The Townhouse: Drinking Up Venice History

November 1, 2013

By CJ Gronner

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 – Special. With good friends. Good music. Good cocktails. Good TIMES. And all are welcome! Save me a seat!

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Venice Observes 70th Anniversary of Horrific Incarceration of Venice Japanese-Americans With Memorial Event and Hama Suchi Fundraiser

April 1, 2012

By Phillis Hayashibara

Esther Chaing, proprietar of Venice’s oldest sushi restaurant, Hama Sushi at the Venice Traffic Circle, will host three fundraisers at her restaurant on April 25 on behalf of the Venice Japanese American Memorial Marker (VJAMM) Committee.

On March 22 the Department of the Interior, through the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program, awarded VJAMM a $50,000 grant for the 2012 grant cycle.  The Park Service grant requires a $1 match in non-federal funds and “in-kind” contributions to qualify for every $2 in federal money.

A series of Hama Sushi Restaurant fundraisers will ensure that the VJAMM Committee will top the requisite $25,000 in non-federal money.

Through Hama Sushi, Esther has been able to demonstrate her appreciation by contributing to a number of causes, including the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami benefit to which Esther donated almost $5,000t.

For the VJAMM fundraisers at Hama Sushi on Wednesday, April 25, Hama Sushi head chef Kinya Aota created a special “bento” box lunch that includes teriyaki chicken, cucumber and potato salads, spicy tuna and California rolls, shrimp and vegetable tempura, plus a soft drink for $20. All profits from the lunch will be donated to the VJAMM Committee. That evening, Hama Sushi will donate 10 percent of all food and drink purchased between 7 and 11 pm to the VJAMM Committee.  In addition, Hama Sushi will allow the Venice Arts Council to exhibit art works for sale on its walls from April 25 through June 25. Forty percent of the sale price of an artwork will be donated to the VJAMM Committee, with 40 percent going to the contributing artists and 20 percent retained by Hama Sushi.

Esther Chaing grew up in Taegu, south of Seoul in South Korea, and emigrated to Los Angeles in 1972 with one of her older brothers, leaving her parents, two brothers, and one sister in South Korea. She studied English and art in night school classes, and worked in garment factories in Los Angeles during the day. “I was a trimmer, and worked twelve to fourteen hours a day, six days a week, and brought home between $60 and $70 a week when $1.65 was the minimum wage.” In 1977, Esther graduated from Trade Tech with an AA in fashion design. She worked at Condor as an art designer and pattern maker. She worked at International Costume, which made all the uniforms for the “cast members” in the newly opened Disney World and EPCOT Center in Orlando.

Three years later, eager to become her own boss, Esther opened her own garment factory, borrowing ten sewing machines and renting 900 square feet of space in Carson. Building on her success with her mantra of “quality and on-time delivery,” the next year Esther expanded to twenty machines in 2000 square feet of space.

By the fourth year, Esther bought her own building in Harbor City and employed 120 people. She remembered being an employee in a downtown Los Angeles sweatshop, eating hurried lunches at work stations or on the grimy steps near the employee’s grimy bathrooms.

Esther vowed to improve working conditions, and built an executive-style lunchroom with a refrigerator, a microwave, and a food warmer, using 700 precious square feet of her factory floor, an unheard of luxury for employees entitled to two ten-minute breaks and one thirty-minute lunch hour. Esther also purchased an adjacent property in which she opened My First School, a non-profit day care center for the children of her employees. “I’m living in Palos Verdes, I have a very successful business, and I want to give back to the people who made my business possible,” said Esther.

Competition from China undercut Esther’s sales, so she began to look for another business and property in which to invest. In 2004, Esther found Hama Sushi in Venice, and when she went to Central Venice to look at the property, she remembered the early days of her courtship on Venice. The man who would become her husband had worked at the Robert Graham studio in Venice, and they would meet in Venice for dates on the boardwalk amid the roller skaters with their big boom boxes and the odor of marijuana everywhere.

Esther purchased the business and the property, and returned to work and live in Venice with her husband and four children. She sold her preschool in 2005 and her garment factory in 2006.

What Esther hadn’t counted on was the 26 years of new regulations that she, the new owner of Hama Sushi, had to comply with, from which the original owner had been exempted. To avert disaster, she called the Health Inspector for much-needed help, and soon brought everything in the restaurant up to code. She kept most of the long-time sushi chefs, including Arthur Takakuwa, who has been preparing sushi at Hama Sushi since 1983.

Many of Hama Sushi’s present staff have had ten or more years of experience preparing sushi, and also have a variety of professional and personal interests. Arthur is an avid golfer, Masayo Onuki teaches Japanese cooking, Masatoshi Shimoda composes musical scores, Akihiro Nobu is a photographer, the very creative Elizabeth Valencia devotes her time to her son, and the second head chef, Kenny Moon, loves and trains dogs.

