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Grand Park Celebrates Dia de los Muertos 2019 with Nine Days of Altars and Art

October 15, 2019 by Michael Darling
Dia de los Muertos 2017 at Grand Park. Photo by Javier Guillen

Dia de los Muertos might be the definitive Los Angeles holiday. Our noir history and film industry spectacle make L.A. a major Halloween town and Dia de los Muertos helps us get in touch with the city’s rich Mexican cultural history. You can find Dia de los Muertos festivities throughout the southland during the first weekend of November, but this year Grand Park is marking the occasion with an entire week of events.

From Oct. 26 to Nov. 3, 35 ofrendes (the traditional Day of the Dead altar for departed ancestors) will be displayed around the park and the Music Center’s recently renovated plaza, free for the public to view.

An altar from 2017. Photo by Javier Guillen

The altars, created by East L.A.’s Self-Help Graphics will honor local history and communities, and includes one by ARza Orzo Community that honors late L.A. Dodgers players and fans. Dia de Los Muertos themed artwork from LORE Media and Arts will also be installed around the park.

To coincide with the reveal of the altars Grand Park’s seventh annual Noche de Ofrenda takes place on Oct. 26. On this evening, the dead will be honored through a communal circle and a blessing led by members of indigenous communities.

Photo by Javier Guillen

Aztecan, Oaxacan and Michoacán dancers will also take part in the evening’s ceremonies, as will East L.A. Latin music artist CAVA. The event will also feature the unveiling of a grand community altar designed by Ofelia Esparza. Angelenos are welcome to contribute offerings to the community altar.

Also held in conjunction with the Dia de Los Muertos observance will be Selena for Sanctuary on Nov. 1. This free concert with an all- female, all-Latinx line-up features local artists like Empress Of, San Cha, Ceci Bastida. Organized by L.A. non-profit Solidarity for Sanctuary, the concert is part of the organization’s mission to raise awareness about issues in the immigrant communities and to offer resources to help through the immigration process.

Finally, on Nov. 2 Grand Park will offer free-art-making workshops open to adults and children using Día de los Muertos themes as part of the larger Grand Ave Arts: All Access, an annual free event celebrating the cultural vibrancy of Grand Ave. The workshops will take place in Grand Park’s Olive Court and Performance Lawn, as well as on The Music Center Plaza.

For more information on what’s happening at Grand Park for Dia de los Muertos, you can visit their calendar page.

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Food, Happenings

Norms Will Offer 70-Cent Breakfasts to Celebrate Their 70th Anniversary

October 9, 2019 by Michael Darling
Photo courtesy of Norms.

It’s been 70 years since Norm Roybark opened his first namesake diner. While the original Sunset and Vine Norms is long gone, the diner chain has expaned all over the Southland. For one morning this month, all 19 Norms will mark the 70th anniversary with a 70-cent breakfast special.

On Wednesday, October 23, from 6 to 9 a.m. you can order the 70-cent breakfast special featuring a few diner favorites; 2 pancakes, 2 eggs done any style and a choice of 2 pieces of bacon or sausage.

However, that’s not the only way Norms is celebrating its 70th. For the first time ever, the chain will sell merchandise. The exclusive line of shirts, hats, mugs and plastic drink cups feature an illustration of Norms’ iconic La Cienega Boulevard flagship restaurant.

Photo Courtesy of Norms.

The La Cienega location is a classic example of mid-century googie architecture, and it was named a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural monument in 2015.

Savvy viewers will recognize the building’s appearances in tv shows like Men Of A Certain Age and Bosch. The quintessential L.A. hangout has even infamously been the subject of fine art in Ed Ruscha’s 1964 painting Norms La Cienege on Fire.

The new Norms merch will go on sale October 14. You can use this store locator to find the nearest location to you.

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Happenings

TAPAS! Brings A Tasty Comedic Sampler to The Lyric-Hyperion

September 30, 2019 by Michael Darling
Tapas! host and creator Beth Hoyt (Photo by Michael Liska)

A tapas dinner date can easily go one of two ways. The small-bite, multi-course Spanish style of eating can dazzle your senses with an array of flavors, or leave you feeling woefully underfed.

