Monday, June 27, 2011

World's Record Weekend!

Phew. That was a humdinger of a weekend in Venice, to be sure.

Friday night: We head over to the Cinema Bar to catch the Matt Ellis/Paul Chesne Band gig. On the way, we sit through about a zillion red lights as the biggest bike brigade I've ever seen cruised by, accompanied on all sides by police escorts in cars, on bikes, and motorcycles. TONS of kids, all ringing their bells as we honked to cheer them along. I'm not positive, but we felt like it might have something to do with the two young Venice high kids that were shot in Penmar Park last week. We all had chills, even if it was just for fun. They were also showing Grease that night for the 100th Anniversary celebration of Venice High - on the same football field where it was shot. But we had jams to hear.

Matt Ellis, his wife, Vavine, and their band tore up the Cinema with their Aussie style Americana. It was such a treat to be out with this whole gang, and so the whiskey flowed.

Right into Paul Chesne's torrid set that featured a slew of songs of their excellent new record, PCB. A highlight for me was dancing around to Paul's breakdown of Prince's "Gett Off". Classic.

When the hangover finally wore off on Saturday, it was time for the last annual (at least in Venice - for now) - dangit - Conway Family Crawfish Boil/Going Away to move to Austin party. I can't even really talk about it yet, as I'll get emotional, but suffice it to say that we threw it down again, and sent off David, Christina, Amelia and Truman with a LOT of Venice love. Happy Trails, my darling Friends.

Sunday awoke - groggily - to the thunder roar of skateboard wheels coming down my street as Venice broke the Guiness Book of World's Records for the most Skateboarders in a parade together! Paper work is still being filed, I guess, but I'm told it was over 400 strong!

It was super cool to see skaters of all shapes, sizes, ages, genders, fitness levels, etc .. coming together to celebrate 100 years of Venice High - and show off skateboarding in the place where it really makes the most sense of all.

There was even a Gondolier skater (ok, Scooter-er)!

WOOOO's filled the air as the boards sailed down Venice Boulevard towards a place in the record books, on the most sunny gorgeous Venice day in June imaginable. As any good parade has, this one featured a few different marching bands ... and as they always do, they jammed some "YMCA" as they passed by. It was awesome.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hal's Bar & Grill - A Venice Institution

I've spent a lot of time at Hal's over the years ... and so has everyone else who has spent any decent amount of time in Venice. I remember when it was pretty much the only place to go on Abbot Kinney - and it being kind of scary to get to. Well, those times have clearly changed, but Hal's hasn't. It's still the go to place for good food, good people, stiff drinks and a nice dose of Venice history.

I sat down recently to hear all about it with the holy trinity of Hal's: Donald & Linda Novack, the owners and heads of the Hal's family (and together 40 years!) , and Hal Frederick, their partner, the namesake and host of all the good times. With Hal's going on 25 years old this year, you can imagine the abundance of stories that have gone down within those walls.

Hal's used to be a restaurant called The Merchant of Venice, an eatery/antique store where you could buy the chair you were sitting down to eat on. Donald (an ex-New Yorker) and Linda (born and raised in LA, her Mom went to Venice High) were/are in the real estate biz, and had The Merchant of Venice as a listing. That turned into a fraction of ownership, which became full ownership when the original guy shirked his bills and left Donald on the hook for a big chunk of money. Donald and Linda knew nothing about the restaurant business at the time, but had no choice but to make it work. And so they have. They recruited Hal from the old West Beach Cafe, and he has been welcoming Venice and Friends ever since. The place works because of the three of them, all playing different and crucial roles.

From the first week of business when Linda had to step over a dead body to get in the door, to last week when Sean Penn was having lunch unassumingly, obviously a lot has changed over the years. What hasn't changed is the sense of community, and the warm feeling of neighborhood whenever you walk in the door. Hal lived above the LA Louver gallery back in the day, and got a good art education as a result, as well as long-lasting friendships with the local artists who can now be seen in museums all over the world - and right there in Hal's. A big Ed Moses on the west wall. Joni Mitchell. Larry Bell. Judy Stabile. Laddie John Dill. Many more, ever changing. And they all like to hang out there, all the time.

Part of the reason that it feels so homey is that the faces stay the same. Hal's has employees who stay. They are part of the family, and it shows. One guy was 19 when he started in the kitchen, and is now a grandfather. Francisco Morales worked at Hal's for years, and is now their partner in Casa Linda, two doors down. Manuel Mares is the Executive Chef, who began in 1989, serving up his delicious seasonal menus (best asparagus soup I've ever had the other day!) year in and year out. When I asked Mr. Mares what has kept him there so long, he simply smiled and said, "Them", looking fondly at Don and Linda. With everyone working so long together, what you get is consistency, something that is all too rare in restaurants these days. Which is why good old Hal's is such a mainstay in Venice.

