Pop-Rock Musical ‘CAGES’ is a Three-Dimensional Wonder-Nightmare

December 4, 2019 by Juliet Bennett Rylah
Woolf and the Wondershow’s CAGES

CAGES, a new pop-rock musical from duo Woolf and the Wondershow, is a spectacle unlike anything most theater-goers have seen before. It’s psychedelic and stunning, pushing the boundaries of what can be done on stage with a little magic. Even if you think you don’t like musicals, you might like CAGES—if only because the notion of spending a couple of hours inside a 3-D German Expressionist film is just too bizarre to pass up.

The narrative won’t be unfamiliar to anyone who’s seen a Disney movie, read a Shakespeare play, or listened to a fairytale. It’s about a love that cannot be and a couple who does it anyhow—so, perfect musical fodder. But what matters here isn’t so much the plotline, but the execution. That execution is based on the partnership that brought this production to life.

Songwriter/producer CJ Baran and composer Benjamin Romans formed Woolf and the Wondershow after meeting six years ago and discovering several shared influences and interests. At one point, Baran asked Romans if he’d be interested in being a band. 

“He just looked at me dead in the eye and said, ‘Hell, no, I’d never be in a band again. I never want to push another Marshall stack onto a van ever again. But he said I would be in a brand with you if there’s a narrative and a story,'” Baran recalls. “And that’s kind of how it started.”

The pair soon wrote a song called “Cages.” It’s the ideal tune for a modern musical: Romans’ eclectic sensibilities for everything from classical to pop complements Baran’s impressive range and emotive singing. It’s this song that eventually blossomed into the full show. 

The bar. Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

To see it, you’ll head down to an otherwise nondescript building in the Arts District that Baran and Romans spent several years converting into a theater. Guests spend the first 45 minutes in a bar that serves beer, wine and four craft cocktails, each named after a different emotion: Lust, Rage, Sadness, and Love. Actors may wander in and out of the space, each dressed like someone who’s just escaped a Tim Burton film. You may note they all seem to wear what looks like a wrought-iron rib cage over their chests. Eventually, you’ll be invited to witness an execution. That’s your cue to take your seats. 

Now you’re in the heart of Anhedonia, a monochrome dystopia whose jutting skyline and winding alleys look like they’ve been plucked from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). In this bleak world, emotion is outlawed. Its residents must keep their hearts in “cages.” Marriages are prearranged by an unfeeling algorithm. Citizens who are deemed to have any kind emotional outburst are either publicly executed or sent to the Emotional Correctional Facility to have them forcibly expunged. It’s not so far off from the real-life horrors of early asylums, electroshock therapy, and the transorbital lobotomy. “Anhedonia” may be a city in CAGES, but it’s also an actual condition in which someone is unable to feel pleasure or joy.

Woolf (played by Baran) grew up in Anhedonia as an orphan. Now, he’s a reclusive musician, conjuring sounds out of an apparatus he’s built. He always stands slightly hunched over, hair hanging in his face, like a younger Riff-Raff (Rocky Horror, not the rapper). One day, Woolf happens upon a young woman, Madeline. Struck by the wide-eyed beauty’s whimsy and grace, he woos her with his music. It’s a bit like The Phantom of the Opera, only Madeline actually loves him back—which is, of course, forbidden. Woolf must use the new sensations percolating in his bound heart to discover who he really is. 

But what’s especially incredible about CAGES is the way it all comes together. There is very little in the way of a tangible set and Woolf is frequently the only character that’s physically on stage. But, using layers of projections, guests see what appears to be a gorgeous, three-dimensional wonder-nightmare. From the opening scene, when a sea of Victorian-garbed Anhedonians (most of whom aren’t really there) cross through misty streets, you’re left wondering, “Wait, how are they doing this?” There are moments where it looks like Woolf is tearing through a forest of gnarled branches or adrift in a sea of tears, being serenaded by the moon. Occasionally, Woolf interacts closely with a performer who isn’t there, though you could swear they were. A key example is Madeline (voiced by Frida Sundemo and played by Allison Howard). We’re essentially watching Woolf romance a projection.

A citizen of Anhedonia Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

“What we were really inspired to do as a creative production company was [to] bring the magic of movies to the stage,” Baran said. “And once we started toying around with the tech, we realized we can do anything. Someone can melt, someone can stretch, you can have a duet with your inner demon. Anything’s possible.” 

“One of the most exciting things is that [by using projection], you can go forward, backward, up, down, and disappear behind light,” Romans adds. 

And indeed, there are moments where Woolf is so real you can see the sweat on his brow. Then he’s a moving cut-out silhouette, plummeting through space. 

The score itself is catchy, with many memorable themes that repeat throughout. Sometimes it’s a delicate piano melody, while other times it’s bombastic pop-rock. Romans live-scores from a lofted DJ booth, outfitted like a cross between Victor Frankenstein and Beethoven. He does come down from his perch at least once, but I won’t spoil his moment. 

After the show and during intermission, it may behoove you to poke around and explore the immersive elements scattered throughout the space. In the Emotional Correctional room, you might find the patient file of a character you’ve come to know. In a cluttered study near the entrance, you’ll find vials of emotions and elixirs. Bills posted in an alley call for Woolf’s capture. 

If CAGES sounds like your cup of tea, it’d be wise to book a ticket early. The show opens on Dec. 5, but the theater only seats 100 per night. And if you want to see more theater that incorporates projection, the LA Opera‘s famed take on Mozart’s The Magic Flute is back in season through Dec. 15. 

CAGES is located at 1926 E 7th Place in the Arts District. Tickets start at $50.


Sandbox VR Lets You Fight Zombies, Battle Friends, and Go Inside ‘Star Trek’

November 19, 2019 by Juliet Bennett Rylah
The Curse of Davy Jones concept art Photo: Sandbox VR

Fight robots in the future, beam down to an alien world as a Starfleet officer or battle your friends head-to-head in a virtual arena. These experiences are all available at Sandbox VR, one of the latest virtual reality experiences to come to Los Angeles. 

Sandbox VR has actually been around for a while, founded in San Mateo in 2016. There are currently locations in Hong Kong, Singapore, Vancouver, and San Francisco, with outposts in Austin, Denver, New York and more coming soon. L.A.’s Sandbox VR location opened this past summer in The Village at Westfield Topanga, and they’ve recently added three experiences, including their Star Trek: Discovery and player-versus-player offerings.

Like similar VR experiences, Sandbox guests don headsets, haptic vests, backpacks, and tracking sensors on their hands and feet. Combined, the gear allows guests to enjoy full mobility in VR. This means that when you kick your feet or wave your arms in real life, you’ll see your VR self replicate these movements. To ensure proper tracking, store manager Cameron Roach says Sandbox VR makes their hand and feet trackers “from scratch.” The vests are equipped with haptic feedback, meaning players feel a vibration every time they take “damage” inside their game—kind of like laser tag, but more immersive.

While some VR properties are geared towards solo exploration, Sandbox’s experiences are for group gaming. Some are cooperative, while others are competitive. Three are similar when it comes to gameplay, though not aesthetic. Deadwood Manor, Amber Sky, and The Curse of Davy Jones all have you battling hordes of enemies. It’s zombies in Deadwood, robots in the futuristic Amber Sky, and skeletal pirates aboard Davy Jones. 

Then there’s the brand new Away Mission, a Star Trek: Discovery game and Sandbox’s first IP. Players beam down to a new world and use familiar Trekkie tools, like the phaser and tricorder, to seek out new life and new civilizations—and occasionally, fight hostile enemies. 

These four experiences are all team-based, where it’s you and your friends against the virtual enemies. Unbound Fighting League (UFL) is Sandbox’s player-versus-player experience. It’s sort of like Black Mirror‘s “Striking Vipers” without the weird, sexy subplot. Guests choose their character avatar and weapon before going head-to-head in a virtual arena. Each virtual weapon comes with its own properties, allowing players the opportunity to play again and enjoy a different experience. During each bout, Sandbox even offers real-time running commentary, as if you’re actually dueling at a live event. 

Sandbox V’s location in The Village makes it the third VR experience to come to a Los Angeles mall. The VOID is stationed inside the Glendale Galleria, while Dreamscape Immersive is housed inside Westfield Century City. 

So, how do they compare? Well, for context, I’ve only done Amber Sky at Sandbox, compared to three Dreamscape experiences and four VOID experiences. But, at a glance, Sandbox is the longest of the three and the most gamified—interesting, in part, because many VR companies consider what they do “experiences,” not games. 

The VOID has a number of blockbuster IPs, including Star Wars, The Avengers, Ghostbusters, and Wreck-It Ralph. It places its guests inside an ever-changing labyrinth full of multi-sensory elements that make you feel like you’re really blasting Stormtroopers aboard an Imperial vessel or busting ghosts on a windy balcony. You can sense the heat coming off a lava planet and smell roasted marshmallows when Stay Puft Marshmallow Man comes calling. When you push a button or walk through a doorway in the VOID, those elements exist in real-life and your actual hands actually touch them. 

Dreamscape Immersive is similarly multi-sensory, but less game-like. Each experience feels very cinematic, with stunning visual and tactile elements that work together to create an original world or tell a story. In Alien Zoo, you can reach out and stroke the snout of a mysterious creature. In the Lost Projector, an Indiana Jones-esque adventure, you’ll rush through an old temple on a rickety mine cart in pursuit of a precious artifact. 

Comparatively, Sandbox dials back the spectacle (though there is definitely some), and functions more like a game. For instance, the VOID often shies away from keeping score because it’s less immersive when, say, a Rebel fighter has a running tally of how many Stormtroopers they’ve hit. Sandbox VR, however, embraces those mechanics.

