Friday, December 30, 2011

Miss Wilson’s Words of Wisdom: Top 11 of 2011

In these last days of 2011, I’ve stumbled upon countless “Top Lists” being published in magazines, on the internet, on television shows.  So, I figured I might as well throw my two cents into the mix as well! 

I’ve subsequently drafted the fabulous, amazing Top 11 of 2011 “Where To” List, which highlights what I consider to be some of the best moments in LA’s social/restaurant/nightlife scene from these past 12 months. From one-year anniversary celebrations to lots of FREE cultural activities and plenty of incredible bargain restaurant steals, there was quite a lot to savor and cherish.

Take a trip down this past year’s memory lane and muse over the places you’ve already tried – or just might need to try in the New Year!

#11) Where to Drink: Nirvana: This past spring, the Beverly Hills Indian lounge launched its own version of happy hour, Bliss Hour. Delicious dishes that were normally $25 dropped to $6; potent cocktails that averaged $12 were now $6, and they fortunately didn’t compromise flavor or potency in the price reduction. These discounts paired with Nirvana’s breathtaking Eastern aesthetics – a 700-pound Cambodian bust statue, kama sutra art and an indoor waterfall – made it one of the best places to spend an intimate evening on the Westside.

#10) Where to Be Merry: The Foxxhole Live, hosted by Mark Curry: What do Keyshia Cole, my husband Tyrese, Teedra Moses, Macy Gray and El DeBarge all have in common? Aside from being talented recording artists, they’ve all performed at this poppin’ Monday night R&B jam session held at LA LIVE’s Conga Room. Created by Jamie Foxx and hosted by Mark Curry, Foxxhole is the music industry’s sexy, grown-up version of your high school talent show. Platinum-selling artists step to the stage, right alongside aspiring singers who can blow. Plus there’s the live band The Foxxhole Players and a sleuth of comedians who keep you entertained well into the wee hours of the morning. I found myself heading there quite a few times this year, especially to give my out-of-town guests a little flavor of what LA is really like, aside from the Hollywood sign and the beach. 

#9) And Where Do You “Where To?”: Brian McKnight: Around Valentine’s Day, GRAMMY-nominated R&B singer Brian McKnight held a FREE concert at Avalon Hollywood. The brotha went all out for his show, and I do mean all out! He played not one, but two instruments – the piano and guitar – sang with his sons, shared intimate stories explaining his songwriting process, and he even brought a lucky lady onstage to serenade and present with gorgeous red roses. And while it was most certainly a special night, it became even better when I had a chance to do an exclusive interview with him, which you can still read here, if you haven’t already.

#8) Where to Eat: A-Frame: I can’t image life without “Chu-Don’t-Know-Mang” churros. I mean, really, how did I ever survive before discovering them? Culver City’s A-Frame may have opened in 2010, but it celebrated its 1st anniversary this past November, thereby securing it a spot on this list. It’s hard enough launching a new restaurant, let alone successfully making it to the one-year mark. Kudos to this Roy Choi brainchild, where a fusion of Asian and American tastes and aesthetics blend together to make an unforgettable dining – and cocktail-sipping – experience.

#7) Where to Drink: Bar 1886: This is yet another establishment that celebrated its one-year anniversary in November, although technically, you could say it opened in 1886 and stayed closed for a few centuries. After a massive renovation and input from a few celebrity mixologists, Bar 1886 came back with a bang. The Pasadena drinking parlor served tons of artistic old-fashioned cocktails, similar to those kinds of cocktails that have wound up at many bars these past couple of years. But, unlike other places where there might be standing room only – and in my opinion, what makes Bar 1886 a lot more appealing – here it’s a little more subdued and intimate, a littler quieter. The ambiance, the service, the beverages makes the trek here quite worth it, even if you’re as far away as the best side, the Westside. 

