We're going on a little break until after the New Year, so take some time to catch up on all the interviews that we've done since June 2012. We'll be back on Jan. 2, 2013 with a brand new feature from the Rose Bowl Flea Market!
It can be a bit daunting, going to interview a band that has been together for almost two decades. It's almost like showing up at a dinner party where everyone but you has known each other for years. With all their inside jokes and various intricacies of relationships that have weathered all kinds of highs and lows, from reaching the top of the charts and selling 10 million albums to the departure of a forming member and parting ways with their record label, the four members of Hoobastank have only grown stronger as musicians, and as friends.
After spending just a few minutes with them, I feel completely at ease. Singer Doug Robb bonds with me over a quest for the perfect bowl of ramen. Guitarist Dan Estrin and I admit to our shared love for Palladia. Bassist Jesse Charland amazes me with his unique musical pedigree. Drummer Chris Hesse melts my heart with a tale of professing his adoration to his first-grade sweetheart. And they all light up when discussing their latest album, Fight or Flight, which hit stores in September via Open E Entertainment.
Their effortless candor with one another is immediately apparent when we get together at their local watering hole, White Harte Pub. We take a seat on the brick-lined front patio, complete with a traditional British red telephone box. With several California wines, 18 beers on tap and cocktails like the Liverpool Kiss (beer with cassis) and the Bee Sting (Guinness and orange juice), the British pub has a drink to quench every thirst.
It's clear the guys come here frequently when they see a friend sitting at the bar and know some of the staff by name. When Dan comes here, he plays darts and has been known to down some shots of Jäger or Patron. Today he opts for a Cherry Coke and his usual Turkey Burger. Doug also gets a Cherry Coke and says that he prefers the Bangers and Mash. Jesse gets his regular: a pint of Blue Moon and the Portobello Mushroom Sandwich. I try the Hoegaarden draft, and while Chris usually just drinks Grey Goose and cranberry at White Harte, today he tries their Fish n' Chips with a pint of Guinness.
"That seriously looks like it's in a commercial," remarks Dan, when Chris' perfectly poured Guiness arrives at the table.
Dan and Doug grew up about 15 minutes west of the pub, met while attending Agoura High School and formed the band in 1994 after recruiting original bassist Markku Lappalainen and Northern California transplant Chris.
"I moved here about three months before I met them," Chris shares. "The town I grew up in was about 14,000 people, and there wasn't a scene at all."
Chris' home town was definitely a far cry from Hoobastank's home base. After playing their first show in Doug's parents' back yard in 1995, the band started making the rounds of local venues such as Cobalt Cafe with fellow San Fernando Valley groups like Incubus and put out two releases, 1997's Muffins and They Sure Don't Make Basketball Shorts Like They Used To the following year.
After signing with Island Records, they released their self-titled debut in 2001, and it went Platinum with hits like "Crawling in the Dark," "Remember Me" and "Running Away." But it wasn't until 2003's The Reason that Hoobastank rocketed to the top of the charts with the title track and into the global spotlight. They released Every Man for Himself, which debuted at No. 12 on the Billboard Top 200, in 2006 and For(N)ever in 2009, while continually touring around the world. Through it all, the Valley has remained their home base.
The bar at White Harte Pub
"I can understand why people would want to live here in the Valley, but I also understand why people want to leave after growing up here. As I get older I think about moving, Chris and I have talked about getting a little place together," jokes Dan. "We've gotten to travel so much, and that's opened up my mind as well. Although I've lived here my entire life, since 2000 we've been traveling everywhere."
"The fact that I grew up here is the main reason that I still live here. Everything is so familiar, but honestly, if we traveled less there would be a greater chance that I wouldn't still live here," adds Doug. "My family is all here, so that's kind of an anchor – in a good way, it's roots. Because we've seen so much of the world, it's easier for me to stay here. If we didn't travel as much I would have more of an urge to go somewhere, you know, like Encino."
Everyone laughs, but then Doug gives a few sincere reasons of why he loves his neighborhood.
"I like that the beach is really close, the mountains are really close and that the city's not on top of us," he says. "It sounds so cliche, but you can't beat the weather."
Jesse, who joined the band in 2009, is originally from Connecticut and moved to Los Angeles about seven years ago, but he has yet to find a new tattoo artist in the area.
"I used to go to Oceanside to get tattooed. I used to go to a guy named Tod Bain, who worked at a place called About Face Tattoo. He was friends with my brother and does really good work."
Chris is also reluctant about naming an L.A. favorite concerning his passion for surfing.
"Where I grew up there was a place called Big Lagoon that was really fun. It was a heavy, good wave. There was the North Jetty and South Jetty, and I had some big days there. But down here, I honestly don't like surfing as much," he confesses. "I like surfing in Ventura or Oxnard, because some of the beach breaks get really good in the wintertime. But in L.A. it's so crowded that it's almost not worth it and I would almost rather not surf sadly."
When it comes to Dan sharing his favorite guitar shop in the area, however, there's no hesitation. It's Norman's Rare Guitars.
"I grew up with Jordan, who is Norm's son. Doug and I went to the same high school as him," he says. "I really like going there because I like their stuff, and they take care of me. I like hanging out there and playing some guitars. It's cool because they lend me stuff, too. They'll let me take stuff home and mess around with it. "
Doug likes to take his mother, who is Japanese, to new restaurants and watch her critique the cooks, and he also doesn't pause when naming his favorite places to go eat.
"I really like this new ramen place, Tamashii. I'm a fan of Hurry Curry on Sawtelle [in West Los Angeles]. I like the Counter for a good burger," he lists before mentioning a restaurant that the entire band agrees on, "an Indian place called Anarbagh."
"It's delicious," raves Jesse.
"I've had some really good Indian food in Thailand and Malaysia, and this place has some seriously good food, but I leave so full because I eat so much," continues Doug.
"I always have leftovers, enough for a full meal for me and my wife the next day," interjects Chris.
Dan says he likes to order, "The Chicken Tikka, with the Naan and some rice."
The one thing they crave when they're on the road and away from Los Angeles:
"Good Mexican food," says Chris.
Doug "We're always say we're not going to try the Mexican food in certain places because they're too far from Mexico. Some of the most awful places were—"
"Jacksonville, N.C.," says Jesse.
"Chevy's in New York City," adds Dan. "But even at LAX, I got that burrito that was horrible."
"Yeah, that was the worst Mexican food I've ever had," Jesse agrees.
"Don't you think they should have movie theaters in airports, for people with long layovers?" ponders Doug.
"Strip clubs would be better," Chris chimes in.
On that note, I decide to ask Doug about his first L.A. concert experiences.
"My first concert I went to was around seventh grade: David Lee Roth and Poison at the Forum. My friend's parents dropped us off, and we sat in the nosebleeds," he recalls. "Then, my first show that wasn't a seated thing was at the Palladium. I was in high school, and it was Alice and Chains. It was a whole new thing for me, participating in the show rather than sitting. That's what I thought shows were from sitting in the nosebleeds, that you would just stand up, cheer and sing along. I went to a few of those type shows before the Palladium where you were up against people, moshing around. It was terrifying, but awesome."
Dan didn't go to many concerts when he was young, but he spent a lot of time exploring his dad's record collection.
