“My body will not look right in Los Angeles” is the first note I make for this article. When I ask my brain to generate an image of the average LA resident, I see a Generic Sexy Person in Athletic Gear with tan skin and their hair in a bun (or man bun). Also, they’re on a hike.
My last two columns were conducted from the safety of my room in San Francisco, with items that were purchased and sent to me by Lucky Peach staff. This one requires that I leave my little area and fly to LA with my girlfriend, Camryn*, an actual healthy person, to visit these stores (and people) in person.
I’m not healthy. But I’m interested in possibly considering becoming healthy at some point in the future. And I’m intrigued by the stores themselves. The language and branding of some of them wouldn’t seem out of place if they were used by a New Age cult in a dystopian show on Hulu set in the near distant future. Their sites make it seem like taste is secondary, that the main focus is on how their items make you feel. I understand that way of thinking from my own diet: I drink a cup of coffee as a pain reliever (as in, if I don’t I’ll get a headache); I drink another cup as a stress increaser; I eat a hamburger to reduce that stress; I order too much take-out to as a mood regulator; I eat the leftovers to decrease my energy (right before I fall asleep). I can’t help but think my life would be much better if I achieved the same results using their methods.
*In my last column, I referred to Camryn as my “roommate.” This was wrong, and I apologize to anyone I might have offended.
PRESS BROTHERS JUICERY
317 South Broadway Street
The first location my associate Camryn and I visit is Press Brothers Juicery, a small stall inside the crowded Grand Central Market. (Cool people, what is the general opinion on this place? Is it basic to go here, or is it lit?) There’s no line. The man behind the counter greets us warmly, which I am suspicious of because why would anyone ever be nice. I ask him if he has any recommendations, and he eagerly and ably runs us through the menu, noting the ingredients of each drink, the taste, the intended effects, and so on. I nod like I’m listening but actually zone out pretty quickly and just kind of think about my life and other problems.
I order the Master because there’s a movie called that. Camryn gets a Popsicle version of their most popular drink: Liquid Gold. It’s so popular that the drink version of the drink is out of stock. It’s a very accessible flavor—pineapple, apple, mint, lemon. Just imagine all of those ingredients combined and frozen and put on a Popsicle stick, and that’s the taste.
The Master is complex, much like Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2012 film. It can be very good at times (when you taste the fruit and the raw honey) and difficult to understand at others (when the cayenne pepper and lemon kind of burn your throat). Camryn tells me that it’s meant for cleanses, and I’m like, Oh yeah, that makes sense—another shared trait with the film is, if you force yourself to take it all in, it’s ultimately rewarding (when you poop later).
We finish the Popsicle and half of the Master and stroll through the rest of Grand Central Market, sipping every now and then and staring longingly at everyone else’s food.
2839 Sunset Boulevard
Moon Juice takes us into the heart of the hip, healthy, magic-elixir scene. They call what they do “plant-sourced alchemy” and, beyond the juices, sell things with names like Moon Tonics and Cosmic Provisions and also offer a series of Dusts (Beauty Dust, Brain Dust, Sex Dust) that you can pour into your cup of tea. On the website, you can filter the products by what they do for you. The categories I need most: Detoxifier, Joy Promoter, Brain Activator, Combats Puffiness.
We arrive at around one p.m., and we’re the only customers. The storefront itself is beautiful and minimal, like it was designed with the idea in mind that you should be able to point your iPhone anywhere and get a pretty good Instagram post out of it. The store has a wall display that functions sort of like the website—drinks and ingredients all categorized by their functions: Headache; Athlete’s Fuel; Cold, Flu, Virus; Energy, Joy & Ecstasy; etc. We order the Golden Serene (a Moon-Dusted Milk), the Goodness Greens (a cold-pressed juice), a Coconut Kefir shot (because doesn’t that combination of words sound healthy?), and a bag of Rainbow Juice & Seed Crisps.
I ask if there are any regulars. I want to know if there are people who come in for the same order every day like they would a coffee shop, or people who, more than just buying their drinks, buy into the entire Moon Juice lifestyle. The store clerk tells us that the neighborhood is filled with artists and creative types and actors who frequent the store. “The guy from Married With Children comes in a lot,” she says. “Al Bundy?” I ask. She says something like, “No, I wish! The guy who was married to Marcy.” I don’t remember his name, but I sort of have an idea of who she might be talking about. The Goodness Greens is a green drink that is billed as a stress reliever, energy food, digestive aid, alkalizer, and more. Camryn notes the taste of dandelion. The Golden Serene is sort of tasty and has a beautiful gold-tinted bottle design. It’s technically a Moon-Dusted Milk, which I think means it has some kind of powder in it. Camryn implores me to drink my Coconut Kefir for all of the “probiotics.” When I ask what probiotics are, she characterizes them as “good bacteria that live in your stomach.” I think that’s what the movie Alien was about. The Rainbow Juice & Seed Crisps are like flavored chips of bark, in a sort of positive way.
