Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought,
and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
- Gilbert Keith Chesterton

How true is that? This has been an intense year for so many people. I've had the highest highs and the lowest lows, and everything in between ... but when we take the time to reflect about it all, the fact is, we're all such fortunate, blessed people to even take another breath every day. Add all the beauty, kindness, wonder, adventure and JOY that is possible in every moment and the only feeling that makes sense is gratitude. And gratitude is our glory, a sage guru beach woman said to me one day, out of the blue. I've never forgotten it, and try to carry that truth in my heart every day.

HAPPY Thanksgiving to you and yours ... I'm thankful for each and every one of you.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Classic Night at The Mint - The Tom Freund (Chris Joyner and Lacey Cowden) CD Release Show

Whoa. Last night was one for the books at The Mint in Los Angeles. It's fun when you're friends with everyone on the bill, and last night's acts are some of my dearest. The occasion was the (east side) cd release of Tom Freund's The Stronghold Sessions double live album, and also the (east side) debut of Sister Lacey Cowden. PLUS Chris Joyner. We were gonna tie. one. ON.

After some catch up time with a slew of mutual friends, Lacey kicked off the show, saying "This will be on my ep coming out in January, so hold on to your nipples!" She bewitched the room with one of her tunes that will stick in your head for days - like it's given me insomnia before - "Shotgun Lovin'". Cowden grew up in New Orleans and Hawai'i with some Santa Cruz in there too, so she's a wholly original mix of southern fire and mellow artistry (she's a beautiful visual artist too).  When she dedicated the next one to her "Sugar nipples, Brian" (ha!) you could sense the room quieting down to catch every note of "Walking Song". By the time she laid "Honey" on us, the room was hers.

"Sweet Lord Jesus! Let's go walking through Hell right now! Let's do this shit!" was Lacey's reaction to all the applause, which kind of fired the room up to noisy again as folks felt the rowdy - and by now, their whiskey. The Devil doesn't want me 'cause he knows I'd give him Hell. Badass. She ended with her gorgeously touching, "Southern Boy", but not really, because the whole room shouted "One more!" No one louder than me. "Well, I'd do anything for CJ (Mahalo!), this one's for Matt Ellis, it's his favorite." (Ellis is producing Cowden's debut ep. I've heard snippets. It's fantastic.)

Godspeed me out of this town ... feet don't fail me now ... I love Lacey's lyrics equally as much as her voice and playing. She is a treasure, and the by now larger and louder crowd let her know it. It was a mad impressive first real show, and in the words of Tom Freund, "She crushed it." High praise.

Chris Joyner (the original CJ)  played a stellar set that was a complete blast to watch, because he's always so good, but because the antics of guitarist Tim Young playing along were so animated you had to just stare. It was fun to watch Joyner watching Young with a big, rad smile - both of them getting it. Joyner said they were all new songs, so I don't know any of the names of them - but now I have his cd so I will soon! My friend, Liz Singer summed up his jams thusly: "It's rhythmic enlightenment with sexually charged lyrics." Bam.

By now everyone was extra fired up, and when Tom Freund took the stage (with the awesome Michael Jerome Moore on drums, Gabe Noel on bass, and Joyner back on keys - Tom was on literally everything else ... guitar, mandolin, stand up bass, a shoe - just kidding), the party was ON. (So you'll have to forgive my less than thorough set list). It was a complete jam of musicians' musicians, playing at the top of their game and completely grooving off of each other. After blazing through "Not In The Business Of Knowing" and "Wounded Surfer Boy" (a total Venice jam - where Tom also lives - with lines like He's the Mayor of the neighborhood, he rides around on a skateboard ... Freund had to stop to say, "I have such a good band that they make me better. Everyone should have this band, but they can't." SO good.

"Ghost In This Town" was total excellence and I wrote next to it in my book, "Everyone is going crazy!" But I knew nothing about crazy yet. Right as I was watching and saying to a friend, "You know who I love to watch play - Gabe Noel," a guy that you could tell was INTO it said about Noel, "That is some deep motherfucking shit right there." He told me I needed to move to hear the bass better. I did, and he was right. DEEP.

Ladies Heather Donovan and Suzan Postel backed up Freund singing the lovely and sad, "Why, Wyoming?" and I was reminded of a friend saying about Freund, "Most musicians in this town aren't qualified to carry his instrument cases." Seriously. "Digs" backed that up even more.

