Monday, February 29, 2016

Tom Everhart - Venice Goes Raw In Beverly Hills

There was a lot of buzz around Beverly Hills on Saturday night, but it wasn't because of the next day's Oscar ceremony ... it was because pretty much all of Venice traipsed on over to the Mouche Gallery on Beverly Drive to celebrate the art of our own Tom Everhart at the opening of his new Raw show.

I hadn't seen so much of Venice gathered all in one place since the closing of Hal's (and indeed, Don Novack was there too, assuring us there will soon be turkey burgers again on AKB), and everyone was thrilled to be together again, especially for the occasion of our friend and neighbor's art.

Black and white attire was suggested, as the show features Everhart's black and white works from 1998-2016. As this is roughly the duration of our friendship, seeing each piece was also like visiting with old friends, in their rawest form. A great many of the gentlemen present were outfitted in tuxedos, lending a formal flair to the fun of it all.

The big centerpiece was Surfing With Franz and Willem, 2015, and it provided the backdrop for many a photo throughout the evening.

Everhart himself accepted congratulations and embraces throughout the evening from longtime friends and celebrity collectors alike, with all parties having a complete blast, champagne in hand.

It was nice to get everyone out of Venice collectively, but also to absolutely take over this quiet stretch of Beverly Drive, showing them how fun openings always are when we come together - wherever we are (we've similarly taken over New York, Las Vegas, etc ..., and it's always the best time).

It was wall to wall friends as the night took off, and happy memories were both made, and reminisced. Jennifer Everhart was our gracious hostess of the evening, and was beaming as the crowd swirled around enjoying her husband's years of work, and each other. It was all a smashing success.

There were too many chats to be had, as soon enough the place had to close and revelers made their way out (past the paparazzi) and on into the night to keep the party going. A wonderful evening of art, and, as importantly, of friendship. The love and respect between all these people that love and call Venice home was tangible, and special, as I think we all again realized how important our history, and our community, has always been to each other. The love, like the art celebrated on this night, is raw.

Congratulations and thanks to the Everharts for a wonderful show, and a fantastic night of friendship for us all ... Cheers!

Raw is showing now through March 27, 2016
Mouche Gallery
340 North Beverly Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Gjelina Volunteer Program At Venice High - Teaching Our Future Chefs!

What a wonderful and inspiring afternoon I just had, crashing the Gjelina Volunteer Program cooking class at Venice High School. I'm honestly so, so impressed. Chef Travis Lett and Program Director, Angela Hughes, are pals of mine, so I had an inside track to getting to know all about this excellent stuff going on with the kids around our Venice community.

The GVP started a few years ago, with Lett wanting to be more involved in the community that has shared so much with him and his restaurant endeavors. They started out by making pasta with the little kids at Walgrove Elementary, which fascinated the children, Hughes told me. "It blew their minds. The power of food is taken away when it's all packaged and processed. Showing them where their food comes from and how it's made empowers them, because now they get it, and they made something that pleases them." That led to "Jammin' In The Classroom", where they would make jam from scratch, with butter the kids churned up themselves. They next attacked 5th graders with salad, which they deconstructed and showed the kids how to grow and prepare the ingredients. The kids literally devoured it all, both the food and the information. The kids at Westminster Elementary take bakery tours over at Gjusta, and learned to make bread from the wheat that they had grown themselves. Amazing.

The success on both sides was immediate, and Hughes says, changed the kids and the business, with all parties involved realizing the importance of their own health and the health of the community, which can only improve when so much care is taken of each other. As I witnessed yesterday at Venice High.

These teenagers stay after school once a week (for 16 weeks) to partake in the "Chef's Club" class offered by Gjelina's volunteer program, and they learn the whole deal, from planting and harvesting the vegetables and greens outside in the (surprisingly bucolic) Venice Boulevard-adjacent garden, all the way through eating the meal and cleaning it all up.

On this day, they were gathering up snap peas, radishes, gorgeous swiss chard, and salad greens to accompany the whole branzino fish they would be preparing as the entrée up in the classroom. Lett, Hughes, Oscar Lusth, Judy Babis (who comes up with the curriculums), and their employees/volunteers from Gjelina were out there with the kids in the garden, explaining the growth and nuances of the produce (which I also eagerly listened to), and we could have been way out in rural California somewhere, not even noticing the rush hour traffic a stone's throw away.

