Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Paul Chesne - Downright Up & Left

If you've ever gone out in Los Angeles, chances are you've seen Paul Chesne play. One of the - if not THE - hardest working musicians in L.A., Chesne has been listed in the L.A. Weekly or L.A. Times Calendar section, usually multiple times, every week for the past 15 years. That's playing out an average of three times a week, on top of a full-time (mercifully flexible) day job, handling everything himself. Because he's a musician that simply loves to play.

That is clear to see at each and every gig (and I've been to many of his roughly 1,400 gigs over the years), as both Chesne and his audiences are all there to live the rock and roll. It's just plain fun, every single time. After all these years of dear friendship and fond rock memories, Chesne and I finally sat down to chat about it all over some rare Green Spot Irish Whiskey at The Townhouse the other night. As we do.

Born and raised in L.A., Chesne picked up the guitar at the age of 12, after seeing Marty McFly jam to Chuck Berry in Back To The Future. He took some lessons, learned and dedicated his life to it. That continued through his time at UCLA, when in addition to all his reading and learning, he began playing open mic nights around town, often at Canter's Kibbitz Room (where he could be found up-ending an open mic night as recently as a week ago). The schooling is evident in just regular conversation with Chesne, but also always shows up in his razor-sharp song lyrics, deftly wrapped up in some of the catchiest Americana twang rock jams ever.

The brand new (today!) Paul Chesne album, Downright Up & Left is a perfect showcase of all those years of gigs and learning ... it's drum tight and thought provoking, all while rocking your face off. CD Baby describes it as "Beautiful, dark and groovy." That's certainly true, but doesn't begin to capture what it's like to be at every live Chesne show. It's a full on rock experience. Chesne and his band are going all out on stage (and into the audience ... up on top of the bar ... sometimes out the door on to the sidewalk ... pretty much anything goes. You will leave sweaty. You will leave smiling. You will leave happy to have been there - no matter how many times you've seen them.

Chesne and his always excellent backing band benefit from playing so many gigs ... they all just full-throttle it, and expertly follow the many "Chesne-isms" - musical tangents that both keep the band on their toes and make every show one of a kind. It's like the Beatles theory in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers ... when you play out live that much, you're going to be awesome. This is quite an accomplishment over the years, with bandmate turnover, burnout, personalities, frustration, triumph, exhaustion, bliss, thousands of van miles, and gigs from makeshift to epic. As Chesne says, "There's been Hey Days and Dark Days, sometimes in the same month." Such is the life of a true rock and roller.

With the release of his latest album - all bought and paid for himself, through good old fashioned hard work, not some crowd-funded project as is so common these days. As Chesne says, "I put my money where my mouth is." This album is more "artsy", according to Chesne. "I'm divorcing myself from any commercial intent, and really committing myself to being an artist, and to my belief in the SONGS. I've never sold out. I've TRIED (ha!), but I never have. I don't owe anybody anything, and I'm proud of that." He should be.

He's the kind of guy who if he's not booked at a big festival like Coachella (yet), he'll make his own festival at Pappy & Harriet's out in Joshua Tree (where he enjoys an almost house-band notoriety). If a party isn't fun, he'll make it fun. If there's no music on the beach that day, he'll go get his guitar, plug in and make some right there on the Boardwalk until the cops come to shut him down (Boo!). He's one of those guys that if you have a visitor come to town, you immediately check to see when Chesne is playing, so you can show them a guaranteed good time.

Chesne has lived in Venice for ages, and we talked about how it's been changing. We pined for the days of our magical old music nights at Abbot's Habit, where every Friday night was an all-out blast. We lamented the loss of the Stronghold music nights. We yearned for the times when someone we knew booked stages for the Abbot Kinney Festival and there were actually bands from Venice (like Chesne's) playing (Cough. Hint.). We dig the still-cool O'Brien's and the Basement Tavern that have hosted so many of our rock nights (Though in Santa Monica. Venice needs more music!). We agreed how much we love walking everywhere, and how at least we still have our gang of like-minded friends living, working and loving it here ... "We're lucky we have each other." So SO true.

I love so many Paul Chesne songs (he knows that my all-time favorite thus far is "You Owe Me" and will graciously play it for me whenever I'm there begging for it) and asked about his mind-set for the songs on the new album. "I empathize with it all ... it's gloomy and sad ... and beautiful - like life lately. There's a lot of heartache ... but I put a lot of heart in that ache." And Bam - a new Chesne song lyric came to life right there at the table in front of me. (Write it down, Paul!) Downright Up & Left is available right now at CD Baby and Paulchesne.com, and is up on Spotify as of right now. And you want it.