“We create our content from the perspective of game designers and players,” Cameron Roach, store manager, said. “Our design team consists of individuals who have developed games and really want to home in on what makes a good game. Unlike other experiences, we aren’t an attraction that you can just complete and be done with. We have scoreboards, the ability to fail, and a large amount of re-playability. You can create competitions for MVP or see who can get the highest accuracy.” 

In Amber Sky, our group of six found ourselves laughing as we fought off hordes of robots and insects—sometimes successfully, other times not. Some of us were equipped with virtual shields, which could be tossed or use to protect teammates from enemy fire. Some of us had flamethrowers. Though we could see and hear each other well enough, we still found ourselves bumping into each other to take cover or co-guard a corner. There were even moments where we avoided stepping off a “platform,” despite knowing full-well we were standing on solid ground in real life. It’s easy to see how games like this could work for team-building exercises.

It’s hard to say which VR experience in L.A. is “best” as that’s likely going to be in the eye of the headset-wearer. What we can say, though, is that between The VOID, Dreamscape Immersive, Sandbox VR, Hollywood’s Virtual Room, and the ever-changing lineup at Two Bit Circus, it’s a great time to a VR fan in Los Angeles. 

For those of you who haven’t tried VR before, Roach offers this advice: “Bring comfortable shoes and prepare to be wowed. I think the aspect of being able to move and interact with our virtual world is still something that a lot of people are wrapping their heads around. A lot of first-timers don’t realize this until they are halfway through the experience and sweating up a storm.”

Sandbox VR is located at The Village Westfield Topanga, 6600 Topanga Canyon Blvd, Suite 1120/25 in Canoga Park. Tickets are $36/person.

Happenings, Reviews

Haus of Creep is 2019’s Sexiest Halloween Experience

October 8, 2019 by Juliet Bennett Rylah
The Clown Photo: Hatbox Photography

Now that I’ve seen a good bit of L.A.’s Halloween offerings, I can say that Haus of Creep is our sexiest “haunted house.” But really it’s not a haunted house at all. What is it? Well, it’s different for everyone. For me, it was shortly after I emerged from the X-rated puppet show that I noticed the fellow in the gimp mask had a new muse. He was painting a portrait of a completely naked man, whose arms were stuck inside two long, cardboard tubes. When he walked, he looked like an insect, but I’d been told he was actually a piece of living art that I could buy. This is Haus of Creep.

Haus of Creep is the fourth Halloween attraction from JFI Productions. Since their first show in 2015, their Halloweens have gotten stranger. Year one’s traditional, walk-through maze—which already contained an added layer of immersion and multiple pathways for apprehensive guests—has since spiraled into gorgeous, atmospheric works of art and theater. Last year’s Creep LA: Awake focused on nightmares. It was dreamy and brooding, unraveling over an unfinished expanse in ROW DTLA in monochrome splendor. This year Haus of Creep reinvents JFI’s experience once again. It is an art show that takes place in a faux-gallery, but also a theater piece that critiques modern art and our increasingly Instagrammable culture. 

Guests arrive at The Company’s gallery (again housed at ROW DTLA). The Company is a gaggle of archetypal arthouse characters. They’re pretentious, immaculately dressed, and probably cruel to even their closest friends. Each one could have been snipped straight from Velvet Buzzsaw, and they’re so proud of their show. A walk around the gallery reveals ephemera from previous Creep shows and busy installations that are probably statements about the way we consume culture.

In one early exhibit, you peer into a series of small holes to see scantily dressed models getting primped for a BDSM ball. In a lounge area, you can buy a glass of beer or wine while a dancer in neon lingerie works a pole. Everything is both is sexy, but is also trying too hard to be sexy. If this were an actual art show, you might roll your eyes. But because it’s not—and because you’ve been to shows just like this—you smirk. It’s a great parody, and it’s better than the real thing. 

Clarissa Hawkins Photo: Hatbox Photography

For the first few minutes, guests wander at their own pace. Eventually the group congregates in the main room where curator Clarissa Hawkins (played by Misha Reeves) welcomes you to her show. She announces an upcoming auction of living art. And because this is a horror piece, that means what you think it means: actual human beings repurposed as art you can buy to own. 

Clarissa’s reveal came as no surprise to me. Early on, I was intercepted by art critic Mona Carmichael (played by Deidre Lyons). She told me how her wealthy friend built a plastic house in front of his own estate for his living art, which spends its days rolling around. She acted as though she were describing a fashionable Roomba, not a person. 

Clarissa wants us to get a good look at her wares, so she invites them out. They include a Pagliacci-cum-Pennywise clown (played by Jacob Miller), a couple in bondage gear and handcuffs, and a woman in a red dress and Twiggy makeup. Mona leans in to tell me the pair in chains would likely go first as sex always sells. 

Clarissa then releases us to explore the gallery some more and perhaps interact with the art. Unlike previous versions of Creep, there is no set pathway to follow. This isn’t a haunted maze where things pop out at you, but an open-world exploration. You look at whatever you want to look at and talk to whatever characters you like.

Mona and two patrons outside the gallery. Photo: Hatbox Photography

Characters generally come in two factions: the Company and the Creeps. The Company consists of Clarissa, her lackeys and patrons, bright-eyed tour guides eager to share info about the art, and the artists themselves. The Creeps are the art. You choose to follow a specific storyline or character, or meander aimlessly. Whatever game plan a person picks, it’s impossible to see and do everything Haus of Creep has to offer in a single visit. There are numerous spaces to unlock, which you might not even realize exist until a character ushers you inside. 

On my visit, I went to a birthday party hosted by the clown, an extremely naughty puppet show, and played a tense game with Mona about achievement and sacrifice. In between these moments, I saw a variety of strange things, like the aforementioned tube man, a woman developing photos in a roped-off chamber, and a small room where a man was giving out new hairdos. I observed increasingly bizarre incidents until the show’s horrifying climax, the likes of which I won’t spoil. Let’s just say, art can sometimes be dangerous.

If you go to Haus of Creep, you should expect to see your own batch of weird, adults-only things, but they won’t be the same things I saw. You may be touched (gently), blindfolded, and subject to violent or sexual imagery, but this is not an extreme haunt. You can purchase beer or wine throughout the evening, but the bathroom is located outside the Haus of Creep, so plan accordingly. This is about a 75-minute show. You’ll probably have fun going with friends or alone. If you choose to go with others, feel free to ditch them and do your own exploring so you have something to talk about after. Though you won’t be able to use your phone or take pictures with it inside the event, there are several photo booths you can use to remember your night among the creeps. 

Haus of Creep runs through Nov. 3 at ROW DLTA, 777 Alameda Street. Tickets are $69.

Things To Do

Here’s Our Huge List of Halloween To-Dos in L.A. for 2019

September 19, 2019 by Juliet Bennett Rylah

Hello, horror fans! This year’s Halloween lineup is looking particularly frightful, with theme parks, mazes, escape rooms, and immersive encounters in the dark galore.

Below we’ve amassed a list of our very favorite ways to get creepy this autumn. Help a coven of witches complete a mysterious ritual, find out what makes for a killer selfie, dine with horror’s best hedonist, and more. Whatever flavor of spookiness you’re looking for, we think you’ll find something enticing via the rundown that follows.


The Ghostbusters maze at Universal’s HHN Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights

Universal Studios Hollywood has more mazes—both original and fan favorites—than ever before, plus foggy scare zones and performances by hip-hop dance troupe Jabbawockeez. This year’s maze lineup includes:

Us: Based on Jordan Peele’s recent horror masterpiece in which a family must face its worst enemies—themselves, sort of.
Ghostbusters: Based on the 1984 horror-comedy.
Stranger Things: Netflix’s dark horror-fantasy series returns to Universal, this time drawing from seasons 2 and 3.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space: Based on 1988 cult flick in which a group of alien clowns wreaks havoc on the town of Crescent Cove.
Creepshow: This maze will take inspiration from both Stephen King’s 1980s anthology film and Shudder’s upcoming series.
Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses: Based on Zombie’s 2003 film about a deranged family that torments a group of road-tripping teens.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man: Two of Universal’s classic monsters in one maze. I ship it.
Holidayz in Hell: This one’s an original maze that presents a sinister turn on our biggest holidays.
The Curse of Pandora’s Box: Another original maze, this one pays tribute a famous Greek myth and the dangers of curiosity.
The Walking Dead: Though the park’s Walking Dead maze is a permanent attraction, you are certainly welcome to give it a zombie-filled go at HHN.

Those who feel like splurging can spring for a front-of-line pass or the R.I.P Tour. The R.I.P Tour includes access to dinner, drinks, and dessert; a private lounge with themed drinks; a tour of the mazes and the studio backlot; photo ops; an express pass to mazes and available rides, and parking for one car.

Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights is located at 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City. Sept. 13 – Nov. 3. $64 and up for general admission. $159 and up for Express. $270 and up for R.I.P. Tour.

Six Flags Fright Fest

Six Flags Magic Mountain will offer several original mazes and scare zones, plus nightly entertainment and roller coasters you can ride in the dark. Mazes include:

Vault 666 Unlocked: An old antique store’s hidden vault of cursed objects.
Sewer of Souls: For those more horrified by bathroom humor than gore, this one’s literally a sewer. From Hell.
Red’s Revenge: A horrific take on Little Red Riding Hood. Yes, even more horrific than a lumberjack who has to hack a girl and her grandmother out of a giant wolf’s belly.
Aftermath 2: Chaos Rising: A town is plagued with an apocalyptic virus.
Condemned – Forever Damned: You’re attending an open house. You probably won’t put in an offer.
Willoughby’s Revenge: A horror classic, really. A dilapidated Victorian mansion, teeming with ghosts.

Six Flags Magic Mountain’s Fright Fest is located at 26101 Magic Mountain Parkway, Valencia. Sept. 14 – Nov. 3. General admission starts at $54.99.