"My dad had his office area in the house, and he had a collection of vinyl. I would always go through and listen to his records. I still have them now, like 500 of them, all the Led Zeppelin albums, the Doors, Herb Alpert, the Commodores – it was such a wide range of shit. I would put on some headphones and be turned on by the music," he remembers. "Then, when I was 13, I walked down to a friend's house and he was playing the guitar. He had this sunburst Strat, and I was like whoa. He started taking lessons, and I remember being driven by that and inspired by seeing him. If he was going to be doing that, I wanted to, too. So I started taking lessons."
Jesse was surrounded by music from a very young age, but you might find his first instrument to be a bit surprising.
"My first instrument was cello; I started in third grade. My grandfather was a violist, and he played in the local symphony where I grew up. My mom is a professional cellist; she played on our acoustic album [2010's Is This the Day? release in Japan]. So, I studied with them," he says. "I switched to bass when I was in high school and college, and it was really only orchestral stuff. Electric bass was something I only did on the side for fun, until I moved here and started doing it professionally. My dad was a blues guitarist; he was really good. My whole family was steeped in music. I'm kind of just following footsteps."
Chris also started playing when he was still in elementary school.
"I started playing percussion when I was in fifth grade, in the school band. I played snare or bass drum in marching band, then I started on a drum set around my freshman year," he shares. "When I was really young, like 5, I would record songs off the AM radio. I had a cassette recorder and would put it up to the clock radio and press record anytime a song that I liked came on. I remember playing air guitar in front of the mirror and thinking that this was what I wanted to do and really didn't stray from that until I was in my teens and got into surfing and smoked a lot of pot. I always played music, though. Maybe it wasn't my first love, but it was the only thing that I wanted to do."
He can't wait for his own children to start pounding on the drums as well.
"I sat my boy up on one of my kits two days ago. I put the sticks in his hands and tapped a little on them. He kind of got it, he's too young, but they will eventually," he says.
Doug also has a young child, a daughter named Magnolia, who has a song named for her on Fight or Flight. Although Doug didn't always write lyrics or poetry growing up, he would jot down imaginative stories.
"OK, maybe I wrote a little bit of poetry, but I was only trying to impress chicks," he laughs. "It didn't work."
"When I was in first grade, I actually wrote out a sign on a piece of cardboard and attached it to my bike. It said, 'I love Amy Harrison,' because that was my girlfriend in first grade. I definitely made a statement," offers Chris.
"I used to make a lot of home movies, direct funny videos. Even at a very young age, I liked that," says Doug, who now spends a lot of time singing to Magnolia. "I make the songs up as I go, depending on the situation. If I'm trying to get her to brush her teeth, then it's the brush your teeth song. If it's time to eat, then it's the time to eat song. She loves the song 'Magnolia,' but only up until the first chorus and then she gets bored with it. She likes to sing, she sings songs she doesn't even know. She'll make up the words."
"Life's a musical," interjects Dan.
"She sees me singing all the time – 99 percent of the time just jokingly – but she's seen our videos, and she goes to shows. She watches Disney movies a lot, and they're always singing. She sings on her own once in a while, and it wouldn't surprise me if she thinks you can talk to people just by singing," Doug laughs.
"Magnolia" is a touching snapshot of Doug and his daughter and includes a literal memento of her being in the womb. The pulsating rhythm at the beginning of the song is an ultrasound recording of Magnolia's prenatal heartbeat.
Doug says, "It was totally an accident—"
"I don't believe in accidents," Dan interrupts.
"It was accident that it lined up? I thought that they edited it," says Chris.
"No, I had sent them the mp3, and they called back and said, 'Did you edit this? It lines up perfectly,' clarifies Doug. "That's weird, right?"
The entirety of Fight or Flight is what the band has called "musically and emotionally intense." The album not only marks their new partnership with Open E Entertainment, it is their first effort without Howard Benson, who produced their last three, at the helm. The quartet opted for a fresh perspective in Gavin Brown (Metric, Billy Talent) to push them out of their comfort zone, which he succeeded in doing. Take for instance, Fight or Flight's initial single, "This Is Gonna Hurt," which explodes with energy from first note, contrasted with the melodically hypnotic "A Thousand Words."
"What's funny about that song, the line 'a thousand words trapped inside me' is an old, old line, and the music is four years old," shares Dan. "It's a piece of music and a lyric that were separate at one point, and we weren't going to complete that song until I played something for the other guys in the car. I feel like sometimes it takes somebody else, whether it's one of the other band members or a producer, to say, 'That is special.'"
"Different ears always hear different things in a song. You may think you've already heard all there is in a song, then somebody listens to it for the first time and is blown away, so you decide to push it further," adds Doug. "I think that's how things get written."
You're also only as good and as current as your record collection. If you're constantly listening to classic rock then you're going to write classic rock songs, because it's just in your brain. But if you're looking for new music and listening to new music then that will come out in whatever music you write," says Jesse. "There's a lot of good music out there, you just have to find it and have the patience to sit with it for a minute."
"There is a lot of good music out there, but I don't realize how much I like it until I see them play live," says Dan. "I TiVo shit on Palladia all the time. I saw something live, and I had heard the song before and thought it was hook-y, but I had no idea what the band looked like. It's like when you hear a radio DJ, you know them from their voice and make up what they look like in your head. When you finally see them, you think, 'whoa, that's nothing like I pictured them to be.' I don't remember who it was on Palladia, but I saw them performing and thought it was fucking dope. As a band, they weren't doing anything that was necessarily groundbreaking amazing, but they all believed in what they were doing. It was passionate; it was cool."
Those are the same sentiments that Hoobastank hopes audiences come away with after their performances, as well.
"What I hear often from people is that we're heavier live than we are on the albums. A lot of times we get people at shows who haven't been to our shows before who say, 'Wow, you guys aren't the band that played 'The Reason,'' tells Chris. "We are, but I think that they see us for once as a rock band."
"They finally get a visual of the band aside from the video of 'The Reason.' They see the band, they hear other songs. They might see us play 'The Reason,' but they also see energy and see us enjoying what we're doing," adds Dan. "On that last tour we did with Stars in Stereo, I remember some bands who were younger than us saying, 'Dude, I grew up listening to you guys.' It made me feel old, but at the same time it made me feel really good, too, that these other bands were stoked that they were playing with us."
Dan says that the fact they've stuck together for the past 18 years and are still going strong is something that often surprises people.
"The other day I was hiking and some chick that I had met before jogging stopped to say hi with her friends. She said to them, 'Do you guys remember Hoobastank?' and asked me if we were still together. I get that here and there, 'Are you guys still together?' For a second I used to be like, 'YES we're still together. Now, fuck off,' but, honestly, it's pretty rad that we're still together," he says. "I think it's rare, and we've been together for a long time. Think of some of the other bands that came together when we did, whether it's AWOLNATION's previous bands or the Tourists/Audiovent, everybody breaks up."
Hoobastank are even more of a tight-knit group than ever, and one thing that will most likely always remain a mystery about this band is the origin of its name. Typically, the members come up with a new story about how they came up with the moniker, which was originally Hoobustank – everything from it being a street in Germany to a joking play on 'who's butt stinks.'