The current head chef, Kinya Aota, practices karate, and had just been hired by the former owner, who had not revealed that he would be selling one month later. In fact, Kinya thought Esther was one of the servers at Hama Sushi, someone with “a great smile,” while Esther, for the first few months, hid in the kitchen and the office, peeking out at her customers and wondering how to greet them or what to say to them.

Today, the very outgoing and gracious Esther is very comfortable amid her customers at Hama Sushi, and loves to give back to her community in Venice. Esther and Kinya joke that they have both been “promoted.” He to head chef, and she from the server-with-a-great-smile to the owner-proprietor of Hama Sushi. Esther adheres to her mission statement for Hama Sushi, to be “fresh, fun, and friendly,” as exemplified by the freshest, highest grade fish and organic vegetables prepared without MSG, and by her warm and welcoming head server, Athena MacDonald.

Hama Sushi, founded in 1979, was one of the first authentic Japanese sushi restaurants in the U. S. Esther strives to retain the loyalty of long-time customers as well as introduce a new generation of foodies to Hama Sushi by treating each diner as an honored guest. She takes pride in the many “Hama romances,” “Hama marriages,” and “Hama babies” that have emerged from sharing good food and a great time in this icon of Venice, Hama Sushi.

Phyllis Hayashibara is a member of the Venice Japanese American Memorial Marker Committee.  


Jin Patisserie Makes Venice Sweeter

March 1, 2012

By CJ Gronner

It’s quite simple to celebrate Women in Venice, when there are so many wonderful, creative, business-savvy women making up our place in the world. I can think of more women-run businesses than I have fingers: Ananda, the Beauty Bungalows (Alexandra Wagner Skincare, Lavish Tan, Kelley Baker Brows, Stephanie Hobgood Hair all under one roof!), The Green House, Marla’s Cafe, Studio Surya Yoga, Bohemian Exchange, Capri, Casa Linda, Firefly/Kid Firefly, Floral Art, French Market Cafe, Hama Sushi, Huset, Just Tantau, Primitivo, Small World Books, Strange Invisible Perfumes, Trim, Urban Escape, Zingara … and that’s just off the top of my head. Strong women, each day making our community a great place to be. I was thinking about our Women’s Issue, and that fact that we could all use a little more sweetness in our lives lately, so I thought it was time to find out the story behind Kristy Choo’s Jin Patisserie.

There might not be a better place in the whole world for perfect chocolate than Jin Patisserie, and I can walk there. Serving up the most exquisite pastries and gorgeous, delicious chocolates since 2003 on Abbot Kinney. Jin is a true local treasure.

Kristy Choo was born and raised in Singapore. She always loved to bake (me too!), but craved travel and adventure (me too!), so never really saw herself working in a kitchen. She became a flight attendant to satisfy some of her wanderlust, but kept thinking about what she truly loved to do, and that was to create wondrous dessert delights.

To that end, Choo decided to attend the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, where she focused on pastry. She then went back to Singapore and worked in a hotel there, furthering her training, and joined the Singapore National Team for pastry competition, meaning she was really, really good at what she did. She was also married by then, and her husband’s work kept him in Los Angeles, and the long distance thing was hard. Choo decided she needed to join her husband in L.A., and that was when she started thinking about opening a little place of her own.

Driving around Venice one day, Choo saw the space recently vacated by The Hydrant Cafe was available on Abbot Kinney. It was a little cottage with a courtyard, just about the perfect size for what she had been envisioning. Venice was also perfect, in her feeling, as she explains, “I liked the FEEL of Venice. It wasn’t pretentious, people are comfortable with themselves here.” Exactly.

Choo started the process from scratch (like her pastries), knowing nothing about the ins and outs of starting her own business, and she did it all herself. After the usual rigmarole with city inspectors, permits, suppliers and the like (”Crazy!”), Choo opened for business in September 2003, and has been blowing our minds with her concoctions ever since.

It kind of amazes me that even many people that live right in the neighborhood have never been to Jin (named after Choo’s middle name). It IS kind of hidden behind its tall gate, and you have to walk through the garden past the cherry blossoms to get into the little house where all the treasures are displayed, but it is just truly not to be missed.

Jin serves exotic and wonderful teas, little tea sandwiches and quiches (lovely for birthdays or the shower type event) but the real masterpieces are the desserts. Choo originally wanted to only do desserts, but after learning the local needs/wants/habits, decided to give people the choice of savory before diving right into the sweet, if they want. Many of us have no problem skipping right ahead to the sweet bliss, all made right there in the Jin kitchen.

Like – our number one favorite – Sea Salt Caramels. There is also a cake called “Inspiration” that is a sea salt chocolate caramel dream. The macaroons are too much – brightly colored little rounds of melting-in-your-mouth deliciousness (again, get the sea salt caramel one of those too!). The artistic chocolates (packaged so beautifully you don’t want to open the box) are ridiculous – lavender, mango-basil, yuzu, cinnamon, Earl Grey, passion fruit, lychee, each better than the next – and perhaps the best possible hostess gift ever. No one will ever be mad at receiving a box from Jin, I assure you. The number of bags from Jin cruising up and down Abbot Kinney on Valentine’s Day this year made it clear that the local people know what’s up for impressing their loved ones. Likewise, Choo’s chocolate Easter eggs are flawless works of art that I like to just stare at each year. Remarkable.