New comedy shows kind of run the same way. With the right recipe of talent and tempo, tears of laugher may stream down your face after every joke. But if the mix is off, the tears may well still come, but for an entirely different reason. Of course just like with any food that’s new to your palate, there’s only one way to find out if you’ll like it.

Beth Hoyt’s Tapas!, which debuted Sept. 18 at the Lyric-Hyperion Theater in Silver Lake, is a new stand-up showcase with a focus on the unexpected. Hoyt intends to make this “anything can happen” event a monthly experience. If the premier edition is any indication, audiences will definitely be coming back for another taste.

Hoyt opened the show with a promise that the audience would receive actual tapas. All she had to do was find a recipe that would please everyone in the audience. While searching, Hoyt and guitarist-comic Mike O’Gorman (Vice Principals) riffed on some of the weirder recipes in the cookbooks, including dishes like “Diet Coke Chicken;” which oddly enough uses regular Coca-Cola. Eventually, Hoyt decided to keep looking backstage and introduced the show’s first comic, Maria Bamford.

Maria Bamford (Photo by Michael Liska)

Bamford’s presence as the initial guest serves as a statement of purpose for the show. A local comedy legend whose semi-autobiographical Netflix series Lady Dynamite received critical acclaim, Bamford’s stand up often deals with heavy material, including her own mental health. However, she handles these matters with a touch of morbid whimsy. For instance, she mentioned how she recently saw a woman wearing a t-shirt that read “Truly Madly Deeply” in a “Santa Barbara” font, and that just once she’d like to see someone wearing that shirt while covered in the blood of a loved one.

Next up was Mike O’Brien, a former SNL writer and creator of the NBC sitcom A.P. Bio. O’Brien’s took a turn for the conceptual when he mentioned his dream of recording an hour long comedy album with no jokes, just applause; a parody of the “clapter” phenomenon. He invited the audience to help him test out the material for that concept. “I recently got married, [audience applause] and we’re having a baby [audience applause].” While a solid bit, it did go a little long, which was likely the point.

Chris Williams as “Incognegro the Magician” (Photo by Michael Liska)

Following O’Brien’s set, Hoyt emerged back on stage wearing a beige toga, personifying hummus and telling cheesy hummus and dip themed puns. “Beth as Hummus” was not the only comedic character to take that stage that night, as the immediate next guest was “Incognegro the Magician.”

Dressed in an orange jumpsuit, bandana and floppy top hat,  Incognegro is actually a character created by Silicon Valley actor Chris Williams as a bizarre mash-up of gangster and magician tropes. Williams never broke character, threatening members of the audience for not appreciating his skills.

While several of the tricks were intentionally obvious, Williams/Incognegro astonished the crowd with a card trick finale. An audience member was asked to pick a card, and initially Incognegro misidentified the card. It seemed the character needed to devote more practice to his tricks, but as he prepared to leave the stage, he began to take off his jumpsuit and revealed an oversized version of the correct card attached to his undershirt.

Lizzy Cooperman (Photo by Michael Liska)

Hoyt returned for a brief host segment riffing on an incredibly long recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow’s ironically named cook book It’s All Easy. Then Lizzy Cooperman (Not Safe with Nikki Glaser, Corporate) emerged on stage, armed with an electric piano. The instrument is a key part of Cooperman’s hilariously demented set; using the keys to accentuate jokes.

The highpoint of Cooperman’s set was an extended riff on the Domino’s pizza tracker. As Cooperman walked us through the pizza tracker process (“Jose is making your pizza. Jose is driving with your pizza. Jose delivered your pizza. Jose goes home to sleep with his wife. Jose can’t see me hiding in the bushes.”), her voice got more severe with each new sentence. Darker and more atonal chords on the keyboard punctuated each new step in the pizza delivery/stalking process.

Tapas! host Beth Hoyt mourns her spilled tapas tray. (Photo by Michael Liska)

When Cooperman finished, Hoyt ran onstage with a tray of ”tapas” (actually shredded cabbage in cups) and immediately tripped, spilling the dish she had allegedly spent all evening making. Finally, Chris Fleming, the creator of the hit Youtube series Gayle, took the stage.

