Cool Spots, Food

‘The Mermaid’ is a New Nautical Neighborhood Bar in Little Tokyo

August 17, 2018 by Juliet Bennett Rylah

The Mermaid exterior. Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah

Little Tokyo has a friendly, new neighborhood bar with a fun, underwater theme and tropical drinks. It’s called The Mermaid, marked by a blue neon sign that invites locals to saunter on into the dark, but never dingy, dive.

Last autumn, Arelene Roldan—a fourth-generation Angeleno who previously owned NoHo tap room Bar One—serendipitously met Milwaukee native Katie Kildow, who’s helped run Lemon Poppy Kitchen in Glassell Park for the past six years.

Roldan had decided to close Bar One after a decade, but soon got the itch to open another bar. She posted as much to social media, which prompted a mutual friend to introduce her to Kildow. Kildow had bartended for twice as long as Lemon Poppy Kitchen had been open, and was actively hoping to get involved with a new venture that also served cocktails. Within a month Kildow and Roldan were in business together and in less than a year’s time, Mermaid was ready for its maiden voyage. Roldan tells We Like L.A. the duo chose the name after reading about the ama: Japanese women who free-dive for sea cucumbers, seaweed, shellfish, and abalone. The tradition dates back thousands of years, though the practice has dwindled in recent times.

Arelene Roldan (left) and Katie Kildow (right) Photo Courtesy of The Mermaid

The pair always knew they wanted a comfortable, approachable neighborhood bar, and in that regard, the Mermiad succeeds. For a new bar, it has that timeless, always-been-there feel. Kitschy focal points include a vintage diving helmet near the entrance, a large plastic lizard resting on a shelf, custom seaweed wallpaper courtesy of Los Angeles-based Fourth Wall Design, and a porthole through which guests might spot a flirtatious mermaid or two. The illusion is a simple one crafted by a video screen positioned behind a porthole wall fixture. The mermaids come from an underwater burlesque troupe that regularly performs at Wreck Bar in Ft. Lauderdale.

“Ambiance is a very important element to the neighborhood bar,” Roldan says. “I call these things eye candy. When you’re sitting, drinking, you like to be surprised and look at these things.”

New design elements are on the way, including two art installations and other relics donated by friends, families, and regulars, as any locals joint is wont to collect over time.

“If your grandparents had a wet bar in their basement, this is what it would look like,” Kildow said.

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Mermaid offers six rotating craft beer taps ($7), a small selection of wines ($9), and a list of classic and signature cocktails ($10-11). They include the Siren Song—essentially a dill gimlet—and The Pelican, made with tequila, house-made hibiscus syrup, lime, and angostura bitters. You can even get a boozy snow cone, the flavors of which change frequently. Mermaid worked with bartender Jessie Smyth to come up with a tropical, approachable menu.

“I know a lot of times, craft cocktails can veer into territory that makes them not the most easy to drink,” Kildow said. “[Our cocktails] are refreshing, accessible, what I’d want to drink sitting on a patio somewhere.”

Food consists of shareable bar bites, but not burgers and fries. Instead, find braised brisket sliders and shrimp rolls on Hawaiian rolls; tater tots; nori guacamole, and hearts of palm or shrimp ceviche. You can also score “tropical” Chex Mix, made in-house and baked with coconut, brown sugar, butter, and pineapple. Late-night bites switch to meat and veggie dogs, popcorn, and chips ‘n queso, served via a concession stand.

The Mermaid interior. Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah

Stop by between 5 and 8 p.m. for daily happy hour, which includes $1 off beer and wine, $6 wells, and deals on food. They’re currently offer $1 wings for their grand opening, and intend to implement a daily punch bowl and daily classic cocktail soon.

“I think a lot of places out here are a little high-priced, which is what the market bears, but we want to be that place where if you finally see an Old-Fashioned at a price you can afford, then you can start opening up your palate to new drinks,” Roldan said.

As the Mermaid settles into its briny depths, the pair intend to start running karaoke, trivia, and music video nights, as well as Women Crush Wednesdays, which will pay homage to women within the bar industry. This could include guest bartenders, educational forums, meet-ups, or specials featuring spirits, wine, or beer made by women.

The Mermaid is located at 428 E. 2nd Street in Little Tokyo. Open daily, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Parking is $3 with validation, or free on Mondays or after 11 p.m. Or, you could take the Metro Gold Line and get off at the Little Tokyo/Arts District station. 




Cool Spots, Happenings

The Valley Has a New Gaming Center with VR, Escape Rooms, and an Arcade

August 16, 2018 by Juliet Bennett Rylah

Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah

LA Dragon Studios in Van Nuys features a medieval-themed escape room, virtual reality, and an arcade. The family-friendly gaming center is hard to miss; just look for the big inflatable dragon on the roof.

Adam Rubanenko is a nurse by trade, but opened Dragon Studios with his brother, Roy Rubanenko, because they’re both self-described “gaming fanatics” who fell in love with escape rooms. Rubanenko is American-Israeli and played his first game in Israel in fall of 2016.

“[Escape rooms] are huge in Israel; they’re as popular as going to the movies,” he said. “Most people do one or two and they either hate it or they get addicted to it. We loved it.”

Rubanekno played about 20 games while visiting family and friends in Israel, then explored the escape room market in Southern California. The siblings soon decided to open their own gaming center, launching Dragon Studios in late 2017. Dragon Studios shares a building with Rubanenko’s other venture, running home health agencies, and he jokes there’s probably no other building that contains those two drastically different businesses.

Dragon’s escape room experience, “Knights of the Round Table,” is a Tel Aviv import that leans heavily on legend of King Arthur. The traitor Mordred is en route to Camelot. In the hour before the attack, Merlin recruits your team to enter the castle and solve its secrets to defeat Mordred’s army. Costumes are encouraged, though we don’t suggest a full suit of armor, just for mobility purposes. Solving the room will require hunting for hidden objects and paying close attention to each room’s various artifacts.

The game is suitable for adults and children, as hints can be tailored to any group’s difficulty preferences. They’re gained by raising your hands to the sky and imploring the wizard for help. Upon request, you can even get an actor to play Merlin and hang out in the room with you—perfect for a fully immersive kids’ birthday party. Like most escape rooms, players have an hour to complete their mission, though it is possible to finish sooner if you’re a particularly quick puzzle solver.

Dragon also offers Hydra Squad VR, which serves as something of virtual reality arcade. Dragon has partnered with Canadian VR company VR Cave, which provides them with their content. Currently, they have two 35-minute escape games—underwater adventure Depths of Osiris and sci-fi quest Space Station Tiberia—and one 15-minute haunted house experience, Hospital of Horrors. In September, they’ll add another escape game and haunted house to their catalogue.

Groups of up to four at a time are outfitted with HTC Vive Pro headsets and controllers as well as  MSI backpacks, which allow for free-roaming as opposed to being tethered by cords. When in VR, players can see each other’s heads and hands in-game. For instance, if you’re playing Depths of Osiris, you’ll see your partners as disembodied deep sea diving helmets and gloves.

Winning these games will require both puzzle-solving, teamwork, and coordination, as you’ll have to defend yourself from sharks and meteors and figure out how to move objects in VR. As we learned when we visited Hollywood VR arcade Virtual Room, that can sometimes be harder than it looks.

Hospital of Horror plunges guests into a series of increasingly creepy rooms in a dilapidated medical facility. Things quickly spin out of control in each room, while disembodied figures whisper in your ear. Horror connoisseurs won’t find it particularly scary or gory, but the inescapable 360 experience will likely make even the most hardened haunt fan jump at least once.