Tom is doing a Pledge campaign to help fund his next album (in progress and sounds CLASSIC) and said, "If I don't mention this, CJ will kill me," (I've been helping him with it, and it would just be a maiming, not a kill) and gave this little  - and true - speech:

"Angel Eyes" says You make it possible to do the things I do ... so please go here and chip in on the future fun. Thank you!

*(Because you better believe THAT cd release party is going to go even crrrrrazier.)

The beautiful face and voice of C.C. White appeared and she and Freund WAILED on "Come Together" and Joni Mitchell's "A Case Of You".  Bliss. Which only grew when Ben Harper (two days after his astounding Disney Hall show) came on up to join his old friend for "Collapsible Plans" (also the name of the album Harper produced for Freund). "This is the kind of shit that happens at The Mint!", said Freund truly. After playing together for so long, these guys have it DOWN. Watching and hearing them harmonize together, my heart felt full. We'll kiss in the puddle of the sky ... Sugar don't get no sweeter than this .... Nope.

The roof of the poor Mint blew off when the whole gang (+ and Steve Postel and Marvin Etzioni) threw it down for The Who's "Let My Love Open The Door"! Between C.C. elevating every note played, and Ben and Tom singing their lungs out and the band totally dialed in ... just YIKES.

I don't know how they brought the vibe down immediately for the silence that met their stunning "Copper Moon", but they did it like magicians. It was so pretty I want to time travel back to that moment right now ....

OK, I'm back. And so was Freund to play one more, his all-time great "Francie" that features his blistering mandolin solo that builds until his hands are one big blur. Which the night was also becoming by this point.

What a great time. Performers, partiers, and The Mint alike simply killed it. Good job, everybody! WELL worth the trip east of Lincoln. Thank you, MUSIC - for being the reason for it all.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mr. Harper's Opus - Ben Harper Plays The Walt Disney Concert Hall

In the final show of Ben Harper's fall solo acoustic tour, he single handedly brought down the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. One guy. A whole bunch of instruments. A completely rapt (and totally diverse, from race to age to gender) audience. You know it's going to be good when there's a standing ovation just because someone walks on stage.

That Disney stage creates kind of an in-the-round experience, as they fill the seats behind the stage as well, and all the seats seem to be good. People chatted about how many times they'd seen Ben Harper play, what they hoped he would play, if they'd heard his latest album with Charlie Musselwhite, if they'd seen him skate ... as genteel chamber music played and the seats slowly filled with lagging Angelenos.

Then the lights went out, and Harper came out to a thunderous ovation before one note had been played. Ever gracious, he accepted the love with wide waves, then sat down and picked up a banjo. All got quiet quick and WE LOVE YOU, BEN! Harper played a beautiful new instrumental, "The Long Road Home." The way the rolling notes of the banjo filled the acoustically perfect hall let us know this was going to be one night to remember. And that Ben has SKILLS.

"I was just talking with a friend and realized that this is the 20th anniversary of this next song. He asked me what I was going to do for that, and I said, 'I'm going to play it at Walt Disney Hall!" Loud cheers for that, of course, and "I was just sitting on a porch in Echo Park and out it tumbled." And out tumbled, "Welcome To The Cruel World" played on Harper's trademark Weissenborn guitar. Beautifully. It cannot be overstated how GOOD his instruments and voice sounded in this building ... like they were made for each other.

"People have to respect something in order to listen to it, which is the problem the government is having ... Government shut-downs?! When you have 20 million people without health care charging the White House, then you're really going to have a government shut-down!" Shades of the activist Harper were on display I LOVE YOU, BEN! as he lit into "Excuse Me, Mr." on his electric Fender, playing his pedals to strong effect in that space. That led into a story about meeting Lou Reed when they both played Carnegie Hall. Reed liked Ben's guitar so much that night that Harper sent it to him in the mail the following week. "If you want a New Yorker to not trust you, try to give them something!" Reed reciprocated and sent one of his own guitars back to Harper, of which a friend said, "Man, that looks dangerous.... This is for Lou." Lou got "Fight Outta You" - and so did we. He left it open for people to sing along at the end, which no one really did - except for the guy right next to me. Horribly, and off-key, and to every song. *Note to all: People are there to hear the artist they love play the songs they love - not your shower singing. Unless it's a sing-along, please never do that. Thanks.