The current incarnation of Chesne's band consists of Jon Niemann, Josh Norton, Rich Berardi, Jason Chesney, and Steve Tegel remains as their "Svengali".  You can catch them all at their dress-up gig at The Edison in downtown L.A. on March 12th. Or at the hundreds of gigs that are sure to come after that - weekly.

As we wound down our night and our drinks, Chesne said, "It's renegade insanity - that's what Venice is all about." At least it is if we have anything to do with it. This photo is from one of our times at Pappy's that I think does a great job of showing what a Chesne show experience is all about ... no more words necessary ...

Catch Paul Chesne out, and/or pick up his excellent new Downright Up & Left today to join in on the renegade insanity whenever you like, from wherever you are.

*Most photos ripped off with permission from Paulchesne.com

Monday, February 24, 2014

Wheel Of Fortune

What a delight to see another fun installation from Venice Public Art on the boulevard! Abbot Kinney was packed with people enjoying the sunshine this last weekend, and many of them stopped to give the new Wheel Of Fortune a spin in the front yard of The Green House Smoke Shop's Abbot Kinney location.

Keeping the spirit of fun alive in Venice is our responsibility as much as it is to fight big development and gentrification so out of control we won't recognize the place if we're not careful. So to that end, it's always a joy to see something out there just for the fun of it.

Robin Murez just installed the wheel on Saturday, and we were among the first spinners. I'm happy to report that I will enjoy a life of Passion. Of course. Lacey, no surprise, spun up some Fun.

Thank goodness for fun local businesses like the Green House, cool owners like Bunny and Sandor, and active artists like Murez for maintaining a atmosphere of whimsy and unexpected surprises.

Abbot Kinney himself would be proud of you. Other businesses and artists should take note, take part and join the FUN. Thank you. Love you.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Nick Fouquet Hat Company - Venice's Mad Hatter

When you see someone walking around Venice (or anywhere in the world now, really) with an extra cool hat on ... chances are it's a Nick Fouquet chapeau. His hat business is blowing up these days, as everyone from hard-working 9-5-ers to rock stars are knocking on the door of Fouquet's Abbot Kinney workshop to get their own "soul mate" of a hat.

Pharrell sported a Fouquet creation at the Grammys (not the big cartoony one, the other cool one he wore while performing). Madonna wore one recently. More importantly, people you know around Venice are wearing them ... and if they're not yet, they want one.

After working with his partner Greg Westbrook at Westbrook Maker, Fouquet went out on his own last year to put his stylish stamp on the craftsmanship that has remained the same for centuries of hat making. The work is a bit less western cowboy style now, with more a far more bohemian flair ... very Venice.

The Nick Fouquet Hat Company is now located in the Left House on Abbot Kinney, sharing the space with Kapital, Another Kind Of Sunrise, Howl, etc... It's a warm, homey workshop in the back space, watched over by Fouquet's sweet little dog, Luca.

Fouquet meets with clients to create their vision of what a perfect hat for them would be. Because it's such a custom experience, it's an investment (base prices range from $400 - $800), but one that will become a treasured heirloom, meant to be passed along for generations.

"It's a very personal process," says Fouquet, "You get to know the person, and then It's ALL about the details." Meaning once you measure the client's head and that technical part is done, it's about collaborating together to create a hat that expresses that individual's personal aesthetic.

That could mean trinkets from your life incorporated into your hat, like a key or a charm you love. Or trimmed with fabric from your Dad's favorite tie. Or lined in tie-dye because you're a hippie at heart. Fuschia leather. Paisley fabric. An antique pin. Whatever is unexpected and breaking idea barriers is the order of the day here. There are no rules, other than finding out what you will love and then bringing it to life.

When you know Fouquet, it all makes sense. He describes his own style as "Keith Richards meets a Japanese warrior meets a country club guy in France," and as eclectic as that sounds, he somehow makes it all come together to where you kind of want to copy him. But you can't, because he's him, and you're you, and that's the point. Making something awesome to wear around that reflects who YOU uniquely are. And in this increasingly homogenized world, we can always use (way) more of that.