For those who have exhausted Dragon’s puzzle games, they also offer a retro arcade. No quarters are needed; just pay a $10 fee and you can play from open to close. Games include foosball, air hockey, The Fast & the Furious driving simulators, shooting game Area 51, and more. Additional space is available for parties or team-building events, complete with seating, a kitchen, and TV, if you’d like to make a day of it.

Rubanekno also runs Escape Network Alliance (ENA) for industry professionals and enthusiasts to talk and meet up. There are chapters for L.A., Orange County, and the Valley.

L.A. Dragon Studios is located at 14557 Friar Street, Van Nuys. Open Monday through Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday 5:30 p.m. to midnight; and Saturday and Sunday, noon to midnight. The escape room starts at $29.75/person, while Hydra Squad VR starts at $30/person. Access to the arcade is $10/day. Discounts are available for large groups and private parties; contact Dragon Studios to find out more.




Cool Spots, Happenings

A Group of Bored Vampires is Finally Inviting Humans to their Secret DTLA Lounge

July 25, 2018 by Juliet Bennett Rylah

Cora is bored. Do you want to play Scrabble with her? Photo: The Count’s Den

If you’ve ever wanted to chill at Willy’s Place in Sunndydale or Fangtasia in Shreveport, then you’ll feel right at home at The Count’s Den. This new, members-only, vampire-themed lounge offers magic and mischief alongside casual game and craft nights—and yeah, you’ll be playing with the undead. These vampires won’t eat you, but they might request your presence in a dark ritual or two.

The Count’s Den comes via Rachel Foti, owner of escape room company Horror Escapes LA. Yet if you talk to Foti about the Den and its blood-sipping regulars, she’ll tell you she’s but their mortal liaison. She describes the Den as an “immersive theater lounge,” where guests can hang out with one another while simultaneously interacting with characters and following a continuous narrative. It’s sort of like being a tangential character in a supernatural soap opera.

The dark parlor—with its high ceilings, scarlet walls, and Victorian aesthetic—feels far removed from the streets of downtown L.A., despite being located just a 15-minute walk from the 7th Street/Metro Center Station. It’s only been open for a few months, yet feels like it’s been lurking there for years.

The eponymous Count was one of those Old World vampires, stuck in his ways faster than a Midwestern baby boomer arguing with his niece’s Facebook friends about minimum wage. However, after the Count mysteriously disappeared, a younger vampire named Cora took over as the nest’s leader.

“[Cora] is more New Age in her decision making and leading,” Foti said.

Cora (played by Dana Benedict) has been known to suffer from an ailment common among immortals: ennui. To quench her boredom, she’s decided to open the once-clandestine spot to humans. Cora’s methods are fairly modern: she’s active online, and invites the living to parties and casual hangs. Some gatherings are members-only, though a curious mortal can get in by scoring an invite from an existing member to the Den’s weekly Thursday get-togethers or by attending a ticketed event. These might include parties, replete with burlesque shows and other performances, or the Den’s Remember Me series.

The Remember Me shows are interactive plays in which attendees will learn, firsthand, the origin stories of the vampires that frequent the Den. You see, the vampire Hakan (Anes Hasi) is Cora’s advisor and the most skilled of them all when it comes to magic arts.

“He feels it is important for the mortals to not judge the vampires in their dead lives, but to expose them to who the vampires were prior to death. Hakan hopes the mortals can find one vampire to relate to through their origin stories,” Foti said.

Guests to Remember Me will commune with Hakan, who will conduct a ritual that allows them to slip through space and time. Each chapter explores the past of a different vampire, including how and by whom they were sired.

I attended Remember Me: Germaine, which swept my group to 1980s New Orleans. At a punk show in a dingy basement club, we observed the vampire Germaine (Matt Vorce) in his human state and observed how the long-haired rocker became the vampire he is today. Following closely behind Hakan, who protected us with a mystical invisibility shield, we also saw how Cora herself fits into Germaine’s past. Future chapters will delve into the interlocking backstories of other characters, including Cora and Hakan.

While Germaine was about 30 minutes and accommodated five guests at a time, future stories will vary in audience size, length, ticket price, and location. Some will also include food/drink. After Germaine, for instance, we were allowed to mingle and enjoy some complimentary beer or wine, as poured by the surly vampire Ava. Dracula famously said (at least when he was played by Bela Lugosi in 1931 and then again by Gary Oldman in 1992), “I never drink…………….wine,” but we mortals sure can!

Remember Me shows and other ticketed events will be posted on The Den’s social media pages.

“We are currently developing an event calendar that will include events such as art, jewelry making, taxidermy workshops, vampire church, brunches, and more,” Foti said. “Since we are so new and only open for a few months, we are consistently in the process of growing.”

Those who become members of  The Count’s Den may also get to participate in an ongoing Augmented Reality Game (ARG) that Foti expects to continue for two years.

“The vampires have been known to contact members to go on scavenger hunts and run errands for them,” Foti said.

If playing Charades with the undead sounds like a good time, go ahead and check out The Count’s Den on Facebook or online here. If you’re interested in playing any of Horror Esacpes’ four games, check them out here. Of note, “Edmund’s Attic” is the newest room and part of The Count’s Den story. Ava has requested you break into the quarters of Edmund—an immortal, tongue-less servant to the vampires—and find the secrets hidden within.





Oz Gets an Apocalyptic Twist in Speakeasy Society’s Interactive Play, ‘The Kansas Collection’

July 19, 2018 by Juliet Bennett Rylah

The Kansas Collection is a dystopian take on the Land of Oz Photo: Andrew Wofford

The last time I personally visited the fabled land of Oz, I was introduced to two men: Jack Pumpkinhead and Tik Tok. They asked me to help them prepare invitations to Oz’s own Royal Wedding. As it turns out, the Scarecrow King was getting hitched. We sat at a table, stamping black, inky keys on envelopes. Several weeks later, I received a familiar envelope in my own mailbox, back on Earth. Inside was an invitation to that very wedding.

But that wasn’t the first time I visited Oz. That was way back in the winter of 2017, when immersive theater company The Speakeasy Society invited me to the first chapter in their multi-part series, The Kansas Collection. It’s an original take on our favorite Frank L. Baum characters, set in a bleak, dystopian future. Our gingham-frocked heroine is missing and the Scarecrow has been left in charge. He might have a big brain, but he hasn’t been a kind despot, banning all magic from the once vibrant land. A civil war has been brewing and you, as an audience member, play a key role. You’ll interact with characters, complete tasks, and solve puzzles along the way. It’s like being a character in a dark Oz video game, where every decision changes future encounters. (If you’re a fan of Telltale Games’ The Wolf Among Us, this is up your alley.)

“Our goal was to create a character-driven, episodic series where you become a part of the story,” Speakeasy’s Julianne Just said. “Unlike television shows, you have an opportunity to choose a side and craft the path of your individual narrative. Depending on the choices that you make, you may receive a different side of the story than other participants.”

In a way, it’s kind of like Game of Thrones, except you get to decide if you’re siding with Daenerys Targaryen or Cersei Lannister, or maybe you just want to Littlefinger the whole thing up.

But wait! Why am I telling you this now if the story is already well underway? Well,  Speakeasy’s Matthew Bamberg-Johnson describes Kansas’ next show—Chapter 5: The Vow—as the mid-season finale and the perfect time to jump aboard.

The Vow is a great place to jump into the series,” he said. “We have created a special experience geared specifically toward people new to the story.”