Knott’s Scary Farm

The Western-themed, family-friendly Berry Farm will transform into Scary Farm this September. The park will feature several returning mazes, two brand new ones, scare zones, nightly entertainment, and a zombie-themed VR experience. New this year is Puppet Up! Uncensored from Brian Henson (son of Jim and Jane Henson), which replaces the long-running Elvira show. Mazes include:

Dark Entity: Aliens have breached your ship and they aim to possess you.
Dark Ride: A broken down carnival ride is full of depraved carnies.
Origins: The Curse of Calico: Why is Knott’s Scary Farm so haunted? This maze explores the curse of the Green Witch, building on the annual event’s decades-long mythology.
Wax Works: Ah, an old wax museum. What could go wrong? Unless the wax figures were made out of people, that is.
Pumpkin Eater: The Pumpkin Eater is a mysterious beast that stalks the woods. Is he made out of pumpkin? Uh, perhaps. He’s also seven feet tall and will hunt you down.
Paranormal Inc.: A paranormal ghost-hunting show goes awry when the set turns out to be truly haunted.
Shadow Lands: Based on Japanese myths, guests explore an ancient temple—and the afterlife.
Special Ops Infected: It’s like laser tag. With zombies.

Knott’s Scary Farm is located at 8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park. Sept. 19 – Nov. 2. Tickets start at $43.

Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor

This year’s annual event will feature six mazes, including the brand new Rogue, in which the crew either is (or isn’t?) working to save the capsized vessel you’re trapped aboard. Nightly entertainment, rides, roaming monsters, and themed lounges round out Dark Harbor’s offerings.

The Queen Mary’s Dark Habor is located at 1126 Queens Hwy, Long Beach. Sept. 26 – Nov. 2. Tickets start at $20.

Photo Credit: Thirteenth Floor Entertainmen

Haunted Hayride

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride will be helmed by Thirteenth Floor this year. And, instead of several disconnected attractions, the park will unify under one theme: Midnight Falls. Midnight Falls is a fictional town circa 1985. Guests can visit the Town Square and its macabre characters; check out the Roadkill Ranch on the outskirts of town; Trick or Treat in a ghoulish neighborhood; drop by the local mortuary, or engage in mini-escape games. Of course, the centerpiece remains the hayride, which will take guests straight to the hellish portal from which the town’s nightmares escape.

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride is located in Griffith Park (Old Zoo), 4730 Crystal Springs Dr., Los Angeles. Sept. 28 – Nov. 2. Tickets start at $29.99.

Reign of Terror Photo: Facebook

Reign of Terror

Reign of Terror is one of the largest haunted houses you can attend, and it grows bigger every year. This year promises 115 rooms, encompassing nine different themes, each one connected to the last. Themes include Infected, Asylum, Miner’s Revenge, Fun House, the all-new Containment and more. There’s also a new experience called the Widow’s Den where one should “avoid being wrapped up.” We can only assume that means spiders.

Special events include a Lights-On tour ($5), for those who would prefer to see the sets without all the scares, and a Lights-Out, for those who’d prefer to navigate the maze with a single glow stick per group. (Please note that this event is recommended for those who have already enjoyed the attraction with all the special effects and lighting intact.) Reign of a Terror is a genuinely fun and creative haunt and, given its size and low ticket prices, one of the season’s best deals.

Reign of Terror is located at Janss Marketplace, 197 N. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks. Sept. 28 – Nov 2. $17 and up.

17th Door

The 17th Door is an odd haunt. Its continuing narrative revolves around Paula, who debuted in 2015 as a quiet, troubled college student who suffered from a variety of topical youth issues. (Kind of like 13 Reasons Why, but horror, or Riverdale, but less sexy.) Throughout the past several Halloweens, Paula has become a mother, a murderer, and now an inmate of a twisted penitentiary where the staff inflicts experiments upon its charges. This year’s 35-minute show, “Fearless,” will follow both Paula’s road to redemption and the Warden’s sadistic hobbies. Those feeling particularly brave can add on a 15-minute VR experience, which occurs prior to the show. Please note that while this is not an extreme torture haunt, the actors may touch you and there is a safe word—”Mercy”—for anyone who’d like to nope right on out.

The 17th Door is located at the West Fullerton Shopping Center, 1851 W. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton. Sept. 20 – Nov. 2. Tickets are $25 an up.


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Haus of Creep

JFI Productions’ Creep LA is always one of my favorite haunts of the season and this year, they’re turning into an Instagram factory with Haus of Creep. You know those pop-ups that are little more than photo booths for aspiring influencers? That’s what Haus of Creep is, only it promises to be a terrifying (and maybe sexy?) take on the modern concept. According to a release, Haus of Creep “sets out to remind us that art is alive, and it can’t be restricted to a little square photo without dangerous consequences.”

Small groups will spend about 75 minutes winding through bizarre vignettes, encountering some 20 characters, intimate scenes of terror, and a moody lounge area. Beer and wine will be for sale in the lounge, with proceeds benefiting nonprofit Beautify Earth.

Haus of Creep is located at ROW DTLA, 777 S. Alameda St., DTLA, Building #2, Level 1. Sept. 13- Nov. 3. Tickets are $69. 21+ only.

The Ritual Photo: Shine On Collective

The Ritual

Shine On Collective is an immersive theater company that, in the few years they’ve been active, has become adept at producing intimate, emotional, and provocative shows for small groups and single guests. We’re sure their latest Halloween offering will be no exception.

In The Ritual, guests join a coven of witches to help them complete a ritual. While the coven is ostensibly looking for a missing person, you may slip through time and memory as your journey continues. The hour-long experience may contain moments of total darkness, small spaces, loud noises, and physical contact, and participants may have to crawl at times.

The Ritual is located in DTLA, location to be revealed to ticket holders. Saturdays and Sundays, Sept. 21 – 29. Tickets are $81.20.

Drunken Devil’s Black Magic

Drunken Devil always throws a killer Halloween party, this one taking guests back to the Golden Age of Magic. Mingle with charismatic magicians while unraveling the secrets of Old Hollywood’s dark dabblings in the occult. Drink themed cocktails, enjoy live entertainment, including tarot readers and burlesque, and dance your heart out—assuming no one removes it to sacrifice to an ancient deity, of course.

Black Magic is on Saturday, Oct. 19 from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. The location will be announced to ticket holders. General admission is $85 and includes access to the open bar. Tickets are $75 and up.

From DDC’s “The Ominous Marriage Of Cupid & Psyche” Photo: Lynora Valdez

The Depraved Attic of Dorian Gray

Disco Dining Club and the Grim Weather return with yet another lavish, elaborately themed dinner party under the mantra “consume everything.” It’s fitting that this time around they’re summoning one of literature’s greatest hedonists: Dorian Gray. The Depraved Attic of Dorian Gray consists of a 5-course meal via Chef Laurent Quenioux; themed cocktails from Happy Hour Academy; caviar from East Boston Oysters; immersive performances; live music and dance numbers, and parting gift bags. The entire party will take place within Oscar Wilde’s gothic horror work, The Picture of Dorian Gray. So dress your best and leave your damning portraits at home in the attic.

Seatings available Oct. 24, 25, and 26 at 7:30 p.m. Located at a private location in Hollywood, to be revealed to ticket holders. Tickets are $250.

Alt Delete

Last year, Delusion brought us The Blue Blade, an interactive, time-traveling adventure. Guests were on the trail of Evelyn Lowell, a scientist who had stolen a blade that allows the user to cut through the fabric of time—sometimes to disastrous effect. This year, Delusion will debut a short bonus chapter to that story called Alt Delete. In this 20-minute immersive piece, guests will travel back to 1982 to deal with a breach in Lowell’s former lab. The tone will be a departure from previous Delusion shows, trading horror for humor. Those looking for a lighter Halloween event without the gore and guts may enjoy this sci-fi offering.

Alt Delete is located at 3742 S. Flower St., DTLA. Sept. 18 – Dec. 15. Tickets are $38 and up.

Terror DTLA

In Terror DTLA, guests arrived at a downtown medical facility for an appointment. But instead of a standard physical, you’ll have to fend off an unknown entity who’s looking to remove something you’d like to keep. This haunted house will contain a few escape room-style puzzles, but the actors will not touch you. Suitable for ages 10 and up, though guests 10-17 must be joined by an adult.

Terror DTLA is located at 800 McGarry St., DTLA. Oct. 4 – 26. Tickets are $55.60.

Give Up the Ghost

In this 90-minute immersive work from Spectacular Disaster Factory, the audience will play themselves. The catch is that you’re dead and awaiting passage to the afterlife via the mythical Ferryman. According to a release, guests will “play their dead selves on the shores of Eternity to bear witness to the sorrows and terrors of the living.” Though jump scares and gore will not be a part of this piece, there may be dark or tragic themes throughout.

Give up the Ghost is located at First Christian Church of Whittier, 6355 Greenleaf Ave., Whittier. Select dates Sept. 27 – Nov. 15. General admission is $100; $50 on preview night (Sept. 27).

Freeform’s Halloween House

Freeform’s Halloween House returns for a second year featuring interactive and Instagram-friendly scenes from beloved Halloween films including The Nightmare Before Christmas, Hocus Pocus, and The Addams Family. According to a release, guests will enter through the Halloween Town tree portal, “interact with an animatronic Thackery Binx, call for another glorious morning from Winifred’s window, and climb even deeper into Billy’s Grave.” On Oct. 3, enjoy a drag show and witch-themed cocktails with the Sanderson Sisters.

Freeform’s Halloween House is located at Hollywood Athletic Club, 6525 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. Oct. 2 – 7. General admission is $27; Hocus Pocus Drag is $37 (includes two drink tickets).

Urban Death Photo: Jana Wimer

Urban Death Tour of Terror

Urban Death is an annual tradition at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theater. Guests typically wind through a short maze full of strange monsters before taking a seat in the black box theater. A series of disturbing (and occasionally funny) vignettes unfold, one after another. In between, total darkness cleanses the palate for the next scares. It should be noted that while this is one of the weirdest, most creative Halloween shows around, you will see shocking, sometimes gross pieces and moments of total nudity.