Fleming’ set began with tales of various freaks he’s known, like a guy in college who gave himself the nickname Crazy Pete. Fleming’s material quickly took a musical turn with an a capella song and dance about what it’s like to graduate from college with a theater degree and a STD that turns out to just be jock itch.

The evening closed with a music video from Fleming called “Sick Jan.” According to Fleming, Sick Jan was an H&R Block employee he once worked with who was constantly ill and seemed to have a desire to go to prison for tax fraud.

As of publication of this post, Tapas! still does not have firm follow-up date, but here’s hoping. For a $6 price tag, the comedic sampler at Tapas! provided a solid menu of talent, punch, and surprises. The only question now is, will it get an encore reservation?

You can follow @beth_hoyt on Instagram for the latest updates about the next Tapas! show.

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Happenings

Haunted Little Tokyo Brings a Month of Spooky Fun to DTLA

September 27, 2019 by Michael Darling
Photo courtesy of Sunshine Pictures LLC/ Haunted Little Tokyo.

Now in its third year, Haunted Little Tokyo is filling one of Los Angeles’ most historic and exciting neighborhoods with tricks and treats. Activities will span the whole month of October and include film screenings, a pumpkin patch, a block party and a trick or treat night.

Festivities start Friday, September 27 with a screening of horror master John Carpenter’s 1987 film Prince Of Darkness at East West Players’ David Henry Hwang Theater. This screening will be extra special because not only will star Dennis Dunn be in attendance, but a large percentage of the movie was filmed at the Hwang. Is there anything more L.A. then seeing a movie where it was filmed? Tickets start at $20.

In addition to the Prince Of Darkness screening, there will also be three free movie screenings. On Oct. 4, it’s the 1977 Japanese horror classic Hausu, in which a schoolgirl and six of her classmates head to her aunt’s house for a fun weekend. Unfortunately, the house doesn’t want them there. On Oct. 11, bring the whole family for the 2018 kid-friendly anime Okko’s Inn about an orphan girl who moves to her grandmother’s country home and discovers spirits only she can see. Finally, on Oct. 18, Samuel Fuller’s 1959 film noir The Crimson Kimono, which was filmed on location in Little Tokyo.

But that’s not all. There will also be a free pumpkin patch the weekend of Oct. 18 where you can decorate the perfect jack-o-lantern for your home. If you’re interested in the supernatural side of L.A., you won’t want to miss the ghost tour just around twilight time on Oct. 19. A Little Tokyo Historical Society volunteer will take you on a guided tour of the many hauntings and paranormal experiences of this hundred-year old neighborhood. Tickets for the ghost tour are $15.

Haunted Little Tokyo concludes with two free events on Oct. 28. First, you can take your kids trick or treating a few days early as local business owners hand out candy from 5 to 8 p.m.. Then from 6 p.m. to Midnight, it’s the Haunted Little Tokyo Block Party. Enjoy food from local restaurants, get down to music spun by DJs and a beer garden. There will also be kids activities and a costume contest with cash prizes.

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Happenings

Stanley Kubrick Takes Center Stage At Skirball This October

September 12, 2019 by Michael Darling
Image via Skirball Cultural Center

Stanley Kubrick is considered one of the most influential directors of all time, a genre hopping filmmaker who was equally at home making epics (Spartacus), comedy (Dr. Strangelove), horror (The Shining) and more. But before all that, he was just a teenager with a camera.

Beginning this October the Skirball Cultural Center’s new exhibition Through a Different Lens: Stanley Kubrick Photographs takes us back to 1945, when a 17-year old Kubrick sold his first photograph to the magazine Look. In these photos, many of them unpublished, Kubrick explores his native New York, photographing sporting events, street life and night clubs, as well as celebrities and civilians. Kubrick’s early work hints at the master he would become.

Image via Skirball Cultural Center

In conjunction with the exhibit, the Skirball will host two movie screenings. On October 1, the museum will host a free afternoon screening of Kubrick’s 1957 anti-war drama Paths of Glory. In this World War I set drama, Kirk Douglas stars as a French colonel whose refusal to continue a suicide mission leads to him being court-martialed for cowardice.