Which faction you choose changes your story. Photo: Andrew Wofford

While previous chapters have been short, 20-30 minute installments at locations near Chinatown, East Hollywood, and Atwater Village, The Vow is a 90-minute show, replete with food and drink, held at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Glendale. Built in the late 1800s, this historic and opulent church is the perfect setting for a wild wedding.

“While the participants are from Oz, they have researched what weddings here on Earth tend to look like and are trying to honor and execute something that resembles a ‘traditional’ wedding here in America,” Bamberg-Johnson said. “They got some of the traditions a bit mixed up, but they are doing their best.”

Guests should expect to see several of the church’s spaces, including its magnificent courtyard, used in a variety of ways. And though this is a wedding, Speakeasy’s Genevieve Gearhart suggests dressing comfortably and in sensible shoes.

“You will be moving throughout the space—sitting, standing, crouching, sometimes very quickly,” she said. “Actors will speak directly to you. They may ask you to perform simple tasks, and you will be encouraged to interact with them.”

While those familiar with the books or film adaptations may find plenty of similarities, one should expect lots of twists and turns. Those who have somehow never read or watched anything Oz shouldn’t fret either. No advance reading is required.

Tik Tok (Nikhil Pai) in Chapter 4: The Invitation Photo: Courtesy of Speakeasy Society

Chapters six, seven, and eight will debut before the end of the year. In early 2019, Speakeasy will remount chapters one through eight for those guests who’ve missed or would like to repeat chapters before closing out the series with the final two installments. In between chapters, expect supplemental content, which has previously included emails, letters, puzzles, and scavenger hunts. Not all audience members will receive the same content, as what you receive depends on choices and allegiances made. Additionally, if you happen to receive a physical item during the show, hold onto it; it may come in handy later.

Speakeasy Society presents The Kansas Collection, Chapter 5: The Vow on select dates August 9-25. Tickets are $80-$100, and include hors d’oeuvres and drinks. You can find tickets here. Newcomers are asked to buy a ‘New to Kansas’ ticket and should plan to wear white to the wedding.





LACMA’s New Interactive Exhibit Explores The Art and Illusion of 3D

July 17, 2018 by Juliet Bennett Rylah

Simone Forti, Striding, 1975–78, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by LENS: Photography Council, 2018, © 2017 Simone Forti, photography © 2018 Fredrik Nilsen, All Rights Reserved

LACMA’s latest exhibition, 3D: Double Vision is a survey of 3D art, dating as far back as 1838, when the stereoscope had just been invented by English scientist Sir Charles Wheatstone.

Sometimes, 3D images feel like the future. Not necessarily the one we will have, but the one imagined by those who lived before—the kind of future where you’d live in a silver dome and drive a hovering Trans Am. When I told this to Britt Salvesen, Head and Curator, Wallis Annenberg Photography Department and Prints & Drawing Department, she nodded.

“I think ‘futuristic’ is a great word for [3D], and another word that I often find in the literature is ‘utopian,'” she said. “Dream of the perfect image, the perfect mode of representation of the ultimate realism. That kind of rhetoric occurs again and again. That’s sort of the frontier that image makers are always going for.”

Double Vision takes over the Art of the Americas building (where you may have seen Guillermo del Toro: At Home with the Monsters, also curated by Salvesen) and has been divided into five sections. The first serves as an introduction to 3D, while the rest move chronologically from the Victorian era to the present.

3D works via binocular vision: essentially, two eyes take the information they receive and convert it into one, volumetric image. This is also how a stereoscope works. It offers two nearly identical images, each taken from a slightly different perspective, and presents one to each eye. Your brain does the rest of the work, merging the two into a single image with depth. It doesn’t work for everyone; an estimated 5 to 15 percent of people may have stereo blindness, meaning it’s difficult for them to see 3D images the way they are intended. Yet enough people were excited by 3D imagery that the medium took off.

Peering through a stereoscope. Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Salvesen was focused on the 19th century in her graduate studies, writing her doctoral dissertation on Victorian stereoscopy. She became secifically became interested in how 3D became “massively popular in a very short time.”

“I wanted to think about what was the craving that people had for the experience, and not just wanting to repeat it, but to collect and own it,” she said. “I was fascinated with that, and then kept getting curious about the next chapter. It seems like there is always a desire and an impulse towards that illusionism.”

Wheatstone’s stereoscope, which used drawings and mirrors, was cumbersome. In 1849, scientist David Brewster—inventor of the kaleidoscope–produced a more portable device which could be used to view stereocards. Stereocards featured two side-by-side images that would appear as one 3D image when viewed through the device. They became wildly popular, and Victorians would snatch them up from companies like the London Stereoscopic Company for at-home viewing. They’d immersive themselves in far-off worlds without packing a bag, a primitive harbinger of the 21st century’s consumer VR headsets.

The World’s Fair also played a large role in the growing popularity of 3D imagery. The stereoscope made an appearance at The Great Exhibition in London in 1851, supposedly enchanting Queen Victoria. The View-Master made its debut at New York’s World Fair in 1939. At that same event, auto company Chrysler revealed a short 3D film titled In Tune with Tomorrow in which a 1939 Chrysler Plymouth is assembled, seemingly by magic thanks to stop motion animation. The film was so popular that it was redone in technicolor and presented again during the fair’s second season. This was the first time many people were exposed to 3D cinema, but Hollywood would start cashing in on the gimmick in the ’50s.

Guests to 3D: Double Vision will be able to view In Tune with Tomorrow, multiple iterations of stereoscopes and dozens of stereocards, a host of 3D cinema, and several more modern illusions. Various types of 3D glasses are available throughout the exhibit space, while signage indicates which one is best for each piece. There are enough things to look at and watch that one could easily spend a couple hours inside.

As guests enter, Thomas Ruff’s 3D-ma.r.s.80 (2013) offers two large, grayscale images of Mars’ surface, the craters deepening as soon as one slips on their red and blue glasses. Nearby, artist Tristan Duke’s Platonic Solids (2015) offer hand-drawn holograms on nickel-plated coppers discs. There are five of them, and on each, a geometric figure dances and shimmers.

Tristan Duke’s Platonic Solids Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Among the many stereocards depicting beautiful places and historic events, one will find a collection 19th century French Diableries. These hellish, yet humorous images depict skeletons and demons getting wild in the underworld. When backlit, the black and white images change. Eyes glow red, as light shines through tiny pinpricks. Viewers can activate the light by pressing a button on the display. (You can see some Diableries, appropriately set to Bauhaus, in this video.)

In a dark theater, a 25-minute montage of various 3D clips plays on repeat, ranging from mid-century B movies to modern film and animation. Definitely stay to see the trailer for The Maze, a 1953 horror flick in which a man breaks off his engagement after inheriting a Scottish castle from his uncle—not exactly an original conceit, but a delightful horror trope, nonetheless. His suspicious fiancée follows him to Scotland, only to experience a cavalcade of horrors inside the eponymous maze. Plastic bats and cobwebs dart out from the screen, eliciting more laughs than terror.

Other notable pieces include Simone Forti’s hologram piece Striding Crawling (1975-78), in which a holographic figure does just that, vaguely reminiscent of the desperate message Princess Leia sends to Obi Wan Kenobi in ’77’s Star Wars: A New Hope.

Then there’s the exhibit’s largest work, at least in terms of scale: Michael Snow’s sculpture, Redifice (1986). It’s a hulking, red box, about eight feet high and 20 feet long. It’s peppered with windows, some of which contain holograms, sculptures, or dioramas. Salvesen named it as one of the pieces she was most excited to display.