Zombie Joe’s Underground Theater is located at 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Oct. 4 – Nov. 2. Tickets are $16 in advance or $20 at the door.

The Seance

From Cross Roads Escape Games, The Seance is an hour-long interactive theater piece in which Madam Ruby seeks your help to reach beyond the veil. The intimate experience is designed for 8 guests at a time, ages 16+.

Cross Roads Escape Games is located at 4245 E La Palma Ave., Anaheim. Oct. 2 – Nov. 3. Tickets are $45-60.

The Shadow Space: A Haunted Affair

The Shadow Space is part-escape room, part-immersive theater. You’ll play a ghost who, after being schooled in the ways of haunting by elder spirits, will rattle your proverbial chains for the living. You’ll enter the home of a couple hosting a small gathering and meddle in their gossip. Of course, things won’t go as planned and it’s up to you unseen specters to save the living from a dire fate.

The Shadow Space is located at 1763 N Gower St., Hollywood. Oct. 7 – Nov. 3. Tickets are $60. 


The Evil Dead: An Immersive Experience

Bearded Lady’s Mystic Museum frequently houses fun, horror-themed exhibits and their latest is a tribute to The Evil Dead. You’ll find photo ops, tribute art, and props from the film inside, including Ash’s signature chainsaw.

Bearded Lady’s Mystic Museum is located at 3204 Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. Through Dec. 7. $12.

The Haunted 2: Welcome Foolish Mortals

This art show pays tribute to Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion attraction with tribute art including paintings, sculptures, jewelry and more. An opening reception on Oct. 5 will feature tarot readings and Ghost Host tours.

Haunted 2 is located at The Hive Gallery, 729 S. Spring St. DTLA. Oct. 5 – Nov. 3. Suggested $5 donation for reception, otherwise free.

I Like Scary Movies

Artist Maximillian’s popular horror-themed pop-up returns for Halloween with a few changes. They’re moving downtown and adding a brand new Friday the 13th installation. The detailed and beautiful series of installations is a love letter from the artist to iconic horror films like The Lost Boys, Beetlejuice, and The Shining.

“In essence, it’s kind of like you’re walking into a 3-D fan art experience,” Maximillian previously told We Like L.A. “I’m the fan, and I’m creating these installations and the things that resonated with me in these five movies.”

I Like Scary Movies is located in the HD Buttercup Building, 2117 East Violet St., DTLA. Sept. 20 – Nov. 17. Tickets are $39.

Illusions of Horror Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah


Wax museums are already creepy, yes, but did you know Madame Tussauds in Hollywood has its own year-round horror exhibit? The Illusions of Horror features a series of Instagrammable installations from Dracula (1931), The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Silence of the Lambs, and more. And if you venture further, you can grab a selfie with Buffy the Vampire Slayer or play with Ouija boards in their ’90s room.

Madame Tussauds is located at 6933 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Admission is $16.99 and up.

NHM’s History of Horror

This exhibit explores the history and science behind some of Hollywood’s most famous monsters, including Dracula, Frankenstein and his monster, the Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The interactive display will feature real movie props and enough spooky party trivia to creep out all your friends. 

NHM is located at 900 W Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles. Oct. 10 – April 10. Included with general museum admission, which is $14.


Though most escape rooms are active year-round, here are some of our favorite rooms with a horror theme. If you’re unfamiliar with escape rooms, you and a group of friends will typically have one hour to solve a series of puzzles and clues to “escape” a room or scenario.

The Basement, Sylmar
Four rooms—the basement, an elevator shaft, the study, and the courtyard—follow a continuous narrative. You’ve been captured by serial killer Ed Tandy, who has given you one last chance to puzzle your way out of his home before he eats you. Some rooms feature live actors.

60 Out, various locations
Amityville, Echo Park
Miss Jezebel, near DTLA (This is part-escape room, part- immersive theater experience with a live actor.)
The Orphanage, Koreatown (Note: This is the scariest escape room I’ve ever played.)
Dr. Psycho, East Hollywood
Dracula, Fairfax

Maze Rooms, various locations
They’re Coming, Culver City
Vampire, Tarzana
Jack the Ripper, Culver City

Escape Room LA, DTLA
The Theater

The Bunker Experience Photo: The Bunker Experience

The Bunker Experience, Pasadena
A dystopian Apocalypse horror story with three chapters you can play in succession for a 90-minute immersive journey.

Escapade Games, Fullerton
Zoe (Said to be the scariest room in Southern California)
The Last Experiment

Cross Roads Escape Games, Anaheim
Hex: Designed like a classic horror movie, guests will be assigned an archetype (Prom Queen, Jock, etc.) and split into separate rooms at the beginning of the game.
Psych Ward: Similar to Werewolf, ‘sane’ inmates will try to determine the ‘insane’ among them while solving numerous puzzles.

Escape Hotel, Hollywood
Numerous escape rooms all housed inside one spooky ‘hotel’ staffed by ghoulish characters.


Here’s a Look at the Derry Canal Days Festival and Fun House

August 15, 2019 by Juliet Bennett Rylah
Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah

Though IT Chapter Two won’t hit theaters until September 6, Pennywise the dancing clown returns to Hollywood today with the Derry Canal Days Festival and Fun House. Reserved tickets for the attraction sold out in a matter of minutes, but there will be a daily walk-up line for those who still want to attend. We stopped by the press preview to report on the horrors everyone’s favorite spider-clown from another dimension has in store.

While Warner Bros. took us through the dilapidated Neibolt House (where Pennywise once lived) in 2017 to promote IT Chapter One, this year takes us to a carnival in the small town of Derry, Maine. It looks like a smaller version of the carnival that appears in the IT Chapter Two trailers, complete with a fun house guests enter via a clown’s gaping maw. There’s also a spinning ferris wheel, but it’s a bit too small for humans.

Humans can, however, play a variety of midway games. They include ringtoss and a game where you have to squirt water into a Pennywise face until you pop the red balloon that’s attached to it. Not only is this precisely the kind of thing you’d do at a carnival, but popping balloons is one of Pennywise’s favorite activities, although they’re usually full of blood.

Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah

Elsewhere, wagons offer various tasty carnival treats, and you’ll find a few photo ops for the Instagram-inclined scattered throughout the area. But the centerpiece is, of course, the fun house.

Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah

A dubiously charismatic carnival barker in the archetypal red-and-white striped suit invites guests to step right up. Guests will be separated into groups via colored wristbands, so you can feel free to enjoy the carnival while you’re waiting for yours to be called. Inside, the fun house functions a lot like a walk-through haunted house.

Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah

But instead of walking through in a single-file line, there are about 10 different rooms full of monsters and surprises, plus some very fun transitions. There’s a gauntlet of swinging, black-lit clowns; a hall of mirrors; an ominous sewer tunnel; a chilling restaurant scene, and a shocking finale. We’d hate to spoil the scares for you, so you’ll just have to go and experience them for yourself. We can say that if you watched the IT Chapter Two trailers, you’ll likely recognize a few scenes.

Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah

The experience is designed to take about 40 minutes, which includes the midway, a trip through the fun house, and a stop at the merchandise booth at the end where T-shirts, hats, toys, and other collectibles can be purchased.

The Derry Canal Days Festival and Fun House runs through September 6, daily from 2 to11 p.m. Reserved times are spoken for, but a walk-up
standby line will be available each day.


Think Tank Gallery’s Pizza-Themed Art Show Parodies Selfie Museums in the Cheesiest Way Possible

July 28, 2019 by Juliet Bennett Rylah

Art by Baker’s Son, Photo by James Ollard

Think Tank Gallery’s latest show, Nothing Cheezy, is both a food-themed selfie pop-up (akin to The Museum of Ice Cream, Candytopia, or Egg House) and a parody of that same trend. A partnership with art collectives Pizzaboyzzz and Bloody Gums, the theme of the show is pizza, but the undercurrent is a sly commentary on the nature of art in our modern, social media-oriented world. It’s essentially what happens when a group of established, original artists make one of these things themselves with complete and total control over their pieces. Guests to the show will encounter a pizza Jesus, a pizza video installation that offers an artistic prize when you spin a wheel and land on the right ‘slice,’ and a mini-golf hole where Godzilla destroys a city made from pizza boxes. If that sounds, well, kind of cheesy, that’s okay.

“More than anything, probably, [Nothing Cheezy is] a mockery of ourselves for having been so deeply involved in this scene in downtown L.A. for the past 10 years or so,” Jacob Patterson, director of Think Tank Gallery said. “The show is called Nothing Cheezy because we’re making the absolute cheesiest art show possible. All of these ‘art’ shows are really cheesy most of the time, so we’re having fun realizing that it actually is fun.”

One of Los Angeles’s earliest Instagrammable, food-centric shows, at least in recent history, may have been the Break Bread exhibit Think Tank hosted in 2016 (The gallery was then located in the Fashion District, but has since relocated near Little Tokyo). The show featured work from Baker’s Son and Scott Hove. While the work contained poignant commentary on topics like race and police violence, it was most popularly touted as a “cake maze.” People selfied among the pastel installations, each one looking like a fantastical layer cake lined with icing and garnished with candies. But if they paid attention, maybe they got more out of it, too. That would certainly tie in with Think Tank’s mantra of “meaningful, not mindless entertainment.” And entertainment, Patterson admits, is the hardest part of that statement.

“You can make meaningful stuff all day, but actually connecting it to other people is really difficult,” he said.

Art by @xtofux, Photo by James Ollard

At Nothing Cheezy, Baker’s Son returns, this time with “Fuck Your Pizza Party.” The piece looks like someone just flipped a table at a pizza party, but in delicate watercolors. There’s a statement tucked in there pertaining to the artist’s past frustrations with elements of the art scene (a statement that is, at this time, off the record).