#6) Where to Be Merry: The Falls: Great vibes, great music, great people, great cocktails. Case closed. I have no idea when this lounge emerged or how long it’s been chillin’ on downtown’s Spring Street, but I am ever so glad I stumbled upon it one breezy April night after frolicking around at the downtown artwalk series. Drop by The Falls for a couple of minutes or make it your Saturday night destination…come in your sandals, or get primped up to party. Who cares? As long as you’re having a good time, nothing else seems to really matter here. It’s a lounge where reasonably priced libations and good music stay in, and all of the B.S. like cover charges stay out – the kind of place where you’ll make new friends and most likely run into a few old ones, too. 

#5) Where to Eat: Osaka: A South American favorite finally headed north for the States this past fall! As a huge fan of the Buenos Aires one, I was more than thrilled to find out that Osaka had headed to Hollywood. Aside from the standard Peruvian-Japanese favorites like the “Tiraditos and Ceviche,” and signature Pisco cocktails found at most other Osakas, this LA location introduced a few exclusive highlights of its own: an airy Pisco Garden and a darkly handsome front bar area. It’s interesting to see how rather recently, the city’s seen a surge in the popularity of premium Peruvian cuisine, and I’d confidently say Osaka is a top contender!

#4) Where to Be Merry: Posing Beauty in African-American Culture @ The USC Fisher Museum / Pacific Standard Time @ The CSUN Art Galleries: ::Sigh:: College days may have come and gone, but that didn’t stop me from going to two university campuses this past fall. Both the University of Southern California (USC) and California State University Northridge (CSUN) had art institutions that featured stellar - and FREE - photo exhibits.

The USC Fisher Museum’s “Posing Beauty in African-American Culture” boldly demanded us to examine what has been considered gorgeous/stunning/hot in African-American culture since the 1890s up until today with images taken from Curator Deborah Willis’ POSING BEAUTY: African American Images From the 1890s to the Present book. 

In conjunction with the larger Pacific Standard Time series going at 60+ SoCal art institutions, the CSUN Art Galleries launched its “Identity & Affirmation, Post War African-American Photography exhibit,” giving us telling glimpses into the diverse experiences for Black Angelenos during the 1940s-1980s.

But just as those college partying days had to end, unfortunately, both of these photo exhibits closed earlier this month. Hopefully, these universities will have more interesting exhibits in the future!

#3) And Where Do You “Where To?”: Adrienne Maloof: Christmas is one of the best holidays of the year, so when The Abbey decided to celebrate Christmas early at its “6th Annual Christmas in September” Toy Drive, it was most certainly a memorable moment in 2011. The iconic West Hollywood restaurant/lounge went all out with lavish holiday decorations by its roaring fireplace, lots of falling snow, hot Santa Helpers with ripped, washboard abs and complimentary green and red cocktails. Adrienne Maloof, whom I briefly interviewed, graciously hosted the entire affair, stressing the importance of giving toys as donations for the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. Giving back and putting a smile on the kiddies’ faces… now that’s the real spirit of the season – and of the year! 

#2) Where to Be Merry: Annenberg Space for Photography: In 2011, the Space hosted two timely exhibits: “Extreme Exposure,” which featured shots of remote nature landscapes, and “Beauty Culture,” a compelling exhibit on beauty in mainstream culture. This Century City photography center may have only opened a couple of years ago, but it’s proving exhibit after exhibit after exhibit that it is one of the city’s most prominent – and most accessible – places to see amazing photos and to also interact with the top photographers of the day. There are the mind-boggling photos, but then there are also the captivating videos, interactive stations, guest lecturers and special events, all of which are FREE. The Space has truly been an exceptional and needed resource to the SoCal community!

#1) Where to Be Merry: Zumba Classes at InterContinental Los Angeles Century City: The InterContinental took the definition of working out to new heights…literally! For the second summer in a row, the Century City hotel offered its Zumba Classes on its helipad, 18 stories above ground. Classes were small, so you could get personalized attention to making sure you had those Zumba steps completely on point; classes were reasonably priced, at free for hotel guests and $15 for non-hotel guests. But most importantly, classes were fun. I completely forgot I was working out; I was too busy admiring the fabulous view I had of all of Los Angeles! 