Public schools have been so shafted by our government over the years, as gone are the Home Ec, Shop, Automotive, Art, Music, and so many other things done away with by short-sighted politicians and budgets. Thank goodness there are those in arts and business in our community that actually do care and will do what they can to give these exceptional youth opportunities they would never otherwise have. Venice High Principal Oryla Wiedoeft has welcomed these groups (also in cahoots with the Boys and Girls Club of Venice) into the school, and embraced what they have to offer, as clearly the students have as well. All I saw were excited, enthusiastic, open faces, eager to learn and create. The atmosphere was abuzz, and I was completely jealous as I watched the kids learn knife techniques, how to blanch the snow peas, filet the whole fish, season the inside ... this was not your basic boil an egg class for high school students ... this is pretty advanced stuff.

As I watched her slicing up a lemon perfectly, a student named Emily told me that her Grandfather had a restaurant when she was growing up and everyone in her family could cook, but now she felt like she had things she could teach them. She added that now she and her Dad cook breakfast for the whole family every Saturday morning ... proving that classes like this not only help the kids, but their families too.

 One young man said when asked how he felt about the Chef's Club, "Oh, I love it! Now I do all the cooking at home, my Mom is so happy." I bet she is, especially when you see these guys whipping up dishes like these, that could easily be served right up at Gjelina itself.

"Kids are smarter than we were at that age," said Lett. "They want to be here for three hours after school. Our resources should benefit their public schools and the communities around them. When the school is uplifted, it benefits everyone. We're all in this together." I had never been inside of Venice High before, just outside for games and the Grease sing-along. It's really old inside, and the kitchen area hadn't been used, and was sorely outdated. Not anymore. Gjelina has connections, obviously, and now the kitchen features a gleaming, giant new refrigerator, and spotless, upgraded working spaces. It's great.

And so are the kids. Every single one of the 35/40 kids being taught by a world-class Chef (gearing up to open Gjelina East in NYC's Bowery, where they will also work with farms and schools) for free in a public school (!) was polite, open, and all ears and smiles as Lett, Lutsh and Babis explained the steps in the recipes, all of them listening with tangible respect. "Everyone is so nice here, they treat us like professionals," added one boy as he kindly prepared a plate of their fish dinner for their guest - Lucky Me.

 It was truly delectable, and so super inspiring to see these kids so pleased with their results, sharing and discussing it with each other as they ate the feast they had prepared themselves from literally the ground up. When kids today are more interested in their phone screens than dirt, this was truly awesome. The only inkling one would have that these were 2016 teens was when one girl was going around seeing which fish platter was "The most Instagrammable". Who could blame her though, with dishes as impressive as these.

Lett and I both had chills as one student after another repeated that the best thing about the class was "It's fun!"

As learning should be. As LIFE should be, especially when you're a kid figuring out who and what you want to be. With experiences like these under their belts ... truly anything is possible.

Many thanks to everyone involved, from the Gjelina Volunteer Program, to Venice High School, to these incredible, thoughtful, talented, wonderful young Gondoliers/Chefs of Venice. They are absolutely rowing, not drifting into a fantastic future.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Big Thursday

I think it might be nice to all stop and take a moment to just appreciate the power of nature, which really does trump everything else. The waves are BIG (and The Eddie is all the way ON in Hawai'i!), so fun to watch, and far more interesting and good for you than anything in the media now. 

This is from the packed Breakwater this morning. Enjoy it out there!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Witch Of The West

I often cut through the canals when I'm on my way to the beach, and was recently cracked up when I saw that someone has now put out a year-round witch to beckon the way to the sand ...

Anything fun, anything unexpected, anything to make you smile ... that's the Venice I know and love. I'm pretty sure it's a good witch ...

Monday, February 22, 2016

A LeRoy Grannis Mural Graces Venice

I was on my morning stroll to the French Market when I saw a fresh, new mural on the side of a wall on Abbot Kinney, next to Leaf Automotive.

It features LeRoy Grannis, the "Godfather of Surf Photography", and it's really great. Thanks to artist Gretta Kruesi for adding to the art and beauty of our neighborhood. I love it.

Have a great week, everybody ... get out there and do something cool yourself!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Vinny's - Cheesesteaks At The Beach!

Yo! This one goes out to all my Philly friends. Now you can get your cheesesteak fix at the beach at Vinny's! That's right, Vinny's on Westminster and Ocean Front Walk is coming up on their one year anniversary of serving awesome cheesesteaks out of their little window, so I thought it was high time to get to know the people behind it ... namely Vinny.

Vince Zangari grew up in Lancaster, PA in Pennsylvania Dutch territory, where his Dad, Ronald, opened up a restaurant after the Korean War in the 1950's. He did cheesesteaks (his own way) so folks didn't have to drive to Philadelphia. As one of 15 kids in their massive Italian family, there was always family involved in the business, and Vince worked there all through high school.