"Hoobastank, the name, killed your dad. That was the craziest lie I ever told," laughs Jeese.
"They're all stupid stories," says Doug. "Maybe it's time to make up a crazy lie that makes everyone go, 'No way! Are you serious?'"
Even if the word originally was a nonsensical term that Doug and Dan made up in high school, it has come to represent one of the hardest working bands to come out of the Valley, and from the sound of Fight or Flight, Hoobastank is here to stay.
Fight or Flight is currently available. Hoobastank performs on Real Music Live Dec. 22. For more information, visit hoobastank.com.
Doug Benson's Movie Interruption: Love Actually @ The Cinefamily (Mid-City West)
Every time Love Actually airs on television, I have to watch it. I can't help myself. I guess I love Colin Firth that much. Not sure that Doug Benson and his comedian friends will have too many super lovely things to say about the cheesiness of the movie, but I bet even they aren't immune to the charms of Mr. Darcy... I mean, Firth.
Holiday Spirit on the Big Screen @ The Aero (Santa Monica)
American Cinematheque celebrates the season with a film series to get you in a festive mood, kicking off with Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Danny Kaye in White Christmas tonight. Director Jon Favreau is going to be on hand for a discussion after Saturday's showing of Elf. And It's a Wonderful Life screens three days in a row, at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Saturday (at the Egyptian) and Sunday. There's a Toys for Tots drop-off bin in the lobby, so bring a new, unwrapped toy to make a child's season a little brighter, too.
FRIDAY, DEC. 21
In Theaters This Week
My must-see film of the season is Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained (12/25); The Guilt Trip stars Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand; I'm not a huge Anne Hathaway fan, but I still want to see her sing "I Dreamed a Dream" in Les Miserables (12/25); Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart in On the Road; Judd Apatow revisits Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann's characters from Knocked Up in This Is 40; Kathryn Bigelow directs a cast that includes Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke in Zero Dark Thirty. Also in theaters: Amour; Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D; Jack Reacher; Monsters, Inc. in 3D; Not Fade Away; Parental Guidance (12/25); West of Memphis (12/25)
X, My Jerusalem @ The Fonda (Hollywood)
Exene, John, Billy and DJ celebrate X-mas 2012 the only way they know how, by gathering their faithful from the streets of Hollywood and riling them up with a no-holds-barred performance. Jeff Klein (formerly of the Twilight Singers and Gutter Twins) fronts opening act, My Jerusalem. who released their latest, Preachers, in October.
Big Black Delta
SATURDAY, DEC. 22
Big Black Delta @ The Satellite (Silver Lake)
Jonathan Bates, formerly of Mellowdrone, and the drum duo of Mahsa Zargaran and Amy Wood create have a new album coming out in the new year and just released a collection of remixes for their "Betamax" single. If "Betamax" is any indication, the trio is in for a very auspicious 2013.
Brian Setzer Orchestra: Christmas Rocks! Extravaganza @ Gibson Amphitheatre (Universal City)
The ninth annual holiday concert put on by the rockabilly and swing legend spreads infectious energy through the venue like wildfire with musicians "Jump, Jive an' Wail"-ing across the stage. Opening act, Totsy, promises "burlesque pop with a '40s throw back sound."
THURSDAY, DEC. 27
Vincente Minnelli & Leslie Caron Double Feature @ Egyptian Theatre (Hollywood)
My love for all things French has no limit, and this double feature seems perfectly tailored for Francophiles like me. First up is the director's most popular musical, Academy Award-winning An American In Paris, featuring Gene Kelly alongside Caron. Then comes one of my favorite films set in Paris, Gigi, which also won an Oscar for Best Picture. Maurice Chevalier and Louis Jourdan star with Caron.
Primus (Tod Brilliant)
SATURDAY, DEC. 29
Primus @ The Wiltern (Korea Town)
The NorCal trio bring their psychedelic 3D show to Los Angeles. Each audience member is given a pair of 3D glasses to fully enjoy the unique visual and audio extravaganza. They caution: "If feelings of dizziness or nausea become apparent, remove glasses, look away from the screen and try not to vomit on your neighbor. Enjoy the show."
MONDAY, DEC. 31 – NEW YEAR'S EVE
Along with the myriad of club events happening around town, here are a few of a different ilk:
Getting Even Mystery Murder Dinner @ Susan Feniger's STREET (Hollywood)
Chef Feniger takes you on a global death tour, from 'Shot in Cairo, Drowned in Mumbai' paneer and naan to a 'Shanghai Stabbing' (skewered crispy pork). At only $65 for six courses, it's like you're getting away with murder.
Idina Menzel @ Walt Disney Concert Hall (Downtown)
If you don't know this brilliant actress, singer and songwriter from her roles in "Rent" or "Wicked," then maybe you recognize her as Rachel Berry's birth mother from "Glee." This spring she released a CD/DVD, Idina Menzel Live: Barefoot at the Symphony, and she promises even more new material at her two NYE performances (one at 7 p.m. and another at 10:30 p.m.). Any chance to hear her amazing pipes live should not be passed up.
Lucent Dossier's Ravenous Rouge: A Playful Delight @ An Underground Warehouse (Downtown)
There will be live performance art, DJs and all that one can normally expect of a Lucent Dossier experience. Tickets start at $250, but you can enjoy an open bar all night long. KCRW's The Black & White Ball @ The Viceroy (Santa Monica)
Don your finest black-and-white attire and dine on decadent appetizers from Whist's Chef Tony DiSalvo, a premium hosted bar and DJ sets from Jason Bentley, Anthony Valadez and Valida.
New Year's Eve Countdown Bash @ Universal CityWalk (Universal City)
Admission is just $15 if you take the Red Line train to Universal City station and the free shuttle up to CityWalk (Otherwise, it's $55.). There will be plenty of entertainment for everyone, even families, with four different stages with DJs, live music and fireworks.
Together As One @ The Shrine (South Los Angeles)
Go Ventures' 15th annual celebration returns with DJs on multiple stages, plenty of pyrotechnics and a special Midnight Multimedia Countdown.
TUESDAY, JAN. 1
Tournament of Roses: A Showcase of Floats in Pasadena
Every year after the parade, you can witness the floats up close and personal and notice details that you just can't see on TV. The floral masterpieces are parked along Sierra Madre and Washington Boulevards, and tickets are $10. Also on Wednesday.
Marx Brothers Double Feature @ The Aero (Santa Monica)
Ring in the New Year laughing at total Marx Brothers mayhem. Groucho's grandson, Andy Marx, is going to introduce the classic films, beginning with the trio's hijinks in Freedonia in Duck Soup. Then, they stowaway on an ocean liner to wreak more havoc in Monkey Business.
Vanessa Sonon, Dionna Thomas Littleton, Rachel York, Courtney Rottenberger and Jacqueline Burtney in "Anything Goes" (Joan Marcus)
HOLIDAY DRAMA (AND COMEDY)
If you aren't headed out of town for the next few weeks, then you probably have some relatives coming to visit. Here are some ideas that will take them to some great L.A. theaters, and not all of the shows are holiday themed, so you won't OD on Christmas carols – unless you want to.
