Inside Hollywood’s New Horror Movie Exhibit, ‘Icons of Darkness’

October 12, 2021 by Juliet Bennett Rylah
A monster greets guests on Hollywood Blvd. Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Rich Correll’s obsession with movie memorabilia began when he was a child, acting as Beaver’s best friend Richard Rickover on Leave It to Beaver. One day, he saw a head from Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde in the trash on the Universal lot and asked if he could have it. He was told yes and the would-be garbage became the first item in Corell’s lifelong collection.  

These days, Correll’s private trove is beyond massive and valued at $13 million. Only a portion of it can be seen at the ‘Icons of Darkness’ exhibit at the Hollywood and Highland Mall, but it’s still a lot. The winding pathway and rogue gallery of monsters contain costumes, props, models, and more that you’ll instantly recognize from dozens of blockbusters and horror classics.

Must be a full moon. Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

The exhibit was initially slated to open last year at the nearby Montalbán, but was unable to do so due to the pandemic. This version of Icons is a slightly smaller Halloween preview that will transform into a much larger “Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror Hall of Fame” in a 24,000 square-foot space next to the TCL Chinese Theater early next year.

Though the show does skew towards scary movies, you don’t have to be a horror movie buff to enjoy it. There are costumes from sci-fi and fantasy fare including Star Wars and The Hunger Games, plus a cluster of dinosaurs from Jurassic Park.

There’s a ton of superhero stuff in the mix, too, from Marvel to DC. Correll notes he isn’t a Batman collector before saying, “But I have every Batman suit and every Batman villain there is.”

Costumes from ‘Batman Returns.’ Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Correll also has the Superman suit Christopher Reeves wore in both Superman 1 and 2, revealing that all the flying scenes were shot at the same time and thus, using the same costume.  

But, of course, if you are a horror fan, you’re in for a treat. Items span from the classic monsters of Universal and Hammer films to the present. You’ll find Hannibal Lecter’s bite mask; Xenomorphs, their eggs, and face huggers; Jigsaw on his tricycle; and the first two zombies created for The Walking Dead—“Patient Zero” and “Bicycle Girl.” IT’s Pennywise (the Bill Skarsgård version) is found in an eerie rogues gallery with Twisty, portrayed by John Carroll Lynch in the American Horror Story franchise; Hellraiser‘s Pinhead, and the Nun from The Conjuring series. 

We’ll warn you now that some of these props may pop out at you thanks to classic haunted house trickery, so don’t get too cozy. 

He’ll tear your soul apart! Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Icons of Darkness is open now at the Hollywood and Highland Mall in Hollywood. Tickets start at $25.


The Geffen’s Latest Show Takes Us to a Haunted House

May 6, 2021 by Juliet Bennett Rylah
The Geffen Stayhouse production of Someone Else’s House. Courtesy Mezzocchi Family photos.

The latest virtual offering from the Geffen ‘Stayhouse’ is Someone Else’s House. It’s a ghost story, the likes of which you might hear around a campfire or read on /nosleep. It comes from theater artist Jared Mezzocchi, drawing from what Mezzocchi says is a real supernatural experience. 

What’s interesting about Mezzocchi’s story is that it didn’t actually happen to him, but to his family before he was born. In 1973, his parents—both teachers—moved into a large, old home in Enfield, New Hampshire. 

Enfield is a small town—population 4,582 as of the 2010 Census—that once had a large Shaker community. Shakers are a Christian sect whose name is derived from their frenetic movements during worship. The home in question was well-known to its neighbors for its size and distinctive red color. Before the Mezzocchi family purchased it via auction, it had remained in a single family for generations.

Soon after moving in, Mezzocchi’s older brother, then eight years old, endured a series of bizarre experiences that left him traumatized for life. The family ultimately left that home for, well, obvious reasons. 

Because Mezzocchi is 14 years younger than his brother, everything he knows about the alleged haunting comes second-hand from his family or through reading old articles. Thus, Someone Else’s House is as much a ghost story as it is a mystery that slowly unravels as Mezzocchi details his meticulous research into the home’s past. 

Like previous Zoom shows from the Geffen, there are interactive elements, including a box that arrives via mail prior to your show date. Inside are a variety of objects you’ll use when prompted. But unlike Helder Guimarães’s The Present, which unfolded as a magic show where you performed a portion of the tricks in your own home, and David Kwong’s Inside the Box, which involved completing a series of puzzles, Mezzochi’s show doesn’t require interactivity.

The Geffen Stayhouse production of Someone Else’s House. Courtesy Mezzocchi Family photos.

This isn’t to say it doesn’t work as an interactive show. In fact, as a person with a penchant for horror, I found it the most compelling of the three. I was glued to his story from start to finish. The thing is, I likely would have enjoyed it just as much as a passive observer without any props and with my Zoom camera turned off. I may have even enjoyed it more, as I found the most interactive portion—in which we were tasked with helping him explore the family tree of the home’s previous owners—to be the least interesting.

When it comes to Zoom shows, I’ve found horror to be the most effective genre, followed by comedy. Drama often leaves me bored and wishing I could just watch a movie instead, while the more abstract shows designed to make me feel connected only work if they’re one-on-one or fairly short. 

But there’s something about Zoom that’s primed for horror. Last year, horror streaming service Shudder released a film called Host that was entirely shot on Zoom. The premise was that a group of friends had hired a medium to perform an online seance for them. One of the women had done it before and liked it, but this time, a participant who fails to follow the rules unleashes a demon. Host ended up being one of the scariest films I’d seen in a long time, in part because I could see behind each character into their dark, not-so-empty homes. Each box was full of horrifying possibilities that only expanded when a character moved or was dragged off-screen. 

Mezzocchi’s show has many of those elements and while I didn’t find it particularly terrifying, I did enjoy the foreboding sense of dread as the narrative came into focus. It gave my bearing witness a sense of urgency, in a way. That could perhaps be why I didn’t want to fiddle with my props, but keep my focus on Mezzocchi and his space. How am I supposed to tell you to look out behind you when my nose is in a stack of papers?