“It’s like if you were looking into a skyscraper,” she remarked. “It’s just so effective and fun.”

Near the conclusion of the exhibit is a series of holograms by Ed Ruscha, each one appropriately declaring it ‘the end.’ Continue down a hall with your glasses on to see Peggy Weil’s 3D Wallpaper, originally presented in 1976 and redrawn for Double Vision. Though this is sure to become the designated selfie spot, Double Vision isn’t the kind of exhibit one can simply view through other people’s photos. Many of the illusions can only be seen with the human eye, making it a truly interactive and immersive show that Instagram alone could never do justice.

3D: Double Vision is part of The Hyundai Project: Art + Technology at LACMA. See it on display in the Art of the Americas building July 15 through March 31. Visit LACMA online to keep up with exhibit-related programming, including a screening of ‘The Maze’ at Aero Theatre in Santa Monica on August 9.




Food, Happenings

Patrick Duffy & Family Have a Hollywood Theater Bar, Complete with a Drink Named for an Actual Mule

July 11, 2018 by Juliet Bennett Rylah

Patrick Duffy, Padraic Duffy, and Emily Kosloski at The Broadwater Plunge. Photo: Jessica Sherman

The Broadwater Plunge is a theater bar in the truest sense. Not only is it housed inside an operational theater; it also serves as a gathering place for playwrights, producers, actors and audiences alike. It comes via actor Patrick Duffy, his son Padraic Duffy, and his daughter-in-law Emily Kosloski. Though they’ve only been pouring drinks since June, the bar’s fascinating origin story involves both a mid-century Montana bar and a long-running theater company.

Padraic Duffy is the Managing Director of Sacred Fools Theater Company, while Kosloski is the company’s Director of Development. Founded in 1997, Sacred Fools presets a number of plays, workshops, and classes throughout the year. In 2016, the company moved from their East Hollywood space to a much larger 8,400 sq. foot, four-stage complex on the stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard known as Theatre Row. The entire complex, which the elder Duffy owns, is called The Broadwater after the Montana county where he was born. Though Sacred Fools is Broadwater’s resident company, other companies often rent out stages for their own shows. As such, Padraic Duffy and Kosloski felt like what they really needed, as opposed to a possible fifth stage, was a space to mingle.

“We really needed a place where people could go before a show and meet their friends or where casts could come out and see their friends who saw the show,” Padraic Duffy said. “Or, we’ll have a production and there will be two rental productions, so [the bar] is a place where you can meet who’s sharing the building with you.”

The narrow bar is handsome with exposed brick walls, deep red booths, an upright piano, and shelves packed with plays. Feel like ordering a drink and table-reading Julius Caesar? Go right ahead. Or perhaps a drink will lead to spontaneously seeing a play. In the future, the family hopes to install a board, similar to those found in airports and movie theaters, that tells patrons which plays are showing on any given night.

Behind the bar, guests will find a selection of beer and wine, plus two separate cocktail menus each containing five drinks. The Sacred Fools menu pays homage to the company’s work. A spicy mezcal drink called The Serial Killer refers to Sacred Fools’ long-running show Serial Killers, in which serialized stories compete against one another on a weekly basis.

The Siren’s Call—Bombay Sapphire East, Luxardo, simple syrup, Angostura Bitter, absinthe rinse, sugar rim—is a nod to the company’s proclivity for sci-fi pieces, specifically their remount of Kurt Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan, as adapted by filmmaker/playwright Stuart Gordon. The boozy Stoned Face comes via Sacred Fools’ 2012 show about actor Buster Keaton, whose nickname had been “The Great Stone Face.” Keaton’s production studio was once located at the corner of Eleanor Avenue and Lillian Way, just steps away from Broadwater Plunge’s door.

The Broadwater Plunge Photo: Jessica Sherman

The bar’s other custom libations can be found on The Owl Bar menu, and this is where the generations begin to merge.

Long before Patrick Duffy was starring as Step by Step patriarch Frank Lambert or Dallas‘ Bobby Ewing, one could have found him in the small town of Boulder, Montana, doing his homework at the tavern owned by his parents, Marie and Terence Duffy. It was called Owl Bar, and a door in his childhood home’s kitchen led straight into it. The patrons that routinely warmed its stools were well-known to Duffy, even as a kid.

“Everybody would come in after work,” Duffy recalls. “It was literally a rotation where people would come in and have a drink, then go home and make dinner. It became so regular that my sister and I just felt like they were all extended family.”

Several of these regulars are represented via cocktails, albeit much more of the craft variety than the simple ones Duffy’s parents would have poured back then. The George Paradise is a highball named for Boulder’s sheriff. His wife, known only to Duffy as Mrs. Paradise, taught Duffy in grade school. The Kittie & George—a shot of J.R. Bourbon and a can of Hamm’s—pays tribute to a couple that frequented the bar. Kittie was the mother of Duffy’s best friend. A refreshing Aquavit cocktail is called The Swede, after the nickname of Owl Bar’s Swedish handyman. The Ed Haley is a rum drink with molasses and honey, served hot in the winter and cold in the summer. The real Ed Haley drank a similar concoction and worked as a custodian at a radon mine believed to have healing properties.

“It was a big radon mine with benches all along the tunnel and people who had any sort of malady would just go sit in there for a few hours,” Duffy said.

Though the American Medical Association has long denounced radon therapy as quackery, there are still a handful of radon mines in western Montana to this day.

Like many bars, The Broadwater Plunge has their take on a Moscow Mule, this one made with bourbon and lemongrass. Unlike most bars, theirs is named for an actual mule owned by a guy named Jimmy Stubblefield.

“He had a little place out of town where the mule lived, and he would bring him in the bar. My sister and I would sit on him,” Duffy said.

From Left to Right: The Broadwater Spa; Jimmy Stubblefield and his mule; Duffy’s parents at Owl Bar; Owl Bar handyman ‘The Swede.’ Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Many of these regulars of yore, including the mule, can be seen in old photographs placed around the Broadwater Plunge. Other remnants of Owl Bar are found in the massive old cash register behind the bar and a school bell the Plunge’s bartenders ring to signify last call, just as Duffy’s parents did.

The most significant detail is the backbar’s twin stained glass panels, each topped with a decorative mirror piece. This mirror’s pattern is repeated in several of the complex’s design elements, down to the logo.

The mirrors themselves were originally installed in the Broadwater Natatorium, an opulent spa in Helena which, when it opened in 1889, boasted the largest natural hot water plunge anywhere. This is where The Broadwater Plunge gets its name. The owners of Owl Bar that preceded Duffy’s parents had purchased the mirrors at an auction for their own backbar. Though Duffy’s father later renovated Owl Bar, Duffy would ultimately find the mirrors again in storage.

“I trucked them back to our house in Tarzana where they sat for 20 years, and then I put them in a truck and took them up to our ranch in Oregon where they sat for 15 years,” he said. “When Padraic and Emily decided to build this bar, they said, ‘What about those two pieces?’ So we brought them back down, and [here they are.]”

Though no one’s yet to bring a mule by, the bar has already seen its share of two-legged business, especially during Hollywood Fringe.

“It often feels like you build a bar and then try to create a community,” Padraic Duffy said, “and we definitely were a community that needed a bar. There’s also talk of a community in theater, which is short for theater community, and it’s not about your geographical community. So, it’s kind of nice to have a place…where we will interact with the people who work and live nearby. You get in your bubbles in L.A., so I think that’s kind of exciting.”