"Anything Goes" Now-Jan. 6, 2013 @ Ahmanson Theatre (Downtown)
If you're family loves tap dancing, you've got to take them to see the Tony-winning revival of this classic Broadway show, featuring songs by Cole Porter, choreography and direction by Kathleen Marshall and starring the insanely talented Rachel York. You probably won't even realize that you know most of the songs from "Anything Goes" until you watch the show. "A Christmas Carol: Twist Your Dickens" Now-Dec. 30 @ Kirk Douglas Theatre (Culver City) The Second City's hilariously irreverent satire of A Christmas Carol was penned by two writers of "The Colbert Report" and features a cast of the comedy troupe's brightest stars, so you know you're in for a good time.
"Bob's Holiday Office Party" Now-Dec. 22 @ Pico Playhouse (West Los Angeles) There's no way your work's holiday party could top the crude hijinks of Finhead Insurance Agency's annual blowout. See small-town America at its zaniest. "Coney Island Christmas" Now-Dec. 30 @ Geffen Playhouse (Westwood) Shirley Abramowitz recounts the story of when she, a young Jewish girl, was cast as Jesus in her school's Christmas pageant to her great-granddaughter, illustrating the trials and tribulations of living in multi-ethnic America. Written by Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies. "Donny & Marie – Christmas in Los Angeles" Now-Dec. 23 @ Pantages Theatre (Hollywood) You might know Donny and Marie from "Dancing With the Stars," but even if you have no idea who the Osmonds are, your parents will. So let them relive their childhood memories of watching Osmond Family Christmases on TV by seeing the brother-and-sister duo perform live. "Nothing to Hide" Now- Jan. 20, 2013 @ Geffen Playhouse (Westwood) If all this singing and dancing isn't your thing, maybe a little bit of magic can tickle your fancy. Directed by Neil Patrick Harris, "Nothing to Hide" teams sleight-of-hand artists Derek DelGaudio and Helder Guimarães for a production that goes beyond any traditional magic show.
"Other Desert Cities" Now- Jan. 6, 2013 @ Mark Taper Forum (Downtown) Perhaps watching a dysfunctional family's drama unfold on stage will make you treasure your own loved ones even more. When a daughter decides to show her tell-all confessional novel to her family on Christmas Eve, it brings turmoil and conflict to their Palm Springs holiday. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed ReinDOORS" Now-Jan. 13, 2013 @ Falcon Theatre (Burbank) Every year the Troubadour Theater Company presents a new holiday mash-up, and this season's retelling of Rudolph's tale intertwined with recognizable tunes from the Doors, such as "Hello, I Love You," "Light My Fire" and "Break On Through (To the Other Side)," is sure to be unforgettable.
Even though a White Christmas will never happen in Los Angeles, this 2008 mural at 2461 West Washington Boulevard in Mid-City tries to bring a glimpse of one to Angelenos all year round. I pass this piece by Biser and Sims of MAK (Modern Art Kings) K4P (Kill 4 Pride) crew every day, and thought today might be the perfect time to share it with all of you and spread some holiday cheer.
7253 Santa Monica, Blvd., West Hollywood 323-851-7120
Steve Coe is not someone who enters a room without much notice. From his tall stature, unruly mane of curly hair and jovial, outgoing personality, the British transplant definitely turns heads. But in most circumstances, what initially draws one's eye to Steve is his T-shirt. For over a decade, his apparel companies – Bogus, Worn Free, Special Lucky Winner and Lost Propertee – have produced shirts that have appeared on the likes of Ryan Gosling, Jennifer Aniston, Keith Urban and Eddie Vedder, in fashion magazines, on TV shows and in shops all over Los Angeles.
The day we meet at one of his new dining discoveries, Food + Lab in West Hollywood, Steve wears a dark blue tee from his Special Lucky Winner label, emblazoned with colorful flying animals, exactly the kind of unique design his brands are known for. His friend, a noted "picky eater," recently took him to Food + Lab for the first time, and with their expressly organic, nitrate- and hormone-free, carefully sourced ingredients, it's easy for practically anyone to be happy with what they select from the menu.
Mother-and-son team Esther and Nino Linsmayer are at the helm of the eatery, which has a second location in Silver Lake, and most dishes come from recipes honed from Esther's years of culinary training. She, and her Organic Curried Chicken Sandwich, is one of the reasons that Steve so enjoyed his initial visit to Food + Lab.
"I met [her] the last time I came here and said 'This is good,' and she said, 'I know, I made it,'" laughs Steve. "I like that, when you actually see who creates the food or makes the recipes."
Food + Lab is a bit east from where he lives, but Steve frequently goes to Jones, which is just a block away. He also likes to go to Greenblatt's Deli and sampling tacos from various trucks around the city.
"Food in L.A. in general is incredible, especially the Mexican food, the sushi, the Korean food, the Vietnamese pho here is nuts. I like El Compadre, probably more for their Cadillac margaritas than the food, but I love it. I like the Katsu-ya in Studio City because I used to rent a place from Gail Zappa that was right next door to it, a little house behind this animation studio, so I used to go there a lot," he shares. "I lived in New York for a year, and I've been in L.A. for about seven years. It's easy, not in a bad way. There are so many things you take for granted here. The weather's great; it's sunny every day. Where I'm from it rains all the time, so even if you just pop out for half an hour, it's like you're on holiday. You can be at the beach in minutes. I don't like the fact that there's not much street culture, that's the only problem with it. It doesn't work as a city the way that cities normally work. It's more a collection of small villages."
As I sip some of Food + Lab's homemade Southern Mint Iced Tea, Steve enjoys a cup of coffee and their Beloved Hard Boiled Egg Sandwich with farm-raised bacon, watercress and aioli on wheat bread. After he takes a bite, he unconsciously lets out a "mmm," so it's obviously hit the spot.
"Cooking's a very creative thing. I always wanted to be a chef growing up. My best friend and I always wanted to open a restaurant. I did my work experience in kitchens, and it's seriously hard work. Doing design and photography is much easier, you don't have to get up so early in the morning," he laughs. "My granddad was a chef in the army. He was one of those people who was good at whatever he did. He could draw incredibly, took amazing photographs and cooked in the army."
Steve's grandfather instilled a love for photography in him, as well as a keen ability to trust his own eye and artistic instincts.
"He was a massive influence on me. One of my earliest memories was in the darkroom. I was about 4 years old, and I remember him showing me this blank piece of paper. He dipped it into this stuff, and a picture came out. I thought, 'It's magic' and was transfixed from then. I was 11 when he gave me my first camera and started to explain photography. What was great about it and what I found invaluable was, for him, my eye, how you see things and take the image, was much more important than the technical aspects. Those, you can learn. I learned in a free environment where I could just go crazy and I had someone who could develop my photos for me. Unfortunately, he died when I was 12, but for that year I remember taking a hell of a lot of photos, and I just carried on with it."
Growing up, Steve's father was a musician, so the art form was a fixture in their home.
"There was a bit of everything. I remember the Beatles a lot and the Stones," he says. "The first concert I went to that I bought tickets for, I was 15, and it was either a Bob Geldof solo gig or Paul Weller – I can't remember which one was first. I was a big fan of the Jam growing up, so I've seen Paul Weller a bunch of times."
Young Steve used the four walls of his bedroom as an outlet for his burgeoning love of imagery and design.