As for how true the tale is, I did about 20 minutes of research and found that many of the details lined up. Whether you believe that Mezzocchi’s family was truly haunted will likely depend on if you do or do not believe in ghosts. Regardless, while the show itself has a flair of the dramatic, there’s a lot in there that is legitimately fascinating. You may find yourself falling into a similar rabbit hole long after the show has ended.

Someone Else’s House is currently showing at The Geffen Stayhouse through July 3. The next batch of tickets goes on sale May 12 at 10 a.m. They’re $75 per household and include a box of objects you’ll use doing the show.

Culture, History, Lifestyle

Meet the Animals of Hollywood Forever Cemetery

May 5, 2021 by Juliet Bennett Rylah
Closeup is Hollywood Forever’s friendliest cat. Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Closeup is a large, black cat who lives at the iconic Hollywood Forever. Karie Bible, who hosts the cemetery’s walking tours, gave the cat his name after noticing he frequently hung out at director and producer Cecil B. DeMille’s grave. It’s a reference to Sunset Boulevard (1950)—in which DeMille played himself—and disgraced film star Norma Desmond’s (Gloria Swanson) famous line, “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” 

Closeup follows Bible around the cemetery as she gives her tours, crunching on the treats she gives him, rolling around in the sun, and soaking up pets from guests. He’s kind of a ham, always posing stoically on a headstone or stretching on a grave marker. Bible maintains his Instagram and that, combined with his friendly demeanor, has made him a minor celebrity in the final resting place of the stars. Some people stop by just to give him treats and scratch his ears.

But the cemetery is actually something of a menagerie. There are no animals buried there—the monument of Terry, the Cairn Terrier who played Toto in The Wizard of Oz, is a cenotaph—but there are even more cats, peacocks, geese, ducks, a pair of swans, families of raccoons, squirrels, possums, rabbits, turtles, and a lake filled with koi. WeLikeLA spoke with the humans who take care of them to learn more about their behavior and how guests can interact with them.

A cat hangs out in a tree. Photo: Michelene Cherie

The Cats

As a teen punk rocker in the ‘80s, Michelene Cherie would sneak into the cemetery at night for thrills. By day, she’d frequently visit the graves of Old Hollywood film stars like Rudolph Valentino. In 2007, she noticed two cats that obviously needed medical attention hanging out on the grounds. She and her boyfriend, Nicholas Lynam, borrowed a trap from a stranger on Craigslist and use it to nab both cats and take them to the vet. 

She then called the cemetery and asked Jay Boileau, VP of Operations, about the cats. Boileau told her that the cemetery’s cat colony had had a caretaker for many years, but she’d since died and no one had replaced her. Cherie volunteered. 

“In 2007, we have over 70 [cats] and it was a challenge. I had never done any animal rescue, and now we’re trying to figure out how, on a 65-acre property, do find all the cats and how do we keep track of them?” Cherie said. “So, I just started setting the traps [to] draw the cats out and, as we had them spayed or neutered, we started a spreadsheet.”

Cherie works with the nonprofit FixNation on Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) efforts to control the cat population. TNR is exactly what it sounds like. Feral cats first are trapped, usually using a small cage with cat food in it to lure the cat (and sometimes the odd raccoon) inside. The cat then goes to the vet for a checkup and is spayed or neutered before it’s released in the same outdoor area where it was found.

The cats are returned for a few reasons. For one, feral cats that weren’t socialized as kittens are often afraid of people and don’t want to cuddle. They’re hard to adopt into homes, and many who wind up in shelters are killed. Trapping and removing cats also just isn’t effective, according to FixNation: “When cats are removed from a location, it creates a “vacuum” effect — meaning the surrounding cats can sense it and they breed rapidly to fill in the gap, plus new cats move in to take advantage of the natural food and shelter sources.” This vacuum effect is well-documented. Trapping and removing cats often results in having even more unsterilized cats in the location than when you started. Catch and kill is very costly, doesn’t work, and ultimately it’s inhumane.” 

In addition to keeping track of which cats had been trapped and fixed, Cherie and Lynam also listed any medical care they received, their ages, and who was related to who so they could “tell who the baby-makers were.” 

“It was a lot of observation, just spending hours upon hours in the cemetery just watching. And then the TNR, we do that at night, so we spent many nighttime hours in the cemetery. That’s when the cats really come out and we started taking photos and documenting each section of the cemetery and what animals live there,” she said. 

Today, there are about 60 to 65 cats that live in Hollywood Forever, a number that’s remained consistent for several years. Cherie describes the colony as about 98% contained, though there will be the occasional new cat that either wanders in or gets dumped there, which can result in a new litter of kittens. Part of their observation includes noticing the newcomers and determining if they’re friendly and if they need to be fixed.

A few times, Cherie has been able to return a lost cat to its owner, and some 60 cats—mostly kittens—have been adopted. The cemetery has also found homes for a pregnant chihuahua that ended up there, as well as her six puppies. Most adopters find the cats through Hollywood Forever’s social media, then post images of their pets to their own accounts that allow Cherie to watch the animals grow up. Cherie and Lynam have adopted six of the cats themselves, four of whom are still living with the couple today. 

When they’re not rescuing cats, Lynam runs a bookkeeping business and Cherie works as an event planner. This includes the cemetery’s annual Dia de los Muertos celebration. 

“We’re pretty busy, but we have managed to carve out time over the years to do this because we think it’s important. We love animals and we like helping the cemetery,” she said. 

Closeup accompanies Karie Bible on her cemetery walking tour. Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

The cats who remain in the cemetery are happy there, with plenty of amenities. They enjoy 10 feeding stations stocked with wet and dry food, plus sleeping shelters and lots of places to hide and play. Visitors also bring a variety of treats for the cats, including one man who Cherie said frequently shows up with a whole chicken.

Closeup is the friendliest of the half-dozen cats that are socialized enough to pet. He’s been at Hollywood Forever for about three years. He was abandoned along with two other black cats and was not always so amicable. 

“We used to call him Mr. Growly. He was so feral and territorial that when he ate, he would growl to keep the other cats away. But he’s gotten so much attention that he’s become friendly,” Cherie said. 

When Bible renamed the no-longer growly Mr. Growly, the new name stuck. Closeup now spends his days roaming around and hanging out with guests. 

