Friday, November 30, 2012

Venice - Where Art Meets Corporate Greed? Say No!

If you had left Venice even a year ago, and returned today to stroll down Abbot Kinney, you might think you got lost and wound up on Robertson or Montana. If you ever cared about Venice being cool and unique and outside of the mainstream, you would certainly be aghast to find corporate-owned chain stores - once thought to be forbidden - open for business for people that like Mall clothes. I'd like to think we as a community are better than this mass sell-out of cool ... but money talks, apparently. LOTS of money, and lots of talking.

Many of the businesses that made Abbot Kinney a cool destination in the first place - Surfing Cowboys, Jin Patisserie, Venice Vintage Paradise, Plantation, Capri Restaurant (and its great pop-ups), Glen Crest BBQ,  etc ... - are now either getting the boot by outlandish rent increases or choosing to sell in the big money grab of now. It's stomach turning, and sneaky too.

Places like Steven Alan, Robert Graham, Jack Spade, Civilianaire, the soon to open Scotch & Soda, and Flannel, and the mall-looking row of LF, Lucky Brand, and Gant are all corporate-owned, and sneaky because some sound like little boutique shops, but are really owned by massive conglomerates. They are turning our beloved Venice into a place just like anywhere else ... the last thing we who care about the history and freedom of Venice would ever would want it to be. That big mural of Abbot Kinney on South Venice Boulevard, looking down over his creation, now appears to be cringing every time I see him.

I had a good chat with Wayne Gunther, owner of Surfing Cowboys, who told me that his pioneering and well-loved business on Abbot Kinney is seeing its building being sold - and its rent skyrocketing - to a Dutch company called Holland Investments, LLC, headed by a Benjamin Derhy (no phone number listed), who seems to be doing a lot of the big buying out of Abbot Kinney. Gunther told me that Derhy's "Henchman" is Drew Glickman of Abbot Kinney Realty, who according to Gunther, tips off the buyers when the leases are coming up, so they can pounce on it, and offer such astronomical sums that sellers are obviously finding it hard to refuse. No one can make a profit when all the revenue is going to rent, so the business owners have no choice but to pack up and move elsewhere - if they can. Surfing Cowboys is moving to a bigger, cheaper space on 12553 Venice Boulevard, which will be great, but is an extra bitter pill to swallow for the Gunthers, who even lived in the back of their current space at one point, when NOTHING else was around. They're excited for the new prospects (their own parking lot!) and do a lot of great business online too, so they'll be fine. But still. In discussing why we loved and ever wanted to live in Venice, Gunther said, "I mean, just that there's VALET PARKING in VENICE is ridiculous!" Agreed.

These corporate wheeler dealers all claim to want to maintain the integrity of the street, but MAN, are they not looking at the big picture. First of all, they don't know the community. Venice doesn't want to buy stuff to look like everyone else in the world. The Venice that I know/knew and love takes pride in its individuality and free spirit. The Venice I believe in ran the corporate Pinkberry out of town with pickets and protests. I heard there were some picketers outside of the new Lucky Brand store, and that might be the kind of deal it's gonna take. If not outright picketing, which I encourage, then certainly boycotting. Let the Abercrombie T-shirt wearing tourists go there, because they're going to anywhere they go, but don't let that be YOU. If you chose to live here, with all that Venice is, good and bad, then YOU know better.

If Venice becomes a place full of chain stores that anyone can go to anywhere, then we lose all that made Venice cool in the first place, and there's no reason for all these international tourists roaming around to come here anymore. We'll be just another mall, and then a ghost mall, when all the boarded up shops and fancy build-outs sit rotting because no one could afford the rents anymore.

Like the $40,000 (!!!)  the guy that owns the Jin building thinks he's going to get for that space. Jin's lovely owner, Kristy Choo, told me that someone else said they could get $47, 000 a month for the little cottage with the charming patio SHE created, that they are now using as a selling point. She'd have to sell a whole lot of her perfect chocolates and pastries to meet that rape of a rent, so is looking for a new space, and hoping she'll get to stay on through the holidays. The buyers use the GQ article claiming Abbot Kinney as "the coolest street in America" as a bargaining chip, again failing to realize that as soon as the chains and big money take over (if we LET them!), it ceases to be any kind of cool - immediately.  Like I always say, "If it's in In Style, it's out of style." Please let Choo know if you know of anything REASONABLE, because it would be a damn shame not to have Choo and her  flawlessly delicious wares here anymore ... booted out of the happening boulevard that she helped to create.