"I had the little room in the house, and it was packed with loads of shit, literally wall to wall photos, posters and records. I just crammed as much stuff in there as I could," he reveals. "I was a big Jimi Hendrix fan when I decided to learn to play the guitar. I'm left handed, so he was a real hero for me. I used to have the Axis: Bold as Love album cover, which I love. I've always been fascinated with album covers; it's such a lovely form of communication. Sometimes if there's an artist that I don't know but I like their cover art, I'll buy the record for the cover. Half the time it works out well, and the music's good, too."
He continued to explore photography and other visual art forms as he moved on to college and beyond.
Food + Lab's deli case
"When I was at university I took Animation and Film, and you could take photography as a side thing. I just wanted to be in the dark room, so I took it. I used to come out with some crazy stuff. The teacher would say, 'You're doing it all wrong,' and I would be like, 'No, I'm not. This is what I wanted.' That's the magic of it, you don't have to necessarily be very precise unless you want to take photographs of food or products. If you just want to make crazy images, you can do what you like. I got into super 8 as well when I was at college, so I used to do a lot of stop animation and make weird little films. Then I worked in television, and they kept trying to put me in a technical path rather than creative, which I didn't like, so I stopped doing that and did photography. I did photography for about two-and-a-half years, and some magazine saw what I did and thought I did it with a computer even though I didn't. So they gave me Photoshop, Illustrator and an iMac to see what I could do on a computer. I started messing around with computers, and for good or bad I started doing more computer-based designs."
Thus, Steve began doing graphics work and tinkering with different design concepts. His friend was a screen printer and asked him to do a few designs.
"Unbeknownst to me he was ripping them off and selling them in DJ magazines as slipmats and whatnot, and then one of my friends who was a DJ showed me. The experience made me realize that I could do this stuff and people would buy it," he shares. "Another friend of mine, we started doing a film project and took our money from working on that and put it into a T-shirt company called Bogus. The concept behind Bogus was the shittest ideas that we could possibly come up with would be the ones that we would [turn into shirts]. As a design, it couldn't take more than 20 minutes to come up with and could only be done once, no retakes, and it was put on a shirt or it was lost forever. We used to sell a lot to places like Urban Outfitters. One shirt said 'Don't Give Me Any Drugs,' another said 'Jehovah's Fitness.'"
Steve also worked as a photo archivist, cataloguing images of iconic celebs, and in the late 1990s, was struck with the idea for Worn Free while watching Cheech & Chong's Up in Smoke. He was drawn to Chong's 'RORER 714' top in the film, and thought it would be cool to be able to buy clothes like actors wore in movies or musicians wore on stage or in photos like the ones he had been archiving. In 2005, he launched Worn Free with Kevin Casey, a label that reproduces T-shirt designs worn by legendary musicians, such as Bob Marley, Frank Zappa, Iggy Pop, Kurt Cobain, John Lennon and many others.
"What's great about Worn Free is that everything we do is attached to a photograph, so I get to talk to some really amazing old-school rock photographers, like Bob Gruen, Kate Simon and Roberta Bayley," he says. "It's nice hearing their stories and seeing the photographs. I could look at photographs all day, It's one of those things that I've always been a bit in love with. That's the great fun about it. It combines all of my favorite things into one job/hobby that I get paid for."
Each Worn Free tee comes with a photograph of the specific artist wearing the same shirt as a tag designed to look like a backstage pass.
"The backstage passes are real expensive to make because they're a satin material and only certain printers can print them properly. It's not necessarily the most practical thing, but it's just a nice add-on to have for the shirts," Steve tells. "We're doing some now that are postcards or recycled cards, depending on the customer. For Urban Outfitters, we found that with the way they fold the shirts, the backstage passes got crumpled easily. So, we're doing theirs on cardboard because it keeps the image more pristine."
Steve's latest venture is called Lost Propertee, established as an outlet for pretty much anyone to see their shirt design ideas come to life.
A Worn Free John Lennon shirt
"We wanted to open the forum up to the public, but we didn't want to do it where you'd have to be a designer. We were just interested in people's weird ideas. You send us your idea, we get one of our illustrators to draw up a T-shirt and then we pay you for whatever shirts we sell, or you can double the money if you want to turn it into T-shirt dollars and buy other shirts on the site," he says. "The thing is, most everybody I've met, even my mum, has got a T-shirt idea that they want to make, and now they can."
Before parting ways, I ask Steve to share what he thinks some good holiday gift ideas might be from Worn Free:
"The Muhammad Ali robe is just the perfect thing. Everyone puts it on, raises their fist and does a champion's stance. We've got some great photos of people doing that. Lil Wayne wears one of our robes every night he goes on stage. When he does his encore he comes out with the Muhammad Ali robe on."
"The best thing we're doing at the moment is a Holiday Stocking Filler. We just send you a random T-shirt for $15, and it's nice because it really is random. We give out great designs and crazy old stuff that we haven't sold for years."
"There are so many different artists that we have on the label that it's just about finding that present that's personal. And that's the other thing that works out with Worn Free: You're not just wearing a Stones or Pink Floyd T-shirt, you're wearing something that was personal to the artist who wore it originally. There's some great background stories to a lot of the shirts, especially with John Lennon. The Working Class Hero shirt is based on a song that he wrote, You Are Here is part of his and Yoko's philosophy on life about living in the moment. We can really retell those stories with the shirts. If you're a fan of John's then you'll know that little bit of background already, and it's almost like a badge of honor. It's great to be able to work with icons like that who break so many boundaries and borders that everyone associates with."
Between Canal St & Eastern Ct. and S. Venice Blvd & Washington Blvd., Venice Beach
My favorite part of Venice is actually not the beach or the boardwalk, it's the canals. It's one of those rare spots in the city where you can spend a few moments away from the hustle and bustle and truly feel like you've stepped into another place. The picturesque hamlet is just steps away from busy Venice and Washington Boulevards, yet is so peaceful. You get lost in your thoughts as you criss-cross over the waterway on quaint footbridges surrounded by lush greenery, gorgeous homes with rowboats docked at their shore and plenty of ducks, egrets and herons. However, the canals haven't always been so lovely.
In 1905, developer Abbot Kinney built a 16-mile system of man-made canals to mimic those of Venice, Italy, as part of his "Venice of America" plan. The entire area between Pacific Avenue, Abbot Kinney Boulevard and Venice Boulevard was covered by canals, and the Venice Circle at Pacific and Windward Avenues was a lagoon. Visitors rented canoes or hired gondoliers to travel around. But with the advent of the automobile in the 1920s, the canals became impractical, and most were filled in and covered by streets. By the 1940s the remaining canals had fallen into disrepair and condemned by the city as a health and safety hazard.
Eventually residents formed the Venice Canals Association (VCA) to renovate and revitalize the district, and in 1982 the canals were placed in the National Register of Historic Places. The canals re-opened in 1993 with construction and environmental improvements that have allowed the neighborhood to blossom into the breathtaking community that it is today.
During the summer, the VCA hosts a row-in movie night and an annual regatta every Fourth of July, when residents decorate their rowboats and parade through the canals. Right now is one of the best times of year to visit the canals, with most of the homes blanketed in holiday lights. As the twinkling lights reflect off the water, it's not hard to find yourself fantasizing about living in one of the houses.