“He does visit a lot with people who have loved ones buried there. He seems to have turned into more of a comforting cat to people, an emotional support cat, so to speak. There are several families that he will cuddle up with their laps or sit with them in a chair. And, of course, he gets lots of food and treats. He’s really spoiled,” Cherie said.

Though cats are natural hunters, they live in harmony with the cemetery’s other animals.

“It’s sort of a microcosm of nature. [A]ll of the animals get along really well, and you can observe their respect for each other. The cats don’t go after the birds. In fact, it’s the opposite. Sometimes, the birds will chase the cats around,” Cherie said.

One of the cemetery’s 53 peacocks and peahens. Photo: Michelene Cherie

The Birds

Eddie Martinez, a funeral coordinator and crematory technician, confirms this. He said he once observed a group of Muscovy chicks chasing the cats. Martinez takes care of the cemetery’s peacocks and peahens. 

“I noticed there wasn’t really somebody that took on the job of taking care of the peacocks and they were treated like any other animals. I wanted to give them a little extra care so I took that upon myself. I enjoy the time with them, it’s like my little zoo over here,” he said. “We all try to keep an eye out for all of the animals and give a helping hand whenever it’s needed. I order the cat food, I order the koi food. Sometimes I’ll go sit by the lake and feed the koi.”

He’s heard various origin stories for why the peacocks arrived, and he’s not sure which is the most accurate. He does know that an employee brought in a few pairs over a decade ago. Over time, some birds have been swapped out just to ensure genetic diversity as they nest, and there are now 53 of them. Generally, you’ll find the birds wandering the grounds from about 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays.

“They tend to stick to the front half of the cemetery. They roam around, but they usually stick by the chapel,” he said. “It’s a good place for them. There’s so much space for them to run around.”

At night and on weekends, they live in a hutch near the front wall, adjacent to several of the cats’ feeding stations. The newborns remain in the cage until they’re big enough not to be snagged by hawks. In that time, they bond and form packs. 

“You’ll get an idea of who grew up with who just by the little groups,” Martinez said. 

They eat a mixture of corn, mealworms, and fruit, and are regularly seen by a vet who trim their nails and wings and gives each bird a checkup

Ducks migrate in and out of the cemetery. Photo: Michelene Cherie

Occasionally, Hollywood Forever will get a call from someone who’s found a peacock and thinks it may live in the cemetery. The calls come from as far away as Marina Del Rey and Torrance, which is likely too far for a Hollywood peacock to have wandered, though, on occasion, the cemetery will take in a stray peacock. 

“We try to avoid bringing in other ones, but if it’s a situation where it’s just running in the street and we’re its last hope, then we’ll take it in,” he said. 

In addition to the peacocks, Hollywood Forever is home to some East Indie ducks a man rescued and brought to the grounds, as well as other ducks that migrate in and out. This includes the Muscovy ducks, who showed up last year and have since nested. A pair of swans—Zeus and Helen—have lived in the cemetery for eight years. They have nested in the past, but have yet to produce any offspring. This year, Martinez said they’re getting their own private island where they can hopefully raise their first brood.

About four years ago, a crew member recorded a video of several employees, Martinez included, chasing around two loudly crowing roosters that had someone had dumped. The roosters did not remain in the cemetery but went to a crew member’s farm in Palmdale. 

“It’s fun to work here and deal with all the animals, and it’s interesting to see the tourists come. They love the cemetery and love the animals. And even more, it’s great to see the interaction between the kids and animals,” he said. 

Closeup is one of five or six cats who enjoys pets. Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

How You Can Interact With the Animals

Because the cemetery is so large, you could totally miss some of the animals if you don’t know where to look.

The cats are most frequently found near the wall near Santa Monica Blvd., next to the peacock cages. They may be hiding in trees or on roofs, but they’re usually easy to spot by the feeding stations. The cats rarely hang out in the buildings or the mausoleum, and Cherie said they’re not fond of the southwest corner of the cemetery that has fewer trees and high places to hide.

Closeup usually comes out if he hears you shake a jar or bag of treats, though Bible told us he may hide if someone is walking their dog nearby. A great way to meet him is to join Bible’s cemetery walking tour, which Closeup frequently attends, plus you’ll get to learn all about the cemetery and Old Hollywood. To get tickets, go here.

When you do see a cat, Cherie advises, “Don’t chase them and just be respectful. They’re hanging out doing their thing, sleeping, and just being mellow. If you’re going to approach, just do so calmly and quietly. They do like treats, so you can bring them things if you like. They love that cat paste—that’s one way to approach some of the friendlier cats or the slightly timid ones. If you’re going to try to pet them, know that they are technically wild animals and could be mercurial, so do it with caution. Do it slowly, and if they don’t like it, don’t do it.” 

The cemetery also hosts several yoga classes each week where participants are spread out over two acres in the area where Cinespia takes place. Occasionally, yoga instructor Mary DeCaro will conduct “kitty yoga” classes, a fundraiser for the Hollywood Forever cat colony’s care and for FixNation. To find out when the next yoga class is, go here. To find out when the next kitty yoga class is, follow DeCaro’s Instagram account. You can also follow Hollywood Forever here to find out more about upcoming adoption fairs and events.

As for the birds, they can be found in the lake area, near the chapel, and in the peacock cages if it’s the weekend. Martinez said you can feed the ducks, but with care.

“Just be conscious of what you’re feeding them. You don’t want to give them Hot Cheetos and stuff like that. Just give them something proper that they can eat that won’t be bad for their health and that’s really it. Be considerate of the animals, do your best to care for them, and consider that they’re still wild animals,” he said.

Culture, Fun Stuff, Happenings, Lifestyle, Travel

The Arts District’s ‘Madcap Motel’ is Trippy Retro Fun

April 29, 2021 by Juliet Bennett Rylah
Balloons rise and fall in one of the many portholes in an interactive room. Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

The Madcap Motel is finally accepting tourists seeking an escape from reality after a very long delay. The retro space features over a dozen rooms full of interactive and photo-friendly moments interwoven with a sci-fi narrative.

Elsewhere At the Madcap Motel would have opened last March, but remained closed up until now due to the Stay at Home order and ongoing pandemic. At times, founder Paige Solomon felt like it would never open at all. But now, she says things have been put into perspective and the delayed opening feels better, in some ways, than the one she’d planned.