A Fouquet hat is so one of a kind, he couldn't even re-create the exact same one again for you. He could come close, but the point is that each one is its own work of art, never to be repeated. They're meant to LIVE in - travel, fish, hit the beach, work all day in the sun or strut the red carpet in. Because it's all about you, it works wherever you want to wear it.

Though heads are sporting Nick Fouquet hats all over Venice, it's an increasingly international sensation that has your custom hat taking (as of this writing) 4-6 weeks to be delivered, once you've completed the vision process.

"Venice is a part of me ... I love it. I want my hats to be from here," said Fouquet as we sat talking on the front steps of the Left House in the warm winter sunshine. Though high-end publications like Vogue and all the celebrity stylists that read it are flocking to Fouquet's workshop to style out their clients, it still retains a very laid back, beach town atmosphere, as mutual friends come by and wave and pet the dog and shout out how they too want a hat. Once you've seen one, and how they're so lovingly hand-crafted ... you'll want one of your own.

Get yours. CREATE yours. And as Fouquet likes to say, "Keep on keeping on!"

Nick Fouquet Hat Co.
1629 Abbot Kinney Blvd. (in the back of Left House)
(424) 238.8382
Workshop hours: 11 am - 7 pm

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Principessa - Outfitting Venice Since 2001

I like to tell the stories about people and places that have made Venice interesting and cool ... and Venice. Lots of people have been coming in without really understanding what that means. We're here to help.

Principessa knows what it means to be Venice, and have been helping ladies put together perfect outfits since 2001. Partners Darla Bonnaire and Jennifer Corgan have great personal style, and once inside Principessa, it's pretty hard not to emerge with some of that flair rubbing off on you. They feature local designers (like Show Me Your Mumu, Totem Salvage, Flynn Skye, Jen's Pirate Booty, Luxury Jones, Mikal Wynn, etc...) as well as the big international ones (and great hard to find labels like Spell & The Gypsy Collective) you'd expect to find in such a style emporium.

The whole deal began with Bonnaire opening her store Vamp on Main Street in Santa Monica (after a brief stint near Windward Circle). She wanted to be in Venice though, so when a spot opened up on Abbot Kinney, she brought Principessa (Italian for "Princess", of course) to life. Shortly after Bonnaire's son, Wolf, was born in 2002, so too was the men's clothing store named for him (in the space that is now Kid Firefly). Then came Little, the children's store, until the madness of running four stores at once (with a toddler!) stretched them too thin, and it was all consolidated into the Principessa we now know at 1323 Abbot Kinney.

"The store has evolved with the street," says Bonnaire, meaning as the street has gotten busier and fancier, so have they, while paying close attention to who their customers are, and what their locals like (and can pay for). There's a great mix of things that will really set you back, investment pieces meant to be heirlooms, and fun, trendy stuff that you can pick up with no guilt at all. Carefully curated vintage pieces (and repurposed, one of a kind treasures) hang alongside the very latest fashions. I once played a game with a friend there, guessing how much things were. When the gorgeous blouse I held up ($49) was guessed at $500, I knew I had to get that thing. It's like that. You're pleasantly surprised often.

Modern day flower women will love Princi (as all involved affectionately call it), with its flair for bohemian dressing all set up for you to choose your look from.  "We seek out indie designers on the cutting edge, and we always want our things to be unique to Venice," explained Bonnaire. "To that end, they are also developing the label, Bonnaire-Corgan (named after the friends/partners), where all the lines are named after streets in Venice, e.g. "Electric pants".  Love it. Corgan added, "All the changes on the block don't make us want to leave ... we want to stay here to KEEP the local flavor." And we thank them for that. We NEED them for that.

 As longtime Venice residents all, we talked about what we love about it. "I love how Venice is set up. The whole town is walkable. We all share that desire to be outside, seeing people, being a part of our community. It's like a club of people that we're so happy to be a part of. It's a less exclusive club now, and it's sad that some special people who have been a part of it all for so long are being made to leave," Bonnaire said truly. "We really embrace Venice, imperfections and all ... because that's Venice," she shrugged.

The Venice they love is mostly outside, but when asked what shops they like to frequent, it was the equally legit ones like Firefly, Bazaar, Tortoise, Animal House and the one they say is without question their favorite, that they could not survive without - Elvino. Amen.

Corgan summed up their mission succinctly. "Individual expression is what makes Venice special. It's always been a mecca of variety, diversity, and funky, artistic bohemia ... and acceptance of everyone. That's the real Venice, and we're here to help people look the part." And they do. Beautifully.