The Muppet Christmas Carol @ El Capitan Theatre (Hollywood)
Tonight's Throwback Thursday movie at El Capitan is The Muppet Christmas Carol. I remember forcing a group of friends to go see this with me in the theaters when it was released way back in 1992. With Michael Caine as Scrooge and all the Muppets taking on roles from the classic Charles Dickens' story, what isn't there to love?
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Warner Bros.)
FRIDAY, DEC. 14
In Theaters This Week
Alan Cumming and Garret Dillahunt in Any Day Now; I've been eagerly awaiting The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey for years. So excited the release date is finally here; Save the Date stars Alison Brie, Lizzy Caplan and Geoffrey Arend
Tyler Florence @ Williams-Sonoma (Beverly Hills)
I always wished he would bust through my front door to raid my pantry for an episode of his "Food 911," and I've spent countless hours watching him on "How to Boil Water" and "Tyler's Ultimate," so I was totally jealous when my sister went to Wayfare Tavern and ate the best deviled eggs ever. Until I'm able to taste for myself, I have to settle for trying to replicate recipes from his recently released cookbook, Fresh. He'll be signing copies of Fresh tonight at 6 p.m.
Chips, Crisps & Wafers @ iam8bit (Echo Park)
Through Dec. 23, iam8bit Gallery is hosting the potato-chip pop-up, Chips, Crisps & Wafers. The potato-chip extravaganza promises 50 unique flavors from around the world, in addition to wacky flavors from America.
SATURDAY, DEC. 15
Invisible Children Holiday Benefit Show @ The Troubadour (West Hollywood)
Invisible Children strives to inspire youths to cultivate and express their voices to initiate positive change throughout the world. The program's fourth annual benefit show features a stellar lineup that includes DeVotchKa, Night Terrors of 1927, White Arrows, the Colourist and Whispertown. All provides go to their holiday campaign, Come Home For the Holidays.
The Weeknd @ The Orpheum (Downtown)
If you haven't already, give Abel Tesfaye's (aka the Weeknd) "Wicked Games" from his Trilogy compilation album a spin. I know the Canadian crooner has got some chops, but I'm curious to check out his stage presence at a venue like the Orpheum.
SUNDAY, DEC. 16
A Conversation with Sally Field @ Aero Theatre (Santa Monica)
The film and television legend just received a Best Supporting Actress award from the New York Film Critics Circle, as well as a Golden Globe nomination for her turn as Mary Todd in Lincoln. Filmmaker Larry Karaszewski leads a discussion about her entire career, along with clips from the films, with the actress. They'll cover everything from Places in the Heart and Norma Rae to Mrs. Doubtfire and Steel Magnolias.
Ceviche Nights @ Mo-Chica (Downtown)
In preparation for the opening of Ricardo Zarate and Stephane Bombet's ceviche restaurant, Paichẽ, next year, they've invited various guest chefs to give their own unique spin on the fish dish. Tonight is the last night of the series and features guests Bryant Ng (The Spice Table), Kris Yenbamroong (NIGHT + MARKET) and Hourie Sahakian (Short Cake), as well as tasting flights from Firestone Walker Brewing Co.
MONDAY, DEC. 17
The Dark Crystal @ The Cinefamily (Hollywood)
Another Jim Henson favorite celebrates its 30th anniversary today, and the Cinefamily honors the fantasy classic with a special screening. After three decades, the movie really has stood the test of time and remains one of my top films ever.
4326 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles (Silver Lake) 323-664-1011
"Ever since I came to California, things have been great. If you ever dream, you should come here. Come to L.A."
—"California," from the album Stronger, by Kate Earl
Kate Earl has a case of the yawns. With her crazy schedule, who could blame her? Between running around after her 2-year-old son, Hank, promoting her latest album, Stronger, preparing for a tour with Passenger and performing at a showcase for television executives all in one day, it's a miracle that the singer-songwriter hasn't collapsed from fatigue. Yet, aside from the few yawns that occur when we first sit down to talk, Kate becomes completely energized and animated when we start discussing her two babies, Hank and Stronger, which was released last month and named for the strength she's gained from being a mother.
"I would have shied away from the album title because it's been used, but, for me, it had such meaning and truth to it," she shares. "I couldn't think of a better word for what I've become because of my son, so I just claimed it."
We are at one of Kate's favorite restaurants, Malo, so I decide to try her usual drink order, the House Margarita, as we take a seat in their candlelit cantina area. The walls are covered in vibrant red wallpaper, shiny black tiles and wood panels, giving the room a sleek and sensual vibe. Usually Kate gets the Ceviche, but if she's really hungry she orders the Ground Beef and Pickle Tacos or the Potato Tacos. She raves about the various salsas (burnt habanero cream, verde) that Malo offers as well.
Kate also tells me that the restaurant is located just down the street from a Vons grocery store, a site where Charlie Chaplin had his first studios.
Kate Earl at Malo
"It's so cool, that's where they had giant light boxes where he would shoot," she says. "I love these pieces of Hollywood history. Old Hollywood was right here."
Surrounded by Tinsel Town history in Silver Lake and her neighborhood of Los Feliz, Kate commonly frequents stores like Skylight Books and some of the vintage clothing shops on Vermont and Hillhurst Avenues. She also likes taking Hank to the Americana at Brand in Glendale, so he can go to the playground and watch the giant water fountain, while she picks up some items.
"The trendier things," she admits. "To pick up something fresh and affordable, I do like H&M and Forever 21. I'm not ashamed to say it. I've been noticing lately, though, that my favorite clothes are hand me downs from my friends. I love closet trading and clothing swaps because. Not only are you getting something free and it's eco-friendly and responsible to be re-using, but the love from your friends are in their clothes, you're wrapped in their care, and the clothes take on a new life with your personality. I'm as excited about proper designers as anyone else, but I don't think you need to be so fancy. Fashion shouldn't be so serious, it should be fun and individual."
Having lived all over the city, from Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach to Burbank and Laurel Canyon, Kate has come to appreciate Los Feliz for a several reasons.
"The walkability. I put Hank in the stroller or we just walk, and anything we want is right there. It just suits me," she says. "One of the biggest things that keeps me here is Griffith Park, being able to feel like I'm in the outdoors even though I'm really in the city. The views and the rollings hills – it's romantic. If I'm exercising regularly, we get to the park about five days a week. If I'm really training, I do a four-mile run, but I break it up halfway because he can't stand to be in the jogging stroller that long. I'll run my two miles up to the Fern Dell entry, and across from Trails Café there's a nice park, so he gets out, does his thing and then naps on the way home. At the end of the four miles, is when we get back, I'll park him in the stroller in the house and catch up on work, write some music or do whatever I need to do that requires my complete attention."
Life in Los Angeles is definitely a far cry from Kate's childhood in Chugiak, Alaska, where she learned how to play the piano at 4 and started honing her singing chops on her family's karaoke machine.