Droves of people swarmed in during the applause, prompting Harper to remark, "I tried to make it by 7:30 on a Monday once in Los Angeles," making people laugh, but also noting the interruption. (There was Clipper game traffic, but still.) "Roses From My Friends", "Another Lonely Day", and "Diamonds On The Inside" were all played on acoustic guitar, all classics with the lovely ending flourishes that he puts on songs, and a humble wave in thanks.

BEN, I LOVE YOU! As Harper acknowledged yet another distracting, attention-needing shout-out, he said, "I love you too. As I've gotten older, the yells have gotten lower in octave ... which I think has followed the upward mobility of gay rights. In '94, you should've seen my black ass singing 'Mama's Got A Girlfriend' in Virgin Records. Now it's all 'I love the gays'. Yes, I'm Black. I'm a mixed bag, a mutt .... but once you've been racially-profiled and harassed by the cops enough, the 20th time, they pull you over and say, 'Mr. Harper, here's your Black Card." That became a story about how bookers would want to put him on bills with the Bad Brains or Living Color ... "You'd be amazed what Black people listen to ... I went to a P.E. show and it was all white folks!" That P.E. show became a riot with midgets running after them ... "Why is everyone running from midgets? Midgets will kick your ass ... You never see 'em coming!" This story never quite came in for a landing because Harper cracked himself up, and then said, "The talking bit I don't quite have down."

Harper said the highest honor is when his music is used in church, as many people have used his songs in their weddings, funerals, births, etc, though he said it can be a little daunting "When you say something at 20 that you may never say better." The tone quickly turned to romantic as he played a lovely acoustic "Forever". MY GIRLFRIEND AND I LOVE YOU, BEN!!

"You didn't come here for a course on racial relations, did you? (Yes, maybe we did.) Race is a smokescreen for the truth, which is we're all free to hate each other equally. (laughs, but I prefer love.) If they realize who they let in here and kick us out, we'll all meet on the court house steps and finish up over there." Had that happened, we all would have followed, happily. Anywhere, really.

These prominent gigs were not as easy to come by in 1994 and Harper told a story about being fed by friends at Toi on Sunset, "Toi kept us ALIVE!", living on sugar cookies, and playing with a hat out at Venice Beach (somehow I doubt that one ...) and being late for a gig at The Mint. They got rear-ended at a stoplight on the way, and because he was the car in front and had to make the gig, he hit the gas and got out of there. "Bounced!" They arrived at The Mint just in time to hear the last song by Mazzy Star, "Fade Into You". He then sat at the piano and played that gorgeous song for us. Bless him.

The Weissenborn returned for an instrumental medley that showed just exactly what the Disney Hall can do.  "Mutt/All My Heart Can Take" were so resonant, so powerful, so just HOLY SHIT is he good, that when Harper slapped the strings with authority to end it, the crowd just erupted. I still have chills now writing about it. That was about to go right into the opening chords of the life-saving "Lifeline" when HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BEN! was bellowed (a month late) by a woman named Shawna (whose birthday is in December, we're all happy to know). Harper kindly returned the "Happy Birthday" and had an usher hand her his slide as a gift, and turned his chair to play to the back for her, with the condition that she return and have a similar conversation with Gustavo Dudamel (The L.A. Philharmonic conductor) during HIS show. Ha!

"After this long, all the shitheads are gone, and we all mean it," said Harper by means of introducing his next one on acoustic guitar, "Don't Give Up On Me Now." Judging from this night, he has absolutely nothing to worry about there. "You know, the laws are changing, there's a shifting of the tide, and I'd like to think I had something to do with helping certain laws become more liberal." He was on tour with reggae great (and one of my favorites) Damian Marley ("He's got his Black Card!") and Marley said, "(unintelligible rasta patois impression)" so I got my Jamaican interpreter and he said, 'Are you saying LIKE my fire or LIGHT my fire?" Harper smiled and said, "You know it's both!" and stood up walking around the entire stage singing "Burn One Down" to a delighted, totally on-board crowd that stood and cheered like crazy at the last chord, which ended the first set.

