Thursday, September 30, 2010

Where to Drink: Speakeasy Libations @ The Varnish

Often times when I go out drinking, I want somewhere excitingly exhilarating. Otherwise, I could save $50, pop a 40 at the crib and call it a Saturday night. But watering holes like The Varnish exist, forcing me out of my PJs and into my toe-stabbing stilettos and designer denims.

The Varnish isn’t just a bar; it’s an experience. First of all, in order to even access it, you have to walk through Cole’s, the historically restored French dip restaurant in the heart of downtown (pictured to the left). Stepping into Cole’s is like stepping back through time: dim lighting, rustic burgundy walls, low tin ceilings, worn wooden tables. It's a place you’d expect Conrad’s Charles Marlow or Camus' Mersault to haunt. When you finally reach the threshold to The Varnish in the back of Cole's, it's not exactly...easy to find. Nondescriptly, the door blends into the wooden wall with no signs and barely a doorknob to mark it. I hesitated the first time I ever so slightly cracked open the door (seen in the photo above), as nothing but thick blackness seeped out from the space.

Once inside of this speakeasy, you're immediately enwrapped in an encompassing darkness, the faint flicker of candles glowing in corners. It’s a small room, scattered with wooden tables and chairs, a bar area, a piano and antique knick-knacks at every level. No flat screen televisions, no windows, not even Cole’s infamous menu. The only thing that reigns supreme here is alcohol.

Cocktails, which come in all sizes, shapes and forms here, are serious. No matter which one you choose – whether it’s the Eastside or the Mexican Firing Squad (pictured above, to the right) – it’s going to be strong and aesthetically appealing. From the selection of ice – crushed, or in perfect rectangular squares – down to the assortment of glassware – from stem to highball glass – these bartenders craft brilliant drinks that demand you to sip, not chug.

In fact, posting up in front of the bartenders (pictured to the left) is where I recommend starting off the night, because while there's a menu of roughly eight drinks, there really are hundreds of cocktails that aren’t even listed that might spark your interest. So watch these master of the spirits mix, stir and brew in order to see which libation might tickle your fancy next.

The next time your looking for a good cocktail, whether with a group of friends or a casual date, you know where to turn!

For more information:
The Varnish (Inside of Cole’s)
118 East Sixth St.
Los Angeles, CA 90014


Thursday, September 23, 2010

And Where do You "Where To"?: Bullets 4 Peace Fashion Show

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure to attend the Bullets 4 Peace Fashion Show at the W Hollywood. Scores of celebrities came out to support the Bullets 4 Peace designer Rafi Anteby and his breathtaking fashion show filled with soulful musical performances and gorgeous hand-painted models adorning stunning bullet necklaces.

I caught up with a few household names before the show to see exactly where they enjoyed going out in Los Angeles. I’ve strung together all of their answers in the clip below, which is set to Alicia Keys’ “No One (Reggae Remix).

Now let me just say this: first and foremost, I’m a writer. I’m not a videographer, an editor, a sound editor or a director. So, forgive me for the technical nuisances and the lack of lighting, lol. And, I couldn't upload the highest quality video - Blogger wouldn't let me (boo!) - so in order to see a higher resolution version, please click here.

I also have to give a shout-out to funny man Zack Pearlman (pictured below), who shared with me a few of his favorite L.A. spots:

“On Alvarado and Sunset, Burrito King, for Mexican – it’s amazing,” he proclaimed. “For a burger you can go to The Oaks on Bronson and Franklin – that place is pretty good. And then if you really wanna go somewhere nicer, I’d say [Osteria] Mozza. All those places I love. And then if you wanna go drinking, Ye Rustic, off Franklin and Hillhurst.”

Anyone who can come dressed to a high-end fashion show as a superhero gets a thumbs up by me. Check out his new movie coming out this weekend, The Virginity Hit.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Where to be Merry: Darby Park

Thanks to Los Angeles’ moderately mild Subtropical-Mediterranean climate, we Angelenos have the privilege of enjoying traditional summer activities all year long. Have you stopped by a BBQ for the Holidays in December? Worn flip-flops in November? Ever frolicked in the sand by the beach in October? While most of our fellow Americans grumpily begin to hibernate in their gloves and scarves come autumn, we, without so much as a blink of an eye, go about our merry summery ways, indulging in pools, beaches and outdoor malls.

One great place to go this fall is Inglewood’s Darby Park. I hadn’t been to a park in ages, but when my father (pictured above) caught a case of nostalgia and decided he wanted to revisit his old childhood stomping ground one day, lo and behold, I found myself in the midst of this hidden gem.

As a Gemini myself, I was immediately intrigued by the park’s dual nature, complex and simplistic at the same time. On one hand, Darby Park is like a park on steroids. It is literally jam-packed with activities for all ages to enjoy: a wading pool for toddlers, playgrounds for the kiddies (pictured to the right), a skate park for adolescents, infinite soccer fields for the athletically-inclined and even a recreation center with basketball courts, pool tables and a kitchen.