"I had the opportunity to really practice my belting on the karaoke machine without feeling funny. Between that and the experience I had singing in choir in my hometown church – learning about harmonies and being exposed to classic music in so many genres – it's quite an eclectic experience when you consider that I was out in the middle of nowhere," she says with a smile. "I had the 1920s through '50s music from my father, the ballroom music from my Filipino relatives that loved to dance, the whole Top 40 karaoke list, the '70s influence from my older brothers, my love of the gospel music that I discovered at church and then going to the library and stumbling across things that had been donated. I was so lucky to discover all of this."
"And then there were my own discoveries, like Fiona Apple and Lauryn Hill," Kate continues. "I was an intern at KRUA, the University of Alaska's radio station. I opened up Fiona Apple and Lauryn Hill out of the packages to be put in rotation while I was working there. To see these amazing, strong, vocal women speak their minds and sing their asses off, it was life changing. That's when I started to know that this was what I was going to do, that it could be done."
Kate picked up guitar around age 17 and eventually went to bible school in Santa Barbara, Calif. in 2004. Once she made the move to Los Angeles, she was signed to Record Collection and her first album, Fate Is the Hunter, released in 2005. Garnering critical praise and TV placement for songs from her debut and her 2009 self-titled album on Universal Republic, Kate still felt that something was missing. She then took time off to have Hank, became inspired by motherhood and was signed to Downtown Records. She also found a writing collaborator in label mate, Brett Dennen.
"We really had instant chemistry, and Brett was willing to help me with my themes," she shares. "I said, 'Look, I've had a difficult year, but I only want to focus on the positive. I want to talk about the power behind it, but I don't want to shy away from some of the details that could be taken as challenging. I rather it be that I overcome, than woe is me.' I definitely think there is time for all of that; I totally love the blues and I really believe in the freedom of expression, but this just wasn't that record. It needed to be: I'm standing strong. It helped me do what I needed to do. It was very life is art, and art is life for me."
Kate turned to other Californian musicians for the recording of Stronger, including Alex Greenwald, Sean Hurley, Victor Indrizzo and Blake Mills, whom she met when they were both on Record Collection.
"[We met] when he was 17-years-old accompanying me on tour, back when Dawes was called Simon Dawes. We've grown up together, and that's really a theme for this record – the camaraderie of musicians and being a community that hasn't just jumped into this out of nowhere. We've all been at this forever and are supportive of one another," she tells. "There were a lot of high fives during the making of the record. I'm just really proud of the authenticity of the record, that we all are seasoned writers, musicians and performers who chose to be a little tribe for six days in Santa Monica and create this world that's obviously inspired by Fleetwood Mac."
The group recorded Stronger at the Village, the famed studios where legends from the Doors and the Eagles to Crosby, Stills and Nash and, indeed, Fleetwood Mac have done albums.
"I'm proud that I made this album in the same room that Fleetwood Mac made their music, that I sat in front of the same board. I Instagrammed the tiles in the bathroom," Kate confesses. "The folks at the studio said that Stevie Nicks designed the bathroom there, and there were these heart-shaped tiles. I was just imagining that hopefully one day, I will have such stories under my belt, that I was part of a movement, a time when people were supportive of one another, wanting to just be inspired and be given to a scenario to make them the best they could be. There's a certain spirit to this kind of music that I hope comes across."
Stronger's first single, "One Woman Army," successfully captures that spirit. It's also her message to Hank, that she is always willing to play the many roles that a single mother must fill in her child's life. I ask Kate about the impact of her own mother on the inspiration of the song as well.
"We had a family business, and inside the album cover is a photo of my house. The photo was taken from the property that our gas station is on, it's shared property. So when I think about what my mother must have gone through and experienced to carry her matriarchy in the family as well as stay tender with us and include us in the business in a way that gave us the attention we needed, it helped me understand that I can make what I do a family business too. It doesn't have to be segregated, it doesn't have to be one or the other," she reflects. "I can balance it all, and I can include him in a way that will inspire to him one day. It's such a gift that I was shown that [by her own mother]."
Hank makes an appearance in the video for "One Woman Army," and Kate is already instilling an appreciation for all types of music in him.
"I like to sing 'Stay Awake' from Mary Poppins, 'Dream a Little Dream of Me" by the Mamas and the Papas, 'I'm Beginning to See the Light' by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald and a couple of my own songs to him," she says. "There's one that I haven't released yet called 'All to Myself' about him, having him all to myself, that I sing him to sleep with."
When Kate takes time for herself, her favorite way to unwind is a hot bath.
"For some reason, and this is going to sound hippie-dippie, but I like crystal work, so I'll put crystals in my bath and drops of different tinctures and herbs. My bathtub can look pretty messy when I'm done," she laughs. "It can look like a raccoon was collecting shiny objects and making a nest in my bathtub, but that's something that truly resets me. I'll burn sage and 10 candles of different colors for different chakras, I'll really get into it and play music that's soothing and timeless."
Kate loves Pandora, and she has Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty and Nick Drake stations.
"But it's not all old school. I like Florence + the Machine, Feist, Frank Ocean, Prince, André 3000, Miike Snow and Muse," she lists. "It's just all over the place."
She admires one artist so much that Hank's middle name, Wonder, is in his honor.
"I actually met Stevie Wonder; it was incredible. I busted into his greenroom, told him about Hank's name and said, 'Can I hug you?' He said, 'Oh, come here,'" she recalls with a grin. "I feel like I saw the man behind the curtain because he wasn't wearing his glasses and I saw him. I really saw his face. It was incredible! First of all, shaking his hand, his fingers are like tentacles. They're so dextrous, they're truly his eyes. And the way that he touched me and knew me in that handshake. As I was hugging him I said thank you for all that you've given to us through the years, but I realize that it isn't so much that he's given, it's that he's brought us in, he's accepted us. Hugging him was like embracing space, he was a vacuum a void of possibility, and by void I'm saying this grand expansive possibility was in him, and that's the kind of place that he speaks, writes and sings from. I can't believe in a touch that I was able to catch that, but I am so blessed that I was able to grasp that through a hug. It taught me so much. In a lot of my career I've faced my songs thinking what do I need to do to them, and I feel like in that hug with Stevie Wonder it was more like get out of the way, just let them come through or fall into them. I'm excited to continue to write with that knowledge."
As we wrap up our conversation, she excitedly tells me that she's going to see another of her musical heroes, Lauryn Hill, perform later in the evening. Kate has come a long way from interning at the radio station where she was so profoundly touched by Hill's music, and she hopes that Stronger gives listeners something to latch onto as well.
"The songs take on personal experiences and things that weren't so easy. I talk about selling my family heirlooms so I can pay rent. We all do what we need to do to get by, and I think that it's something that we've been talking about so much in the past few years. This country has been in an upheaval of a time, and I feel like I'm more of an adult than I ever have been," she says. "Really, it's about growing up and not being afraid, learning to roll with the punches. I hope that they can see my sense of humor in it. I hope that it's a validating, empowering and inspiring album."
Stronger is currently available. For more information, visit thekateearl.com.
L.A. Kings Holiday Ice skating rink in Nokia Plaza at L.A. Live
HOLIDAY SKATING RINKS
My favorite rom-com is Serendipity, and one of its most memorable scenes is when John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale go skating at Wollman Rink in Central Park. Seriously, what could be more romantic? Grab your significant other or a bunch of friends, and get into the holiday spirit by going for a glide at one of these L.A.-area outdoor skating rinks.