People stood and cheered until Harper returned and sat down saying, "2,500 of my closest friends!" He adjusted things and said, "Muddy Waters. John Lee Hooker. GNARLS BARKLEY!! began the shouting of names, but Harper's point was that "If they hadn't played with him yet, they KNEW him and wanted to play with him," to invite his most recent album's collaborator, Mr. Charlie Musselwhite out to join him!

Musselwhite sat down and opened his suitcase of harmonicas, Harper strapped on his Fender, and they proceeded to deliver us the real deal BLUES. "I'm In, I'm Out, And I'm Gone" showed how much these two coalesce their musicality together. "He came along and re-coded my genetics," was how Harper put it. They play off of each other seamlessly. "Don't Look Twice" had Harper switching to a jangly-stringed acoustic and together they completely FILLED the space with such amazing sound that at its end, Harper remarked, "I always wondered what it would sound like to be INSIDE a guitar. Now I know." I had been having the same thought before he said it. You were inside of and surrounded by every bent note.

"You Found Another Lover (I Lost Another Friend)" was soulful, mournful, legit blues, and then they played one "slated for Charlie and I's second record," LOVE YOU, CHARLIE! called "I Trust You To Dig My Grave". It's clear that these masters of their craft are having a total ball playing together, and it's extremely infectious as people clapped along and shouted like they were in a blues bar and not a symphony hall. Music this good will do that. Charlie and Ben left the stage to another standing ovation, richly earned.

Harper rewarded the fans with another encore, by sitting right down at the upright piano and playing a new one, "I'm Trying Not To Fall In Love With You".  This is a dramatic one, with lots of thundering chords and excellent as ever lyrics. "This is just a game of (there was a pause so someone had to yell FOOLS! - Thanks.) Everyone knows about his guitar prowess, but it was a surprise to many that he throws down such piano chops as well (And would probably tear up a bassoon or a washboard or ANYthing else too. Being raised in a folk music store will do that). Harper's voice was as soaring as the high ceilings and when he slapped the piano keys at song's end, you couldn't hear yourself even think how good it was, the applause was so deafening.

INTO THE COLORS! came a request (that I don't recall being taken) from the balcony. "You wouldn't holler 'Mahler's 9th!' at Dudamel ... Let's respect the venue." Yes, let's. Instead, Harper played a lilting, folky-sounding version of "Steal My Kisses". He must have missed a note that I didn't hear, because he said, "Man, this is an unforgiving place." - meaning the acoustics, not the fans, who would forgive anything at this point.

Next came a special treat as Harper invited his Mother, Ellen, out to join him. They are working on an album together to come out THANK YOU, MOM! on Mother's Day next year, called "Childhood Home". They sat next to each other, she on acoustic, he on lap steel, to play a homesick for simpler times song called "City Of Dreams", written by his Mom. Simply lovely.

"This next song I've wanted to write my whole life, and I think I finally did," said Harper about the next one, "Born To Love You". Mother and Son harmonized so beautifully, as she sat behind him at the piano, singing and watching her child play. I have a lump in my throat and my eyes are welling now just at the memory of how heart-wrenchingly special it was.

 I had a health scare with my own Mother earlier this year, and listening to this song about the love between a Mother and child being sung together by such angelic voices meant - BORN - to sing together, it was just so touching. I was a melted puddle of love. And I was not alone. YOU DID GOOD, MOM! She sure did. She and Ben hugged and she left the stage with a gracious wave.

Harper remained to play LOVE YOU, BEN! "Walk Away", his crusher of a break-up song, that he made quieter and quieter at its end to illustrate the walking away out that door. So good. Then we got the beautiful "Amen, Omen", a clear crowd favorite (that the guy next to me knew just about every third word to) and BEST SHOW EVER! save for the yells, it was quiet enough for him to sing away from the mic.

"I want to go real slow. It's never slow enough when it's something you hold dear." PLAY ALL NIGHT! "Then I'm the guy that plays all night." I'LL BUY YOU A BEER! "I WILL play for beer." SKATE LIFE! "I will do Lazers, yes." I LIKE YOUR GUITAR! "Thank you for that." It died down just long enough for Harper to say, "You play all your life to get to exactly where you're standing. Thank you all from my heart. I don't want it to end." No one did. Especially not when he began the distinctive opening chords to "Hallelujah". I'm of the school that thought after Jeff Buckley covered Leonard Cohen's majestic classic, no one should ever even try again. Until last night. Harper makes it his own with the Weissenborn chords echoing all over the hall until I was all choked up again. You could hear a HAIR drop in there, so caught up in it was everyone. Soaring held high notes that made the joint erupt in appreciative yells, it was heart-swelling. Glorious, and the sound in there made it all the more Heavenly. There couldn't be a more apt title for a song - Hallelujah! OK, NOW no one should ever do it again. Another massive standing ovation, more than earned.