It's all such a sad commentary on the role of greed in our community these days. I could tell you stories for days about artists that can't afford it here anymore - the very ones that settled here because it was the only place they COULD afford. My own rent has gone up already and I've just lived in this place since May. Building sold, new owners wanted even more money. So less money to spend locally. Again, a failure to understand the bigger, longer-term picture.

There are success stories on the block, of unique, family-owned businesses like Hal's, Principessa, Abbot's Habit, Abbot's Pizza, Firefly, The Green House, The Rooster Fish, Tumbleweed and Dandelion, Zingara, Joe's, Primitivo, Just Tantau, Trim, Urban Escape, Strange, Invisible Perfume, Huset, The Beauty Bungalows, Ananda, the Shoe Repair Guy, The French Market (but of course!),  and a few more, that I encourage you to shop and eat at every chance you get, because they DO know and care about their community. But they are increasingly rare, and on the endangered list too, if their leases come up and dollar signs are still blinding people to what is truly cool, and what set Venice apart from the rest of the world.

I also encourage the folks who like to ride naked down the street on their bikes, or roller skate down the middle of AKB in a chicken suit just for fun, or leave art installation treasures, or wear a sign that's funny, or let your kid wear their Halloween costume again, just because it's Tuesday, or  .... you get what I mean. Be Individuals! Be Fun! Smile and say Good Morning, like we always have done, none of this cold hipster biz I've seen. Be decent, at the very least. Be Venice, for goodness sakes!

Remember Mobay? Venus of Venice? The Korean liquor store where Wabi Sabi is that had like three items in stock? The Hydrant Cafe? Slave? Stroh's? Van Gogh's Ear? Ten Women? I do, and fondly. Wouldn't it be sad to be having this talk in a few years saying, "Remember when Starbuck's was Abbot's Habit? Remember when Domino's was Abbot's Pizza? Remember when The Gap and Gap Kids was Firefly and Kid Firefly? Remember when some b.s. like Chili's was Hal's? Remember when Joel Silver's office was the Post Office? (wait, that DID happen!) Remember when Venice was cool?!" It could happen. It IS happening.

(And by the way, not even big corporate stores are fine, as the still-new Quicksilver store right around the corner on Venice Boulevard (former Samy's Camera) is already gone. I never even went in, and I think it's because it felt too mall store chain same, which holds no appeal for me. Bye. Exclamation pointing on this entire discussion. )

A couple of days before Thanksgiving, I walked by a massive line outside of the Vera Davis Center, where they were distributing food to those who really needed it for the holiday. The line (of mostly elderly people, so you can save your "Get a job" comments, if that's your argument. There are none for them.) stretched down way around the corner, past the Electric Lodge, made up of our residents and neighbors who need help. It wrecked me all day to think that one block over from Electric, on Abbot Kinney, there are those who could take one month's proposed (filthy with greed) rent and feed everyone in line for a year, at least. Who do we want to BE, as a People? Geez ... It's just sick.

I recently saw a bumper sticker that read, "You Ruined Venice".  Please don't let that be you, and please don't let that happen. You can't take any money with you, but you will always have the golden memories of your time in OUR Venice. The preservation of those sweet times is in OUR hands. Don't. Ruin. Venice! BE cool.

*Times Square like photo found at

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Norwegian Wood

I was cruising along Speedway, thinking about home and Christmas and Glogg and stuff, when I came upon this wooden Norwegian flag nailed up to this tore up and tagged building on 17th and Speedway:

What is the meaning of this? Why has the flag of my forebears been put up smack dab in the middle of Venice? What is coming?! I need to get to the bottom of this, and velkommen your insights. Weird. Cool.

*Photo by Jennifer Everhart

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Give Thanks And Praises!

HAPPY Thanksgiving, dear People!

This is what today is all about. When you really think about it, there are absolutely too many blessings to even count. EVERY day.