There was a Jin location for a while in Century City in the Intercontinental Hotel (closed last year), and a Valentine collaboration with Japanese department stores, but Choo is most happy in her little house in Venice, welcoming the locals and tourists alike who share her love for the original qualities of our town. She likes that her shop is unique, that people can only get her creations here in Venice. How lucky we are!

Choo hopes that Venice “won’t be like other places. Venice is a precious part of Los Angeles. Everywhere else people look the same, here they have PERSONALITY.” Now that Choo and her husband have a child, she doesn’t get the time to enjoy Venice as much, but has noticed all the changes taking place along Abbot Kinney, like we all have. She can’t stand First Fridays (again, like most of us nowadays), and really prefers the older school way things were (ditto). But, also like most of us feel, the personality of place really outshines all the rest, and Choo’s local regulars are now her friends. She can’t picture her little chocolate factory anywhere else. She loves it here. We love having her here.

Try this … maybe you’re having a little challenge of some sort. Go to Jin. Pick something out, anything from the pastry or chocolate case. Take it with you down to the beach. Look out over the horizon. Let the breeze wash over you and the sweet dissolve in your mouth. Even if just for that moment, everything will be so much better. It really is about the simple pleasures in life. And Jin has them for you in abundance.


Unfortunate Times For La Fortuna Market

February 1, 2012

By Anne Alvarez

The Venice Neighborhood Council voted unanimously, Jan. 17, to recommend that L.A. City Council revoke the liquor license of La Fortuna Market located at 824 Lincoln Blvd., adjacent to Cafe 50s.

Proprietor Margarita Romo and her brother, Emilio, have been serving Venice’s Latino community for over 32 years, a community that is diminishing day by day, thanks to the gentrification taking place.

“That is why they want me out of here, they are doing away with the Latinos.” They see us as trouble, even though my wife, Maria, and I have always paid our taxes, business and licensing fees every year for the past 32 years. We have never asked for anything from anyone. We are respectful hard working people.

“I’ve made one or two mistakes,” added Romo,  referring to a citation he received for having a beer with his lunch in the back of the store back in July  2009. I had to pay a fine and our license was briefly suspended, so never again would I do that.”

During this time Romo adds, “The Los Angeles Police Department was really on me, in particular Officer Paul Bowser. I felt targeted. All these years in business, 29 years at the time, and never any problems.

“All of a sudden a neighbor that lives in the alley directly behind my market is upset that there are homeless people loitering close to her home and she decides it is my fault, if she saw them holding  a beer in hand it was automatically presumed they purchased it from me, even if at the time my store was closed. I actually have pictures of garbage left behind, including empty beer cans. These photos prove the alcohol did not come from me as it is a brand that I don’t carry,” Romo said.

According to a letter from the Department of City Planning there have been allegations of buying and selling narcotics, prostitution, public urination and defecation, lewd conduct,excessive noise, vandalism, loitering, graffiti, trash and debris, illegal parking and police detention.

There was never a complain filed with Alcohol Beverage Control or the Alcohol Tobacco and Tax Trade Bureau regarding these issues, and never any warning for what followed.

Officer Bowser and another officer, not in uniform, showed up at La Fortuna with a paper, which Romo was pressured into signing. He was told by the officers that not doing so, would garner him another condition to abide by, he would have to bag everything in orange plastic bags and he would be arrested  for refusing to cooperate he said.

Romo, whose second language is English was not allowed to call an interpreter. The officers said they would interpret for him.

According to Romo, he was unaware of the content of the document, thinking it pertained to his previous citation.

Soon after a letter arrived from the Zoning Commission asking Romo to show up for a hearing. Romo hired an attorney Robert Starr, who informed him that the document officer Bowser had forced him to sign, was a list of rules that LAPD had imposed on La Fortuna in order to continue operating his store.

These new rules restricted the hours of operation, and demanded they have a uniformed security guard to patrol the 50x18ft store as well as patrol the adjoining alley/parking lot and the adjacent sidewalk area to deter individuals from loitering. The rules also prohibited him from selling anything less than a six pack of beer along with 29 other requirements. Romo complied with  all but one, a full-time security guard.

“It is impossible for me to hire a full-time employee at this time, we are barely getting by. It is unnecessary and unfair to single me out. Other much larger liquor stores and markets, including 7-11, aren’t required to have a guard. The neighbors that are complaining have never set foot in my store, yet they hate me and my family. They want us out. It is incredible how people can be so cruel towards someone they don’t know. This is my livelihood I have spent most of my life in Venice,” Romo said.