Elsewhere, Nina Palomba’s cartoony, cardboard cut-outs depict an anthropomorphic pizzeria dog surrounded by pizza boxes. On the concrete floor, there is an X for the subject of a photo to stand, while a dotted line leads to the ideal spot for a photographer.

Berk Visual offers a room of TVs playing various old TV and film clips (including scenes of Pizza the Hut from Spaceballs) across from a prize wheel that looks like a pizza. Spin the wheel and win the ultimate prize: an “impossible selfie,” taken by a secret security camera broadcast via livestream. Only winners will receive the livestream link.

“The entire tour is focused very heavily on crediting the artist and letting them do whatever they want,” Patterson said. “As you walk through the experience, there will be a lot of jokes on the culture [of selfie museums], but we also didn’t force our artists to do that. We just told them to make the most hilarious, cheesy thing that they could. So some of the installations are just what you would actually see at another food-themed pop-up, and then some of the installations are very subtlety mocking that scene—and some not so subtlety.”

After ascending through Balloonski’s pizza heaven (made from balloons, obviously), guests unload into an interactive parlor from artist Deladeso. Grab a piece of pizza (provided by a rotating selection of local pizzerias), play arcade games, and check out the various pizza-themed pieces in both the lounge and the picnic area beyond. Guests also receive a limited edition pin. Patterson notes that as this is Think Tank’s first ticketed gallery show, they want to make sure people get something for their money.

“We wanted to make our tickets half as much as any of the other selfie tours, but include twice as much,” he said.

Art by @cheapslasherfilms, Photo by James Ollard

It may sound like Patterson doesn’t think highly of other selfie-oriented installations, but that’s not true. If such a pop-up serves as little more than paid ad space or is a copycat of another, then, sure, one could say they only exist to make money without serving their artists or their audience in any meaningful way. But that doesn’t mean that galleries need to be high-brow or can’t be photo-driven to be art. For people who don’t often find themselves in traditional galleries, installations can be a cool entry point to seeing art, Patterson said. These type of installations also present an opportunity to say something in an interactive way.

Patterson pointed to percussionist and activist Madame Gandhi’s installations in Refinery 29’s 29 Rooms. In Gandhi’s piece, guests were invited to hit several punching bags emblazoned with feminist messages. When hit, each one made a percussive sound.

“It was interactive, immersive, had meaning, was fun to do, and it was a good photo opp,” Patterson said. “If all the installations [in 29 Rooms] were like that, it would have been great.”

That’s the same conclusion I came to when I visited 29 Rooms. Some pieces felt like big ads and I got nothing from them. But I was enraptured by a room where musician Darby Walker improvised a song about any guest-submitted topic. Despite being written on the fly, her melodies and lyrics were gorgeous; her room was a respite from the frantic advertisement-heavy photo sets found elsewhere.

So, how does a company sponsor or construct something experiential without being terrible or shallow? Patterson recommends companies either hire artists and allow those artists freedom to create and experiment, or to seek out the creators who are already doing this work well and hire them.

“Let those artists keep building and making stuff, and your company can be responsible for that artist continuing to have a career,” he said. “It’s good PR for you, and you’ll get a better product out of it.”

Interested in getting Cheezy? Think Tank’s Nothing Cheezy runs through September 6. Tickets are $18 and up.


Get Free Sandwiches at The Boys’ Butcher Shop This Weekend Only

July 26, 2019 by Juliet Bennett Rylah
Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah

Fancy a knuckle sandwich? You can score one of five sandwiches—free of charge—at The Boys’ Butcher Shop, open this weekend only on Fairfax. It’s an immersive activation from Amazon Prime Video and Chef Ludovic Lefebvre in celebration of Amazon’s new gritty superhero series, The Boys

The titular heroes of The Boys, however, aren’t the suited superheroes. They’re a group of misfits (not all of them boys, actually) whose sole purpose is to expose the superpowered frauds for the heartless, depraved miscreants they are and bring them to justice. 

The Boys is based on Garth Ennis’ comic series of the same name, which takes place in a world where superheroes are not only real and revered for their heroic deeds, but also make blockbuster movies and action figures. The best-known heroes are The Seven: seven heroes who serve as this world’s version of The Avengers or the Justice League. They’re a profitable and nearly invincible bunch who, with help from the corrupt Vought International that manages them, basically do whatever they want behind closed doors. 

The Boys are led by Billy Butcher, hence the theme of Amazon’s pop-up. We meet Billy when he approaches The Boys’ latest recruit, Hughie Campbell. Hughie is a mild-mannered electronics store employee who learns the bitter truth about superheroes when A-Train (this world’s The Flash) runs straight through his girlfriend and leaves him holding nothing but her severed arms. If that sounds pretty gruesome, well… that’s The Boys: a bloody, fast-paced, darkly comedic parody of comics as we know them. 

Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah

Back at the Butcher Shop on Fairfax, guests will enter a small front room where irreverent butchers are surrounded by swinging slabs of meat and sausages. A sign at the counter reads, “Take a number and wait your fuckin’ turn.” When it is your turn you can choose from five sandwiches:

Hamlander: Named for The Seven’s Homelander (essentially their Captain America), this one’s got ham, radish, cornichon, and honey butter. 

Bottom Feeder: A reference to The Deep (that’d be the Seven’s Aquaman), expect tuna, veggies, fennel, and a creamy vinaigrette. 

Starcrossed: Lamb, harissa, arugula, dill, and yogurt. And a reference to Starlight, the latest recruit to The Seven. 

Trainwreck: Pork rillette, dijon, arugula, pickled red onion. This one’s named for A-Train, a speedster and the murderer of Hughie’s girlfriend, Robin.

Blackout: Pastrami, Swiss cheese, black mustard, and pickles on pumpernickel. This one’s name for Black Noir, a Seven member who wears a completely black bodysuit. 

Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah

Meander into the back of the shop and you’ll find The Boys secret lair, which includes a table piled with weapons and a conspicuous cage with an even more conspicuous car battery and jumpers nearby. Guests can expect interactions with characters throughout the experience, whether that’s a surly butcher or a superhero trapped in the aforementioned cage. 

Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah

We’re told the butcher shop will close its two-day run with some kind of dramatic occurrence, which will apparently livestream on Twitch. But before that: free sandwiches!

Fun fact: Garth Ennis also penned the comic Preacher, was adapted into an AMC series in 2016. Seth Rogen and Evan Golderberg serve as executive producers on both Preacher and The Boys. So if you’re sad about Preacher‘s fourth and final season kicking off on August 4, here’s your new fix. 

Another fun fact: The comic book’s Hughie is meant to look like actor Simon Pegg. And while the show’s Hughie is played by Jack Quaid, who does not resemble Pegg, Pegg does play Hughie’s father. 

The Boys’ Butcher Shop is located at 457 N. Fairfax Avenue. Open Saturday, July 27 and Sunday, July 28, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Free to enter, free to eat sandwiches.


There’s a Free, Creepy Carnival Coming to Hollywood for ‘IT Chapter Two’

July 23, 2019 by Juliet Bennett Rylah

Next month Pennywise the dancing clown returns to Hollywood with a second terrifying, immersive event. And, unlike the Losers Club, we don’t even have to wait 27 years for the spider-clown from another dimension to revisit our nightmares. The Derry Canal Days Festival will open to the public on August 15 at the corner of Hollywood and Vine, drawing from the forthcoming IT Chapter Two, which hits theaters on September 6. 

As you may recall, the Neibolt House showed up on that very same corner—typically an ordinary parking lot—in the summer of 2017. Fans of IT (the book, the miniseries, or the reboot) know that the Neibolt House is the crumbling manor on Neibolt Street that Pennywise calls home. Those who ventured inside the Hollywood pop-up haunt were treated to a 7-minute study in coulrophobia.

For IT Chapter Two, Warner Brothers is doing something a little different. The “Derry Canal Days Festival” promises a peek into the upcoming film. Little info is available at this time, but we do know guests will filter through 10 different interactive spaces over the course of a whole 40 minutes—a much longer terror tour than the previous IT-eration.

IT Chapter Two picks up 27 years after the events of IT Chapter One. Our seven heroes are all adults who think they defeated Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) in a cataclysmic showdown in the sewers of Derry, Maine. Each still bears the scars of the traumatic haunting, but most of them have moved on and, most importantly, away. Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), however, remained in Derry and became the small town’s librarian. It’s Mike who realizes that Pennywise is back, and who must try to reunite the gang to defeat the evil clown once and for all.

You can watch the latest trailer, released at San Diego Comic-Con, to tide you over until August. At about 59 seconds in, you’ll see a glimpse of a carnival, which contains very scary house of mirrors. Could that be what Warner Bros. has in store for us?

IT Experience Chapter Two, The Derry Canal Days Festival runs August 15 through September 8 with daily hours from 2 to 11 p.m. Reservations are free and can be made online starting July 31. If reservations are gone before you can snag one, you may join the standby line outside the attraction. The event is open to those 18+ or 17-year-olds who are accompanied by an adult. 


A Blade Runner-inspired Pop-Up Bar is Coming to DTLA This November

July 10, 2019 by Juliet Bennett Rylah
Nexus 2019 Bar interior – artist concept – W. Kalkanis-Ellis

Los Angeles.
November 2019.

A single black title card with white lettering sets the scene in Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic, Blade Runner. The future the film depicts is both gorgeous and dystopian: a moody, rain-soaked, multicultural, techno-noir wonderland. The story follows Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), an ex-cop turned “blade runner” whose job is to track down and retire several realistic androids, called replicants, who are attempting to live past their engineered life expectancy. The replicants’ manufacturer, Tyrell Corporation, claims that their creations are “more human than human,” which leads to complicated soliloquies about what it means to be alive. Can even Deckard really tell a robot from a human?