Yet amidst all of the frenzied action, there’s a subtle peacefulness that hovers over the park. There’s nothing like grabbing a picnic basket and a blanket one lazy weekend afternoon, laying on your back in the grass and watching the planes that are en route to LAX fly so close above you that you can see their passengers gazing down at you (OK, maybe they're not that close – but they do soar pretty low to the ground). Plus, from all over the park, there are captivating views of Inglewood’s former glory days – of the Great Western Forum (pictured to the left, with my dad) and the Hollywood Park Race Track – granting a bittersweet glimpse into the city’s heyday.

Pools and outdoor malls and strolls in open-air markets are lovely, but I suggest that the next sunny autumn day, you make the trek to Darby Park. It’s free, provides hours of fun for any age and any interest, and it even has a bit of history surrounding around it. See you there next time!
For more information:
Darby Park
3400 W. Arbor Vitae St.

Inglewood, CA 90305

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Where to Eat: The Wave Smooth Jazz Sunday Brunch @ I. Cugini (CLOSED)

Update: As of June 2011, I. Cugini has closed its doors. :(

They saunter in with their summer suits, sundresses and linen pants. Many arrive in pairs, but most travel in groups of family and friends, often with boisterous little ones tagging along. They walk through the decadent dining area, their eyes wandering over the sturdy columns and grandiose marble finishes and angelic paintings. Intently watching, the band members grin easily – just as easily as they spew out the contagious R&B jazz that richly vibrates throughout the room. As the groups head to their respective tables, it’s apparent that while all of what they’ve just soaked in is fine and dandy, their eyes hungrily search for more. Their eyes greedily fixate on the feast of fresh seafood, assorted salads, carved meats and other breakfast and lunch delights so eloquently displayed before them. You can tell they've been waiting for this moment - the moment of utter self-indulgence for the next couple - or four or five - hours.

I’ll unashamedly admit that I’m a part of that group of customers who repeatedly flocks to Santa Monica’s I. Cugini (pronounced EE-coo-Gee-NEE) for the restaurant's spectacular Sunday Jazz Brunch. I personally savor this classy affair for its over-the-top decadence. It's the Bentley of brunches, sitting on prime real estate that pompously overlooks the Santa Monica Pier and the beach. With made-to-order pastas and even its own dessert room (pictured to the right, the bottom photo), it quickly shuts down any other buffet on the Westside. The brunch also features a live broadcast from 94.7 the Wave, and also Jazz bands who stop by to play covers and original pieces.

As the saying goes, you get what you pay for, so expect to pay generously. Brunch costs about $55 per person, but do I think it’s worth it? Absolutely, and especially if you have relatives or friends visiting the Los Angeles area that you want to impress. The top-notch dining, unlimited champagne and mimosas, great music and scenic view will have you contently sitting in I. Cugini for hours. Hey, I know I tend to spend an average of three hours there. Maybe I'll see you the next time!

For more information:
I. Cugini

1501 Ocean Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90401

(310) 451-4595

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Where to Drink: One of the Only Neighborhood Bars in the Adams Area: The Cork

Do not visit The Cork as a dream destination; do visit if you just happen to be within a one-mile radius from it, and you’re in need of a few good drinks.

Do not visit The Cork if the thought of being patted down at the door repulses you; do visit The Cork if wearing whatever you like – sneakers, stilettos, flip-flops, white tees, suits, head scarves, etc. – sparks your interest.

Do not visit The Cork if shouting over the swell of bass-infused music bothers you; do visit The Cork if you feel like grooving to classic R&B hits like Sade’s “Sweetest Taboo” and Jodeci’s “Come and Talk to Me.”

The Cork is your festive neighborhood watering hole, with a personality that’s rough around the edges, but still pleasantly amusing and quite entertaining. It’s one of the only bars in the Adams area, thus attracting a myriad of returning customers ranging in age, profession and social status. I've seen men as old as my grandfather, groups of friends my parents' age and college kids who don't look a day over 21 sit side by side, jovially talking and enjoying themselves. Without a doubt, patrons - especially the returning customers - are unforgettable. Many have no problem approaching your table to strike up a conversation with you, whether you were looking to talk with them or not. All of this takes place in an eccentric yet simple setting, complete with poinsettias and Christmas lights adorning the main bar, pictured below.

I personally enjoy The Cork for two main reasons: the drink specials and the music. Like most dive bars, The Cork serves stiff drinks. One of the waitresses mentions she averages about 2 ½ shots per drink. During the Sunday-Thursday happy hour (from 12pm-7pm), Margaritas, Adioses, PiƱa Coladas, Long Islands and Long Beaches are only $7. If you stick around until 8:30pm, which you might as well do since you're already here, more discounts surface. The Sangria and Caipirinha, pictured to the left, drop down to $8. On any given night, the music selection is incredible. A jukebox quietly sits near the entrance, offering not only classic R&B hits, but new singles, too. I can’t help but sway in my chair when The Dream starts to blast, or even sing along when D’Angelo starts to croon.

Would I recommend driving down from Pasadena or somewhere as equally far to come to The Cork on any given day of the week? Probably not. But if you’re already on this side of town, stick your head in, order a happy hour drink and appetizer - like the Margarita and red snapper basket pictured below - and stay for a few hours to beat the traffic before heading onto the nearby 10 Freeway. See you there soon!

For more information:
The Cork
4771 West Adams Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90016