“Before, when the world was normal, it would have just been another Friday or Saturday night where you had a fun thing planned, but now, this is the first time people are getting to have fun in a year. It feels more intentional now and we feel more prepared as a team,” she said. “‘Escape reality’ has always been our company motto, but now, we actually all need to escape reality because it’s been a dark year.”

You’ll find several characters to chat with in the atrium. Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Guests to the 17,000-square-foot Madcap Motel enter through the lobby, where a coat check is available, and are then invited to hang out in a spacious waiting room. Everything points to the ’60s, from the music and the staff’s outfits to the patterned carpeting and wallpaper.

A bellhop ushers guests to their “room” when it’s ready, where a maid’s sudden appearance kicks off the start of the narrative. J.P. Sando opened the motel in the 1940s, but vanished in 1966. The motel sat silent for half a century until his grandchildren decided to refurbish it, at which point postcards from their supposedly missing grandfather began to arrive. He had seemingly slipped into another dimension, which he calls “Elsewhere.” 

Guests will then meander through a portal and into this Elsewhere place, where several motel rooms surround a courtyard full of living hedges and mysterious characters. Guests can ask those characters questions and follow the narrative, or jump straight into exploring the many rooms. 

You can push this button. In fact, we recommend it. Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

One room seems to be built on a slant, while in another, everything is oversized. Yet another features a big, red button begging to be pressed. We’ll leave what happens when you do a surprise. Another motel room is full of portholes, each one offering a different scene: a playable video game, a spiral wishing well, hot air balloons that rise and fall, and a miniature version of the motel complete with a train that loops around a track, among others. In one of our favorite rooms, spotlights turn on whenever a guest steps into a circle on the floor. It’s great for photos and also makes you feel a bit like Fox Mulder about to finally be beamed up by aliens.

The overall feel is reminiscent of the roadside attractions that still dot American highways, begging roadtrippers to waste an hour and a few dollars. You know the ones: your Mystery Spots, Gravity Hills, and World’s Largest Ball of Twines. But Madcap is more stylish than those attractions, and it has more depth than your average Instagram factory. In fact, going just for pics to post on social media would actually rob you of some of the more interesting elements of the whole installation.

A room on a tilt. Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

There’s a science lab near the front of the exhibit that features dioramas that reference each of the rooms you’re about to see. Definitely take some time to peer into each one. Also, there’s an Instagram account that reveals more of the ongoing narrative. You could choose to spend time with the actors, inquiring about Elsewhere and why they live in it or following the narrative threads they drop. For example, one character asked me to tell her if I’d seen something, which I later found in one of the rooms.

When you’re done with the rooms, there’s one more surprise. Then, the experience ends, like most do, with a gift shop and a photo booth. 

A scientist explains the many wonders we’re about to see. Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Solomon had previously opened an experience in New York in 2018 called Dream Machine. It came at the height of selfie palaces, though Solomon’s vision imagined more shareable video moments than photos. Dream Machine’s most popular room was a laundromat where you could pull cotton candy out of a washing machine or enter an infinity room through a dryer. Given that space’s appeal, Solomon knew she wanted her next project to be retro and have a lot of doors. 

“And when you say retro and a lot of doors, that’s a motel,” she said. 

She was also partially inspired by Sleep No More’s McKittrick Hotel, though it’s certainly a much different tone (Sleep No More is an immersive take on Macbeth), and the amount of “immersive theater” you receive will be up to you. 

“It’s not like someone will trap you and make you interact with them for 20 minutes if you don’t want that,” she said. “There will be some people that come to get a beautiful piece of content, but then there are going to be some people who are like, ‘no, I want to check out of reality for an hour or whatever.’ If people want to go and lay in the Surveillance Room—the grassy room with all the projections—and just hang out, [or if they] just want to sit and fish [in the fountain in the atrium], go ahead. I just want everyone to make it their own and be part of the story the way they want to be.”

A mirrored room full of lamps that rise and fall. Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Solomon is also considering other uses of the space, such as putting on a murder mystery game around Halloween. After a year without much of a Halloween, yes, please.

Elsewhere at the Madcap Motel officially opens on Friday, April 30. It’s located at 940 E. 4th St. in the Arts District. Timed tickets are only sold online in advance here. They’re $40 for ages 12+, $30 for ages 4-11, and free for children 3 and under. The usual COVID-19 precautions are in effect. You can expect reduced capacity, mandatory masks, and plenty of sanitization stations.


Here’s What Reopens When L.A. County Moves to the Yellow Tier

April 28, 2021 by Juliet Bennett Rylah
The Mermaid in Little Tokyo in pre-pandemic times. Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Yesterday, Public Health announced that Los Angeles County had met the requirements for the Yellow Tier, the least restrictive of the state’s reopening tiers. If the County can hold its case rate and positivity rate—or better yet, if both decrease—we could move into the Yellow Tier as soon as May 5. 

As of Tuesday, the County’s case rate was 1.9 cases per 100,000 residents. It must remain below 2. The seven-day average positivity rate is now .9% broadly, and 1% in the hardest hit communities. The County must remain below a positivity rate of 2%. 

Currently, 41 counties remain in the Orange Tier, though four NorCal counties have already made it to the Yellow Tier. Thirteen are in the Red Tier, and zero counties are in the most restrictive Purple Tier. 