So much so that they can tell tales about a couple that met at the bar, got married there, had their anniversaries there, and recently had their son's 21st birthday party there. Or the woman whose water broke in Hal's, and then had that child's Sweet 16 there. And the Grandma who had her last 20 birthday parties there. Graduations, Memorials, Rehearsal dinners, Croquet Tournament rain-outs, Good times all. Generations of memories have been created here, all adding to the family feeling that only grows deeper through the years.

A big reason for that is that everyone is welcome, and everyone feels comfortable. Never mind your ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, age, celebrity status, outfit ... you will blend in, and you will enjoy yourself. Hal sees to that ... a bon vivant, raconteur, stylish gent, he arrives to non-stop greetings four nights a week, especially the world class jazz nights he started on Sunday and Mondays. This is a guy with good stories - like the time he was Maya Angelou's date for President Clinton's Inaugural Ball. And the time his childhood friend, Gregory Hines, showed up with Aretha Franklin, Sammy Davis Jr., The Nicholas Brothers, and friends, and everyone danced around Hal's. And those were just the ones off the top of his head - there are 25 years worth of tales to tell!

"Venice has something ... it's got stuff. Good stuff." So said Donald about our community, speaking about the creativity and diversity that make up this part of the world. "If you get it, you get it, if you don't, you don't", is how Don put it, and he's right. The hippies, the fashionistas, the homeless, the travelers with guide books, all the people walking the street (walking in L.A.!!), enjoying the beach air, everyone makes up the whole. And the ones who stay and contribute to the town, are the ones who get it.

Like the Hal's family. They contribute to the Art Walk, the Garden Tour, local schools and churches, SPARC, they're trying to help out the Vera Davis Center now ... they are INVOLVED. Which speaks to why they've lasted so long in a business that as Linda said, they knew "Zero" about at the beginning. They care, so we care. They want us to do well, so we want them to do well. It's a really good model for life in general, and one that we would all do well to emulate.

Hal came from New York to Venice ("the best temperate weather in the world") because he was an actor, on stage and screen. When I asked him if he missed that life, he smiled and said, "No. There's a curtain up here every night."

Hal's family ... take your bows! Bravo, and may there be encore upon encore for years to come.

Hal's Bar & Grill
1349 Abbot Kinney
Venice, 90291

*Photo (top) of Hal, Linda and Donald by their best customer, Alan Shaffer (in front of painting of Hal by Mykel Alatza)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Happiness Rocks

So many magical things happen, so often, that I bet some people think I might make stuff up sometimes. First, I don't. Second, you don't have to. Third, I usually have witnesses. Like today.

Beach walking with Jenny this morning, each charging ahead in our own reveries, up ahead I see the ethereal vision in white emerging from the gloom, walking towards us, caught up in her own thoughts ... Unitia. Unitia is so special that I hesitate to even bring her up in a public forum, as she has appeared to me at such flooring personal revelation times on the beach, that I feel almost sacred about it. She pops up right in my path right when I'm thinking my deepest possible things, and will come up with such righteously right on pearls of wisdom as "Gratitude is Glory!" right when I'm thinking along those lines. Or today, "We already have everything we need" right when I'd been thinking that no matter what circumstances are, I was thrilled to be doing exactly what I was doing in that moment. Deep.

So, just yards after we hugged and departed from the Guru, Unitia, Jenny lets out a yelp and bends down to pick something up. A smooth stone with "Happiness" written on it in purple pen. Happiness! As if to confirm what we'd all just been talking about, with multi-exclamation points. I was all happy (Happiness!) for her to have seen such a thing among all the zillions of tiny shells today ... and then a few yards later, I see another little rock that appears to have writing on it! ANOTHER Happiness rock, among the humongous beach! Double Happiness!


As we turned around and walked the other direction, towards the sunshine starting to burn through the marine layer, I shook my head, laughing and said to Jenny, "Happiness rocks."

And that is the lesson for today. Happiness indeed rocks. Make yourself some.

*Photo by Jenny Everhart. Rocks sent by The Universe. And yeah, I'm a big hippie.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

King Neptune Declares it SUMMER 2011 In Venice!

Happy Summer Solstice, Everyone! Ahhh, Summer, my favorite Season of them all ... and we actually got a little jump on it here in Venice, with the 1st (this Century) Neptune Parade and Festival on June 18th. The Neptune fun was bringing back the Venice tradition, that even instigator Danny Samakow (of Danny's Deli fame) was unsure of exactly when it began in the last century, but we're guessing around the 1920's.

King Neptune (played to the hilt this time by local actor and buff dude, David Frison), his Queen (Jessica, the Sugar Shack chanteuse) and his royal Mer-Court (Danny, James, Edizen, Poseidon Stand-Up Paddlers, Hula Hoopers, etc ...) would emerge from the crystal blue Pacific (NO June Gloom for the occasion!) to lead a parade across the sand and declare it officially SUMMER in Venice on land.