Both Bonnaire and Corgan agreed that they've made their closest friends through the store. The girls are like a family, and once you've worked there, you're always a part of it. "Kind of like being a Playboy bunny," joked Bonnaire.

Principessa hosted an extra-fun pre-Valentine's party last weekend, complete with champagne, chocolate and live music. The store was full of things that would make any lady over the moon when gifted the dress, jewelry, lingerie or anything at all from her lover, and all the Princi ladies were happy to help find that certain item that would seal the deal. Like this hot bra I want:

Their parties are always a treat, and there's another one coming up to get everyone ready and looking great for Coachella. Mark your books on Saturday, March 22nd for that one.

Being inside Principessa, you can sense the difference that immediately sets them apart from the newer, polished up chain businesses that have somehow infiltrated our town. There's a true sense of place, there's a true sense of Venice, there's a true sense of uniqueness ... and as Corgan said about places, "I want truth."

The truth is that Principessa is a wonderful place to set yourself up if you're interested in a truly local Venice - and looking like it.

Principessa is located at 1323 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Ecommerce: www.Principessavenice.com
Twitter: @PrinciVenice
Facebook: /Principessa-Venice

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Custom Poet In Venice

I was walking down Abbot Kinney this past weekend when I came upon a woman sitting at a little table with an old school typewriter sitting on it and a sign advertising "Poems To Order". I introduced myself to Vanessa Rose, who was there to create custom poems for people that might not be so good at putting their feelings into words themselves.

With Valentine's Day fast approaching, business was picking up on that bright afternoon, with someone even asking Rose to craft a poem for him to propose with.

It reminded me a bit of the film, Central Station, where the lead character sat near the train station and wrote letters for people who didn't know how. There's something so sweet and old fashioned (especially written on a typewriter) about a poem written in the name of love - even if you have to get someone else to do it for you.

Whatever the occasion, I'm sure anyone would be thrilled to receive a "hand crafted, fresh to order, artisanal poem" written just for them.  On her business card, it reads You met a human named Vanessa Rose. You found her to be intelligent, gracious and charming. 

I surely did. You may look for her table set up weekends on Abbot Kinney, or contact Vanessa Rose for poems or events at:

Email: Rose.Vanessa@gmail.com
Twitter: @rosevanessa8
Facebook: /rose.vanessa

Friday, February 7, 2014

West Of Winter

My friend Sarah captioned one of her photos "West of Winter" the other day, and I thought that was so well put. We've been enjoying a gorgeous winter here in California ... really more like spring.

It's surreal to see the news and photos from friends back home with blizzards and snow mountains in cities. As nice as it has been here, we really, really need rain (and so do you, as CA provides so much of the nation's winter food sources). It's always something, somewhere, huh? You just have to appreciate whatever it is, for what it is. So this, from my stroll this morning, is for everyone everywhere else. Especially you, Mom.

I wish it was scratch and sniff.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Abbot Kinney Peep Hole

I was racing down Abbot Kinney on my way somewhere the other day, when something on the corner of Andalusia stopped me in my tracks. A metal box with "Peek!" scrawled across it.

Of course, you have to. I peeked, and was delighted to see an old-timey photo of Venice, Abbot Kinney the Man era, as a kind of 3D diorama inside.

The little plaque beneath the box explained the history, and I noted that it was done by Venice Public Art  - aka Robin Murez, formerly of Robin's Sculpture Garden on Abbot Kinney. Murez lost her eclectic space on the boulevard after 12 years (as so many of the original shops and businesses have in the great money grab/rent ruining Abbot Kinney's charm), and has re-located her studio to 2935 Main Street in Santa Monica. Somehow that doesn't seem right.

These surprises around town honoring the history of Venice are the mission of Murez and her Venice Public Art projects. From murals of Abbot Kinney and the camels he envisioned cruising around, to the labyrinth on 6th and San Juan, Murez keeps coming up with creative and fun ways to keep the legacy of Abbot Kinney and Venice alive. She sticks with it, even when some local people have her arrested for painting little blue waves on the streets that used to be canals (Give me a break. We NEED more fun and originality around!). Store owners (or creative/anarchist artists that want to help!) that have spaces for sculptures or paintings (or who knows what could happen!) can contact Murez at www.venicepublicart.com.