Here’s what the Yellow Tier would bring:

  • Casual outdoor gatherings may have up to 100 people, up from 50. Indoor gatherings remain discouraged. 
  • Private outdoor gatherings would allow 200 people, or up to 400 if everyone was fully vaccinated or had been tested. 
  • Shopping malls may reopen common areas. 
  • Indoor seated live events may allow in-state visitors only. Venues with 1,500 or fewer seats can reopen at 25% or 300 people, whichever is fewer, or 50% if everyone is vaccinated or tested. Venues with more than 1,500 seats can reopen at 10% capacity or 2,000 people, whichever is fewer, or 50% if everyone is vaccinated or tested. 
  • Restaurants may reopen indoors at 50% capacity. The 200-person limit from the Orange Tier is removed. 
  • Gyms and fitness centers may increase from 25% to 50% indoor capacity. Saunas and steam rooms may reopen. Hotels may also open their fitness centers at 50% and reopen spa facilities. 
  • Movie theaters can reopen at 50% capacity, and the 200-person limit from the Orange Tier is gone. 
  • Wineries, breweries, and distilleries may reopen indoors at 50% capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer. 
  • Bars that do not serve food may reopen indoors at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer. In the Orange Tier, bars can only reopen outdoors.
  • Family entertainment centers can reopen at 50% capacity, or 75% capacity if everyone is tested or fully vaccinated. 
  • Cardrooms can reopen at 50% capacity, up from 25% capacity in the Orange Tier. 
  • Outdoor events with assigned seating, such as sports or live music, may reopen at 67% capacity, but only for in-state visitors. Indoor concessions in designated areas may also reopen. 
  • Theme parks can bump up capacity from 25% to 35% outdoors, but indoor areas remain at 25%. Also, only in-state visitors can go at this time. 

The usual modifications, including masks and social distancing, apply. A broader, complete reopening is still scheduled statewide for June 15. 

As the County approaches this milestone, Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer is encouraging anyone 16 or older who hasn’t received their first vaccine dose yet to sign up. Through April 29, county-run vaccine sites will offer doses with photo ID on a walk-in basis (which may actually mean drive-up, depending on the site, so please check before you go). You can find those locations, plus additional sites and appointments, here.


The Broad is Back on May 26

April 19, 2021 by Juliet Bennett Rylah
The Broad
The Broad. Photo by Christina Champlin.

The Broad will reopen to the public on May 26, joining a slew of cultural institutions that have already welcomed back guests. 

If you go, you’ll be able to see several new installations on the third floor, including 13 works from Jean-Michel Basquiat, a mini-survey of the museum’s Roy Lichtenstein holdings, nine works from Kara Walker, and an Andy Warhol gallery. 

On view through Oct. 3 is Invisible Sun, which features 59 works from artists including  El Anatsui, Alexander Calder,Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer, Julie Mehretu, Nathaniel Mary Quinn, and Cindy Sherman. This exhibit was developed last summer and shows artists’ responses to topics like the AIDS crisis, gender- and race-based violence, capitalism, and colonialism. Over a third of the pieces are on view for the first time. 

While admission to the Broad is free, there is a reservation system in place. It goes live again on May 12 at 10 a.m. Masks and temperature checks will be enforced. Some other new digital additions include a mobile museum guide and a live text chat feature that allows you to ask Broad staff questions, contact-free, as you browse.

Looking for a museum to hit up now? LACMA, the Autry, The Petersen Museum, LA Plaza de Cultura de Artes, The Huntington, and The Hammer have all reopened. The Skirball reopens on May 15. 

Culture, Lifestyle

Private Clubs for the Vaccinated? One’s Coming to NoHo

April 14, 2021 by Juliet Bennett Rylah
You can play pool at Risky Business, but only if you’re fully vaccinated. Photo: Risky Business

In a few weeks, the North Hollywood cocktail bar known as The Other Door plans to reopen as Risky Business, a private, members-only club that caters exclusively to vaccinated clientele. Guests will need to purchase a membership card, currently on sale for $10 per person, and show proof of their vaccine upon arrival. Anyone can buy a card now, but won’t be allowed entry until two weeks after their final dose, which is how long it takes to be considered fully vaccinated.

“We have lots of friends, especially those on the front line in the medical field, who want a place where they can hang out and unwind,” Ari Schindler, managing owner, told We Like L.A. “And we all know that the end of the pandemic and the return to our normal lives is when herd immunity is reached through vaccination. So we decided to create a place with herd immunity already in full effect, where essential workers—and eventually everyone—can return to normal now.”

Risky Business will check vaccine credentials the same way bars have long checked IDs to ensure patrons are of legal drinking age, and may consider the use of health passports in the future. The bar also has an employee who keeps tabs on where and when vaccinations are available. That person will share tips with unvaccinated members looking to get their shots. 

Inside, guests can freely enjoy cocktails, conversation, or a game of pool with their vaccinated peers. Eventually, Risky Business may bring back live entertainment, including music and burlesque. The menu will include a wide selection of beer, whiskies, and absinthes, plus cocktails mixed with house-made infusions. For those who don’t drink, tea and kombucha are available. Those who sign up early will enjoy other privileges, too.

“To start, every member gets a special drink on their first visit, and the earlier you join the more incredible your drink will be. Most perks are to be revealed over time,” Schindler said. 

Schindler said the private club will last as long as it makes sense to exist, but the membership aspect could be permanent if the model is successful. 

Though members-only clubs are certainly not new to L.A.—take Soho House or the Magic Castle—a bar free of strict COVID-19 protocols certainly is. And while some might jump at the chance to enjoy a night out sans mask, The Other Door’s announcement post quickly racked up over 300 comments of varying opinions.

“Who knew that our little club was immanentizing the eschaton?” Schindler joked. 

The arguments raged over whether or not the concept is safe, or if it’s discriminatory against those who can’t or who choose not to be vaccinated. We decided to look into those arguments ourselves.

Is a Private Club For the Vaccinated Safe?

The COVID-19 vaccine protects us by decreasing the chance we’ll get it if we encounter the coronavirus, and by preventing serious illness, hospitalization, and death if we do. The primary concern would be that a vaccinated person gets COVID-19 and passes it to an unvaccinated person who is at risk for developing a severe illness. With these considerations in mind, the CDC has said vaccinated people are allowed to visit with one another inside, without masks or social distancing. They can also visit with unvaccinated people from a single household, assuming the unvaccinated people (and those with whom they have close contact) are low-risk. When it comes to the general public, vaccinated people should continue doing what they’ve done for the past year: wear masks, social distance, and avoid crowds.

During a recent media briefing, we reached out to Dr. Paul Simon, Chief Science Officer with the L.A. Dept. of Public Health, about the club. He said so long as it was a small group of fully vaccinated individuals, it’d probably be “fine.”

“We’re not endorsing this practice, but we understand that in the private sector…there will be growing measures like this that private companies are taking,” he said. 