Beverly Hills Holiday Ice Rink Now-Jan. 6, 2013 @ Crescent Drive, between North and South Santa Monica Boulevards (Beverly Hills); $15 for admission and skate rental This is the first time the Golden Triangle is hosting a public rink, and it will be located directly in front of City Hall.
Chill Ice Rink Now-Jan. 2, 2013 @ The W Hotel (Westwood); $10 for one hour of skating and skate rental If you're seeking more of a club environment, the W has transformed their pool area to a hybrid-ice rink, complete with private cabanas, specialty cocktails and food. Plus, snow falls every hour.
Downtown on Ice Now-Jan. 21, 2013 @ Pershing Square - 532 S. Olive Ave. (Downtown); $8 for a one-hour skate session and skate rental Besides skating, there is also a concert series, exhibitions, broomball games and a holiday festival.
Holiday Ice Rink Now-Jan. 6, 2013 @ 9300 Culver Blvd. (Culver City); $14 for admission and skate rental Work up an appetite at this rink located in downtown Culver City, next to the Culver Hotel. Then walk across Washington Boulevard to go eat at one of the best Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles, K-Zo.
ICE at Santa Monica Now-Jan. 21, 2013 @ 1324 5th St. (Santa Monica); $12 for admission and skate rental This is one of the only places in Los Angeles where you can spend a day at the beach then go ice skating – all within walking distance. There's even a broomball league that plays games here every Thursday night. L.A. Kings Holiday Ice Now-Jan. 2, 2013 @ Nokia Plaza, L.A. Live (Downtown); $13 for admission and skate rental You can also purchase a Supper & Skate package for $30, which includes admission, skate rental and a prix fixe dinner from ESPN Zone, LA Market or Trader Vic's. The Queen Mary Presents CHILL Now-Jan. 6, 2013 @ 1126 Queens Highway (Long Beach); $12.90 for admission and skate rental After skating, you can go ice tubing, visit The Ice Kingdom exhibit and a Holiday Village.
The Rink Now-Jan. 3, 2013 @ Hyatt Regency Century Plaza (Century City); $10 for a one-hour skate session Annenberg Space for Photography is a sponsor of this rink, which features eco-friendly synthetic hybrid ice. Woodland Hills Ice Now-Jan. 27, 2013 @ Westfield Promenade (Woodland Hills); $15 for one session and skate rental Now in its fourth season, this rink offers lessons, as well as special theme nights and giveaways through New Year's Eve.
You can see this quintet of lovely ladies as you stroll along Ocean Front Walk, between 24th Avenue and Washington Boulevard, in Venice Beach. Each woman has a true-to-life saying written on her chest that anyone would find inspiring.
For over 62 years, Carroll & Co. has remained a constant fixture in the lives of Angelenos. From investing in his first power suit to stocking up on warm sweaters for an upcoming ski trip to Mammoth, the fine menswear retailer carries whatever item a man might be missing from his wardrobe.
Filling a void is exactly what Richard Carroll had in mind when he set up shop in 1949. At the time, he was working as a publicist for Warner Brothers Studios, but when he couldn't find a suit for his brother's wedding on the west side of town, the idea to use his passion for quality menswear to go into business for himself was born. Through his studio connections, celebrities like Clark Gable, Fred Astaire, William Holden began to sport Carroll & Co. clothing. Over the years, the retailer maintained a steady relationship with Hollywood, with luminaries such as Frank Sinatra, Gregory Peck, Jimmy Stewart, Tom Cruise, Robert Redford and Harrison Ford as patrons. Carroll & Co. provided wardrobe pieces for television shows ("Charlie's Angels," "Dynasty," "The West Wing"), politicians (President Gerald Ford, U.S. Senator Alan Cranston) and the cast of the George Clooney film The Ides of March.
In the mid-1990s, Carroll's son John assumed the official duties of running the business, and ever since, the retail operation has continued to grow. John took some time out of his busy schedule to show me around the store, provide insights to their recipe for success and share some holiday gift ideas.
John started working in the store in his teens, and the road to becoming President of the company wasn't a breeze just because he was the owner's son.
"Starting out, I did all the grunt work. I vacuumed, ticketed shirts, moved merchandise, cleaned out storage closets. Just because I was the son didn't mean that I had immunity from all that," he shares. "It was, 'learn the way that everybody else does,' and that's how I got started."
One of his most profound learning experiences was accompanying his father on a buying trip to Europe in the late 1970s.
"In those days, if you wanted to buy the line you couldn't only go to London or Florence or Rome, you had to go to the factories. He used to drive from London to Edinburgh, with appointments along the way, so it was about a two-week trip. He would go to Galashiels, Hawick, Glasgow and Northampton, where the knitters, fabric weavers and leather, tie and shoemakers were. I was able to see guys hammering on the shoes, the way the looms knit the cashmere. I saw how intricate it is to hand link a sock at the heel and toe," John remembers. "I began to appreciate how things were made. You buy a pair of pants, and they're an expensive pair of slacks, but when you see what goes into them from behind the scenes, it makes a big difference."
Richard really did instill a dedication to quality in all aspects of menswear fabrication in his son, who continues the tradition of supporting small, family-run manufacturers to this day.
"We don't do business with a lot of designers or big-name people. Most of the companies that we work with are passed down from generation to generation, where the father handles the factory side, the mother handles the accounting side, the son handles the sales side and the daughter handles some of the design – a lost art in many industries. Many companies that we work with have no other accounts in the United States," says John. "It separates what we do from a lot of department stores that carry a lot of beautiful merchandise, but it's [about] a name or a brand. Our brand is Carroll & Co., and we try to make it geared towards our customer and what we feel should be portrayed as our image."
It is this commitment that truly sets them apart and, along with a few other attributes, has allowed them to flourish as a family-owned business.
"It's our quality of merchandise, the best customer service and tailoring – we have our tailor shop on the premises – that are the core three elements to what we've done since we opened. And I'm very involved. I'm here every day; I'm not an absentee owner. I know a lot of the customers who walk through the front door, I do all of the buying and oversee all the advertising," he admits. "I wouldn't call it a labor of love because I wouldn't use the word 'labor.' It isn't laborious, it's a love of what I do. Hopefully that carries through."
One glance at all the beautiful suits, hats, shoes, belts and sweaters on the shelves, and you feel the Carrolls' passion coursing through the store. Since it's the holiday season, there's a huge Christmas tree at the front entrance, and twinkling white lights, stockings, wreaths and red poinsettias accentuate the festive mood. John gets into the spirit by sharing some holiday gift ideas.
"There are few tried-and-true items that we continue with every year. We've always been known for our knitwear. We have about 800 cashmere sweaters in the store. Every year, one of our mainstays is our Cashmere Sweatshirt, which we have in 32 different colors. It's knitted in Scotland by the same people who have been doing it for about 30 years; we haven't changed it. We have customers who really collect them. A lady may come in and say, 'I just have to get him another color this year,' and she buys a fuchsia or a dark green."
"For the man who has everything, there's the Italian Smoking Jacket. Believe it or not, we do a nice little business on our velvet smoking jacket, which has sort of surprised us the last couple of years."