Have you ever had a meal where you feel like you should just be able to walk out without paying? That’s what juice feels like to me, so far.
4645 Melbourne Avenue
We meet my friend Russell at the Punchbowl, a seven-minute Uber drive away, in Los Feliz. Russell recently moved here from San Francisco, and he verifies that he has visited some juice places out here. The store looks more like a neighborhood café. I describe it that way to Camryn and she wonders what I and people like me are implying when they say “neighborhood” that way—that it’s ugly? Maybe a little. But mostly, it’s not as sleek as, say, a Moon Juice—it’s darker, the decorations are sort of falling off the wall, and as a result the store is probably the most charming and human-feeling location we visit. And it’s full and lively. There are multiple customers with dogs, the world’s greatest creatures.
We order the Rita Hayworth and the Power Mint, two shakes. And Camryn gets the Day Glow, a bright-orange juice in a bottle designed to look like it came from an apothecary. We all quickly agree it tastes like a cold coconut curry poured into a bottle. Camryn wants to drop some noodles and bean sprouts into it. The Rita Hayworth is a very floral pink drink, almost the color of Pepto-Bismol. It’s got stuff like evening primrose oil (whatever that is), strawberries, rose water, coconut meat, and coconut yogurt. There’s also a tiny flower on top for decoration. (Later, I accidentally suck it up into my straw and have a coughing fit.) Russell describes his experience with Rita thusly: no taste at all for two seconds, followed by a strong aroma of flowers—“like making out with a grandmother.” Okay, Russell, I’ll take your word for it! The Power Mint is good, like a blander version of mint ice cream. Russell enjoys the texture more than he enjoys the taste. He suggests that we call this article “Liquid Lunch.”
1915 Hillhurst Avenue
This barely counts. We only visit Qwench because its logo looks like the logo of a company owned by one of the editors of this magazine, and it’s within walking distance of the Punchbowl. Someone told me that this place used to be a Jamba Juice. Someone else told me it used to be a Robeks. I don’t know what to believe, I just wish I could play its current name during Scrabble.
The store kind of looks like the Subway of juice shops. There are signs all over the store advertising a new drink called Thumper, made with carrots, grapefruit, and ginger. Fine. Because I am bad with decision-making, I order a large for $9 (which seems to be the average price for a juice at all the fancier places). Mamma mia, that’s a lot of juice! I ask if Russell or Camryn wants to share any of it. They don’t. It’s a very inoffensive drink, as you can probably tell from the ingredients. If I were a person who normally ordered juice and I was meeting a friend here for some reason, I could see myself drinking this juice. We decide to call it quits on the health food for the day. Camryn wants pho. The idea of more liquid disgusts me, but I agree to it and act grumpy while we eat. You would think all this juice would be able to make me not an asshole! Later, I demand a hamburger, followed by some dishes involving grilled meats and a lot of rice. We drink more coffee and then visit a dive bar. In the hotel later that evening, we wonder why we feel sick. Maybe it’s because even though these drinks are meant to increase joy and wellness and energy and whatever, when you have as many as we’ve had in just a few hours, and follow them up with Vacation Diet, you end up feeling the absolute opposite of the intended effects.
LIFEHOUSE TONICS + ELIXIRS
7515 Sunset Boulevard
The next day, Camryn and I share a few doughnuts, some chilaquiles, and coffee, then head to Lifehouse in Hollywood. We’re the only ones there. To put it in terms my ideal reader would understand, I would describe the store as a cross between Coachella and a CrossFit. There are cacti, brick walls, displays by local artists, and a lot of different powders for sale. The shake-like items are called Blended Tonics, the probiotic items are called Probiotic Tonics, and the bottled, juice-like items are called Steeped Elixirs.
I tell the store clerk that I’m writing an article about the healthy food/juice culture in LA, and she says many interesting things, including:
—In her opinion, the juice culture is fading out, and people are ready for the next thing. (I forget that this place doesn’t consider itself a juice place.)
—The owners of this place are normal guys, one who works in publishing and one who works in the tech industry. (They sound rich to me, and I’m jealous.) [Editor’s note: turns out the owners have left their respective jobs to focus on Lifehouse Tonics + Elixirs.]