When Blade Runner first launched, 2019 was years away. Now we’re here, and while we don’t have flying cars or androids that surpass the uncanny valley, we do have Nexus 2019, an immersive pop-up bar that promises to place us in a cyberpunk world not unlike Deckard’s.

Conceived by Wasteland Weekend creator Jared Butler, Nexus will open at a to-be-announced downtown L.A. location in November with an interior meticulously skinned to look like something straight out of the film (just don’t call it a “skin job”; that’s a slur that replicants do not appreciate.) Adding to the ambiance will be themed cocktails, food (including noodles), actors, and live entertainment. 

Blade Runner has always been among my favorite films,” Butler tells We Like L.A. “It’s such a great combination of classic Hollywood-style noir and innovative future sci-fi. I’m also a huge Harrison Ford fan. He was the bigger-than-life hero of my childhood—Han Solo, Indiana Jones, etcetera. When I moved to Los Angeles, and started spending more and more time in downtown L.A.—especially at night—I couldn’t help thinking about Blade Runner when I would walk down the city streets, especially on Broadway, where parts of the movie were filmed.” 

Nexus 2019 Bar interior – artist concept – W. Kalkanis-Ellis

The bar’s tagline is “more immersive than immersive,” and Butler has been producing the immersive Mad Max-themed Wasteland Weekend since 2010—long before brands latched onto the buzzword and started popping up Instagram-friendly selfie museums billed as “immersive.” Butler says he’s excited to combine his immersive work with the modern “cocktail renaissance,” taking “the idea of a themed bar to the next level.”

Cocktails come via BC Hoffman, co-owner of Well Work Beverage Consulting and a creative consultant with the Museum of the American Cocktail (MOTAC). They include a smokey, chrysanthemum and chamomile-infused Old Fashioned made with Johnnie Walker (Deckard’s poison of choice); a rum-based concoction that looks like a container of noodles (what Deckard eats); and a Cadillac margarita with yuzu and a floating eyeball in ice, reminiscent of those made by Tyrell engineer Hannibal Chew. Notably, it is a replicant’s right eye, inscribed with their serial number, that a blade runner takes for proof of retirement. Gnarly, right? 

Nexus 2019 signature Old Fashioned. Photo via Nexus 2019 Bar

As far as what types of immersive elements are on the table, Butler says much of that will remain a secret for the time being. But, he said in addition to an “incredibly detailed” interior that feels real and lived in, the way a good film set does, there will also be characters who interact with patrons in various ways. 

“This is not going to be a ‘scavenger hunt/murder mystery’ type of adventure. That type of thing can be great, but we are focusing more on a place where people can relax and be themselves and enjoy a drink or a light meal,” Butler says. “However, there may be certain nights when other things can happen if the patrons decide to sign on for it. We don’t want to force certain types of interaction onto people who just want to come out and have a drink and feel like they’re entering a retro-future world.” 

Tickets to Nexus will cost $82 each, which includes a two-hour reservation, one cocktail and a souvenir package. The two-hour limit is a hard out, though guests will be able to offboard into an adjacent, non-themed restaurant and bar if they so desire. Guests who wish to stay for another two-hour block may purchase multiple tickets, though they will need to exit and re-enter (and they will receive an additional souvenir package).

Though the ticket may seem pricey to some, Butler promises that anyone who walks into the space will be able to immediately see where the money went.

“We don’t do anything halfway. This is a passion project for so many people, and we’re treating it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create the place we always dreamed about walking into and getting a drink,” he says. “We want to transport people. When they step through the door, they are guided into both the future and the past. The past of the noir days of Los Angeles, the world of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. But also the future, specifically, the future that the 1980s dreamed of, with flying cars, neon, and style. Anyone should be able to walk through our doors and feel like the star of their own movie. And maybe that feeling will linger when they walk out the door, particularly on a foggy night in Los Angeles, November 2019.”

The name Nexus, by the way, is derived from a series of replicants Tyrell manufactures. K, played by Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049, is a Nexus-9. A young Deckard falls in love with Rachael, a Nexus-7. Rob Zombie claims to be the Nexus-1 in “More Human than Human.” But Roy Batty, the leader of the replicant gang Deckard hunts in Blade Runner, is a Nexus-6, programmed with a lifespan of only four years. That’s still several years longer than Nexus the bar currently has, with dates only slotted through the month of November. It’s too bad it won’t last, but then again, what does

Nexus opens on November 1. Tickets are $82. 21+ only.

Food, Happenings

‘For a Limited Time Only’ is a Tasty New Pop-Up at The NoMad Los Angeles

April 16, 2019 by Juliet Bennett Rylah
Mama Guidara’s Cocktails / Photo Credit: Christina Champlin

The NoMad Los Angeles is already home to both the coolest bathroom and the coolest stone, pool monster in downtown Los Angeles. Now, a new food series titled ‘For A Limited Time Only‘ transforms the hotel’s coffee shop into a variety of themed pop-ups every Friday and Saturday evening. The first, Mamma Guidara’s, takes inspiration from NoMad New York’s dinner series of the same name, which itself is inspired by old-school Italian-American red sauce restaurants.

It’s fitting that the first ‘For A Limited Time Only’ would emphasize Italian cuisine and cocktails. Long before the building was the NoMad Los Angeles, it was the L.A. headquarters of the Bank of Italy. Today, the hotel’s handsome, lobby-adjacent Giannini bar takes its name from Bank of Italy founder Amadeo Giannini.

Mama Guidara’s / Photo Credit: Christina Champlin

By day, The Coffee Bar is a pretty, sun-drenched shop that serves coffee, espresso, tea, and a lovely assortment of pastries. It’s modeled after Cafe Florian in Venice, Italy. Established in 1720, Cafe Florian is the oldest café in the world. Fittingly, you can stop by The Coffee Bar for espresso during the day and then transition to a glass of wine for aperitivo. According to Ann Sim, assistant general manager of NoMad Los Angeles, ‘For a Limited Time Only’ is yet another way to activate the space at night.

Mama Guidara’s Snack & Cocktails / Photo Credit: Christina Champlin

“We wanted people to stop by for their pre- or post-dinner drinks, or plan to spend the entire evening with us and a super fun line-up of drinks and snacks. The ‘For a Limited Time Only’ pop-up series was the perfect opportunity for us to flex our creative muscle. We love to throw a good party and, now, we get to throw a new party every month,” Sim said.

Photo Credit: Christina Champlin / We Like L.A.

In NYC, Mamma Guidara’s was served at the NoMad Bar and functioned more as a pre-fixe, sit-down dinner.

“When it came time to reimagine the experience in L.A. for the pop-ups, we highlighted as much of that Italian red sauce-joint ambiance as we could: think checkered tablecloths, Chianti bottles, a parmigiano reggiano wheel, and music that we very seriously curated!” Sim said.

Indeed, you’ll find red-and-white checkers on every table and Chianti bottles in straw fiaschi dripped with melted wax, while the music selections range from Italian arias and Rat Pack classics to 60s rock ‘n’ roll. You can also try your hand at Scopa, an Italian card game played with a 40-card deck.

Snack Items at Mama Guidara’s / Photo Credit: Christina Champlin

The pop-up also offers a small menu of Italian snacks, including marinated olives; mini-stromboli filled with gooey cheese and served with a side of marinara; chicken parm sliders; and cannoli and rainbow cookies for dessert.

These can be washed down with the list of craft cocktails, Italian wines, and beer. For those easing from day to night, try the espresso martini made with vodka, cold brew, kahlua and creme de cacao. It comes served with a sidecar of sambuca. For something refreshing, the Sno-Cone Negroni will do the trick with rye, campari, foro amaro, St. Germain, and strawberry blanc vermouth. And for those who enjoy limoncello, a house-made recipe is served on tap. Of course, the font from which it flows is cherub that appears to be, uh, urinating the limoncello. When in Rome, or so they say.

Limoncello Cherub / Photo Credit: Christina Champlin

As for prices, snacks run from $6 (rainbow cookies) to $14 (chicken parm sliders). For drinks, limoncello is $6, with cocktails available from $13 to $15. If you’re feeling splurgy, you could try the gondola for two, a shaved ice riverboat that costs $32.

Mamma Guidara’s will continue through the month of April. In May, the space will become all things Kentucky Derby. Don your fanciest hat for mint juleps, hot chicken sandwiches, and deviled eggs. In June, Take Me out to the Ball Game will offer ballpark concession bites including the NoMad’s own versions of a Dodger dog and helmet sundae. The decor will feature a collection of Dodgers artifacts strewn throughout the space.

NoMad Los Angeles is located at 649 S. Olive St., downtown L.A. ‘For a Limited Time Only’ runs on Friday and Saturday evenings through June. Walk-ins only.


Horror Experience ‘I want to live in your mouth’ is a Fantastical Nightmare

April 10, 2019 by Juliet Bennett Rylah
Is this what the creatures look like? Photo: Carl Welti

There is a subreddit full of two-sentence horror stories of which my favorite is as follows: “They say you eat seven spiders a year in your sleep. They never say anything about the thing that feeds them to you.”

I was reminded of this tale by the title of a new, immersive horror experience at Zombie Joe’s Underground theater in North Hollywood: I want to live in your mouth. But while both horror concepts revolve around the idea of an unwanted intruder, this show does not feed you spiders. Instead, one guest at a time, acting as both voyeur and participant, accompanies a reluctant host through a pivotal memory from their youth. On that specific night, supernatural interlopers entered the host’s otherwise ordinary home. It is a dark, fantastical, and yet oddly whimsical journey into someone else’s childhood nightmare.

I want to live in your mouth comes from writer/director David Ruzicka, who also serves as the co-artistic director of JFI Productions (Creep LA, The Willows), and creative producer Eric M. Vosmeier, whose previous credits include Creep LA and Center Theater Group. I came in on a quiet Sunday night to experience the show for myself.