I hope today finds you with loved ones, content. Jah bless!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Booze, Bands and Burgers - A Cinema Bar Sunday

So the next time you hear about Matt Ellis and his wife, Vavine, throwing one of their Sundays at the Cinema Bar ... you should just get there. It's always a complete blast, and this past one was no different.

In these days where finding a good old dive bar is increasingly difficult, the Cinema Bar is simply a treasure. When it's packed to the rafters with all our pals from Venice and beyond, it's even better.

For a mere 8 bucks, you got four awesome bands AND a delicious burger grilled up on the back patio. The booze was extra, but it generally is ... and as Matt said, "We all had our whiskey boots on!" Yep.

The afternoon began with a rousing set (I'm told, I got there late like a loser) from our dear Lacey Cowden, who rules in so many ways I've lost count. Then you got a full orchestral throw down from The Herbert Bail Orchestra, with so many guys they barely fit in the little corner of the Cinema that is called the stage. Great tunes that kicked the day into high gear.

It's always a great opportunity to catch up with your pals too, as everyone is so busy that you rarely get to just grab a stool or picnic table bench and spin your tales over a cold one. So great, but there are conversations still to be continued, as the music was both too loud and too deserving of attention to be talking over.

Matt and his band tore it up. With scorching guitar from Josh Norton, smooth pedal steel from Tim Walker ...

... precision drumming from Fern Sanchez, heavy bass from Grant Fitzpatrick, and chill inducing trumpeting from Danny T. Levin ...

... and Matt leading the way on his acoustic guitar and vocals, they had the fun-loving crowd - wedged in and spilling outside - all the way into it for every note.

They debuted a couple of new cover songs among all the great Ellis originals we already know: "Can't Hardly Wait" by the Replacements (!!!), and "He Called Me Baby" by Candi Staton, that featured Vavine in full-throated soul diva mode. So excellent.

I looked around at all my friends and friends of friends having so much fun appreciating our mutual friends' music, and was full of gratitude for how real and fun we have it. Lucky people.

Lucky people also to catch The Ragged Jubilee, who closed out the now evening with their extra fun blues rock, that was eaten up by the now real loose room of folks digging it. Sunday afternoon rock with best friends after a Vikings win in the morning .... this was a very good day.

Shortly thereafter we split - to get doughnuts for some reason that seemed great at the time - and so the week ended, satisfied and smiling.

Today is Miss Vavine's birthday, and I wanted to say THANK YOU and LOVE YOU!!! For all the creativity, fun, music and love you bring to your life, and thus, ours.  CHEERS to a new year full of ALL of that, and more!!!

Cinema Bar Sundays. See you next time, Rockers!

Monday, November 12, 2012

L and M Arts Tips Hat To Ray Bradbury

As much of Venice is changing, all the time, it's always good to tip one's hat to what came before ... like the current exhibition at L and M Arts that is honoring Ray Bradbury and the fact that this crucial gallery is located on the very site that Bradbury lived and wrote The Martian Chronicles within. Wow.

The show For The Martian Chronicles features a cavalcade of artists with a thin line connecting them via the idea of martians, space and Bradbury - or the appreciation thereof.

The West Gallery is currently featuring an All Star Jam of artists that Venice knows, loves or houses, with a wink or a bow to Mr. Bradbury, knowing or not.

The show is big, from a Ruscha (Hold For A Minute I'm No Martian)  (carrot juice on paper!) ...

 ... to a Houseago mask seen here a few months ago ...

... to for real original galley proofs of The Martian Chronicles from the desk of Ray Bradbury himself.

 I love the fact that you can enter the quiet rooms of the gallery and be transported to Mars ... through words, through art, through your own open mind.

In fact, truth be told, my favorite part of this entire new show was the new busted out ceiling sky-light in the East Gallery, with the ever-changing sky as the constant exhibit. Life is but a dream.

But dreams are interpreted while mortal by artists, musicians, philosophers, psychics, actors... Story tellers, whatever the medium, really. And we're all just trying to make a little sense of it.

Not that this show will help with that, but at least you can take a break from REAL sense-making, and just absorb the possibilities. And many they are.