The Broadwater Plunge is located at 6324 Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood. It’s open Wednesday and Thursday, 5 p.m. to midnight; Friday 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday 2 p.m. to 2 a.m., and Sunday, 5 p.m. to midnight.





Former Naked House Cleaner Tells All and Explores Fantasy in Immersive Show

June 29, 2018 by Juliet Bennett Rylah

Ethan Mechare in Coming Clean: Life as a Naked House Cleaner – Photo: Melanie Leigh Wilbur

Ethan Mechare is bringing his unique, immersive comedy, Coming Clean: Life as a Naked Housecleaner, to Los Angeles July 12-14. Set in living rooms in Santa Monica and Los Angeles, the intimate, 90-minute show will explore sexual fantasy and desire through the lens of Mechare’s unusual former career.

Though it’s not uncommon to see those hot pink vans advertising “topless maids” parked around L.A., Mechare didn’t get his start as a nude housekeeper until he moved from Los Angeles to London. In L.A., Mechare worked as a TV presenter for networks including VH1 and MTV, but was looking to make a career change across the pond. Mechare made a vision board using clippings from O magazine—he’s admittedly a huge fan of Oprah Winfrey and got his friend to ship issues to him from the U.S.—and then took a step back to see the big picture.

“There was a lot of nudity and scantily clad people, and lots of beautiful homes and tidy spaces on the board,” he said.

The vision board didn’t lie. Though Mechare doesn’t specifically identify as a nudist, he was already cleaning his own home in the buff, finding it preferable to soiling his clothes with sweat and grime. He also realized he didn’t mind being naked in front of other people if it was “part of a whole fantasy or story.” So, he began putting up ads online for his services as an au natural housekeeper.

“Being a naked house cleaner is like being a cleaner, a therapist, and an entertainer all in one,” he said. “You have to be good with people and able to multi-task, and obviously you must be a greater cleaner.”

Mechare learned a lot about fantasy through his work, the contemplation of which is the crux of Coming Clean. For some clients, hiring a naked house cleaner could be about power, voyeurism, or submission. Some might have been drawn to the taboo nature of it all, or were simply in pursuit of a good, salacious story. In a piece for Gay Times, Mechare wrote about one client who taught him to play backgammon. They’d play after Mechare had finished cleaning, Mechare still nude. Whatever the reason, Mechare notes that hiring a nude house cleaner kills two birds with one stone: there’s the fantasy fulfillment, and afterwards, you’ve got a tidy home.

Gotta keep the pool clean, too. #tbt (📸 by @nicdaleydp)

A post shared by The Naked Cleaner (@thenakedcleaner) on

Mechere encourages audience members to speak about their own fantasies and past experiences throughout the show. Though Mechare hopes people feel empowered to let go of their inhibitions and talk about their desires, sharing is not mandatory. That said, Mechare told We Like L.A. he’s been pleasantly surprised at past attendees’ honesty and willingness to play along. One common kink people have divulged is wanting to role-play with their partners.

“We’ve had people wanting their partners to dress up as Prince, a hobbit, a mermaid, and a Russian oligarch,” he said.

It may help that audience members will see the show in the intimate, cozy living rooms of private homes, and not a traditional theater. Mechare and his stage manager, Cath Royle, will greet guests at the door. There will even be refreshments.

“It’s like going to your best friend’s housewarming, except you probably won’t know anyone else there, but it will feel like you do,” he said. “I chose to do the show primarily in houses because so many of my stories are in stranger’s homes. Homes are so personal and revealing, and I wanted the audience to experience what I did when I was a naked cleaner.”

As for Mechare’s naked housecleaning days, those are behind him as he tours Coming Clean and works on a new show about bisexuality.

“But,” he said, “I’m happy to come out of retirement for a curious new client.”

Coming Clean: Life as a Naked House Cleaner runs Thursday, July 12 at 7:30 p.m. in Santa Monica and on Friday, July 13 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, July 14 at 7:30 p.m. in the Miracle Mile. Tickets are $23 and are available online here. 18+.





Farmhouse Showcases the Best in California Agriculture, Thanks to Its Executive Farmer

June 26, 2018 by Juliet Bennett Rylah

Farmhouse Photo: Courtesy of FARMHOUSE Restaurant

Chat with chefs around Los Angeles and you’ll hear a lot of them praise the quality of California produce and the joys of developing menus around weekly trips to local farmers markets. At Farmhouse, which debuted in the Beverly Center this March, the focus on farms is even deeper. It has an Executive Farmer who bases every menu item around seasonality, months in advance.

Farmhouse comes via Fig & Olive founder Laurent Halasz and Kenter Canyon Farms‘ Nathan Peitso. Before his turn as a restauranteur Peitso had been a farmer all his life. Peitso met Halasz when selling his family’s produce to Halasz’s restaurants. The two became fast friends, and Peitso shared with Halasz his long-held desire to open his own place. When Halasz connected with the Beverly Center to open a new dining option in the revamped mall, the opportunity for collaboration presented itself. Now, Peitso is sharing his passion for California agriculture via Farmhouse, which serves as a bright, airy showcase for the region’s bountiful offerings.

“A lot of restaurants don’t understand what true seasonality is because they’re not connected to it,” Peitso said. “You can tell good produce from bad produce, but even in the good produce strata, there’s a whole lot of variation. I source from what I know to be the best California has to offer, and I do that month after month. I see [Farmhouse] as a jewelry box; it should be the best stuff available, prepared simply, so that you can get excited about the ingredients.”

Take Farmhouse’s brussels sprouts salad. It’s not a braised dish loaded with bacon, but a simple salad of raw, shredded brussels sprouts with a light dressing, hazelnuts and Pecorino Pepato cheese.

“People are surprised; it’s sweet, it’s good, and it’s a way you haven’t had [brussels sprouts] before,” Peitso said.

Brussels Sprouts salad at Farmhouse Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Their zucchini soup is a vibrant green, bright, nutty soup, which can be served vegan or garnished with Cotija cheese. June is the best month for zucchini, Peitso said, when it’s dense, not watery, and flavorful like a butternut squash.

“People say they don’t like zucchini because it doesn’t taste like anything, but if you try it now, that’s not the case,” he said.

To ensure he has the best produce at the best possible times, preparation begins months in advance.

“We start with…what we’re going to put on the menu in any given month. I know what’s in season, so we might say ‘okay, for [July], we’re going to do a lot of eggplant,'” he said. “We make our eggplant dishes based on varieties that I know will be available and I know, farm-wise, who grows the very best eggplant. I’m in communication with them in advance, when they actually have to plant the eggplants, and giving them an estimate of how much I’m going to use. And that’s the beginning for absolutely every dish on our menu.”

Peitso forged a connection to farming early on. His mother, Andrea Crawford, once worked as a server at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse in Berkeley. That’s where his parents met and where he ate his first solid food as a youth: “Smoked snails.”

Crawford’s green thumb shone when she began growing baby lettuce in her backyard, which Chez Panisse would use in their salads.

“At that time, lettuce was only big heads—iceberg and romaine,” he said. “What she was growing was really innovative, and it spread like wildfire. Everybody wanted it. She couldn’t grow enough. She went to the front yard, her friends’ yard, and empty lots all over Berkeley.”

Eventually, Wolfgang Puck hired the family to move down to Los Angeles and grow salad greens for his restaurants. Today, they have a network of farms, ranging in size from six to 300 acres. They produce herbs, salad greens, avocados, and tomatoes, with fields spanning as far north as as Hollister in San Benito County and as far south as El Centro in Imperial County.