Gary Neville whose office is two doors from La Fortuna has been an avid advocate for the Romos.

“ I can’t stand by and watch an innocent person be railroaded, by vicious lies. Romo is a good hard working man,  I have no complaints.”

Neville sent the following letter in support of La Fortuna to VNC members, before the January vote: Attn: Board Members – Tuesday night, January 17,  I shall be distributing photographs of certain activities relating to conditions of Dillon Court alley and in support of La Fortuna Market exemplary and responsible current operation, i.e., Ralph’s market customers toting their singles and glass bottles I find in the alley (not from La Fortuna). I do this in an effort to educate the VNC to the reality of alley drinking problems—Ralph’s Market and some of the places you identified to me—not La Fortuna Market.

The following is an excerpt from an e-mail sent by Neville after the VNC vote: “An innocent man may get railroaded out of the community and lose his only livelihood because of board members seem unwilling to challenge speakers . . . and ask for FACTS! Thank God courts don’t allow unsubstantiated, mindless babble such as mouthed Jan. 17 by both speakers and most council members, instead of provable facts!”

Romo also has the full support of his landlord,  Ortencia Delgado, who says she doesn’t agree with what the city is trying to do. She used to operate La Fortuna from 1975 until 1980 at which time the Romos took it over.

“It is unfair what they are doing, these are good hard working people that never hurt anyone. They are struggling in this economy barely surviving. To take away their liquor license would devastate them,” she said.

Not all are against Romo.  A letter dated Dec. 10, 2011, addressed from the Zoning Administration stated: “LAPD Pacific Area Vice Unit, does not protest the removal of condition 1, licensed security guard required, and condition 3, modification of hours to 1900 hours.” On January 26 LAPD officer Branis conducted an inspection and found no violations.

Lourdes Green, Associate Zoning Administrator, could not comment on the case as her final ruling is still pending. She did say, however, that LAPD is happy with the way Romo is operating his business. In response to a question about how it is that Zoning is involved in the revocation of a liquor license, she said they didn’t have that authority to do so, but they can revoke the use of the space.

According to  Will Salao,  ABC district administrator, La Fortuna has no restrictions or open complaints on file. Salao added that ABC is the only governmental entity allowed to revoke a license, not the  city council, zoning administration or  police department and most certainly not the local neighborhood council. In the meantime, Romo was forced to file a Plan Approval with the Office Of Zoning Administration, as if he was opening a new business, for which he had to pay a $5995 application fee.

The City has also billed Romo $21,025 and applicable surcharges, for looking into this matter, and according to City planning this is only “partial cost recovery.”

The most disturbing part of this story is the devious way that this matter has been mishandled by members of the VNC, who are suppose to represent the entire Venice population, not just based on race or economic standing. Margarita Romo was told by VNC Boardmember Jake Kaufman that it was more than likely the La Fortuna issue would not be voted on that night, yet 40 minutes later, after members of the audience had left, including Margarita Romo and  a couple that had come to speak on behalf of the Romos, the issue was brought up again. Romo’s opponents a chance to speak and persuade the members to vote in favor of of recommending the Romo’s license revocation.

If you would like to support La Fortuna, stop by 824 Lincoln Blvd. Get to know its proprietors and sign the petition to stop the harassment and unfair treatment being brought by the city against a 32-year Venice community member.

Also please contact Councilmember Bill Rosendahl at e-mail councilman.rosendahl@lacity.org or 310-575-8461 to voice your support.

In the meantime the Romo’s patiently wait for their fate to be determined.


The Last of the Red-Hot Potatoes

January 1, 2012

By Jim Smith

Old Venice traditions die hard. In this case, Cafe Benice, which was slated to close on New Year’s Eve. A crowd of us descended on it for one last bite of our favorite meal. When we arrived we learned that closing day had been extended to the following Wednesday, thanks to the landlord, Jose Bunge.

Heelan (Benice) was all smiles at seeing so many people who cared about the place. Also bearing up well were the staff, including Avery, Jina, Andrew, Josh, David, Keith, Leslie and Lattie.

Cafe Benice opened in 1985 at Pacific and Horizon, under an existing sign, “House of Teriyaki, Donut,” which became the de facto name of the restaurant, and was an immediate hit.

The Lafayette Cafe had just closed after years of serving Venetians with cheap, but good, food. The cook, Manuel, got hired by Heelan, and began whipping up some of our favorite dishes from the old Lafayette. Some of them were still on the menu at Cafe Benice 25 years later, including Huevos Rancheros and Veggie Rancheros.

Is this the end of an era? Without Benice it will be hard to find a cheap breakfast place near the beach (although her prices have steadily risen along with the rent). The two cafes, Benice and Lafayette, represent nearly 50 years of morning meals for Venetians.

Going to breakfast was a social event for a lot of us in Venice when it and we were poor. It was the place to meet other Venetians. There were no hot bars or nightclubs in Venice, only alky bars for the confirmed, and older, drinkers. Most of the restaurants were small and crowded. You had to converse with your neighbors at the counter or the next booth. There were no TVs on the walls, no laptops to hide behind, just the occasional Beachhead which engendered more conversation.