So, from a safety perspective, it would appear that if you are indeed fully vaccinated, don’t have unmasked close contact with unvaccinated people (especially those who are at-risk), keep to small groups, and follow guidelines when in public, you may be in the clear.

Is it Discriminatory?

Health officials say most people are eligible for the vaccine, including people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, and have weakened immune systems. But for some people, such as children and those with certain allergies, it might not be an option. Children can’t drink, so they wouldn’t be going to a private bar in the first place, but what about an adult with a disability that prevents them from getting vaccinated? Would such an establishment be discriminatory against them?

We checked in with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). That’s the department that works to “prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, and business establishments.” According to Fahizah Alim, Dept. Director of Communications, the department “cannot comment on this at this time.” So, that’s neither a yes or a no, but the department has put out other relevant guidance.

The Unruh Civil Rights Act “specifically outlaws discrimination in housing and public accommodations based on sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sexual orientation, citizenship, primary language, or immigration status.” DFEH provides several examples of behaviors that would violate this act, such as if a hotel charged a $100 service fee to guests of one race but not others, if a same-sex couple was denied a table at a restaurant, or if a doctor refused to treat a patient who was HIV positive. 

The question here would be does being unvaccinated or unable to be vaccinated qualify as a “medical condition”? And there is some guidance for that when it comes to an employer requiring an employee to be vaccinated.

An employer may require employees to receive an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine. And while DFEH doesn’t provide any guidance on whether or to what extent an employer should mandate vaccination, it does address how an employer can comply with Fair Housing and Employment Act if it does.

Essentially, if an employer mandates the vaccine, employees may object due to a disability or a “sincerely held religious belief.” In that case, the employer must work with the employee to reasonably accommodate them, and can’t retaliate against the employee for asking for that accommodation. For example, let’s say an employee has an allergic reaction to the vaccine and is advised not to get a second dose. That person could request to continue to work from home and—assuming their job could be done from home—that would be a reasonable accommodation.

On the flip side, the employer may exclude the employee from the workplace if the employer can show the accommodation imposes an undue hardship, prevents the employee from performing their duties, or would endanger the health and safety of themselves or others. 

When it comes to sincerely held religious beliefs, the definition can be broad, but would typically be rooted in a religious tradition—not a 5G conspiracy theory. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, if an employee requests a religious accommodation “and an employer has an objective basis for questioning either the religious nature or the sincerity of a particular belief, practice or observance, the employer would be justified in requesting additional supporting information.”

Outside of a disability or sincerely held religious belief, employers do not have to accommodate employees who refuse a vaccine, so it’d stand to reason that businesses have the same permissions.

Attorney Mark Dycio, who represents hospitality clients in Washington, D.C. told WTOP, “The bottom line is, unless you’re a protected class, under federal law, restaurants can use any COVID protocols they want to keep customers and employees safe. While a restaurant or music venue can’t refuse service based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin, those restrictions don’t apply to businesses enforcing their own COVID protocols.”

The L.A. Times also consulted with attorneys for an article about employee vaccination, who said a business may have to try to accommodate those customers in the same way before refusing service. We reached out to a few attorneys, too, but considering the newness of this issue, there’s really not a lot of concrete guidance out there yet.

Schindler said Risky Business would consider safe options for anyone who “truly cannot be vaccinated, and truly wants to enjoy our hospitality,” but they haven’t figured out any yet. Currently, unvaccinated people can get pickup or delivery of bottled cocktails, beer, wine, and liquor as well as curated boxes of drinks and snacks, no membership required.

There may also be some concern over people who want a vaccine, but who can’t readily access an appointment. (I can personally attest that getting one without a car is a bit tricky.) Hopefully, Risky Business’s dedicated employee would be able to step in and help those people secure their doses.

Meanwhile, in the U.K., government officials have suggested mandatory vaccine checks at pubs could encourage younger people to get vaccinated. And in Denver, a bar is offering indoor service to only vaccinated people, while the unvaccinated can sit on the patio or get take out. The owner stated they’ve received backlash, including one-star reviews on Yelp, but said, “I’m not an essential service. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, don’t come.”

Culture, Lifestyle

A ’90s Roller Rink Pops Up for Freeform’s ‘Cruel Summer’

April 14, 2021 by Juliet Bennett Rylah
Cruel Summer debuts on Freeform on April 20. Photo: Freeform/Bill Matlock

A 90s-themed outdoor roller rink hits the Westfield Century City Mall on Saturday, April 24 and Sunday, April 25 for the release of Freeform’s new teen thriller, Cruel Summer

Cruel Summer is set over three years in the 1990s. It stars Chiara Aurelia as Jeanette, an awkward teen who transforms into the most popular girl in school until she becomes a suspect in the disappearance of the small town’s former it-girl, Kate (Olivia Holt). The series debuts on Freeform on April 20, with new episodes dropping the next day on Hulu. You can watch the trailer, with an era-appropriate soundtrack from Garbage, below. 

The Cruel Summer roller rink will be in the Atrium of the mall, where DJs Daisy O’Dell, Sky Sky, and Memmi will spin the best jams of 1993-1995. Skaters will also have a chance to win swag. 

The event is free, but you’ll have to book a 20-minute time slot in advance. Reservations are good for two people. Masks, temperature checks, and social distancing will be in effect. Sign up here.


Two Local Distillers Explain the Non-Alcoholic Spirits Trend

April 12, 2021 by Juliet Bennett Rylah
Photo: Optimist Drinks

I’ve never been much of an at-home drinker, but when the pandemic began, I found myself drinking at home quite often. With my social life gone, I was inspired by the newfound ability to order cocktails or bottles to-go while feeling like I was supporting local restaurants. For many, this sort of behavior has been common over the past year, but it can also be dangerous.

Since the onset of the pandemic, retail alcohol sales have gone up, and studies have shown that many people are drinking far more than they did before. One study found that women, who are feeling more stress than men due in part to increased household duties with less outside help, have increased heavy drinking days by as much as 41%. Yet another study, which included all genders, showed that hazardous alcohol use rose from 21% of respondents in April to 40.7% in September. Health experts say the dangers are many, including an increased risk of cancer, liver disease, mental health problems, and early death, not to mention negative impacts on family and work.