In the summer, they’ll grow in the north, then move production south, to the desert, come winter. Wheat is the last crop they grow in Imperial County before leaving the ground to lie fallow until autumn. They plant heirloom varietals, some of which Peitso said haven’t been grown in centuries. The wheat grows tall and is dried out by the sun before they harvest it, mill it into a flour, and blend it themselves. It appears on Farmhouse’s menu in the form of bread, buns, pastas, pizzas and flatbreads.

The dough is made with wheat grown by Kenter Canyon Farms. Photo: Courtesy of FARMHOUSE Restaurant

Not everything on the menu is from Kenter Canyon Farms, though. If there’s another farmer who can grow it better, Peitso doesn’t hesitate to approach them. The aforementioned best eggplant grower, in Peitso’s opinion, is Kong Thao of Thao Family Farm in Fresno. At one point in time, Thao’s parents were farmers in Laos. Thao was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, then moved to the U.S. with his family when he was just a boy. Like Peitso, he’s been farming all his life. Peitso sources basils, cilantro, cucumbers, long beans, and zucchini from Thao, too.

Peitso gets his root vegetables from Weiser Family Farms in Tehachapi, and his beef from Creekstone Farms in Kansas, which he’s personally visited to ensure the animals are ethically raised. Even the alcohol is carefully sourced. The wine all hails from the West Coast, while their house vodka, OUR/Vodka, is distilled in downtown Los Angeles.

Though the menu changes frequently depending on what’s in season, you can check out what’s cooking on their website. Each month, Peitso chooses at least a half-dozen ingredients to showcase, with items subject to change based on the mercurial nature of our planet. For instance, Peitso just removed an artichoke dish from the menu due to the product quality being less than expected. It’s a lesson he learned from his mother: “never compromise on ingredients.”

As he explains, “It’s so much easier to cook with the best ingredients rather than make apologies for the worst ingredients.”

Farmhouse is located at the Beverly Center, 8500 Beverly Boulevard. It’s open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. 




Food, Happenings

Houston Brothers’ New Hollywood Bar is a Carnival-Themed Speakeasy

June 20, 2018 by Juliet Bennett Rylah

Madame Siam Sideshow Emporium Photo: Jakob Layman

The Houston Brothers’ latest addition to an already robust portfolio of themed bars takes its design cues from roaming carnivals. Madame Siam Sideshow Emporium is a dimly lit, underground watering hole with craft cocktails, candy machines, vaudeville performances, and a midway of carnival games. One of those games even allows you to chuck objects at a cut-out of a certain president.

“I felt it was time to create something playful and evoke that inner child in a miniature, evolved version of Disneyland with a nostalgic and exotic twist,” Mark Houston, one half of the nightlife duo, told We Like L.A.

Guests enter Madame Siam through a secret doorway. That’s basically a Houston Brothers trope at this point. Once you’re inside you’ll find an underground lounge, equal parts sultry and whimsical. There’s a small stage for regular performances from contortionists, magicians, musicians, and more. There are welcoming leather couches, exposed brick pillars, bird cages, and a claw machine game that cheekily doubles as a lost-and-found. A red-and-white striped hall of games includes ring toss and a shooting gallery where a cork rifle is used to take down old cans. One game asks you to knock teeth out of a Trump caricature’s gaping maw, while another has guests attempting to whip Wiffle balls into Kim Jong-un’s.

“The games are an outlet for guests to express this tension we all feel thanks to today’s politics and the very real news,” Houston said. “Some things are hard to stomach; now we can lob a baseball at these issues. Our first and last intentions are just to lighten up these heavy times.”

Madame Siam Sideshow Emporium Photo: Jakob Layman

In addition to beer and wine, there are six original cocktails to choose from. They include the Calamity Jane—Wild Turkey, honey, lemon, lillet rouge, basil—and the Step Right Up, made with butter-washed Bacardi rum, coconut water, lemon, Crème de Cacao, and simple syrup. The Goon of Fortune, made with Japanese whiskey and mint syrup, comes served with a tiny stick of smoldering incense. Goon of Fortune is also the name of an Australian drinking game, and Madame Siam seems to have one of their own. Near the main bar is red-lit wheel that, when spun, offers fates including “Sexy Dance for a Drink,” “Howl Like a Wild Animal,” or a coveted token to receive a drink at a more secluded bar in the back room.

The cocktail menu is a pictorial map that depicts the six “lands” of Madame Siam. The detached merry-go-round horses that decorate the bar are an element of “Carousel Land,” while “Pola’s Prophecy Land” indicates the tucked-away tarot card reader who’ll read your fortune—if you can find her. Wild West Land might be where one finds the chuck wagon that serves up soft pretzels, corn dogs, and other carnival treats. It also operates as a smaller bar that serves up simple drinks and beer.

Madame Siam Sideshow Emporium Photo: Jakob Layman

The bar is housed in the same building two of the twins’ other bars: Black Rabbit Rose and Dirty Laundry. Now known as the Hudson Apartments, this building was once called the Hillview Apartments. It was founded by Paramount Pictures co-founder Jesse L. Lasky and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer co-founder Samuel Goldwyn in 1917. At that time, landlords were reluctant to rent to actors, whose incomes could be unreliable. Hillview was created specifically for them, and the likes of Viola Davis, Clara Bow and Mae Busch once called it home. The basement was used as a rehearsal space, though legend has it that actor Rudolph Valentino also ran a speakeasy out of the subterranean hideaway. A 2007 Los Angeles Times article indicates that this secret bar was accessed via a trap door from the sidewalk, establishing historical precedent for a hidden entrance. Of course, to figure out which door leads to Madame Siam you’ll have to go check it out for yourself.

Madame Siam Sideshow Emporium is located at 6533 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood. It’s open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.





Drunken Devil’s Horror-Tinged Parties Are a Hell of a Good Time

June 18, 2018 by Juliet Bennett Rylah

Drunken Devil’s ‘Bloody Gras’ Photo: Chris Blaski

Drunken Devil parties are fun. The booze is free-flowing, the dance floor alluring, and sexy performances pepper an increasingly hazy evening. Yet something is just a little bit off. Maybe it’s that skull in the floral centerpiece or the man who just folded a wooden cross into your hand “for your protection.” Perhaps it’s the guest gregariously socializing in spite of what appears to be a mortal stab wound. Or it could be the actual devil, replete with crimson skin and horns, hanging out like it’s just another soiree in Hell. Drunken Devil parties live somewhere between the debauchery of Studio 54 and the aesthetic of Halloween, but you don’t have to wait until October to attend. In fact, the next exploitation film-themed fête, Sin-A-Rama, is just around on the corner on June 23.

When Drunken Devil founder Matt Dorado was a little boy, he loved Halloween. He would always go trick-or-treating in the late afternoon before returning to his family’s Pasadena home to prepare for nightfall. He’d decorate his lawn and front porch in ghoulish fashion, and lay in wait to scare unsuspecting candy seekers. When they’d ring the doorbell he’d drop wind-up teeth into the attached mailbox. They’d chatter and the trick-or-treaters would shriek and laugh, much to Dorado’s delight.

As Dorado grew up his passion for haunted houses never faded. He loved DIY home haunts and began putting on his very own as a student of Westmont College near Santa Barbara. It was controversial for the Christian school, Dorado recalls, saying there were opposing op-eds about whether Halloween haunts were evil or not.