After attending Temple University and  F.I.T. in New York, Zangari got a gig with Armani, which led to acting, which brought him out here to the West Coast. He had a family, and that kept him here, acting, but also working at restaurants all the while. Zangari then met Greg and Yunnie Morena, whose family had owned Santa Monica Pier Seafood (on the Pier) since 1977. When the Morena's took over for Yunnie's father, they revamped the place, renaming it The Albright. Zangari became the VP of Operations, and when The Albright began doing the food program for the Pier Concerts, Morena encouraged Zangari to do a tent with his family recipe cheesesteaks. It blew up immediately, with crazy lines and the crew serving 400 steaks an hour. Soon thereafter, Morena noticed there was a space available on Westminster, and with the success at the Pier Concerts, urged Zangari to open a cheesesteak place, and now we have Vinny's!

Vinny's cheesesteaks are done their way, which means hand-sliced in house beef ("eye of the round"), white American cheese (not Cheez Whiz, but they do have that kind of stuff on hand should they encounter a diehard who believes that's the way), mushrooms and onions (not peppers, and you can't get those), delicious Amoroso bread shipped in from South Philly, and their family recipe sauce. (I'm a real plain Jane with my sandwiches, so I take mine with just meat and cheese, and it's sublime). You can also get a chicken one, and eggplant parm, and pulled pork, but I'm pretty partial to that steak.

Though Zangari, in all honesty, had some trepidation about operating out of a space at the Boardwalk, thinking it was maybe too crazy down here, that soon dissipated when the surrounding merchants and neighbors immediately embraced them. There is a man named Vinny who is always down on Westminster playing guitar, and he had to leave town when his mother died. Neighbors originally thought the big new "Vinny" painted on the wall was in tribute to guitar Vinny, so automatically thought this new place was cool. Which it is.

Zangari loves serving the locals, and realizes that they are his bread and butter. They deliver sandwiches to the Boardwalk vendors (at a discount!), the skatepark kids line up to chow down, and Vinny's regular customers are now also friends. "I'm really grateful to have the opportunity to have a business on the world famous Venice Boardwalk," says Zangari. "I didn't know what to expect, and we were accepted by the community from Day One. Locals have always been our focus."

We sat and watched the world going by (Literally. People from all over the world in like an hour), and Zangari truthfully said, "There's no place like it. It's so unique - in good AND bad ways. Where else do you have such homelessness, and such money, all melting together in the middle, co-existing?" Nowhere. "Yeah, there's change, but I was here 20 years ago, and the essence doesn't change. I still have the same energetic feeling I had 20 years ago. The PEOPLE are what makes it Venice, right?" Right.

"My family is East Coast multi-generation, so I understand and respect history... and am grateful to  now be a part of the Venice history." That's the attitude that locals can understand and respect, and certainly appreciate in a time where the unique charm of Venice is being so threatened by less respectful/more greedy parties.

Vinny's is manned most days by Zangari's trusted Boom Boom, a local guy that Zangari wanted to help set up with a business. "I'm interested in investing in people," says Zangari. Also certainly appreciated. Served with a smile by Boom Boom and Lawrence, working out of their extra-tiny kitchen, I think it was the best cheesesteak I've had outside of Philly.

It's a beautiful day in Venice. It's lunchtime. I know a great spot where you can breathe in the fresh ocean air while you eat ...

Vinny's Cheesesteaks
1301 Ocean Front Walk
Every day. 11-5 in Winter, 11-7 in Summer
*Delivery available from Eat 24 and ChowNow

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Paint In Public!

There's something I've always loved about chancing upon people set up in public with an easel, painting what's in front of them. I just love how it suggests a freedom, a pride, a non-conformist kind of attitude like, "I'm gonna paint and I don't know care who sees!" It's pretty brave, while at the same time so calm and peaceful feeling. I passed by this guy this morning, capturing the Venice sign and its surroundings.

People that paint in public ("plein air" for fancy people) just seem happy to be there, in the moment. I'm not a visual artist, so I've always extra admired those that are, especially when they're chill like this. In public, letting you in on their creative process, usually more than happy to chat with you about it. You know what, I'm just going to go do this one of these days, even if it sucks, just because. Look for me out there ... I'll probably even throw on a beret.