For me, the thrill of to-go cocktails wore off in a couple weeks. And while I didn’t miss having an alcoholic drink, I did miss the process of making myself a drink after work—a signifier that my day was done and I could relax. Sugary juices and sodas make me feel sick, so I switched to putting bitters in flavored soda water. Then I saw a friend in the Midwest who’d decided to quit drinking altogether was experimenting with various non-alcoholic gins, posting her favorites to social media. That made me curious. What is a non-alcoholic gin? Who’s making them, and do people really like them?

Morgan McLachlan is the co-founder, CPO, and Master Distiller at AMASS, a Los Angeles-based distillery that makes both liquor and a new non-alcoholic spirit they call Riverine. McLachlan said that during the pandemic, people—exactly like me, it turns out—have been searching for a new way to separate their day from their night, as our work and private lives now frequently occupy the same space.

“I think a drink has become that for a lot of people. The rise in non-alcoholic beverages comes from a desire for a nightly ritual that aligns with the ways in which we want to take care of ourselves,” she said. “For us, drinking is a way to connect, both with others and ourselves. We believe in the power of plants for ritual, and that ritual of slowing down, pouring a drink, and savoring it at the end of the day is the same regardless of proof.”

Lisa Farr-Johnstone is the co-founder of Optimist Drinks, based in DTLA. Optimist makes three different non-alcoholic spirits that she says “don’t compromise your physical or mental well-being but still allow you to enjoy your end-of-day ritual [or] be part of a social occasion.” She had a similar response about her products’ appeal.

“Right now it can be a way of creating a metaphorical ‘third space’ when our lives are one big undefined blur of work/life,” she said. “The most important part of ‘drinking’ is for us is the act of pausing, the buzz of connecting and conversing. And, of course, good flavors. We aren’t anti-alcohol, but we are about making mindful choices rather than drinking booze by default.”

Both companies package their spirits in attractive bottles that look at home in any liquor cabinet, and produce them via similar means. Various botanicals are steam-distilled or, in some cases for Optimist, undergo a C02 extraction to bring out their flavors. Each Optimist spirit uses between 10 to 15 botanicals, with Riverine has 14. 

“Sorrel adds an element of bitterness to the spirit, while sumac lends necessary structure. The tart berry’s subtle piquancy and tannin quality come through on the rear palate to mimic the burn of an alcoholic beverage,” McLachlan said. 

Layman’s terms? It’s an herbaceous blend that will remind you of gin, but not quite so harsh as actual alcohol. You could have it on the rocks, in tonic or soda water, or in a cocktail. That could mean a completely non-alcoholic cocktail (McLachlan recommends a Tom Collins-style concoction with simple syrup and lemon juice), or in a traditional cocktail where Riverine replaces a spirit and thus produces a low-alcohol option. For example, McLachlan says she mixes it in a Negroni with Campari and sweet vermouth, swapping out gin.  

Optimist’s three blends are inspired by parts of Southern California. “Bright” is like a citrusy vodka and is inspired by Venice, where Farr-Johnstone lives. “Smokey” is like a mezcal, drawing inspiration from desert-scapes in Yucca Valley. “Fresh” drinks like a gin, and takes its cues from hiking in Topanga. Optimist blends are ideally mixed one part spirit to two parts mixer, such as soda water or ginger ale, and maybe a squeeze of lemon or lime. Other customers have told Farr-Johnstone they mix it in kombucha or even plain water just to give it extra flavor. It helps that none of these particular non-alcoholic spirits have a bunch of sugar, so you won’t be crashing after enjoying one.

People have been drinking non-alcoholic beers for years, though they weren’t always trendy and many bars only had O’Doul’s if they had an NA option at all. Yet in recent years, manufacturing and sales of NA beers have seen an uptick, appearing more often in hip stores and bars to cater to health-conscious and sober customers who want to go out, but who don’t want to drink. In a 2019 Esquire article, Jonnie Cahill, Heineken’s chief marketing officer, said the company had noticed this new market especially in younger people, who were more concerned with wellness than previous generations.

“There are tons of moments in your life where you would absolutely love a beer, but don’t necessarily want the alcohol,” he said.

In 2019, Farr-Johnstone said she received quizzical looks when she tried to describe Optimist products. But after launching in early 2020, they tripled their sales expectations. She believes the shift is part of an organic trend led by people who are interested in drinking less and moving away from a society where booze is central to our social lives. She also thinks the trend has been sped up by the pandemic, and that non-alcoholic brands are meeting the demand, not creating it. 

“Many of us have (over) used alcohol as a means of coping with anxiety and stress during the pandemic, and we are coming to realize that isn’t a solution,” she said. “There is lots of talk about the new ‘roaring 20s’ and some wild partying as we leave the pandemic behind. [W]e will all be craving parties and people, but we believe that will also be balanced out by a desire to spend meaningful time with people and to safeguard our mental and physical health.”

In fact, she wonders why we call these alternative beverages “non-alcoholic” at all.

“Perhaps a more interesting way to consider the category is ‘adult beverage.’ Let’s blow it open. Why are we defining ourselves by what we don’t have, rather than what we do?” she said.

Both companies are growing. Optimist has plans to add more products this summer. AMASS pivoted last year to also produce hand sanitizer, something McLachlan struggled to find on store shelves last March. They’ve also launched new scents, soaps, lotion, and bath salts.

If you’re interested in adding an alcohol-free cocktail to your nightly ritual, you can check out AMASS here. Riverine retails for $35 for a 750 ml bottle. Check out Optimist Drinks here. Each blend retails for $35 per 500 ml bottle or $90 for all three.


A New Kids’ Book Tells the Story of P-22 (And Why We Need a Wildlife Crossing)

April 8, 2021 by Juliet Bennett Rylah
Author Tony Lee Moral with a cutout of P-22. Photo courtesy of Tony Lee Moral.

P-22 lives alone in Griffith Park, where food is plentiful, but company is nonexistent. Cut off from potential mates by freeways, our majestic mountain lion is destined to be alone for the rest of his life. Who among us, quarantined for months, cannot relate?