—She says the point of this store is to bring Eastern medicine to Western culture in a tasty way.
—This kind of mission is spreading: more and more coffee places and juice shops are introducing items like medicinal mushrooms to their menus.
—She used to work at a juice store, and the most popular drink there had ten grams of sugar per bottle.
—A lot of the clientele for these places is brought in by social media. A person with a lot of followers (an influencer!) will post a photo of an item from there, and people will come into the stores looking for it, or just order it online.
—A lot of the phrases these stores use (like “joy enhancer”) are often a code for increased libido. (Sometimes it’s not coded and stated outright, see: Sex Dust at Moon Juice!)
—She says the powder we’re buying, called “Mellow Mood,” might make us feel something akin to being stoned.
So that’s a lot to take into consideration. Anyway, the Greenhouse Chip is a refreshing light-green shake that tastes just like a slightly less good mint-chocolate-chip ice cream, but with like … edible rocks in it. The Lifeproof Cold Brew has the texture of chocolate milk, and it tastes like some of the stuff it has in it: almond, espresso, and vanilla. It also has some ingredients named erythritol, monk fruit, and chaga—I’m sure some of that stuff must have affected the taste as well. The Filthy Hippie is another thick shake, this time a brown color. This one didn’t really come together for us.
Before we check out of our hotel, I want to finish all the leftover drinks from the taste test so far. I take them all out of the refrigerator and begin drinking them. Camryn gives in to how all the juice has made her feel and throws up in the bathroom. I begin to retch as I try to finish off yesterday’s Coconut Kefir shot, but manage to drink the whole thing without incident. I dump out what little juice I haven’t finished into the toilet, but part of me wishes I had thrown up, too.
3707 Sunset Boulevard
The guy behind the counter at Clover (by the way, what do we call the people who work at these stores? Is there an official name? It can’t be “barista,” but they are like baristas of juice) runs us through the menu and tells us his drink of choice—one that he likens to a liquid salad for your mouth. He tells us that, in addition to the juices, they have coffee drinks, açai bowls, and shakes, basically “everything you would need.” I try to goad Camryn into ordering an açai bowl because I’ve heard a lot about those, but she’s not hungry. We settle on a Forte Shot (which I stupidly pronounce “fort shot”), essentially another cleanse drink that tastes of cayenne pepper but in a shot format, and the drink he recommended, the Clover: a pretty okay green juice with kale, cucumber, celery, spinach, pear, cilantro, mint, and lime. The nice man tells us he’s also a yoga instructor, a dancer, and a choreographer and invites us to his class, because his studio is giving two weeks of free lessons. I feel that this is a tacit endorsement from a Healthy Person that I am not a lost cause.
JUICE SERVED HERE
3827 Sunset Boulevard
Just up the street from Clover, Juice Served Here is another minimalist store with white walls and wooden shelves filled with plants, soap, exfoliating masks, and books like The Monocle Guide to Better Living. The bulk of this place is taken up by a large counter. You take a seat, they take your order, they bring your drinks, and you pay when you leave. It’s like a bar, for juice. A juice bar, if you will.
I ask a server what people normally get. She quickly recommends the No. 12: Cream Party. It’s billed as brain food. It’s got coconut water and coconut cream. When we get the bottle, Camryn tells me that half the bottle contains 70 percent of my daily recommended saturated fat. But that’s a government thing, and I’ve never paid much attention to it, so why start now? I do wonder briefly why I’m always getting recommended the least healthy drinks. Camryn gets the Green Pea Avocado Soup, which the server describes as “cold soup in a bottle.” Cool, sounds like a juice to me.
We finish our drinks on the drive to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Okay, we don’t finish them, but we drink them more. In line for admission, I see plenty of people who could pass as Generic LA Sexy People, but they’re surrounded by a whole other cast of LA characters, a spectrum of shapes and sizes and styles, all united by the desire to see the Rain Room. We all have our problems, and our own formulas to sort of distract us from those problems and make sure we don’t go insane in public. Some people might rely on food, some people might use religion, or drugs, or alcohol, or their job, or whatever it might be. If there are people out there who make expensive and healthy blended liquids their thing, good for them.
Later, we sit in traffic on the drive to the airport. I consider peeing myself for fun but remember it would stop feeling good after the first few seconds. I leave a cryptic note in my phone: “Have you ever been alone in a forest and something felt wrong?” Examining this note several weeks later, I can’t remember what this means. When I get to a bathroom, I experience the most spiritual, joyful, enlightened, cosmic pee I’ve ever taken.