Thanks to this guy for the morning inspiration!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Farewell To Piccolo

I know a lot of people in Venice were upset to see the venerable Joe's close for business on Valentine's Day, and while I liked Joe's - and it certainly put Venice on the map for food 20 years ago - it was never really my spot. But Piccolo (called Bobo in more recent days, but was always Piccolo to me) was, and it closed for good on Valentine's Day too. So sad.

We loved Piccolo from its inception, because it was right next door to our dear friend Sponto's art gallery, where we spent ridiculous amounts of time. The food was exquisite (if kind of for special occasions), and about the best Italian you could find in all of Los Angeles, and it felt like it was a secret. Like it was ours. At the beach! Perhaps that was the problem, that not enough people knew about the excellent, creative dishes coming out of their kitchen from Chef Bobo Ivan. Or they didn't want to trek to the beach (I guess not everyone could bike or walk there). Or they just wanted spaghetti and meatballs over the truly exquisite, often truffle-accented wonders whipped up at Piccolo. Sad for them.

Our last meal was so, so good ... while at the same time poignant, where you had to really savor it, because we didn't know when we'd be tasting Bobo's food again - or where. And neither does he. I know that feeling, and it can be daunting, but when you're as talented as Bobo is ... it's all good. Probably even better, as I told him, because he's had to deal with all the financial and business drama, when he really should just be free to work his magic at his stoves. Sigh ...

So we ate. The most perfect scallops ever ...

Bobo was maybe showing off for the last weekend, because our squid ink pasta with lobster was just out of this world. My mouth is watering looking at the photo again. Seriously.

A whole bunch of dishes followed, and as the wine went down easy to drown our sorrows, it soon became a blur of food and laughs and talks and then ... dessert.

This tray of delights showed up with everything from profiteroles to pineapple tartar ... which we devoured and I think even licked up those colorful dots of sauce. And then it was finished.

We said our reluctant goodbyes, and I looked at Sponto's old chandelier, the chandelier that has lit up so many of our good times (and had better wind up in good hands!), and I just felt like crying. For Piccolo and Bobo, but also for Venice. It seems as though every day lately, we're hearing about another longtime Venice institution being closed in the name of "Progress" which to all of us reads as simply greed grown out of control.

I feel like a broken record, but someone has to keep saying it. Someone has to try and urge people to have some bigger vision, to have some pride of place over the dollar. I wasn't born and raised here in Venice, no, but that almost makes it worse for me. I loved it here so much that I chose to move my life away from dear friends and family and a wonderful city (Minneapolis - all still as dear to me as ever) to live here. Because it was different. Because it was a town full of originals. Because you can feel the creativity in every breath of ocean air you take in. Because I felt like it was ME - and my kind of People. To me, that's worth fighting for. That's worth sounding like a broken record. So, I will.

Farewell to our beloved Piccolo. Best of luck to Bobo and his team. Most of all, best of luck to Venice itself, that we may weather this storm of greed, and tech companies that don't get it, and continue to have Venice as a last vestige of cool in an increasingly SAME world.

Batten down the hatches.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Street Feather Project - Each Message Is A Seed Planted

With all the action always going on along Windward Avenue at the beach, I almost walked right past this great little sign and message one day ...

I got home and looked up "Street Feather Project" and discovered that it's an organization that puts positive, artful messages up all over the world, planting seeds of love and goodness along the way. Their credo is "Because we still believe we can change the world with our creativity. Art for all."
I get it, because you can't stop and read these wonderful messages and not feel better about things in the world, knowing that there's people out there doing nice stuff like this. Making the world a little better with every message. I love it.

What a great Valentine's weekend message ... "So much love to give. Give much love to live." Because that's what it's all about. LOVE.

Love you.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Matthew Heller - Grand Theft Autocorrect

Sometimes a lot of fun things happen in Venice at once, and sometimes that means you have to attend an art opening still completely covered in glitter from participating in the Mardi Gras Parade down the Boardwalk earlier in the day. Which is fine, because the art opening was also in Venice, and the people understand.

The show opening was Matthew Heller's Grand Theft Autocorrect at the great gallery space that doesn't seem to have a name on Main and San Juan. Heller is a friend's cousin and another friend's favorite artist, so I was there, glitter be damned.

I've always been very attracted to art with words in it (what is that called, anyway?), so Heller's new work did not disappoint. In fact, it was almost all words, made even better by having many of the pieces filled with lyrics from favorite songs like John Denver's "Annie's Song" or David Bowie's "Life On Mars" (done before he died, so not on the bandwagon).

Some of the works are made from what looks like masking tape spelling out words ...

Some pieces feel like you're snooping on someone's love letter writing, someone that's really, really good at inducing swoons through words ... Poems as visual art. Poems that kind of remind of Kerouac at times, high praise for me, indeed.