On a lighter note, Harper picked up a ukulele and strolled the stage un-miked, serenading each and every corner of the venue with "Suzy Blue". The line where he sings Misery loves a symphony... got a laugh (but don't be at all surprised when he DOES perform a symphony in there. He will.), and everyone clapped along, with the buoyancy that comes with knowing you wouldn't rather be anywhere else, and everyone in there feels the same way. THANK YOU, BROTHER!

After effusive thanks to the audience and his road crew, and shout outs to Stoner Park skater friends, and apologizing for it being a work night, but not wanting it to be over just yet, KEEP US UP ALL NIGHT! Harper sat down to play a sublime acoustic version of "Power Of The Gospel". Powerful, for sure. It was silent (for once) as the audience sat in recognition of the extreme talent and power of MUSIC - to bring us together. To heal. To bless. To rejoice! "Amazing" is real over-used these days, but somehow it's about the only word that fits. "What do you do, retire after a gig like this?!" an equally amazed Harper wondered as he said his thanks, waved and left the stage, with everyone wanting much more. Let us hope he never does retire. The world needs this music. I can't think of really anyone else who so fully embraces all kinds of musical genres with such ease, comfort and soulful grace and gives it to us with all he's got, every time.

Now that I'm home and thinking about it all and so happy to have been there to share that glorious evening, I can say what had spontaneously burst out of so many people that couldn't contain it last night ... LOVE YOU, BEN!

Thank you, Ben, on behalf of everyone who has been blessed to be a witness of your full of wonder music.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Wayward Debutante - Shop On A Bus!

 UPDATE: The Wayward Debutante bus is now closed. For now, you can find Ali and some of her treasures at Principessa on Abbot Kinney.

Just when we're all lamenting the change (and sameness) of corporate b.s. and greed trying to change our Venice, you get some rays of hope that cool people still live here ... and cool people still move here BECAUSE of the way Venice has always been. Like Ali Jenkins.  I met her at a party at Principessa last weekend, and she told me about her shop, Wayward Debutante, that she operates out of a decked out old bus at the Love Shack site at 2121 Lincoln Boulevard.

Jenkins grew up on the east coast, and spent 13 years in New York City modeling and working in the fashion world. She always had a passion for clothes, and was inspired by Patricia Field, Anita Pallenberg, Kate Moss and Jane Birkin. Like those icons, Jenkins calls her personal aesthetic, "High society meets rock star." I get it.

After visiting her cousin who lives here a few times, Jenkins kept thinking, "Why am I not in Venice?" So now she is. When looking around for a space to house her idea for a vintage clothing store, she heard about an empty bus available to rent from Udi Levy at the Love Shack. The idea of Almost Famous's Penny Lane, traveling on the bus with the band in her excellent threads was appealing to Jenkins, and she knew it would also be a fun experience for her shoppers. To climb aboard the funky, painted bus and be surrounded by lovely articles of clothing and accessories makes you feel like you're going somewhere yourself ... somewhere fun, somewhere exciting, somewhere where anything might happen.  It gives you ideas. "I want it to be more than a store, I want it to be an experience." And it is. You can almost see Janis Joplin sitting right there, with her feet up on the surfboard table.

Beautifully refurbished pieces share space with upcycled bags like the Birkin-looking one that local artist and friend of Jenkins, Jules Muck, has adorned with the Rolling Stones tongue. Another features Kate Moss with a Union Jack. Muck also created the logo for Wayward Debutante, which Jenkins has silk-screened on a variety of vintage shirts that look ultra-fresh. One of a kind, locally found and created gifts (for yourself or a loved one) can be found aboard the bus, and given with the knowledge that for sure no one else is going to have it. You won't get that same satisfaction shopping at Lucky Brand (or any of the other posers that have nothing to do with Venice). The difference here too is that, "All is done with love." That you can feel.