At one time – the 60s through the 80s – there were many choices for breakfast on and around Ocean Front Walk. There was Alex’s cafe with 50 cent breakfasts; Ammoon’s, which  also served falafels; Cheese and Olive, now C&O’s; Cleopatra; the Meatless Messhall; Suzanne’s Kitchen, and of course, Juergens.

Juergen Roscher, and his family, which included Mama, brother Gene, and the beautiful sister, Crystal, had a following that rivaled the Lafayette. In the late sixties, he started a hole-in-the-wall cafe across from the paddle tennis courts and under an old sign that said, “Da Driftwood,” which quickly became what we called the restaurant, as in, “Hey, let’s walk down to Da Driftwood.”

With an almost constant line out the door waiting to eat, Juergen knew it was time to move. The new place at 1611 Pacific – now occupied by Santinos – even had a dining room. A sign spilled over from the health food store next door, that read: NuPars. And Nu-Pars it was called. For a time, Juergen opened a more upscale (but not much) dinner restaurant in Hamburger Square, at Washington and Speedway. But the action was always at Nu-Pars. And still there was a line out the door.

Finally, the work got to Juergen and the rest of the family. It wasn’t easy feeding hundreds of hungry Venetians day in and day out. The Roschers called it quits in the early 80s. It was another sad day when we lost the best potatoes in the world. Does anyone know what happened to Juergen, Crystal and the rest of the family? Did they go back to their native Germany? Are they living nearby? The Beachhead wants to know.

It was 17 years ago that the H.O.T. moved to its current location at 1715 Pacific. The shabby building that once housed the Saucy Dog and, later, the Pelican’s Catch, was beautified with paint, art and repairs. Outdoor seating was added in the front, while the patio in the rear was mostly enclosed with tables seating around 50 people. Long tables in the restaurant proper seated more diners.

Full disclosure: My pal JD and I created H.O.T.’s first typeset menu for Heelan. I wish I had a copy of it. I remember the prices were stunning for their reasonableness.

As a vegetarian, I’m not qualified to give a culinary review of all the dishes at Cafe Benice. I do know that even for a vegetarian or a vegan, it’s hard to decide what to order. There are so many options, including omelets, potatoes, burgers, curry dishes, etc. My mouth is watering as I write this.

It’s no mystery why restaurants that only open for breakfast are disappearing from the beach vicinity.

Even in 1985, the Lafayette faced a tripling of its rent.

We’re living in hard times for many, who are unable to go out to eat. At the same time, rents keep rising.

Today, upscale restaurants litter the area from the beach to Abbot Kinney Blvd.

The search for breakfast-only places has had to move farther east around Lincoln Blvd., an area where we can find Maxwell’s, Cafe Buna, Cafe 50s (which also serves dinner). The Firehouse at Main and Rose has a breakfast-only room, but it’s attached to a bar, which probably pays the rent.

Let’s hope Cafe Benice rises from the dead, or a new Venice Hang-out for breakfast appears. In this long-term depression, we need it as much as ever.

If you have a nominee for best breakfast in Venice, please send us a letter.


After 20 years, Ocean Blue closes its doors On the Venice Boardwalk

November 1, 2011

By Kathy Leonardo

When I first came to Venice, before I even moved to LA, I remember a store on the boardwalk called Ocean Blue. It had such cool stuff, mermaids with wings, flying high above my head, colorful painted wood framed mirrors in the shape of a sun, the smell of incense and candles burning as well as beautiful sterling silver jewelry. Back in the 90’s I would buy gifts for my NYC friends there, at Ocean Blue, to bring back to the East Coast.

I just found out that it soon will be closing….after 20 years. I recently met the owner of Ocean Blue, Larry Gutin who told me a bit about his story and the store and how long it has been in his family. “My Dad started a T-Shirt business on the beach back in 1978. Back in those days, Venice had stalls that you could rent and sell your wares.” Since his parents were divorced, Larry lived full time with his mother in NY but would spend the summers in LA with his Dad. In 1982 Larry’s older brother Jeff, took it over. Then in 1983 Larry moved to LA and worked while he went to college.

In 1990, Larry Gutin traveled to Indonesia. He fell in love with Bali and the beautiful arts and crafts made there. Larry shipped some merchandise back to his brother Jeff, to see if it would sell. It was indeed a huge hit in Venice and Larry continued to bring beautiful items from Bali to sell at Ocean Blue. Silver Jewelry was added to the product line at Ocean Blue. His brother Jeff decided to retire from the business, leaving Larry as the chief in command.

The economy definitely affected sales at Ocean Blue in the last four or five years, but Gutin managed to stick it out with the help of the Venice community’s support. When asked if he is sad about closing, he shrugs and says, “It’s time for a change.” Larry is considering starting a new business, but in the meantime has decided to go out with a bang!