Then on October 25 the Skirball gets in the Halloween mood with a “Late Night!” event featuring an outdoor screening of The Shining, Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novel in which the winter caretaker (Jack Nicholson) of a Rocky Mountain resort loses grip on his sanity. The event also includes after-hours access to the museum galleries, DJ-spun tunes, food trucks, and a cash bar. Tickets for late-night are $5.

Through A Different Lens: Stanley Kubrick Photography runs from October 17 to March 8, 2020. Access to the exhibition is included with museum admission, which starts are $12 for adults. Also remember Skirball offers free admission every Thursday from noon to 5 p.m.

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Food, Where to Eat

What Makes the Perfect Taco?

August 16, 2019 by Michael Darling
Guerrilla Tacos / Photo Credit: Christina Champlin

The late Jonathan Gold once said that “A taco, it could be argued, is the basic unit of consumption in Southern California, the parcel of corn and spice and animal whose masters line our boulevards, a food whose reach extends from the meanest barrio streets to the heart of Beverly Hills.” With so many options to choose from, the average Angeleno may spend their whole lives searching for the perfect taco. But what is the perfect taco?

We probed the minds of five Los Angeles taco masters to get their verdict on what makes the ideal taco, from basic ingredient formats to specific flavor combinations, to preparation secrets.

You can read their responses below. But, just a fair warning, their answers will likely make you very hungry!

Gilberto Cetina, Chef/Owner of Chichen Itza and Holbox.

Cochinita Pibil Taco / Photo Credit: Christina Champlin

What is your favorite taco on the menu?

The cochinita pibil taco. It’s the number one item on the menu because it’s delicious and best represents Yucatecan cuisine. It has its roots in pre-Columbian cuisine; the thing that helped Mesoamerican tribes survive were corn and the tortilla.

What ingredients go in your tacos?

The first thing is the tortilla. It has to be a good quality tortilla. Ours are made at La Princesita in East L.A. They’re organic, non-GMO yellow corn. The flavors of the tortilla play a lot into the final flavor of the taco. Ideally, all the ingredients should come together as a composed dish. The components that make a great taco are number one, the tortilla; number two, protein or vegetable; whatever’s in it, it needs to have a good flavor and acid. You need that acid to balance the other ingredient, which is fat.

What kind of preparation goes into making your tacos?

Pork is obviously the main ingredient in cochinita pibil. At Chichen Itza, we use a mix of pork butts, pork belly and rib. The pork belly is skin on because we want that component of flavor. Traditionally, it’s made with whole pig and we try to represent the whole pig with those three ingredients. The pork is marinated with sour orange and achiote. Sour oranges have the sour of a lemon and the sweetness of an orange; the flavor is a combination. Cochinita pibil is normally cooked in a pit, which we don’t do here for health department and practical reasons. In pit cooking you have the initial temperature burst when you put the pan into the pit that’s been lit or has hot stones. The temperature’s high and you smother it, then you’re left with residual heat which slowly tapers off. That gives the pork a level of caramelization during the first level of the cook, but then it tapers off and finishes off the cooking very gently. 

What we do at Chichen Itza to mimic that process is we cook our cochinita pibil with a marinade and wrap it in banana leaves. We place it in an oven, but the oven isn’t on, it’s off completely. Into the bottom of the oven, we place the ashes and embers from our wood-burning grills. We place the pans with pork on top of that, wrapped in banana leaves, and we close the oven. For the first couple hours of cooking, the temperature of the oven does get into the 400-degree range, but then the heat tapers off. We don’t manage to trap enough steam in the oven like pit cooking does, but it’s as close as we can to the regular process. The other cool thing that does is it puts a smokiness onto the cochinita pibil which gives it its characteristic aroma and flavor as if it were pit cooked. 

What should the ideal taco taste like?

A cochinita pibil taco should be porky, acidic, smoky and fatty. Those are the markers of a good cochinita.