Another real inspiration for Jenkins is Patti Astor, who founded the Fun Gallery in New York. Astor put on art shows for the likes of Basquiat and Keith Haring, and created a whole scene around those artistic, hip hop times of the 1980's. Jenkins feels like that same kind of vibe exists in Venice (STILL!), and the whole Love Shack zone is made up of a collective of artists, "A little family," doing things from paintings to wooden tables to bean bag chairs, all supporting and enjoying each other. The artists and the clients are a mixture of all walks of life, and as we sat chatting on the couch in front of the bus, you could feel the stares of the faces sitting in Lincoln Boulevard traffic, wondering what might be going down at this colorful scene.

The vintage treasures that hang in, on and around the bus are found by Jenkins at flea markets, estate sales, and the like, and it's clear that she has a great eye, and great taste. She is open to selling other peoples' things on consignment, and excited about sharing her space with customers and collaborators alike. As Wayward Debutante gets really going, Jenkins intends to branch out into street/skate wear and will also offer custom styling, so if you have a special event coming up, she can deck out from head to toe, again, in a look that you can be sure no one else will be wearing.

Since arriving in Venice about a year ago, Jenkins has fully embraced what Venice is - and should be. "I love the bohemia of it all. There's such a vibe, and aura, and with all the eclectic people, I couldn't be in a more perfect place for Wayward Debutante." I was relieved she thought this, as so many old school people seem to have kind of given up on all of that. There's still hope!

Especially when you get people like Jenkins adding to the vibe that has been carefully curated here for decades, and I thanked her for helping us to keep it alive.  She loves the things we all love here, like biking and skating at the beach, sitting in the cafes watching all of Venice go by, but "You don't really have to go anywhere. You can just sit back and soak it all in." So that's exactly what we did.

Climb aboard the Wayward Debutante bus! Stop in for a glass of Jenkins' special jalapeno water, get a new frock, get styled, feel the love, and thank her for this cool new space in our town.

Wayward Debutante is open 11ish - 6:30ish at 2121 Lincoln - on the bus.


Twitter: @waywardebutante

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Venice Trash

I was flying down Speedway, thinking about stuff, when this stopped me in my tracks.

This dumpster is cool. Cool is not what a corporate men's magazine declares it to be. Cool is when one expresses themselves in a wonderful way. That could be through music, dress, skateboarding, art, sand castles ... whatever medium works for someone. Cool is when someone makes the best of something - even a garbage can. I commend this person for brightening up the alley. I encourage everyone to make things colorful and great all over town (all over the world, for that matter). Be original. Be fun. Keep it funky. Surprise people in a good way. Let people know you appreciate it when they do cool stuff. Decide for yourself what is cool.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Townhouse and The Del Monte Speakeasy - True Venice Hangs

There has been a bar operating out of 52 Windward Avenue continuously since 1915, even when it had to be disguised as a grocery during Prohibition. Today it is The Townhouse and The Del Monte Speakeasy, and both tip their hats to the venue's past, yet keep it modern with the entertainment and good times of today.

Owners Louie and Netty Ryan took over the space in 2007 after having their eyes on it for years. Louie is from Dublin, Ireland and Netty is from New York, which is where they fell in love on a dance floor, when Louie was running a place out there called the Scrap Bar. There he learned the ins and outs of managing a bar and booking music acts. After that became stressful and enough, the Ryans came out to California for a visit. While in Joshua Tree, they had a revelation that they needed to make the move out West. They landed in Venice in 1997 and instantly loved it. "It had a vibe, a sense, an energy that it's hard to put words to," said Netty when describing pretty much what we all feel when we arrive here. They went to an Art Walk and finally saw what had been behind all the boarded up doors around town, and were blown away, knowing immediately that the diversity and flavor of the place made Venice be where they wanted to live and raise their three children.

In 1999, the Ryans opened the popular music venue, The Temple Bar in Santa Monica, which  operated until 2008, after they realized they really wanted to concentrate on Venice (They also owned and operated Zanzibar in Santa Monica until 2012, and Little Temple - now Virgil's - in Hollywood).