On Sunday, December 4, Ocean Blue will throw a party, as a thank you for the community, from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. There will be live music, art and poetry as well as a huge sale. Everything in the store marked down by 50%. Refreshments and snacks will be served. Performers featured will be Ava Bird, John Clinebell, Greg Cruz, Geoffrey J, Kathy Leonardo and a special guest performance by the Jingle Bell Rockers.

When asked why he continued the business for so long, Larry explains, “Everyday I would meet smiling tourists from all over the world. It was a great place to come to work everyday not to mention that when I built the store I made sure the register had a direct view of the beach and its sunsets.”

Larry Gutin is a big supporter of the arts. Each month, Ocean Blue would participate in the Venice Art Crawl featuring local artists at their store. He also has consistently donated merchandise to charity events such as Jazz at the Palms Court and the Venice Music Festival, for their silent auction which benefitted the Venice Community Housing Corporation.

So come on by on Sunday, December 4 from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. Celebrate 20 years with Larry Gutin and the Ocean Blue Crew.  Pick up some holiday gifts at exceptional prices. Drink, eat and be merry. Life is all about change, it’s time for the next chapter. Ocean Blue will remain open through the end of the year.

Farewell Ocean Blue, Venice will miss you!


The Very Venice Art & Design Gallery

September 1, 2011

By Kathy Leonardo

It’s an early foggy morning in Venice Beach, a small yellow house with an interesting piece of street art plastered across the front catches my attention. Nestled on the busy Abbot Kinney boulevard, I realize, I have arrived at the recently opened, Very Venice Art & Design Gallery. Greeted by one of the artists working in the front gallery, I am lead back to the office of the owner, curator and artist, Dary Rees. Though just meeting her, I am aware of her renowned reputation as an exceptional business woman. Having an incredibly successful import/export business in the late ‘90s already sets her apart from many artist/gallery owners. This woman knows how to get things done. Right brain, left brain, she does it all.

Rees takes me on a tour of the gallery. The Very Venice Art & Design Gallery is home to more than 50 artists. It’s an eclectic array of visual art. In addition to framed paintings on the wall, the doorway is wrapped by a lovely mural by local artist Outi. Passing through another room, I recognize beautiful tile sculptures by another Venice local, Linda Fenster, more work from another Venice artist, Rachel Rubenstein, then finally into a back room where I stop and say “This must be the erotica room.” Dary laughs.

Rees is at home here in Venice. Originally born in Israel, she came to America at a young age and lived all over the US. She explains that she has always been drawn to Venice. She loves being surrounded by people who are artists and want to make the world a better place, like she does.

Dary has been creating art, ever since she can remember. She was raised in a family of artists, her mom made sculptures and her sister was a painter. It is something she always looked at as a healing process. “My current project is illuminated sculptures made of eco-conscious material. My art celebrates hope, courage and survival by reaching out to celebrate our lives, relationships and the environment.” “Illuminators of Hope”, 2008, is a series of eco sculptural chandeliers and light fixtures.

“The motives resemble reaching arms & hands with elements of cocoons, flowers and butterflies. The colors are passionate and bright or calm and serene. The material is mainly local palm trees parts and aluminum. The dry parts of the palm remind me of confused and abused materials. I bring it to life by stopping the decay, organizing and shaping it, adding colors and electrical light, turning it to a celebration of life. Using electricity has a great meaning to me, since electricity is power and energy. When I add it to the finished sculpture, it breathes life into it and acts as an illuminator that lets you shed light on the dark shadows in your life,” said Rees

Located at 1629 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Very Venice Art & Design Gallery is a combination of a co-op, and a gallery together, with intensive marketing and monthly PR and events. Gallery hours are 10am-7pm Sunday through Tuesday and 10am-10pm Wednesday through Saturday.

When asked what she sees for the future of the gallery, Dary replies very assuredly “Opening more locations, selling art all over the world, and bringing the average person closer to artists and the art world.” see website, www.veryveniceart.com

 

Photo by Kristina Valentine.


Hal’s on Abbot Kinney

July 1, 2011

By CJ Gronner

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

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

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

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

Part of the reason that it feels so homey is that the faces stay the same. Hal’s has employees (96 between there and Casa Linda!) who stay. They are part of the family, and it shows. One guy was 19 when he started in the kitchen, and is now a grandfather. Francisco Morales worked at Hal’s for years, and is now their partner in Casa Linda, two doors down. Manuel Mares is the Executive Chef, who began in 1989, serving up his delicious seasonal menus (best asparagus soup I’ve ever had the other day!) year in and year out. When I asked Mr. Mares what has kept him there so long, he simply smiled and said, “Them”, looking fondly at Don and Linda. With everyone working so long together, what you get is consistency, something that is all too rare in restaurants these days. Which is why good old Hal’s is such a mainstay in Venice.