“It was a glorious mess of differing opinions in the conservative world, but I just kind of grew into myself and decided this is what I like,” he said.

In 2012, he put together a haunted house off-campus for LGBT organization Pacific Pride Foundation as his senior project. The following year, he helmed an interactive haunt titled Nightmare House, in which group of just six at a time entered the mind of a killer.

By 2015, Dorado had moved to Los Angeles and founded Drunken Devil. Though his first event was a haunted house set in New Orleans, the concept has since evolved beyond jump scares and mazes to encompass boozy burlesque brunches, true crime dinners, and horror-tinged parties set in the immersive ‘drunken devil’ world.

Burlesque is a mainstay at Drunken Devil events Photo: Chris Blaski

The burlesque brunches, known as Deviled Eggs, take place at DTLA’s Brackshop Tavern and rotate among themes like the Jazz Age, the 1970s, and fandoms.

“There are maybe 40 people [at each event], food is included, it’s very highly thematic, and the hosts are characters so there’s a little bit of interactivity,” Dorado said. “It’s nothing ever too serious because a) it’s brunch and b) it’s burlesque. That’s the light-hearted version of Drunken Devil. Everything else is dark and scary, and then we have Deviled Eggs because it’s fun.”

To Live and Di(n)e in L.A. is Drunken Devil’s true crime supper club, where guests sit down with actors portraying Los Angeles’ most notorious criminals. It’s much darker than anything else the group does, if only because it’s hard to relax when you’re sitting across from Susan Atkins. The message is a sly one; it forces its guests to ask themselves why they have such a fascination with crime and the macabre, and plays off the popularity of things like the Investigation Discovery network and podcasts like Serial and My Favorite Murder.

Yet Drunken Devil’s pièce de résistance is the rager. These parties are typically set in minimalistic spaces, with sporadic installations and roaming characters. Dorado describes them as “part-vaudeville, part-warehouse party, and part-haunted house.”

“What I really liked about warehouse parties was that sense of ‘ooh, I’m going somewhere I shouldn’t,'” he said. “You don’t get the address until the day of, and I really liked that mysterious feeling of not knowing where to go and being off the radar. But when you get there, you’re in this space where you don’t have to [care] about anything else.”

Dorado’s parties also tell a connected story, based around Faustian pacts various characters have made with his charismatic Mephistopheles to achieve their deepest desires. As such, each party nods to one of the seven deadly sins.

The devil himself hangs out with a few ghosts Photo: Chris Blaski

A tiki-themed party told the story of an explorer who, much like Indiana Jones, was constantly boosting ancient artifacts. Unlike Jones, however, he didn’t take them to a museum so much as he sold them on the black market to satisfy his own greed.

His most recent party, Bloody Gras, transported guests to the lust-filled Storyville, New Orlean’s red light district circa 1915. Here, Madame Mary Harlow and her employees achieved eternal youth for a price. It soon became apparent that the ‘ladies of the night’ who haunted the local brothel could, in fact, only come out at night. Guests were given a choice: allow the women to give them a taste of their elixir—presented in a glass bottle with a dropper, suspiciously tasting like straight liquor—or take a wooden cross from the vampire hunters who tried to protect the town. By the end of the night, the puncture wounds drawn onto most attendees’ throats indicated the majority been seduced by the dark side. The evening was punctuated by burlesque dancers Olivia Bellafontaine, Donna Hood, and Skylar Benton with sleazy blues accompaniment via the Dave Cavalier Trio. Rasputin’s Marionettes strolled throughout the evening, offering macabre puppet shows that involved a shifty-eyed Jack the Ripper-esque villain who stalked another puppet with a knife.

Matt Dorado Photo: Chris Blaski

Yet as morbid as some of the party’s themes can be, the atmosphere is always a jovial one.

“Drunken Devil is a type of escapism,” Dorado said. “I want people enteritis wild world where you can walk away a little bit from all the real evil in the world and just have fun. That’s why I fell in love with haunted houses. It was the ‘boo’ scares, and being able to have fun in this shadow world for one season a year. And now I get to live it all year long.”

The upcoming Sin-A-Rama takes its cue from ’70s exploitation films. According to the Devil himself: “An egotistical film director has invited you to join him and a host of 70’s era film stars at the premiere of his latest picture. Upon arrival, however, you find yourself at a shuttered grindhouse theatre, where the red carpet has been stained with blood, and the glitz and glamour of Hollywood has been replaced with madness and mayhem. Perhaps this director and his methods are more sinister than one could possibly imagine…”

Sin-A-Rama takes place on Saturday, June 23 starting at 8 p.m. The event will include an open bar with beer, wine, and cocktails from Our/Los Angeles Vodka and Blackcraft Ghost Pepper Whiskey; burlesque; live music; DJs; concession snacks, and, of course, a diabolical atmosphere. Tickets are $80 and must be purchased online here.





‘Cat Art Show’ Returns to DTLA with Over 140 Feline-Themed Works

June 14, 2018 by Juliet Bennett Rylah

Mark Ryden, “Superposition” Photo: Cat Art Show

The biennial Cat Art Show is returning to Los Angeles for the third time, filling DTLA’s Think Tank Gallery with kitty-inspired work from over 100 different artists, starting today.

Cat Art Show’s Susan Michals, who also founded CatCon, is a former journalist and current cat enthusiast. She said she created these feline-centric events as a way for people to connect in the real world as opposed to the virtual one, and to share experiences together. After all, cat videos have siphoned countless hours of our time, but it’s nothing compared to gathering with your fellow cat lovers to look at a trove of cat art.

“Cats are beautiful creatures, both inside and out, and have been revered since the days of ancient Egypt,” Michals says. “They can be found in museums the world over.”

She points to a 2015 Brooklyn Museum exhibit, Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt, which contained a bevy of objects including sculptures, amulets, and even cat-shaped wooden coffins meant to house cat mummies. The exhibit toured to a handful of other museums, including the Smithsonian in D.C. in 2017. According to Antonietta Catanzariti, a curatorial fellow with the Smithsonian at the time, Egyptians did not worship cats as gods, contrary to popular belief. They were actually associating the behavior of cats—the way they might hunt or protect their families—to specific deities.

“For some people, it’s quite hard to see how that works, but then when you think about how a cat you own has a hunting attitude or is more relaxed, it can be related to Egyptian gods and goddesses,” she told the Washington Diplomat. “Don’t think of Egyptians as worshipping animals, but as observing the natural world.”

It’s not so far off from associating a cat with, say, grumpiness or the desire to buy a boat. So when you think about it, humans have, in a way, been making cat art and cat memes for a long, long time.

Dr. Paul Koudounaris, “Mewcifer” Photo: Cat Art Show

Cat Art Show has grown over the years, now featuring more artworks than ever before. While they saw some 4,500 guests in 2014, Michals says they’re expecting about 10,000 visitors over the course of this year’s 10-day run. These guests might find work from “godfather of pop-surrealism” Mark Ryden, German photographer Ellen von Unwerth, and Los Angeles’ own Dr. Paul Koudounaris, who will also present a lecture on cats throughout history on June 21.

Michals has several pieces she’s excited to see in this year’s show, including Tiffany Sage’s painting “Apollo and Garfield,” in which an orange tabby is cradled by a person in a Garfield mask. There are also two pieces from Serbian painter Endre Penovác, whose watercolor cats bleed into the paper like a passing apparition. Scott Hove, who previously installed a ‘cake maze‘ at Think Tank Gallery in 2016, now offers a cat sculpture in the same style, called “Kittycake.”