I never went to The Townhouse much before the Ryans took over, mainly because it was pretty scuzzy and I couldn't get past the constant and oppressive stench of cat urine that permeated the joint. The Ryans took over after the previous owner died, and cleaned the place up, restoring it to its original luster bit by bit, without ever closing down. "Like a '59 Impala, I just cleaned it up and made sure it ran well," says Louie. Gone now is the feline odor, and right when you walk in the door from Windward, it instantly feels like a place where Abbot Kinney himself would stop in for a stiff libation during the course of his hey-day. That's not by accident. Enormous attention has been given to detail, from refurbishing original fixtures to General Manager, Bradley Ristaino creating a good old fashioned Old Fashioned from his throwback cocktail menu.

The Townhouse is Venice's oldest bar, and has quite a storied past. During Prohibition, ships used to sail in liquor from three miles out from shore where smaller boats would smuggle the barrels of hooch to underground tunnels that led to The Townhouse (or as it was known then, Menotti's, now the name of the Ryan's coffee stop next door). The tunnels must still exist, though they've long since been sealed up (It would certainly be interesting to excavate that and maybe have a Speakeasy within a Speakeasy?). Which leads us to the Del Monte Speakeasy, located in the basement of The Townhouse.

The Del Monte downstairs was closed down for three years due to legal wrangling and neighbor issues, and re-opened - beautifully - in 2010.  But like Ryan says, "I'd hate to own a Speakeasy that had never been raided." Spoken like a true bar owner, and a true Venetian.

And true Venetians the Ryans are. They pored over historical records, they've done extensive research on Venice history down to the microfiche in a library level, and have created such a gorgeous homage to our town's past, while the very latest hit musical act plays for packed houses of locals and loyals. Musical acts like Feist, Raphael Saadiq, Jonwayne, Tom Freund, Ben Harper, Haim, and Austin Peralta, the late jazz musician, whose favorite place to play was The Townhouse. Mayer Hawthorne and LMFAO ("I'm Sexy And I Know It") shot videos there, and great entertainment can be found both up and downstairs most every night of the week.

This is the REAL Venice. You will see someone you know in there. The Ryans have honored the history of Venice, and are preserving it with integrity. "It's always going to be local, it's always going to be quality, there's always going to be great music, and we want all walks of life to feel welcome here," both Ryans agree. "We only want to own and operate places that we're inspired by." You can feel that inspiration the moment you walk through the front door (or maybe it's the ghosts, which are also rumored to frequent this saloon).

You can also feel the fun. Belly up to the bar and hear stories from longtime bartender/historian, George Czarnecki, who has seen it all. Sit in a booth and shoot the breeze with Louie, who Czarnecki says has "got the gift of the Blarney." Squeeze in downstairs to listen and dance to some of the freshest music of today (or on Sundays, time travel back to the Ragtime era with Brad Kay). Special events are always being dreamed up, like a party for Prohibition Repeal Day (December 5th), where they'll roast a whole pig and feature real bathtub gin in a bathtub, at 1933 prices. They're talking about closing off Windward for street dances, big St. Patrick's day shindigs, and all sorts of other cool things that really pull focus on just what excellent stewards the Ryans are of the letting the good times roll legacy of Venice.

 Louie summed it up by saying, "We're honored to be at the helm of such an historic, iconic institution. You'll get the best drink, best music and best atmosphere in Venice." Netty added, "We love Venice so much, and it's humbling how people are right here with us. We want to keep this in the family for generations." That kind of dedication and sense of a place is what makes - and keeps - places special.

Which is just what they say they want The Townhouse and The Del Monte Speakeasy to be about: Good friends. Good music. Good cocktails. Good TIMES. And all are welcome! Save me a seat!

Monday, November 4, 2013

A California Diwali!

When it starts getting cooler in Venice, and our weekends are no longer solely focused on the beach, we begin what we call "Field Trip Season." Checking out places and things we haven't done before, and yes, actually crossing Lincoln Boulevard.

Yesterday we kicked off the season in a wonderful fashion by trekking to Chino Hills to see the Diwali festivities at the enormous Hindu temple there. Diwali is the Hindu new year, and all the revelers and the temple itself were done up in the brightest finery. I had no idea until yesterday that this place even existed, and it's very impressive. HUGE. Driving past on the freeway, you'd think it was a Disney castle or something, but it's actual a sacred place of worship, with each piece (thousands!) of it hand carved and shipped over from India.