Gary Huerta, Partner at Cena Vegan

Cena Vegan / Photo Credit: Christina Champlin

What is your favorite taco on the menu?

I go with about 60% of our customers and say the carne asada is awesome. At any street vendor you can get a carne asada and I’m proud that ours can stand up next to any of the meat ones around. It’s just as good an in a way, it’s better because at least you know you’re getting non-GMO.

What ingredients go in your tacos?

All of our tacos are plant-based using plant-based meats, so we have four kinds: al pastor, barbacoa, carne asada and pollo asado. That’s what we use as our meat; we also make our own salsas and condiments. We press all our tortillas fresh on-site.

What kind of preparation goes into making the tacos?

We serve a traditional street taco, which is basically “meat”, cilantro and onions, homemade salsas and pico de gallo. We also add a guacamole made fresh and a chipotle-cashew crema. But our tacos are very much the traditional L.A. street taco. So, in terms of our preparation, the only thing we do that is different than what a regular meat taco might be on the street is that our plant-based meats are prepared at our kitchen in Cypress Park before they come out. Otherwise, it’s no different than any other street taco. We make our own tortillas with organic masa.

What should the ideal taco taste like?

That’s a tough question to answer. In a way, the taco has become the Los Angeles equivalent of New York’s pizza. There’s the traditional taco, which we make, and those should be authentic as hell, which ours are. Bottom line, is I think a taco should be authentic. I’ve had a lot of other tacos that are fusions that are made with really amazing things, and those are amazing things on their own merits, but I would say a taco is an interesting vehicle to either be traditional or for a chef to express their vision. 

Esdras Ochoa, Chef/Co-Owner at Mexicali Taco & Co.

Carne Asada Cachetada / Photo Credit: Christina Champlin

What is your favorite taco on the menu?

My favorite taco at Mexicali Taco & Co. is the carne asada cachetada. It’s an opened flamed tortilla grilled til its charred and smoked making it super crunchy. Melted Jack, flame broiled skirt steak, and a chipotle aioli to top it off! It’s a flavor combination like none other.

What ingredients go into your tacos?

Tacos in Mexicali are simple. That’s what makes it great. It’s served plain just meat and tortilla. It’s the Mexicali way. It consists of really a nice cut of skirt steak grilled over high heat over open flame to give it a nice char notes and at the same time locking the juices inside. Meat is wrapped in quality corn or flour tortilla and that’s it. Then it’s taken to the salsa bar where guests can customize their taco experience. Anywhere from very hot habanero salsa verde, to medium chile de árbol salsa to very mild salsa de molcajete. Avocado sauce, minced cabbage, pickled onions cilantro, onion, pico de Gallo and so on.

What type of preparations go into making the tacos?

There is a lot of preparation that goes into a taco even though it looks simple. Each salsa has its own characteristics. Some for instance, the vegetables are grilled; some are braised, others fried, and others are fresh. The meat has to be marinated for at least 24 hours. Then there’s the actual assembly of the taco. Is all about timing. Grilling the meet and tortilla at the proper time.

What should it taste like?

We have three main types of tacos at Mexicali. The carne asada being the most popular. The chicken and the al pastor. Carne asada has a flavor of a well-executed steak like one you would find at a steakhouse. The grill flavor of the meat should really stand out. The chicken is also grilled and should remind you of a backyard barbecue; a hint of Smokey pepper and citrus should really stand out. Last but not least the al pastor. Grilled over the spit allows for a different flavor profile. Not quite grilled or charred. It’s a very unique juice from the pork and the achiote pineapple marinade cascading over the other layers that makes it delicious. All of these meats combined with your own touch of salsas from the bar could make it a very unique taco depending on your style.

Adrian Gracia, Chef at Veranda at the Hotel Figueroa

What is your favorite taco on the menu? 

The chicken taco happens to be my favorite and will give you a charred barbecue flavor on the chicken with a hint of sweetness, and topped with a smoky roasted tomato salsa with a kick. It’s then finished with salty cotija cheese and pickled onions for that acidity I enjoy in so much on my tacos.

What ingredients go into your tacos?

