth after booth kept filling up with men & women meeting for the first time, having a drink, sitting awkwardly apart, giggling nervously, spouting their CVs to each other, then laughing too hard and too loud to show they’re having a good time (like they give a damn), then quickly running off to fuck. You can tell who they are: nervous 30-something-year-old-men, average to dull looking, cautiously approaching tables with various 30-something-year-old women, all smoking hot, class dames, awaiting the arrival of their Prince Dullards. Truly Amazing.
Anyway, as promised, back to The Ghost in the Toilet…
On a previous visit, standing in front of a urinal, just a man doing his business, looking down at my ‘ol John Thursday, hoping to God this won’t be another three-minute racehorse session, praying to God there won’t be any blood this time, I hear footsteps, a man coming into the bathroom. I hear the door close. I feel his presence come to a stop directly behind me. Jesus, a little too close, huh, pal? There’s another urinal to my right. Empty. There’s a stall with a door so you can have a seat if needed. Empty. And this motherfucker is behind me. That can only mean one of two things: he’s going to rob me, there will be violence. Or he’s cruising for dick. Period. Neither of which this Beastly Writer has any intention of giving up.
I feel a tap on my right shoulder. Dammit. The air goes out of me. My stream stops. I don’t wanna turn around. Please God let it be the AC. Let it be my inebriated imagination run amok. I say, “Dude, there are spots open there you know.” I then feel a tap on my left shoulder. A discernible weight of fingers drum. One. Two. Three. Index & Middle. What the hell?! I have to look now, right? I glance behind me and there’s nobody there. What? And it gets cold, a sudden drop of temperature. Oh-fuck-me! I zip up fast. Check the stall behind the door. Still empty. Bathroom door closed. The cold blast of air stops. I hate when that happens.
Bartender Jessie echoed a similar experience while working: “This being a Korean restaurant you have the bells on the tables, right? You ring the bell to call the server. Well, one night I was by myself breaking down, and all at once the bells started to go off. Table after table all around me. Not just one. But all of them. Imagine that? Freaked me out, man!”
We conclude that these are pranks. No harm, no foul. Genuine curiosities to be sure but ultimately add to the draw of The Prince: “Working here,” Jessie continued, “is like working in another place, another time. Doesn’t feel like L.A. No windows, no clocks, you don’t know where or when it is.”
The Prince is certainly an experience, kids. What you make of it, how you perceive it, is, of course entirely up to you.
Love & Whiskey,
Jimmy The Pen
3198 West 7th Street
L.A., Calif (“Koreatown”)