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

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

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

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

Hal came from New York to Venice (”the best temperate weather in the world”) because he was an actor, on stage and screen. As they just shot some scenes for Californication at Hal’s, I asked Hal if he missed that actor life. He smiled and said, “No. There’s a curtain up here every night.”

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


It’s A Small World After All

March 1, 2011

By CJ Gronner

For years I’ve sent people to what I believe is the best book store – for sure in Los Angeles, but maybe even the country – Small World Books. I’ve loved it so long, but just finally got to sit down with owner Mary Goodfader and hear about how they came to be. Located right in the heart of the Venice Boardwalk, Small World is a complete haven from all the noise and tourist folly happening just outside the door.

Small World was first located in Marina Del Rey, started by Mary’s mother, Mildred Gates, in 1969. They catered to a largely boating clientele in those days, and then the lease came up and it was time to relocate. Mary’s late husband, Robert, went all around looking for a new location, when he saw a big space on the much more gnarly then Venice Boardwalk, boarded up and full of graffiti (“Stop Bombing In Cambodia!”). He knew he had found the spot for the family business.

The Goodfader’s thought they should have a little take-out cafe to go along with their book store, so the doors of The Sidewalk Cafe opened in June of 1976, and Small World Books soon followed, right next door, in September of the same year. This was right around the time the roller skating disco craze was kicking in, and Venice Beach was THE spot. Other vendors soon followed, and both the cafe – now world famous as a premium people watching spot on the Venice Boardwalk – and the book store have been welcoming customers every day since.

The Cafe is now managed by Mary’s son, Jay, and daughter, Deb Loucks, helps oversee Small World with Mary. Small World is pretty much a Women-run operation, which makes now a great time to celebrate it, as March is International Women’s Month (which kind of annoys me that there has to BE a special month to acknowledge any certain group – we are all one, and to separate anyone out implies that we are not … but I digress …). Their store manager is Bonnie Reynolds, who has been with them for 27 years. There is very little employee turnover, as it’s a true family style operation. Where many independent book stores have struggled to survive in recent years – or simply died – Small World continues to thrive. Mary gives just credit to the Sidewalk Cafe’s success (and the fact that they own the building, so the rent isn’t going up at all) for helping to keep the books coming for Venice and visitors through ups and downs.

It’s such a calming effect to leave the sidewalk entertainers, out-of-towners, Kush Dr’s, pan handlers, etal, on the Boardwalk behind to enter Small World, and its rows and rows of art and ideas. I am an old school book nerd, one who can completely immerse myself in the pages of a (good) book and not even know (or care) that anything else is going on around me. For me, Small World is a pure treat, every time. I use it as a reward for myself, actually, that’s how much I love and revere it.

Staff recommended books (with their fun and insightful notes included on a bookmark) line the front counter, sharing space with the latest releases, and as they say, “If you’ve heard of it, we have it or we will find it for you!” They mean it. I know a friend’s Aunt who lives in Pasadena, and she ONLY gets her books from Small World. That’s dedication. I feel the exact same way, sans the drive from Old Town.

Mary and I sat on the floor among all the beautiful books and discussed our feelings on books, Venice, and Kindle-type deals vs. Books (“A Kindle is an electronic device. A book is a work of art.” – Store Employee, Janice Mall). We are both firmly in the BOOK camp. As Mary said, “Some people still want to hold a book.” Yes, we do. There was a shelf with all sorts of classics on it, all reissued with new artwork on their covers, and they really are just stunning to behold. I almost get a panic attack in there, as there are just so many books to read in one lifetime!

“Venice is a great community for a bookstore … you can’t pigeonhole Venice,” said Mary, which makes it fun (and somewhat biased) for her to order all the merchandise for the store. She can’t keep tattoo books or books on growing weed in stock anymore – they all kept getting stolen. Venice. She won’t be ordering the latest Ann Coulter book – “Ever.” Venice. No George W. Bush memoir here, as she said, “No one in Venice would buy it.” Amen! Mary loves literature the most herself, fiction specifically. “Bukowski is our biggest seller, forever and ever.” Except for the time someone stole an entire ROW of Bukowski books off the shelf, forcing them to keep the old guy right up by the counter now. Venice again.

Daughter Deb does the greeting card ordering, and Small World stocks some of the nicest quality and funniest greeting cards around – my favorite being the one featuring “The Artist Formerly Known As The Little Prince,” with Prince on a little planet like The Little Prince cover. Classic.

Right near the door there is a revamped gumball machine, selling Seed Bombs instead of gum, and again, very Venice (though one guy who had to be from somewhere else did try to eat it like gum. Sigh).

And of Venice, Mary, who has lived here with her family since 1974, says she has not seen a lot of change over the decades, as “Venice fights very hard to stay the way it is.” True back then, true today. Both Mary’s kids, Jay and Deb, also live in Venice, so theirs is a true family and Venice oriented business. The store has always had a cat, and nowadays it’s Conan the Librarian, who could not be found for a photograph, but I’m told he likes to sit at the front table of the Cafe, like he’s a paying customer. You can’t blame him … there’s a lot to take in out there.