We use a variety of ingredients in our tacos, I try to keep the ingredients simple, but when they are combined in a taco they are delicious. We use tomatillos, dry chiles like moritas, anchos, arbol, and guajillo for our marinades and salsas. Our tortillas are made with organic blue corn, and we use great quality meat and fish. 

What kind of preparation goes into making your tacos?

It starts with our marinade which is an adobo marinade made with achiote paste, dry guajillo chiles, and ancho chiles. Then follows the salsa, making it with care by properly roasting the tomatillos, re-hydrating the dry chiles, making small batches at a time.  My tacos will vary on flavors between which taco you order, you order the carnitas taco, it will be rich, sweet and will be topped with a bright acidic, creamy avocado tomatillo salsa to cut through the richness of the meat. 

What should the ideal taco taste like?

A perfect taco starts with a fresh tortilla, grilled or braised meat, spicy salsa with some queso fresco. I like to keep it simple and to its humble beginnings.

Wes Avila, Chef/Owner at Guerrilla Tacos

What is your favorite taco on the menu?

Right now, it’s the lamb shoulder taco. It’s served on our house made Gordita flour tortilla, comes with Labne, parsley, onion, burnt tomato, lemon, and some habanero. It’s really spectacular!

What kind of ingredients go into your tacos? 

I try to use a variety of ingredients. From different meats to whatever veg is in season. It’s mostly whenever I feel like trying something new or inspired. Working every day, and then sometimes it just happens that everything falls into place, and I come up with a new idea.

What type of preparations go into making the tacos?

Well, it depends. For instance, I’m working on a lamb shoulder taco that’s a little unique in that we slice the lamb shoulder thin, marinade it, and cook it on our upright spit roaster.

What should it taste like?

Tacos should be flavorful, have some heat, a crunch, savoriness from the main ingredient and a nice herb to compliment the ingredients.


Got a favorite taco spot in Los Angeles we ought to know about? Make sure to tag @WeLikeLA on Instagram next time you post a photo of your perfect taco.

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Happenings, Lifestyle

Hershey Felder Brings Composers to Life Like Few Others Can

July 18, 2018 by Michael Darling

Hershey Felder: Beethoven. Photo Credit: Christopher Ash.

Hershey Felder: Beethoven. Photo Credit: Christopher Ash.

For nearly twenty years, Hershey Felder has brought famous composers to life on the stage. From his 2000 production George Gershwin Alone to 2017’s Our Great Tchaikovsky, Felder’s one-man shows depict these composer’s stories through music and monologue. His only co-star is the piano he plays as he takes on the role of one of history’s greats, illuminating the drama and inspiration behind the music. Felder returns to Los Angeles on July 26 with a reworked production of his 2008 show Beethoven at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

A Montreal native, Felder first came to the United States as a student and soon began developing theater across the country. His love of classical music goes back to his childhood. “The first time I heard classical music, I was three or four years old and I was totally flabbergasted. I thought, okay, this is what I want to do,” he tells We Like L.A.. It was around this time that he also developed a passion for storytelling.

While his desire to be a performer came naturally, his “Great Composers Series” came from something more adult: “a desperate need for money,” Felder half-jokes. So, because knew the stories of these composers and their music, he decided to bring their life stories to the stage. Despite his deep knowledge, it still takes a lot of work for Felder to create one of his productions. Between researching the lives of the composers, practicing the music and writing the script, the commitment to a single story is immense, “It takes a couple of years from once I set out on the journey to when I actually get it out on stage and working,” Felder says. “It’s important, you have to have real facts and not make things up.”

Hershey Felder: Beethoven. Photo Credit: Christopher Ash.

Hershey Felder: Beethoven. Photo Credit: Christopher Ash.

When Felder tours, he usually only stages a single show at each stop, but he’s constantly got the other composers traveling with him. When he’s performing one show, he’s practicing the next. A few weeks before coming to L.A. to do Beethoven, he was performing as Irving Berlin in Cleveland and days before that he was in Chicago doing Tchaikovsky. He says he doesn’t have time to play tourist while on tour, his days are a loop of rehearse, write, perform, sleep, repeat. How does he keep all these composers straight? “I look down at the costume. Ahh, Thursday, must be Berlin,” he kids.