The people were so kind and welcoming, as it was very easy to tell we were visitors. I was one of two blonde people there, and people kept looking at us and treating us kind of special since they could tell we had no idea what was going on.

They would give us explanations, compliment our totally out of place clothes, and ask us if we were having a good time, at every turn. I was jealous of all the women, as one was more beautifully adorned than the next, in bright, sparkling saris and dresses. The men all had glitzy tunics on, and everyone seemed to be having a glorious time.

There was a "food court," a big tent serving up vegetarian Indian specialties. We didn't know what anything was, so wound up just asking for one of everything, and sharing it all together on the grass. One in our party declared it "The best Indian food I've ever had (*In America)." High praise, and I didn't concur, but it was pretty good for festival food.

Diwali is known as the "Festival of Lights", so as the sun set we headed over to the grounds in front of the temple to take in the cultural program. (We didn't get to go inside the temple because we were busy eating and they closed it down for the program. Dang.) I couldn't understand one word of the show, but there were guys in orange robes fighting other guys with spears, and people dancing up and down the grand staircase leading up to the temple.

The crowd held little lights like bike lights and waved them around the whole time, in lieu of candles, I guess. It was getting very chilly by this point, and we huddled together on a blanket drinking Indian chai tea and watching the fire lanterns rise from the top of the temple. It was all extremely beautiful, especially that it was all to celebrate a new year of love and harmony.

What a wonderful field trip! Learning, knowing something new, seeing new people and places, feeling like you're nowhere near this country even, expanding our cultural awareness ... those are the goals, and we're off to a great start. Many thanks to those who opened their customs and hearts to us, making us feel more than welcome. Happy Diwali to all who celebrate this lovely occasion!

*Thanks to Vavine for organizing such a cool field trip!

Friday, November 1, 2013

A 2013 Rialto Halloween

I look forward to Halloween on Rialto Avenue in Venice for the sense of fun everyone comes together to create each year. All the differences seem to melt away - or be concealed by a costume. And it's a party. People went all out this year, and the street was packed from dusk on. Eerie organ music started playing from a neighbor's house shortly after 3 p.m. ... setting the tone for the evening nice and early.

I like to walk the entire avenue, down and back, to see what the residents have out-done each other with this time. It's fun to go on the earlier side so you can see what all the little kids are dressed as, before the grown-up party carries on.  The first tableau was a road-side cemetery that was scary.

And so was the smashed person underneath the truck.

Each house was more elaborate, with a lot of neighborhood participation. I'm really not sure how the tradition on this block started, but I'm so glad it did, and has been carried on so faithfully.

No one was afraid to be actually scary, as these guys illustrate. One little girl was actually sobbing scared ... and everyone laughed. Uh oh. Scarred.

My friends Russ and Harry told me that they went through 70 POUNDS of candy, and that was only like 8 o'clock. Kids were GOING for it.

I liked this cheery little scene, especially the jellyfish.

Lots of people were in - and stayed in - character.

 I did not see The Great Pumpkin. Or Linus.

Spooks and ghouls blended in with tropical flowers on an autumn night that was quite balmy, with just a little mist. But that could have been smoke machine stuff too.

Ghosts and pumpkins kicked it with Bud Light. And parents escorting their children along the sidewalks carried "coffee cups."

A live band in costume played in the driveway of one house, and tired trick or treaters flopped down to start taking inventory of their bags. Buzzing.

Cobwebs were very popular decor. So were bubbles and lasers.

Another cemetery, and tons more candy.

This house was extra done-up and the people seemed fun. That's another cool thing about the Rialto Halloween ... that you get to know your neighbors, and everyone is very welcoming and open. It feels nice and old fashioned in that way.

I saw a few sock monkeys, but this one was my favorite because look what she was holding! Snuggly babies were all over the place, in cozy costumes that almost gave you cavities to look at. So sweet.

I like witty costumes, and these two were a couple of Smartie Pants's. There was also a Murder of Crows, but that picture didn't work out.

After all the candy was given out, and bushed children were shuttled home, music was turned up and libations were enjoyed, with friends and strangers/new friends alike. Another delightful Halloween on Rialto ... Another delightful Venice tradition that people come together to preserve. Well done, All!

And the My Favorite Costume award goes to .....  The Lego Person! Great one, Arianna!