Small World Books was just featured in a book called Peaceful Places: Los Angeles, which couldn’t be more true, or more amazing, considering its proximity to the wild and craziest of Los Angeles right out front. Sometimes I think I have super powers of manifestation, because two of my all-time favorite things in life are Book stores and the Beach. To have the very best one around RIGHT on the beach where I live is just magic. As Deb said, “We always have sand on our counter.” To me, nothing could be more perfect.


Bohemia – Alive and Well on Abbot Kinney Blvd.

March 1, 2011

By CJ Gronner

Bohemian Exchange is a uniquely great store on Abbot Kinney, that is – get this – a non-profit store. Meaning, proceeds from items you buy there go to non-profit organizations like Heal The Bay, The Sierra Club, Tree People, The Surfrider Foundation, and the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). How cool is that?

Tired of shopping on Abbot Kinney and finding dresses that were 75% off and still $750, Deborah knew that she wanted to do clothes, and she wanted to be on Abbot Kinney. Timing and luck joined forces to enable Deborah to open Bohemian Exhange at 1358 Abbot Kinney, right next to the Liquor Store and across from Abbot’s Habit, right in the heart of all the action.

The shop is lovely, filled to the brim with clothing treasures, jewelry and accessories of all kinds, and Deborah’s two cats, Truffles and Kallisti, watching over the whole scenario.

Proprietress Deborah Lashever, born and mostly raised in L.A.(with a 10 year stint in Hawaii as a kid), has a background in fundraising for charities, mostly environmental ones. With the economy suffering as it has been, non-profits are hurting badly right now, and really need our help. Knowing this, Deborah decided to open a clothing store, specializing in new items from local designers and artisans, as well as accessories from Fair Trade organizations and select vintage and donate to the groups listed above. When the block has gotten so fancy and high-priced in most stores, it is truly a pleasure to find a spot that has its heart in the right place. You can feel good about your purchase, knowing that you got a cute dress AND helped out a local designer, and the planet a little bit too.

Deborah and I were chatting one day, and she made a really good point that non-profits are pretty much the only way to get real information these days. You can’t trust mainstream media, so when you want to get to the bottom of a certain topic, it makes sense to go to the sources that advocate for themselves, right? So that makes it all the more important to keep these organizations alive and thriving in every little way we can.

Deborah always had the philosophy that it was cooler when buying gifts to get things that were unique and awesome from a local designer rather than something that everyone else around will be wearing. In the beginning, she started accumulating a whole bunch of vintage clothes and would go to Street Fairs and various Festivals to sell her treasures, always for charity. When she came up with the idea to have a store for non-profits, she looked at the business model of Discovery Shops and Out Of The Closet, and went for it. Once bills are paid, 100% of the profits go to her chosen organizations, and get split up based on where the need is greatest.

Since Deborah opened her doors two years ago, the shop has evolved and blossomed. After seeing that she could help small designers get their designs seen on Abbot Kinney (and how much this helped them get noticed) she decided to go more local designer, less vintage. She swears she’ll always have her “vintage rack in back” so customers that prefer vintage can always find a treasure or two.

Deborah is accepting new, bohemian clothing designers and artists (call her first to make an appointment), so if you are a local designer, artist, or know an amazing one, get in touch! It helps the designer, the shop, customers, and you’ll know that the sales will benefit the community we all love. As non-profits are struggling, so too are small designers, shops and, of course, everyday people.

Community – there’s that word again. And it came up a lot while talking with Deborah, when we agreed that Community is exactly WHY Venice is so special. You can feel it, if you’ve lived here even just a little while, and it’s why Deborah says Venice is her favorite place in all the world. We spoke about the sunsets lately, and how really we should all stop what we’re doing at that time of the day and go down to the beach and watch it. Every day. Doing that, and knowing that you just got a fresh hat at Bohemian Exchange, and that the money you spent went to help preserve the ocean you’re staring out at, I suspect will make the experience even sweeter.

I liked it when Deborah said she starts each day by thinking, “I wonder what magic is going to happen today?”, reminding herself to be open and look for it. It can appear in so many forms, especially here in Venice, so if you start every day thinking like that, your life can’t help but be pretty magical.

Bohemian Exchange has also gotten into hosting fun events at the store … First Friday parties, Trunk Shows, and packed to the rafters Fashion Shows (the last one we couldn’t even squeeze in the front door!), the next one being this coming up April 1 with local bohemian designer, Crow’s Cloth.

As Deborah also said, “It’s time to give back. We’ve done the selfish, taking thing, and it didn’t work. It’s time to give.” So stop in, say hi to the cats, give Deborah a thumbs up, and find a treasure for yourself or a friend (But not the blue hooded cape. I want that). You can know that you’ve done some small thing to help improve the world. OUR world. b

 


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