P22: The Cat That Changed America, a new children’s book from author Tony Lee Moral, imagines the journey P-22 took to get from his birthplace in the Santa Monica Mountains to Griffith Park. Though Moral’s high-stakes tale is highly fictionalized—at one point P22 becomes pals with a raccoon who teaches him to dig in dumpsters for chicken wings—it is based on a true story. It’s also based on a documentary of the same name by Sabana Films.

Both the film and the book explain why P-22 likely crossed two deadly freeways, the 405 and 101, to make his home in Griffith Park. Essentially, mountain lions need space, but the pumas of the Santa Monica Mountains are trapped by freeways. This has led to inbreeding, which in turn has led to a low genetic diversity. Male mountain lions, who would typically disperse in adulthood, now fight and kill other males, including their own brothers, sons, and fathers. It’s some real Lion King drama.

Those who do try to escape and find new territory are often killed. Just last month, P-78 was found dead in Valencia, likely struck by a vehicle, and a total of 23 have been killed since 2002. P-22 somehow managed to evade oncoming traffic, but it’s a life of solitude with no mates nor future cubs in sight.

The fact that P-22 made it to Griffith Park at all was pretty shocking. In the documentary, which you can watch here, NHM wildlife biologist Miguel Ordeñana describes the moment he first saw P-22 appear on a wildlife cam capture in 2012.

“It was like finding Bigfoot or the chupacabra,” he says.

Moral’s book is a fictionalized version of P-22’s journey intended to introduce children to the famous cat and the concept of conservation. We meet P-22 as a cub where he learns to hunt and avoid humans with his mother and brother. However, he soon finds himself at odds with the alpha lion of the mountains and is forced to flee. Along the way, he wards off packs of coyotes, slums it with a loquacious raccoon, and encounters strange mangey animals who seem to have gotten ill after eating poisoned plants or rodents. In real life, P-22 was treated for mange in 2014 after ingesting rat poison—another hazard of being a wild animal who lives so near an urban environment.

As you’ll learn in either the film or the book, there is hope for our lonely hunter. A wildlife crossing at Liberty Canyon would provide a safe way for mountain lions—as well as other animals including deer, coyotes, and bobcats—to get around. The crossing is expected to break ground in late 2021, assuming all goes well. The National Wildlife Foundation is raising funds through Save LA Cougars, which you may donate to here.


Get a New Book at This Weekly Literary Scavenger Hunt

April 7, 2021 by Juliet Bennett Rylah
Photo: LA Book Scavenger Hunt

For those who’d like their next book to come with a bit of adventure, the LA Book Scavenger Hunt hides a selection of over 20 books around L.A. every Saturday. To find them, you’ll need to use Google Maps and photos on social media. 

The initiative comes via Morphkey, a free platform where people can fill out a profile and be matched with like-minded people to chat about books, movies, art, and other topics over online audio calls. 

On Saturdays at 10 a.m., the latest scavenger hunt goes live here. Hunters can choose the book they’re most interested in, then click on coordinates to reveal its location on Google Maps. A reference photo will provide further clues. Once a book is claimed, hunters can tap the “Found” button so that other players know it’s no longer available.

According to someone with Morphkey who identified as Michael (no last name, very mysterious), Morphkey started the scavenger hunt in November of 2020, at a time when looking outside for books was one of the few permissible activities amid the pandemic. 

Photo: LA Book Scavenger Hunt

Many of the books have been tucked in bushes, while others have been found around utility boxes, between tree branches, or under staircases. Recent titles have included Machado de Assis’s Epitaph of a Small Winner, Magda Szabó’s Iza’s Ballad, Natsume Sōseki’s Kokoro, and Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser

“I have wanted to open a bookstore in L.A. with an emphasis on world literature for several years,” Michael wrote to We Like L.A. “Most of the titles are books that I could never find at the best bookstores in L.A., New York, and the Bay Area. I thought it would be amazing if there was one place that carried all these books — and many are out of print — for people to discover. Many of the books are whimsical and full of wonder, others are innovative and push the boundaries of what the novel is capable of. I purchase all of the books through small second-hand bookshops around the country, private booksellers, and from local bookshops like Iliad Books and Sideshow Books.”

To find your next read, check this site on Saturday morning.


The Skirball Reopens on May 15 With New Ai Weiwei Exhibit

April 1, 2021 by Juliet Bennett Rylah
Ai Weiwei: Trace at the Skirball. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer.

The Skirball Cultural Center will reopen on May 15 with a new exhibit from artist and activist Ai Weiwei that features portraits made out of thousands of LEGO® bricks. 

According to a release, Ai Weiwei: Trace reflects on Ai’s experience of being arrested and interrogated by the Chinese government for 81 days in 2011. For the next four years, Ai was kept under surveillance and was not allowed to travel outside of the country. 

The exhibit was initially commissioned in 2014 as part of @Large: Ai Weiwei, which took over the former Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary in San Francisco. Ai completed 176 LEGO® portraits total, and the Skirball will display 83 of them in the 8,000-square-foot gallery space, including images of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning. All told, they include individuals from over 25 countries. The walls on either side will be covered in “The Animal That Looks Like a Llama But Is Really an Alpaca,” a wallpaper art piece that forms patterns out of surveillance equipment. 

“Like Ai Weiwei, the individuals in Trace have been incarcerated or exiled because of their convictions and activism,” Jessie Kornberg, Skirball President and CEO, said via a statement. “We are honored to present this monumental work, which, by way of a disarmingly playful medium, examines courage and conscience in the face of authoritarianism and challenges us to recommit to the work of safeguarding our most basic democratic ideals.”

The show will be accompanied by a mobile guide and a virtual conversation with the artist, among other online offerings.

The Skirball has been closed since last March due to the pandemic. At the time, the museum was planning two exhibits: Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds and “I’ll Have What She’s Having”: The Jewish Deli. The museum confirmed with We Like L.A. today that both exhibits will still get their debut sometime in 2021. For right now, you can check out the Skirball’s online exhibit, Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope.

To visit the Skirball, you’ll need to buy timed-entry tickets in advance, which will be released in early May. Like all museums reopening this spring, expect limited capacity, mandatory masks, temperature checks, social distancing, and hand sanitization stations. For the time being, Audrey’s Museum Store and Zeidler’s Café will remain closed.