Some days are more complicated. “One day I had a sing-along in the evening, a Beethoven in the day, and a Tchaikovsky for the matinee. It’s crazy, but there is a fun of having spent 25 years preparing for this kind of thing. While the work is hard, there’s something very satisfying about being able to pull it off.”

Felder feels a special connection to Los Angeles’ theater scene because this is where he became a star. “I made my debut there with these pieces, the Gershwin was created there on Sunset Boulevard at the Tiffany Theater.” He thinks highly of L.A. theater, saying that it’s just as good here as anywhere else.

Next year, he’ll premier A Paris Love Story about the life and music of Claude Debussy at Theater Works Silicon Valley in Palo Alto. He’ll then stage it at the Wallis in May. He says this will be the last new show in the “Great Composers Series,” but he’s still planning to write more pieces. For instance, he has an idea for a one woman show for a soprano about Giacomo Puccini and the female characters he created.

When asked if there are any other composers on his wish list, the answer is easy: “Sleep, that’s what’s on my wish list!”

Hershey Felder: Beethoven will run from July 26 to August 12 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are available here.

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Cool Spots, Food

60 Years Of Tiki: An Inside Look at the Tonga Hut in North Hollywood

May 30, 2018 by Michael Darling

Tonga Hut interior

Photo by Christina Champlin / We Like L.A.

Tonga Hut, Los Angeles’ oldest tiki bar, wasn’t the city’s first; when it opened 60 years ago, it was just another bar in the tiki trend. But while countless others have closed, Tonga Hut has survived and thrived.

Tonga Hut opened in 1958 as the brainchild of brothers Edwin and Ace Libby. According to Marie King, the bar’s general manager since 2012, the Libbys “worked at a Polynesian restaurant on Sepulveda Boulevard in Van Nuys and decided they wanted to open their own bar.” Part of the bar’s charm comes from how little has changed since 1958. When the Libbys bought the storefront on Victory Boulevard, they hired an architect who drew chalk lines to create the bar’s original floor plan, including key features like the bar and fountains. Although some changes, including an expansion of the bar and the installation of thatched huts over the booths, have been made over the decades, the original floor plan is still largely intact.

King is responsible for creating and curating Tonga Hut’s current cocktail menu. It’s a mix of classics like the Mai Tai and Blue Hawaiian, as well as more contemporary tiki concoctions like the Bermuda Dunes and Rhumboogie. Additionally, each bartender is allowed to feature their own creations or favorites while on shift.

Tonga Hut drinks

Photo by Christina Champlin / We Like L.A.

“Regulars like that because they know what kinds of drinks each bartender likes,” says King.

When you order a drink at Tonga Hut, you also get a kind of floor show as bartenders often pour several different drinks at the same time.

“I always line the glass up so I know what I’m doing, then I think ‘Which ones get the silver Puerto Rican?’ and I pour it into the tins, then layer the ingredients that way. So you only have to use it once for every drink you’re making,” says King.

It takes bartenders some time to get this skill down, but eventually muscle memory takes over and they’re able to mix four or five drinks simultaneously without missing a beat.

But the drinks at Tonga Hut go beyond the posted menu and bartender favorites; there’s also the infamous Grog Log. In 1998, cocktail historian Jeff Berry released the book Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log, a compendium of 78 tiki drink recipes collected from the recipe books of tiki bartenders, including the two fathers of the genre, Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber. At Tonga Hut, guests can try to complete their own Grog Log by drinking every drink in the book over the course of the year, and not all of them are winners.

Tonga Hut grog log checklist

Photo by Christina Champlin / We Like L.A.

If you drink all 78 cocktails within a year, you’ll earn permanent membership in the Loyal Order Of The Drooling Bastard. Perks of membership include a self-designed plaque that will hang next to the bar’s vintage 1958 Drooling Bastard fountain and a dollar off all future drinks. “Lots of tiki bars historically had membership programs like that,” says King.

Tonga Hut Order of the Drooling Bastard

Photo by Christina Champlin / We Like L.A.