Upon arrival, I was told to enter the theater alone, find an illuminated chair, sit down, and wait. From the onset, there was a surreal sense that I had been transported to a different place, possibly a different time. I was soon introduced to my only friend in this strange, new world—an anxious, but friendly young man. (The role has been triple-cast; performers include Terra Strong, Curtis Tyrone Scott, and Romeo Armand Seay. On this particular night, Scott had the starring role.)

He told me about a group of bizarre creatures who had been plaguing him since he was a kid. His story was reminiscent of many classic horror tropes: monsters under the bed, creepers in the closet, invaders from another planet who will turn your entire neighborhood into pod people. Gosh, you should warn someone, one might say. But who’d believe a child, what with their overactive imaginations and all? Don’t children often talk of monsters that only come at night?

Child psychologist Dr. Laura Kauffman, in an interview with (they sell beds and mattresses), explained that kids, unlike adults, aren’t used to dealing with the sounds they hear in the still of the night and haven’t quite mastered how to fall asleep. This makes them “particularly susceptible to signs or indicators of [a] threat at night. As children enter their primary school years, they develop the cognitive skills and ability to imagine such things as monsters, and their fears of the dark get projected onto the caricature of the bogeyman.”

Actors Curtis Scott, Terra Strong, and Romeo Seay. Photo: Carl Welti

Ruzicka said one key inspiration for I want to live in your mouth was such common childhood fears, along with pop culture influences like the work of filmmaker David Cronenberg and movies like The Dark Crystal, Jacob’s Ladder, and Labyrinth. He said the show initially percolated as “a little bit of a prose poem with these smaller vignettes of things happening.”

As I made my way deeper into my new friend’s increasingly warped home, there were indeed several vignettes. While I won’t spoil them, I will say that while some are unsettling, others are oddly comforting.

If you’ve been to ZJU in the past, you know it isn’t a particularly large theater. However, the creators of this show have managed to build a winding set that makes the space seem much larger. There are corridors to navigate, doors to unlock, and creatures to meet or, sometimes, avoid.

The creatures are not portrayed by human actors as in a traditional haunted house, but by puppets who straddle the line between horrific and kind of cute. In some ways, this makes them creepier—thanks, uncanny valley—but moreover, they further perpetuate the idea of a child’s nightmare.

“The puppetry side was something that was part of the DNA of the project from pretty early on,” Ruzicka said. “Each of those creatures does things that we couldn’t do successfully with a human performer or even with larger scale, full-body costumes.”

“It’s also rooted in that childhood nightmare,” Vosmeier added. “[Puppets] are thought of as children’s programming, children’s toys, but here there’s this sort of warped version. If you imagine children having nightmares about Sesame Street characters, that’s what they look like.”                      

In total, the show runs about 20 minutes and offers plenty of surprises, some with an unexpected element of whimsy. For those who may find themselves curious about L.A.’s extreme haunt offerings, Ruzicka and Vosmeier note that I want to live in your mouth is not one, but could be a “gateway” to them.

“If you’ve ever wanted to be swept away or transported by one of those single-person, darker experiences but have been a little too afraid to be separated from your friend, we’re hoping this is a safe and dreamlike way to access that,” Ruzicka said.

There’s also very little in the way of gore or violence. You’re never being chased by vampires or werewolves or serial killers and there’s more fear of what’s to come than what actually is.

“There’s so much real horror going on right now. For this particular experience, we kind of wanted to give people the chance to escape into a harkening back to classic horror stories where it’s just a tale of the supernatural, a tale of dread that people can go into and forget about the outside world,” Ruzicka said.

Still, you will be touched by actors and the show is intentionally unsettling, so do pay attention to warnings listed on the website before purchasing a ticket. Note that there is a safe word, and any guest is free to stop the experience and leave at any time.

Not deterred? In that case: sweet dreams!

I want to live in your mouth runs through May 19 at Zombie Joe’s Underground theater, located at 4850 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood. Tickets are $47.50. 18+ only.

Things To Do, Travel

An Angeleno’s Guide to Fun Things to do in Oakland

March 28, 2019 by Juliet Bennett Rylah

Oakland is an easy weekend getaway for an angeleno, with flights lasting but an hour and a half. The Bay Area city known for its robust arts scene was recently selected as one of National Geographic‘s top places to go in 2019. It’s also the former home of The Call of the Wild author Jack London, the namesake of Oakland’s Jack London Square, where tourists will find plenty of walkable nightlife options. And, it has one of the coolest museums for learning about all things California.

Tempted to book a trip to Oakland? Below you’ll find a massive list of ideas to fill up your itinerary.


The Waterfront Hotel Photo: Facebook

Waterfront Hotel

This nautical hotel is located in Jack London Square, meaning it’s both highly walkable and overlooks the San Fransisco Bay, which is great for enjoying coffee on your balcony with a strong breeze. Amenities include a fitness center, heated pool, a cozy lobby with a fireplace, and a complimentary wine and cheese happy hour on weekdays. There is one on-site Italian restaurant, Lungomare, as well as several bars, restaurants, and cafes within a short walk.

Ideal for: A unique hotel in a popular, walkable part of town. 

Best Western Bayside Hotel Photo: Best Western

The Best Western Bayside Hotel

The Best Western Bayside Hotel is affordable and highly-rated by travelers. It has all the standard conveniences one would expect of a modern hotel, including a 24-hour fitness center, complimentary breakfast, an on-site bar, and wifi. Though not as walkable as staying in Jack London Square, you can get around via the free, local shuttle and many rooms come with an ocean view. Ideal for: A trusted, convenient brand close to the water.

Claremont Hotel & Spa Photo: Sharon Hahn Darlin/Flickr

The Claremont Hotel & Spa

The Claremont Hotel & Spa is a historic property built over a century ago as a private home before becoming hotel in 1915, currently owned by the Fairmount Hotel chain. While the so-called”White Castle on the Hill” is considered an Oakland City Historical Landmark, you may technically be in Berkeley depending on where you’re standing on the sprawling property. Amenities include a very large spa with a host of treatments, complimentary champagne daily at 5:30 p.m., multiple on-site dining and cocktail options, multiple pools and tennis courts, a gym and fitness classes, and 22 acres of manicured grounds to wander. Ideal for: A pampered luxury experience in a historic hotel.


Michael McMillen’s ‘Aristotle’s Cage,’ an installation at OCMA Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Oakland Museum of California

The sprawling Oakland Museum of California has been divided into three sections: art, history, and natural sciences. Each contains relevant artifacts, displays, and interactive exhibits spanning decades of California history, plus the views from the gardens are great for decompressing between wings.

An ideal time to visit is for Friday Nights at OMCA. From 5 to 9 p.m. visitors enjoy after-hours access, food trucks, a cash bar, artists, family activities, live entertainment, local vendors, and more.

The Oakland Museum of California is located at 1000 Oak Street. General admission starts at $15.95, with discounted rates for members, students, seniors, and children. 

The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment

This museum is an incredible paradise for gamers, especially if tastes run old-school. They have a playable library of over 5,300 new and classic games on platforms including PC, Atari, Playstation 3, and others. A membership may be advisable for locals gamers, but visitors can drop by for just $10 per day and play to their heart’s content.

The M.A.D.E. is located at 3400 Broadway. Open for gaming Friday, noon to midnight; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.

Lake Merritt Photo: Doug Letterman/Flickr

Lake Merritt

Lake Merritt is a tidal lagoon that offers outdoor recreation right in the middle of the city. Guests can jog, bike, or walk the lakeside path, or participate birdwatching, boating, lawn games, or yoga activities. You might even stumble upon one of the area’s many gardens, including the peaceful Bonsai garden.

Jack London’s cabin Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Jack London’s Cabin

Jack London lived in a small cabin in the Klondike in the late 1800s, right before the Gold Rush. Decades later, the abandoned cabin was taken apart and two separate replicas were made with its wood. While one is located in Dawson City in Canada, the other can be found in Oakland’s Jack London Square.

Jack London’s Cabin is located at 1-199 Webster Street Tube, Jack London Square.

Marcus Books Oakland

Marcus Books features literature by black authors and is, in fact, the oldest black bookstore in the country; the original location in San Fransisco dates back to 1960. Books span a variety of subjects, ranging from children’s books to autobiographies, history, cooking, art, and fiction. If you want to support writers of color and locally owned bookstores instead of internet giants, give Marcus Books a visit.

Marcus Books is located at 3900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way

Children’s Fairyland

It was Oakland entrepreneur Arthur Navlet who suggested the building of a fairytale-themed children’s park after seeing a smaller, but similar park in Detroit. The result was Children’s Fairyland, which opened in 1950 and featured costumed characters, rides, and whimsical sets taken from classic children’s stories. The popular attraction drew numerous visitors, including an inspiration-seeking Walt Disney who would open Disneyland in Anaheim in 1955.

Today, the 10-acre park operates as a nonprofit year-round (hours vary depending on the season). Adult visitors are typically not permitted without children, but the park does offer an annual adults-only event.

Children’s Fairyland is located at 699 Bellevue Avenue. Tickets are $12.

Chapel of the Chimes Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Chapel of the Chimes

One might not put a columbarium at the top of their vacation list, but the Chapel of the Chimes is truly breathtaking. It owes its beauty to famed architect Julia Morgan, notable for designing the Hearst Castle, who redesigned the Chapel in 1928. One can meander through among numerous sunny courtyards and cloisters, some opening to gardens and fountains. You might even find a pair of rescued birds, chirping in their fern-flanked cages. Urns shaped like books are displayed in cases, the names of those whose ashes they hold written on the spines. Chapel of the Chimes hosts the occasional musical performance, and historical, guided tours are available. It is located next to the Mountain View Cemetery, notable for its many monuments and bucolic paths. Morgan herself is buried here, as well as numerous California and Oakland politicians. The cemetery is also the final resting place of Elizabeth Short, better known as the Black Dahlia.