I went to the Breakwater at the given time (2:45) and saw no King Neptune, just a bunch of tourists, tanning and looking for shells. I thought I may have missed the whole deal, so headed back towards Danny's ... only to see the entire royal court emerging from the bar all riled up, blowing noise-makers, chanting and tossing out leis and Mardi Gras style beads. (I later learned the delay was due to Jameson shots. So I totally approve.) I had my friend, Amy, down from Hollywood, so this was the perfect thing to have her go back and report on Venice. I love this place.

Here's a perfect example of why - the sheer delight on each face that we passed, a complete surprise, most just wondering what the heck was going on at first (as is often the case here), and all just loving it every second.

We traipsed across the sand, with the procession led by a "Venice" sign hanging from two sticks carried by Mer-Pages. We blew our horns, someone banged a drum, everyone we encountered got a necklace, and then Neptune - with great fanfare - made his proclamation that it was now officially Summer 2011! It was kind of exciting, if I'm honest. As I mentioned before, I love Summer. A lot.

"Hail The King! Hail Venice! Hail Summer! Hail Yes!!!"

So went the refrain everyone yelled as we headed back to the Boardwalk, led by the King & Queen under the Venice sign that by now had a chunk out of the "N", but no one minded. The procession was slow-going, since by now everyone visiting Venice Beach this day that had a camera was stopping their Highnesses to get a photo with them. Again, no one minded. Just more time to yell, feel the fun, and laugh at the sunbathing topless girls with headphones on being startled by beads landing on them as this crazy band of Venetians passed by.

Once on the Boardwalk, the throngs left the other acts going on around to come see what all this Neptune commotion was about. There the King again declared it Summer for the landlubbers who did not catch it at wave's edge. It was just quintessential Venice, through and through.

About that - I spoke to Danny afterward, as he collapsed into the relative calm (though a still-chanting Court kept it lively) of his restaurant saying, "I feel like I just left a Fellini film!" Indeed, it had that tang. It was a great piece of guerilla theater, the surprise of it all being a big part of the charm. Danny is a great keeper of the Venice flame, and summed up his and his friends' feelings that bringing back some of the old time-y fun of Venice "keeps it true to the roots, while bringing it forward". As he said, "We want to stimulate the neighborhood to believe in itself." What a great sentiment for anyplace in the whole world to embrace!

These kind of jamborees do two things big and importantly - they support local artists (again, our roots. Er, along with gangs, of course. Respect.) and it builds tourist trade (which then circles back to support local artists again. Awesome).

The Venice parade participants were a little sparse this first time, but their roar was mighty, and the seeds were planted, for sure. May they ever grow!!!

Hail The King! Hail Venice!! Hail Summer!!!


Friday, June 17, 2011

Venice Whole Foods is REAL.

This is the funniest thing I saw all week, shot in our own Venice Whole Foods:

Just doing my part to get my Venice people even more viral, as the kids say. I love it that we can all laugh at ourselves together, which is the charm of this thing. And I love that he gives up some Clipper love.

Well done, DJ Dave!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Leonard Cohen in Venice. WHAT?!

There is nothing I will be ever be able to write cooler than this, now, but maybe ever. If you know me, you know I love Leonard Cohen. LOVE Leonard Cohen. So imagine my damn struck dumb surprise when I was physically reading his stunningly gorgeous book of poetry and line drawings, Book Of Longing - super random, but the thing is so beautiful and meaningful to me that I get chills thinking back upon it now - and WHILST reading it, in walks Mr. Leonard Cohen to my physical human space. I felt light-headedly strange (in a good Doors kind of strange), but in an unexpectedly shakily, floored kind of way. I said to the living persona of artistic heights standing in front of me, on little Abbot Kinney Boulevard, "Mr. Cohen, This is crazy but look what I'm reading!" (And I struggled with bothering him even with that - not at ALL my style, but I had to, ala Kris Kristofferson life moments) "I think I conjured you up!". He looked me dead in the eye and said, "You did." And then proceeded to sign my book - without me asking - in the same lettering that features in the treasure of a book.

All I can say, All I can know, is that life is crazy, and deeply meaningful, and beyond what we let ourselves imagine. But than we do. And it happens.

Imagine if we could harness that for the good of the whole. I do. All the time.

In Venice, or wherever you are, let yourself believe in dreams coming true. All the time.

*Photo of my special treasure book by Jennifer Everhart

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

GTA (Gjelina Take Away) Is Open - and Awesome

GTA, the new breakfast and lunch spot from our pals at Gjelina, is now open for business, right next door to G-Dogs, as we call it. (I don't really know why, we just do.) It was slow to open, and I'd walk by all the time, bug Travis (Lett, Gjelina's chef, great guy and neighbor) about it, and now our patience has been amply rewarded.