Take a peek when you're strolling down the boulevard next time. Better yet, surprise people yourself! It's way more fun around here when that kind of thing happens.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Roosterfish - Serving Venice Since 1979

Walking down Abbot Kinney, I heard a lady (carrying bags from a chain store) say to her friend, "Oh, that's a gay bar," as they passed The Roosterfish - and kept going. It most certainly is, and according to owner/manager of 23 years, Gary Mick, one of the hardest things about running "The Fish" (as he endearingly refers to it) is keeping it gay.

When so much of the town is getting fancier (and duller), sometimes you just want a down home, stiff drink. With the choices getting slimmer and slimmer for that kind of outing on the block, sometimes we'll find ourselves throwing out The Roosterfish as an option. It's always cool, gay or straight. I sat down recently to talk with Mick about the bar's origin, history, current days and what it's like to be pretty much the only gay bar on the west side these days.

Walter Schneider and his partner B.M. Alexander were pioneers of the gay part of West Hollywood, opening their successful bar, The Gallery Room, in 1962. They also ran a hot club of the day, the Up Disco. After a while, Schneider and Alexander decided they'd like to live in Venice, and a friend found them a prime location on Abbot Kinney (when it was still called West Washington) to open a gay venue at the beach. Contrary to popular belief, the name "Roosterfish" doesn't have anything to do with the cock angle. It was chosen because Schneider and Alexander loved sailing and fishing off the coast of Cabo San Lucas, and the roosterfish is an especially feisty game fish, with a comb on top like a rooster. So there you go.

Schneider ran The Roosterfish until his death in 2006, and left the bar to four of his friends, including Mick. Mick still gets choked up about Schneider's death, as they'd grown very close over the years, and Schneider's presence is clearly missed every day at The Fish.

I asked if there were any old photos I could see from back in the early days, and Mick amusingly answered that there were some, but they all look exactly the same as the bar does now! And that's exactly what people like about it ... with all the change going on in Venice, it's really nice to have a place that keeps it as real as they ever did. "We try to keep it looking this bad consistently." Rad. The only things that have really changed are some lighting, and the art changes out every 8 weeks ("Always homoerotic or male nudes.") so hit up Mick if that's your artistic genre.

Though Mick threw open his arms and said, "Everyone is welcome at The Fish!", I did need to ask if it's annoying to have straight people (like us) come in and hang out. He laughed and said it did bug some regulars when that happens, because there are so few truly gay bars around anymore ("Even West Hollywood is all metrosexual now ..."), especially on the west side. He explained that the gay bar is a very important step in someone's coming out process, and a bar like The Roosterfish is a safe place for newcomers to get comfortable with their sexuality and be around like-minded, understanding peers. So straight people are certainly welcome, it should just be understood that it is what it is, and it is a gay bar, a main meeting place, so be mindful of that. There's also no need for straight guys to grab their girlfriends and make out with them right when they walk in to pronounce their straightness. The Roosterfish guys already know. And laugh at that.

In all the years that the Fish has been around on Abbot Kinney, I've never once heard a problem or complaint. If anything, people are happy The Roosterfish is still around, keeping the street a LITTLE bohemian, a little true cool still. Mick says the LAPD never have had to come, (even during the heavy gangster times that happened nearby). The very few times there have been physical altercations, it's always involved a heterosexual male - usually drunk. Mmmm hmmm. Mick didn't think there were too many stories to share that would be good in a "family" story (ha), but if those walls could talk ... you'd want to listen.

We were talking about First Fridays ("No regulars will come anymore that day, it's too big a hassle" - yep), and all the development (which has been good for business, admittedly, if not character or sense of place), with stuff like the ridiculous proposed hotel for Abbot Kinney. Mick cracked me up when I had said people at the LUPC meeting about it were citing things like transients and pedophiles as (dumb) reasons to oppose the thing, and he said, "Well, they could just send them our way!" Ha! Neither of us want to see the street turn into another Promenade, though it seems to be going that way a bit. At least the Fish helps to still give it some edge.

The Roosterfish will be celebrating its 35th year open in Venice this March, and when I asked Mick his feelings on that, he said, "I want to say thank you for the respect all these years. Venice treats us very well." Respect and being treated well ... the makings of a long and happy community (or any) relationship. Congratulations to The Roosterfish on their 35th - and many more!

The Roosterfish is located at 1302 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Hours are 11 am - 2 am, 7 days a week.