Cities take on a whole new life at night. Singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright reveals her 5 favourite cities for bars, clubs, food, music or for late night walks
Moonlight over Los Angeles (Dreamstime)
I love being in Los Angeles. I’ve always really loved that town, not so much the ‘fake tits’ Hollywood-ness of it, but the incredible people that live there and the incredible spots and the houses up in the hills, the different variations of neighbourhoods.
Echo Park is a very cool place to go out at night now. It used to be Silver Lake but I guess Silver Lake has become too expensive, too popular. Echo Park is a little further east.
There’s a great bar in Silver Lake, though, called Akbar that Rufus (Wainwright, Martha’s brother) and I used to go to, a really cool gay bar that’s super old school. I’ve played the Silver Lake Lounge a bunch of times. It’s kind of a grungy spot but it has really great music and it’s a fun place.
LA has a surreal quality at night. There’s kind of a sadness that sets in. Early on, during the day, the city has just the sunshine, but then it comes down to nighttime and the city takes on a loneliness, because the distances are so large. The beautiful smells of the trees and the eucalyptus and the other flora is absolutely gorgeous. It definitely has something that sets it apart.
Paris bar (Dreamstime)
I love Paris. I’ve always loved Paris. It’s a difficult town because it has a roughness and a gruffness that’s kind of intense. It’s very condensed, so it’s easy to walk around. It’s certainly in-your-face, particularly at night time.
The bars never close there. I remember arriving in Paris off a flight at six or seven in the morning and going to a cafe to get an espresso, and people were drinking wine next to me. They’d been there all night. You’ll be in places like that, and there’s someone playing an accordion. Right away, you’re in some kind of Toulouse-Lautrec painting, thinking “What is going on?”
Paris still has that ‘old world’ way of being. A lot of people who move there are older now, maybe a lot of expats, people who have always drank way too much wine or are down and out on their luck. You can still see that grittiness that Paris is known for. It’s kind of amazing.
It’s dangerous to have a city where you can get a drink at any time, but I’ll take it. I appreciate the openness about it and the cultural acceptance of it. That’s a totally fair thing. Oberkampf is a cool neighbourhood in Paris that has good bars.
Paris is a city known for its food as well. The quality of the food is so high. Everywhere you go, you don’t really have to think about it, especially with the French food or Middle Eastern food there. It’s a cosmopolitan city, but not quite as much as a lot of other cities. It also has this traditionalism, which is valuable in its own way.
Portland's downtown skyline (Dreamstime)
I don’t seem to go often enough but Portland’s a really great town. It’s great for walking. It’s kind of has English weather, but I really love the northwest weather. You can have a little sweater on and there’s light rain, and the city just has this great mystery about it.
You can walk over all its bridges and it has like many, many, many bridges. There are two or three rivers that connect in Portland.
It’s an understated town but it has a lot of really groovy areas. There’s a place where I like to play called Doug Fir Lounge. It’s a music venue and a restaurant. It’s connected to a groovy hotel. It’s a just a nice little spot to find yourself in.
I like the madness of Portland, especially when I used to go out a lot when I was younger to all the amazing strip joints. They’re really famous. They have full nudity in Portland and there’s a culture of strip joints where girls go to them too and it’s sort of acceptable. It’s more of a profession there. The dancers are not looked down on so much. It’s open. It’s not such an underbelly. It’s more of an accepted thing.
You see a lot of crazy tattooed women, lots of piercings. Some of those places have good food. It’s a bit odd but its kind of fun to go there. We would go and stick some one dollar bills in someone’s underwear and then they’d take their underwear off. I’d just think: “Oh my God.”
Graffiti on wall of Cassiopeia club in Friedrichshain area (Dreamstime)
I love going out in Berlin because there are a lot of great bars, great clubs and other really fun stuff. It still, at least from what I know, has a wildness to it.
In different cities, it generally happens that I’ll go out after a show and I have local people, maybe some friends, that have taken me out to clubs and things like that. That’s always been fun.
Berlin is very arty, very musical, but still less expensive than other cities. It’s not all about cocktail bars. There’s a grit that still remains if you want that, and that can be fun.
It’s known as a clubbing city. I love to dance. I’ll dance to anything. I don’t listen to a lot of the electronica but that’s great to dance to.
I also like to walk in Berlin, especially walking though the Tiergarten. It’s really special. That’s the main place to walk in that town.
Berlin is also very social, very open, very open to ideas. It’s advanced culturally. It checks all of the boxes.
Montreal at dusk (Dreamstime)
I moved back to Montreal a few years ago. It’s quite a small city but that can be fun because you can walk to places. There’s less choice, but sometimes that makes life a lot easier.
I live in a part of the city that’s become hip now, called Mile End. It’s got great little bars that have opened up, in particular a place called Kabinet, which is connected to KGB, and they have a kind of Russian theme. There’s a cute little bar on one side and then it connects to a small dance club with great DJs. That place is great for dancing.
I always go in for a drink and then end up staying for three or four hours. I can’t get out of there. It catches me off guard. It’s a small place, with low ceilings, and it’s really dark. The other night I was in there and Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs was there. She wrote one of the songs for my new album. She’s really a great artist.
Montreal is a huge music city. There are some great restaurants in Montreal, too. The quality is so good and it doesn’t really have the pretension of a lot of cities. There’s a great restaurant I used to go to around the corner from my house called Leméac, which is a classic French restaurant with incredible oysters and really great food.
Martha Wainwright’s latest album Goodnight City is out now on PIAS Recordings.
Martha Wainwright is currently touring, with live dates in countries around the world, including Australia and Canada. See www.marthawainwright.com/shows for more details.
Main image: Martha Wainwright