EVERY morsel I have consumed from this rustic and classy at the same time counter is pretty much eyes roll back in your dang head delicious. The blueberry brown sugar scone - ummm, wow. I've never been much of a scone gal, as I find them dry and boring, but now I could scone it up on a daily basis. That's because there's a bunch of different - and all jamming - flavors. Bacon & Date. Berry and Ricotta. Oatmeal and something. Awesome and awsome. Those, plus delish coffee cake, fresh strawberry turnovers - if you get there early and lucky enough, egg sandwiches, biscuits, cookies, tra la la! Gorgeous coffees (cortado dulce, please!) too, but they don't yet have take away cups, so you have to stand there and slam it, which I can't always do. That all goes on until 11:30, and then they switch to lunch.

Lunch. MMMM sandwiches - I've had the roast turkey and roast beef, (because I'm not at all afraid of meat) and both are what your Mom might make, if you have a good cooking Mom. The bread is made right there in their fiery ovens, with gorgeous "ears" sticking up - a term Travis taught me, those ridges that rise up on artisan breads. The same right-on pizzas that they kill you with next door. Limeade that tastes just like Summer. I'm so happy somewhere this good is only a stone's throw from home, and I already know pretty much everyone that works there. THAT is a neighborhood joint, never mind the hype.

Speaking of hype ... a little editorial here ... Much has been made of Gjelina and its no substitutions* policy of late. I completely admire Travis and Co. for sticking to their guns and making the policy apply to everyone, across the board. It's about time someone went a little Pinko in an LA restaurant! If some random "Don't you know who I am?!" outraged celeb can't handle their demands being denied for once, order something else. Go someplace else. Grow up!

Early on I wrote a story about Travis and Gjelina, with the title, "Gjelina's Food Artist", and that's what he is. Just taste his stuff and try and debate it. You wouldn't say to a painter, "Hey, I'd rather have you use red here than blue". Or tell a musician what chord to play and when. Why is it any different for a guy who chooses to express himself through food? It isn't. And if you can't handle that, just don't go there. Then another table will open up for someone with an open mind, and you can get your ass kissed in West Hollywood or wherever. Everybody wins.

I'm already looking forward to tomorrow's scone, and some friendly chit chat with my brothers and sisters at my new favorite hang in the 'hood. Venice style.

* For the record, at GTA you MAY have omissions (I don't care for the kale on the egg sandwich and I hate mustard, so bonus!) but you may not have additions. So there.

1427 Abbot Kinney Blvd.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Venice Cultural Corridor Happenings

We zoomed up and down the "Cultural Corridor"(which I so dubbed it because of the art galleries, Pacific Resident Theater, Beyond Baroque, SPARC, etc, of the main artery) of Venice Boulevard last night to catch art works that ranged the gamut from hippie to posh and back to hippie again.

Beyond Baroque & Gerry Fialka hosted the re-lighting of the neon 7 Dudley sign (and the continuance of 7 Dudley Cinema) that used to hang in our dearly departed Sponto's Gallery. When my gang arrived via bike, bells a-dinging, it was to join the crowd gathered out front of Beyond Baroque singing, "This Land Is Your Land" together. Then at 4 minutes and 20 seconds after 7:00 pm, after the now-obligatory chant yelled at any Sponto Memorial of "SPONTO, GET ME HIGH!!!", the old red light was re-lit to much applause and happy shouting. I felt a little choked up from missing all the good times back at Sponto's Gallery, but then one of his friends, Shirley, approached carrying, well, Sponto. His ashes. So he was kinda there after all. Oh, Venice ... how we love you.

Then it was off to the other end of Venice Blvd, to the LA Louver to catch the latest opening, Tom Wudl's "immensities and infinities: further specimens from the flowerbank world". It explores the "Avatamasaka Sutra/Flower Ornament Sutra", and they were lovely in their detail. It was all pretty cool, with a lot of familiar local faces in attendance.

Upstairs were sculptures, works on paper and a new painting in the Wormwood series of works by Enrique Martinez Celaya. Again, pretty cool ... just nothing that moved me to my core to want to gush over.

The best piece of the whole evening was saved for last ... I mean, check out this sunset! It was more special than normal ... it was more golden and just bigger somehow. It felt good just to be alive and able to look at it, with scores of like-minded folks outside celebrating the approach of official Summer (though it was CHILLY!), love, and being right where you want to be.

I get these little Notes From The Universe messages that are always so right on, and while thinking about all the art and hijinks of the day, this one came in, and reiterated what I was feeling ... about everything:

Have your preferences. Go where you're drawn. And dwell upon all that is good.