So, what’s kept Tonga Hut alive while other tiki bars are long gone? According to King, “The only reason Tonga Hut survived was because we never relied strictly on being a tiki bar. We are a tiki bar with tiki cocktails, but we are also a local bar.” The Loyal Order Of The Drooling Bastard plaques reflect a small sample of the Tonga Hut’s regulars, some of whom have been coming since they could first drink.

The bar’s most touching way of celebrating their status as a neighborhood hang comes in the form of a daily tribute to a woman named Dottie. Dottie was a longtime patron of the bar who lived in the neighborhood with her husband and had been coming to Tonga Hut since 1961. Six days a week, the couple would come by Tonga Hut to drink and socialize.

When Dottie’s husband died in the early 1980s, she continued to come, taking the same seat at the bar as she always did, ordering a happy hour Scotch and Soda and holding court. When Dottie died in February 2010, the staff began a tradition honoring their late friend. So, if you visit Tonga Hut during its four-hour happy hour, you’ll see a “reserved” sign by a bar stool, saving the space Dottie held at the bar for 49 years.

Tonga Hut is located at 120808 Victory Blvd in North Hollywood and open from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily.

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Cool Spots, sightseeing

A Visit to the T.V. Hall of Fame Plaza in North Hollywood

April 17, 2018 by Michael Darling

TV Hall of Fame Plaza

Photo by Michael Darling

In the North Hollywood Arts District, there’s an unassuming plaza dedicated to television pioneers that you can visit any time, any day. Hidden behind the Laemmle’s NoHo 7 movie theater, near the intersection of Lankershim and Magnolia boulevards, sits the headquarters of the Television Academy and its Television Hall of Fame Plaza. If you’re in the area and don’t have access to GPS, you’ll know you’re in the right place when you spot a 27-foot Emmy Award. If you walk in from Lankershim and look past the Emmy you’ll notice a life-sized statue of Johnny Carson extending a welcoming hand, one of many sculptures of legends of the smaller screen contained in the plaza.

The Television Hall of Fame was established in 1980 by then-Television Academy president John Mitchell as a way to honor TV icons; not just actors, but also writers, newscasters, producers and others. The Hall of Fame would not take a physical form until 1991, when the Television Academy moved into its current North Hollywood home. Eleven-time Emmy winning production designer Jan Scott shaped the original look of the plaza, which was redone in 2014 as part of a larger renovation of the Television Academy campus.

TV Hall of Fame Plaza

Photo by Michael Darling

Unlike most halls of fame, the Television Hall Of Fame Plaza is free and wide open to the public, not locked inside a building. This sense of open-air intimacy was a side effect of spatial limitations. According to Television Academy Vice President Laurel Whitcomb, “We don’t have museum or exhibition space inside our main office building…our Plaza and Sculpture Garden are the ‘public’ spaces where all the art pieces can be seen and enjoyed.”

TV Hall of Fame Plaza

Photo by Michael Darling

In addition to the Carson statue, the garden features full-sized statues of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo from I Love Lucy) and Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton (as All In The Family’s Archie and Edith Bunker), as well as smaller statues of Dick Van Dyke, Carol Burnett and Jackie Gleason. The rest of the Hall of Fame inductees are honored with busts or 3-D wall plaques.

TV Hall of Fame Plaza

Photo by Michael Darling

All of the busts are exceptionally detailed, but each have their touches that make them special. Some are small points, like a CNN pin on the lapel of media mogul Ted Turner. Others are more elaborate; Red Skelton’s bust depicts the comedian shuffling a deck of cards featuring some of his famous clown characters. The cleverest detail on any of the busts can be found on that of composer Earle Hagen. Carved on the side of the Hagen bust’s base are the notes to the theme song from The Andy Griffith Show.

That said, if you’re looking for a free brush with fame or a quiet place to pause from the hustle, drop by the Television Hall of Fame Plaza. It offers plenty of photo ops, loads of T.V. nostalgia, and of course the best part… it’s free.

The Television Hall Of Fame Plaza is located outside the Television Academy at 5220 Lankershim Blvd. Although it’s accessible 24 hours a day, the plaza area may be closed during special events.

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