The Chapel of the Chimes is located at 4499 Piedmont Avenue.

Morcom Rose Garden Photo: Friends of the Morcom Rose Garden

Morcom Rose Garden

If you’ve been advised to stop and smell the roses, the Morcom Rose Garden has thousands of them. This seven-acre garden dates back to the 1930s and as part a WPA project and is maintained today by volunteers. Wander along winding walkways to view the plants and water features. You might even cross paths with the resident family of turkeys.

The Morcom Rose Garden is located at 700 Jean Street. Admission is free, but feel free to donate to the garden’s upkeep.

The Oakland Asian Cultural Center

The Oakland Cultural Center (OACC) is located in Chinatown and offers a variety of cultural events, including performances, art shows, film screenings, workshops, lectures, and classes including calligraphy, Chinese folk dance, and Kung Fu. While in the neighborhood, you can grab a bite at Baby Cafe or Shandong Restaurant.

The Oakland Asian Cultural Center is located at 388 9th Street, #290.

Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve Photo: Mike Linksvayer/Flickr

Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve

The volcano in question at this 928-acre park is a long-extinct one known as Round Top. Several trails are available, and those in the know may seek out the park’s stone labyrinths. According to Friends of the Labyrinth, one of them was created by Montclair artists Helena Mazzariello who considered her work “a gift to the world.”

Pardee Home Museum Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Pardee Home Museum

The Pardee Home was built by Enoch Pardee in the 1860s. Pardee originally moved to California for the Gold Rush, but later became an eye doctor and politician, serving as Oakland’s mayor from 1876 to 1878. His son, George, would serve as mayor from 1893 to 1895, and became California’s 21st governor in 1902. The historic home is full of artifacts, many of them collected by George’s wife, Helen. Docent-led tours of the villa, from its gardens all the way to the cupola, are available year-round. Guests can also reserve high tea or a dessert tea in the Pardee home’s elegant dining room.

The Pardee Home Museum is located at 672 11th Street. Tours are a suggested donation of $10. High Tea is $35 and Desert Tea is $25 (tour included). Advance reservation required.

Oaktown Spice Shop

For many weekend travelers, shopping can be somewhat blasé. After all, every city has its indie and boutique shops. (Oakland, btw, has several in Temescal Alley if you do love shopping.) The Oaktown Spice Shop is something special, though, in that it has pretty much every spice on your list and then some you’ve never even heard of. They’ve got blends, rubs, salts, herbs, aromatics, tonic water kits, and more. Guests are free to pick up a basket, then fill it with bottles and baggies of spices. It goes without saying, the shop smells delicious.

Oaktown Spice Shop is located at 546 Grand Avenue.

The Chabot Space and Science Center

For those who are fascinated by space exploration, a visit to the Chabot Space & Science Center is a must. Here, you can catch a show in the planetarium and view a rotating collection of interactive exhibits on science and outer space. The Center also has three telescopes—named Leah, Rachel, and Nellie—on the observatory deck, which are free to use on Friday and Saturday evenings or with general admission. A cafe and gift shop are located on site.

The Chabot Space & Science Center is located at 10000 Skyline Boulevard. General admission is $18.


Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Heinhold’s First and Last Chance Saloon

Just steps away from Jack London’s cabin is a tiny, dark, lop-sided dive where the author was said to be a regular. Opened in 1883, Heinold’s First and Last Chance was built out of a whaling vessel. Its name comes from original owner John Heinold and its proximity to the port; it was both the first and last place a departing or incoming sailor could get a drink. When Heinold’s was first built, it had a level floor. Since the earthquake of 1906, it hasn’t. Yes, that’s right: everything in this bar is on a slant. Those curious to learn more about the bar’s history can pick up a printed handout with their drink.

Heinold’s First and Last Chance is located at 48 Webster Street.

Ratto’s Market & Deli

According to Berkeleyside, Ratto’s is one of Oakland’s oldest restaurants (possibly the oldest, if you’ll consider a delicatessen a restaurant). The specialty market and deli was founded by Italian immigrant Giovanni Battista Ratto in 1897, and the shop’s been operated by the Ratto family ever since. Stop by for sandwiches, soups, salads, and all manner of pantry staples.

Ratto’s is located at 821 Washington Street.

White Horse Inn

White Horse Inn has been open since at least 1933, possibly earlier, though there were no records kept through Prohibition. This makes the White Ho’, as it is occasionally called, one of the oldest gay bars in the country. The bar’s own robust history page, complete with interviews from long-time regulars, is worth a read.

Today, the White Horse continues to be a neighborhood LGBTQ bar. They host karaoke, drag shows, and dance nights, in addition to other special fundraisers and events.

6551 Telegraph Avenue

Fenton’s Creamery and Restaurant

Fenton’s Creamery dates back to 1894 and claims to have invented popular ice cream flavor rocky road. It’s an often-bustling diner with American fare, but many come just for the ice cream, which comes in many year-round and seasonal flavors. You could get a simple scoop or shake, but they also make massive ice cream sundaes and banana splits.

Fenton’s Creamery is located at 4226 Piedmont Avenue.

The Avenue

You know how CVS always has a bunch of plastic and foam skulls on clearance the day after Halloween? The Avenue may have bought them all for the last decade. This dark dive is just covered in skulls, and the ceilings are hung with foam stalactites. And if you think they’ve just left their Halloween decorations up year-round, then just wait until it’s actually Halloween. Skulls aside, The Avenue is a friendly enough spot for affordable drinks and making new friends. They’ve also got a pool table and a photo booth.

The Avenue is located at 4822 Telegraph Avenue.

Cosecha Kitchen Photo: Facebook

Swans Market

Swan’s Market is a food hall full of options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and brunch (though they’re closed on Sundays). It dates back to 1917, operating as a market until its closure in the 1980s. It’s since been restored and re-opened, offering about 10 different places to try. They include Mexican restaurant Cosecha Café, The Cook and Her Farmer for oysters and wine, Rosamunde Sausage Grill, Miss Ollie’s Carribean soul food, and izakaya at AS B-Dama.

Swans Market is located at 510 9th Street.

The Fat Lady

The Fat Lady is certainly arresting, with sheet music pasted to the ceiling, stained glass lamps, an ancient cash register behind the bar, and cozy, red-draped booths. They’re open for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, serving steakhouse fare and seafood.

It’s unclear how the restaurant, open since 1970, got its name. One story states that original owner Louis Shaterian named the establishment after a painting, which hangs near the bar. The other story claims the building was once a brothel and the eponymous woman was its madam. Choose your own origin story as you will.

The Fat Lady is located at 201 Washington Street.


Arabic restaurant Dyafa is helmed by Chef Reem Assil, Thrillst’s 2018 chef of the year. The menu is divided into hot and cold mezze (share plates), breads for scooping up dips, and a handful of large plates. One standout among those is the maklouba, a flavorful, layered dish of rice, vegetables and crispy, thin potatoes that translates to “upside-down.” The cocktail menu is also lovely, especially the Dark-Skinned Nightingale made with Coruba rum, Medjool dates, almond, coconut, and egg white.

Dyafa is located at 44 Webster Street

The Trappist

The Trappist is split into a front and back bar, both inspired by the beer bars of Belgium and the Netherlands. They offer some 25 Belgium and specialty beers on tap and four times as many in bottles, resulting in several unique finds including interesting stouts, porters, fruit beers, and seasonal offerings. They also have a very small wine menu if you happen to be with someone who doesn’t do beer, plus snacks, sandwiches, cheese, and charcuterie.

The Trappist is located at 460 8th Street.

Kona Club

Oakland has a few tiki bars, including The Kon-Tiki on 14th Street and Forbidden Island on Alameda. Kona Club is located on Piedmont, in between (and not far from) Fenton’s Creamery and Chapel of the Chimes. The decor is as expected, with lots of palm thatching, light up puffer fish, and even an animatronic hula dancer. The drinks are appropriately tropical and include their signature blended macadamia chi chi. The music, however, strays from island tunes via a jukebox that stocks plenty of rock, hip-hop, and punk. Open daily from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m., it’s easy to fit Kona Club into a busy weekend.

Kona Club is located at 4401 Piedmont Avenue

Beauty’s Bagels, the classic to-go Photo: Juliet Bennett Rylah

Beauty’s Bagel Shop

Beauty’s Bagel Shop was suggested to me by a former New Yorker, whose bagel opinions I tend to trust, though these wood-fired bagels are Montreal-style: chewy, slightly sweet, and charred on the outside. There are two shops—one in Temescal and a newer one downtown—where you can get bagel sandwiches, bagels and spreads, and a few other breakfast items. Bagel sandwiches include the classic with smoked salmon, cream cheese, red onion, and capers, and a fried chicken sandwich with beet slaw. Beauty’s can be packed, so either order ahead or be prepared to wait in line.

Beauty’s Bagels is located at 3838 Telegraph Avenue and one at 1700 Franklin Street.

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Cafe Van Kleef

Cafe Van Kleef is covered in a seemingly endless assortment of random art and collectibles, in the way that some of the best neighborhood watering holes are. The bar features live music most nights and their signature drink is a greyhound, a grapefruit freshly squeezed into each one, a massive wedge then plunked on the glass.

Cafe Van Kleef is located at 1621 Telegraph Avenue.

Lois the Pie Queen

Lois the Pie Queen is a cash-only diner founded by Lois Davis over 50 years ago and now run by her son, Chris. They’re open for breakfast and lunch, during which they serve Southern and American diner fare and, of course, pie. Flavors can rotate seasonally but might include lemon icebox, key lime, pecan, sweet potato, or banana cream. Much like Dale Cooper, you’d be happy to order a slice with a cup of hot coffee.

Lois the Pie Queen is located at 851 60th Street.