If Price, Bell, Purifoy, Asher, Sachs, etal, combined can't give you a moment's escape, then I'm not sure how to help.  On a rainy afternoon, with the specter of Bradbury hovering over it all ... it made total sense that we've recently made contact with Mars, and the whole Universe is out there for the art making. Every idea is exciting!

The East Gallery at L and M is showing Monica Majoli in her first hometown of Los Angeles show. Her stuff is dark. Sexual. Yearning. Almost a little voyeuristic in that the women portrayed feel very vulnerable, stark and wanting.

Oil paintings on black mirror represent boudoir moments of uncertainty and the rawness of desire, reciprocated or not.

The press release for the show was extra intense as to the meaning behind all the dark and drama of the Majoli works, but in my head I kept hearing a plaintive lady singer-songwriter's wails of unrequited or disturbed love behind it all, that I'm not sure I'd seek out for a playlist (if I knew how to manage that smack). It felt like a bummer.

But the day didn't, because it's so great that I/We get to see major scene art scenes a mere bike pedal away in the heart of Venice. Where it's meant to be all about art. Where L & M is such a gift. Where we can tend to forget about our connection to one another and our individual expression. Unless it's planted smack dab in front of us, and we're open to it.

Let us strive to honor Mr. Bradbury, the artists who honor him, and ourselves who dream and create and aim for the stars (planets), whatever that means ... Now. And always.

The sky isn't EVEN the limit.

L and M Arts
660 Venice Blvd.
Both shows, now through January 5th, 2013

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Four More Years!

Venice (and the rest of the country that is sane) went out and voted BIG for Barack Obama on Election Day, and now we have four more years to try and get things DONE.

As our two-term President said in his victory speech, "The task of perfecting our Union moves forward ..."

Onward. UPward!


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween on Rialto

The best place in Venice to capture the spirit of Halloween every year is along Rialto Avenue. The residents all come together to create a spooky, fun atmosphere that has become THE Halloween destination for young trick or treaters.

Earlier in the evening, I spotted this handsome Elmo skating down Abbot Kinney, being a good and funny sport for the occasion.

As dusk fell, the crowds got bigger and the parties got underway inside the homes too. Candy was overflowing from bowls, and one costume cuter than the next would arrive to great commentary all evening.

There were quite a few large pumpkins roaming about, which I appreciated, because they're FUN, and hard to make into a "Sexy Pumpkin".

The bungalows were all decorated, and most of the people inside were too. I was impressed at how many adults were dressed up just to hand out the candy.

There were all the usual witches and superheroes, fireman and devils, and everyone was having a blast, no matter what they were dressed as.

Like my friend, Harry, who hosted his doorstep in terrifying clown garb. And the kids didn't even blink!

The Shrubbery Scarer was back this year, as this unsuspecting woman was about to find out. Classic, and worked every time. You could hear the shrieks from down the block.

Trick or treaters were given both options at many houses, as people had really gone all out this year to make it a spectacle, with cool lights, and spider webs and even a haunted jail put on by skate and Skate Park legend, Jesse Martinez and his friends!

It was pretty elaborate, and wins for most effort, for sure. They even had techno stuff like stepping on a mat that was rigged up to a scary Chucky doll that would rise up at you in the window when you stepped on it. Impressive. Fun!

 L.A. is great for Halloween with all the makeup artists and visual effects people that make it home.

I hung out with my hosts Frida and a Cowboy, where we all pretty much just laughed all evening.

At things like an Ewok with attitude....

 ... Darling kids, some so tiny they just were along for the ride.

The parents were as into it as the kids, and many were even more decked out than their kids. Everyone can play!

There were a couple Marie Antoinettes, and the one below had even rigged up her bike to be a coach for the young princesses inside ... who were kind of over it.

Scary, adorable, topical, hilarious ... it was fun just to kick it and watch it all show up on the doorstep.

This woman was all ready for Day Of The Dead tomorrow, and looked great.

Then as things were wrapping up, one more reminder to VOTE OBAMA next week, as Big Bird was out making the plea to save PBS.

Another great Venice Halloween on the books, and a whole year to think about what you'll be next time! But we'll probably still wait until the last minute ....

Thank you, Rialto! You always make it such a good time for everyone in Venice, and we love it!