There were a lot of cool people at the opening, made cooler by the fact that no one blinked an eye at the  Glitterbomb talking to them, in fact, some wondered where they could get some for themselves. Right on.

Heller's work contains a whole lot of emotion in pretty minimalist pieces, which I think is the mark of a really good and effective contemporary artist. Simplicity that packs a wallop.

In chatting with Heller, I found that he couldn't be nicer or more open to talking about his work, another refreshing element in his artistic profile, especially with so many artists going up their own ass once anointed as chosen by the Art World. Not Heller. Warm, approachable, smart, and very clearly talented.

I think my favorite piece was this one that felt exactly just right to be shown in Venice:

Demand optimism! I love it.

Matthew Heller's Grand Theft Autocorrect is on view now through February 28 at 201 San Juan.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Cosmic Future! Venice Celebrates Mardi Gras

"If your house doesn't have glitter all over, you didn't have as fun a weekend as we did!" - So read this morning's Facebook status of Miss Jessica Sugar Long, founder of the Venice Mardi Gras Parade and celebration, and boy, was she right. I have glitter everywhere still (including my scalp where it refuses to wash out), having been "anointed" by the King of Venice Mardi Gras, Matt Tyler, and his Queen, Anna Metcalf. Anointed meant closing your eyes and having King Matt pour glitter all over your face and body. It looks awesome ... Still. 

Saturday could not have been more gorgeous out, the absolutely perfect day to march down the Boardwalk, tooting our own horns. Blue skies and mid-80's were the reward for the Venice masses gathered to display their sense of fun, artistry, and true spirit of Venice - via New Orleans. It was the first time (in its 15 years!) I've been able to take part in it all, and believe me, Venice, you don't want to miss it next year. So, so fun. So, so glittery!

The Krewes gathered on Rose and Ocean Front Walk, with the brass band and drum line falling in behind the Venice sign and the King and Queen leading the parade down the Boardwalk to the delight of surprised tourists and seasoned locals alike.

The Windward Krewe was well represented by costumed Venetians that are all a total blast, and the Kinney Krewe was right there with them. Costumes were anything goes, from a David Bowie Starman tribute (on Miss Jessica, my favorite ensemble), to a two-headed monster to the traditional purple, green and gold of Mardi Gras regalia. No matter what you came up with, it was fun, as it always is to dress up crazy.

My favorite moment of the whole day was when a little boy (black) walked right up to a little girl (white) and placed a bunch of strands of Mardi Gras beads around her neck while she stood patiently, and then hugged him. Now THAT is what it's all about. It was beautiful and amongst all the mayhem and madness, I was profoundly moved by such a simple moment. So much so that I missed it with my camera, but this is them. Love.

The only sign of El Niño raining on our parade was this guy - El Niño, apparently on a sunny vacation in Venice. Hilarious.

Gonzo Rock was there with his traveling drum machine, so anyone could walk on up and join in the banging as our joyous cacophony made its way down the very edge of Venice.

Music and shouts rang out to let one and all know that our Venice is HERE, our Venice is PROUD, and our Venice is super extra fun. All of which is contagious, once you join in and get it. What we're about, and always have been. Artistic expression and FUN.

The group wound up in the Windward Plaza, dancing and blowing horns, singing and sharing hugs, people watching and picture taking ... in a word, CELEBRATING.

The band led everyone into Danny's Deli, where Venice Paparazzi had set up a photo booth with all the fun Mardi Gras accoutrements to deck yourself out in, while listening to the N'awlins sounds of The Gumbo Brothers. Miss Jessica took over the mic at one point and delivered a Bowie medley that all sang along to, lustily and with great appreciation.

Danny's was real crazy and crowded, so we took a little break in the dark confines of The Townhouse (where Fish invented the Mardi Grapefruit - yum!), where soon we were joined by other Mardi Gras revelers with the same idea. Captain Todd Van Hoffman made a speech about how the spirit of Venice was clearly still very much alive ... and very sparkly.

It was almost a call to arms speech, urging all that were there and participating in the fun to carry this feeling of community and something special around with us all over town, and to defend it with our voices and actions, however we can. It's crucial. (He also called me his "favorite Pinko", which I loved). Every word of it was true, and important. And reassuring too, as we realize that when we all come together, it's as if nothing in Venice has really changed at all. Phew!

What a great day for Venice it was, as we let the good times roll on down the Boardwalk, and into our hearts and memories forever ... Laissez les bon temps rouler!