Some of the artwork is political, like Rose Freymuth-Frazier’s “Divine Intervention,” in which a fluffy, white cat with amber eyes places one paw on a stuffed Trump toy. Other pieces are more playful, like Penelope Gazin’s “Pussy Princess,” in which a beautiful woman in a green gown wears a similar fluffy, white cat on her head.

“I love Jayne Mansfield and [the piece] reminds me of her, plus it’s got a great camp quality to it that reminds us to lighten up and have a laugh,” Michals said.

Proceeds from the Cat Art Show will benefit two different charities: Kitten Rescue, a volunteer-run rescue for homeless kittens and cats, and the Ian Somerhalder Foundation, which, among other efforts, offers funds to low-income pet owners for emergency animal care. (If you ever feel like becoming a volunteer at Kitten Rescue, their Atwater Village no-kill sanctuary always needs people to help socialize and care for their animals.)

And yes, Michals does have a cat of her own: a Maine Coon named Miss Kitty Pretty Girl, rescued from a South Central shelter when she was just eight weeks old on what was to be her last day. Miss Kitty is now 13 and Michals calls her, appropriately, “The Muse.”

Alexey Sovertkov, “Triptych” Photo: Cat Art Show

Cat Art Show opens today, June 14, at Think Tank Gallery, located at 939 Maple Ave. in the Fashion District. The exhibition runs through June 24.

There will be a public opening on June 14 from 8 to 11 p.m. with a full cash bar, vegan food via Beyond Vegan, and a photo booth from Vetted Pet Care. Tickets are $10. Starting June 15, gallery hours will be daily from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free on weekdays and $5 on weekends.

On June 21 from 7 to 10 p.m., Dr. Paul Koudounaris will present his lecture, Feline Frolic: An Evening of Famous Feline History with PURRlesque PURRformances by Vanessa Burgundy and Iza La Vamp. Cash bar. Tickets are $20.

On June 23 from 7 to 10 p.m., there will be a closing party with adoptable kittens from Kitten Rescue LA and a photo booth via Vetted Pet Care. Tickets are $25 and include two cocktails. Find all ticketing info here.





Rogue Artists Ensemble’s ‘Hyper-Theater’ Combines Puppetry, Tech, and Masks for Visually Stunning Theater

June 9, 2018 by Juliet Bennett Rylah

Wood Boy (Rudy Martinez with Mark Royston and Sarah Kay Peters) and Geppetto (Ben Messmer) Photo: Chelsea Sutton

If someone asked you to go to a puppet show, you might assume you’re going to a children’s play. Yet it’s not uncommon in other cultures to find a rich history of all-ages storytelling using puppetry and masks, like Italy’s commedia dell’arte or Japan’s bunraku puppet theater. According to Rogue Artists Ensemble founding partner Sean T. Cawelti, it’s an American perspective to strictly associate puppetry with kids’ entertainment, and one that Rogue continues to challenge.

Take Rogue’s Wood Boy Dog Fish, now playing at Burbank’s Garry Marshall Theater. The play is set in Shoreside, a coastal town not unlike Coney Island, if it had been built by Tim Burton then fallen on hard times. The town has turned itself into a merchandise-hawking carnival centered around its urban legend, the terrible sea monster known as the Dog Fish. But this peculiar hamlet is also home to a sentient puppet, built in a drunken haze by a whiskey-slugging, broken-hearted craftsman called Geppetto. Yes, it’s a dark and imaginative re-telling of the classic Pinocchio story, written by Chelsea Sutton and largely based on Carlo Collodi’s 1883 children’s book. Yet unlike the Disney adaptation, this is not a show for kids.

Rogue Artists Ensemble—founded in 2001 and acting as a nonprofit since 2003—specializes in what they call “hyper-theater,” or a fusing of technology and various theater traditions, including the use of puppets.

“[Puppetry has] really always been a part of our core philosophy and how we approach our storytelling and create experiences for audiences,” Cawelti said. “[We use] puppetry, mask work, multi-media and technology, and leverage all of those together to hopefully create something that is seamless and that feels meaningful.”

This is apparent in Wood Boy, where they’ve incorporated projections, 3-D glasses, William Castle-esque hijinks, and original music from composer Adrien Prévost into the piece. Both of the villains in Wood Boy wear masks most of the time, turning them into garish, larger-than-life figures who mercilessly torment the eponymous puppet and his makerAdditionally, carnival games and Shoreside ephemera have been placed throughout the lobby and just outside the doors of the venue, providing a bit of world-building even before the audience is seated.

In Rogue’s 2017 work, Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin, the ensemble delved into Japanese folklore via an immersive show set in an actual storage warehouse. In one scene, guests were allowed to explore a hallway filled with interactive sets, including a candy shop and a zen garden. At one climactic point, there appeared an eight-foot-tall fox manipulated by two hidden puppeteers. 

Fox (Amir Levi), Fire Eater (Keiana Richàrd) and Cat (Tyler Bremer) Photo: Chelsea SuttonFor Cawelti, his fascination with puppets began in childhood, when he was just three years old. His parents told him he could pick out a toy at an Orange County flea market. He chose an old marionette and though it wasn’t in the best shape, it quickly became his favorite plaything. He soon began making his own puppets and staging his own shows.

“Puppetry is an amazing art form,” Cawelti said. “It’s not done very much, and part of the reason is that it’s very inefficient [when it comes to] the length of time that goes into the character and how much time and energy it takes to rehearse and make sure that the puppet is being manipulated properly with intention and heart.”

For instance, Wood Boy could have been played by a person in a costume and makeup and that, perhaps, would have been easier. Instead, the Wood Boy puppet took multiple artists months to make. This puppet is also the fifth one they’ve made for just this character, dating back to its prototype and an earlier version of the show staged at Bootleg Theater in 2015.

The stringless Wood Boy puppet takes three puppeteers, dressed all in black and visible to the audience, to move his limbs and head. Wood Boy also has limited facial expressions, so all of his emotions must come through the puppeteers’ subtle movements and via actor/puppeteer Rudy Martinez, who voices Wood Boy. Martinez changes his tone and inflection to convey the character’s growth, even though the puppet continues to appear, for the most part, the same. Yet for Cawelti, these challenges are actually advantages.

Wood Boy (Rudy Martinez with Mark Royston and Sarah Kay Peters) and Blue (Tane Kawasaki)
Photo: Chelsea Sutton

“In some ways, puppets are reflections of our own humanity,” Cawelti said. “Something happens when you watch a puppet go through an experience. We’re able to view it in a way that is both more objective and also more connected, because when you watch a puppet on stage, you’re choosing, as an audience member, to believe that the puppet is real. By the act of that choice, you are believing in it possibly more than you would a [human] actor doing the same thing.”

To direct the character, Cawelti specifically directs the puppet. He might say, ‘Wood Boy, that was great, but we need you to get up faster’ or ‘Wood Boy, there needs to be a greater sense of weight at this particular moment.’ Then, the puppeteers and Cawelti can collaboratively figure out how to make that happen. The end result is a character audiences can empathize with and one who easily plays off human actors.

“One of my favorite things about this play is going in with audience members and hearing them laugh at the beginning of the play, and then at the end everyone is crying because you’re feeling this thing we’ve kind of tricked you into believing,” he said. “That is not only the magic of puppetry, but the power of theater.”

Wood Boy Dog Fish runs through June 24 at the Garry Marshall Theater, located at 4252 Riverside Drive in Burbank. Tickets are $45 to $65.