Sure, the festivities that 2011 brought along might be hard to beat, but I’m sure 2012 will manage to do it somehow. 

See you at one of these places soon, and of course, Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Where To Be Merry: Eating, Drinking and Socializing @ The Churchill


 “The lines between inside and out blur,” Brian, an old friend/former colleague/fellow blogger, murmured. 

“Yes,” I nodded my head. “You’re absolutely right.”

We casually stood on the second level of The Churchill, intently gazing out towards the bar area on the bottom floor. A petite lady curiously glanced at us as she walked by. A gentleman, who might have been a waiter or a manager, warily watched us after we stood in the same position for more than a mere moment in time.

“But no, no, no,” I impatiently shook my head. “It’s
more than that.”

“What else?” Brian prodded.

“It’s…it’s…” I struggled to find the right words that would properly describe what this place was. After a few moments, it struck me:

“It’s like we’re in a loft, in downtown,” I finally spewed out. “It feels as if we’re 18 stories above ground, looking out onto Spring Street...or 7th Ave.”

Brian digested what I had just proposed. Finally, he said: “You’re absolutely right. That’s it. Downtown vibes and blurred distinctions between indoors and outdoors. I like it. There you go.”

Satisfied, we skipped down the stairs lined with tea candles to exit and be on our merry ways after a lovely weekday dinner at this new L.A. gastropub.

The Churchill recently opened in October, and while it may only be blocks away from the Beverly Center, after one step inside, it’s rather quite easy to imagine that you’ve been transported to downtown. It’s the brick walls, the exposed steel beams and the worn industrial windows. It’s the menu of old-fashioned artisan cocktails and the antique knick-knacks, similar to the ones that you’d find in The Varnish or The Edison. Yet while The Churchill has the charm and nostalgic quaintness of downtown establishments, it also proudly boasts the refined amenities that come with a Westside address: ample valet options, cheery, bubbly storefronts and pedestrian-friendly streets, even late at night. I liked it immediately.

But just like how I struggled to figure out what this place reminded me of, I struggled to place it into a specific “where to eat,” or “where to drink” category, since it has such spectacular drinks and unique food options, plus a very vibrant social scene. So I figured “screw it” and threw it under the “where to be merry” description!

Get your drink on at the bustling bar area where bartenders skillfully crafting cocktails like the Clementine, pictured to the right, a sweet blend of triple sec, vodka and other fruity flavors. Chow down in the dining area, on items like one of my favorites, the duck pizza with caramelized onions, fresh parsley and a balsamic drizzle, pictured below…Partake in the whole lounge experience upstairs, where I’ve seen many couples and groups of friends cozily bundled up on a leather bench or in a booth, engrossed in their conversations. And I can’t fail to mention the outdoor dining area, where eating, drinking and lounging seem to harmoniously coincide, amidst a delightful fireplace, potted plants and inviting booths.

OK, so I don’t mean to sound shallow, but between me and you, The Churchill also packs a good-looking group of people as well. If it’s not the waiters whisking food to tables in their dapper attire, it’s the patrons in their crisp button-downs and latest fall boots. Everyone seems to know how to dress, as if that’s an unspoken requirement for entry. The first time I was ever invited here, I mean, as much as my octopus salad and charcuterie spread kept my eyes dancing with joy, I couldn’t help but sneak peaks at the hot waiter who kept the dishes flowing.

In a nutshell, I go to The Churchill for those times when I’m looking for a downtown vibe, but still feel like staying on the Westside. Or those times when I want to catch up for hours with an old-time friend like Brian, in an inviting, comfortable atmosphere, paired with quality cocktails and unique dining options.

So the next time you’re looking for any of these like myself, I highly recommend The Churchill. Perhaps I’ll see you there soon! 

Miss Wilson’s Tips (So you know “What’s Up” when you go): 

- The parking deal: valet is available, or scramble to find limited metered parking on 3rd Street and the surrounding streets.
- Where to sit: Try the outdoor patio at least once. Glass walls connecting the patio to the rest of the gastropub allow you to see the action going on inside, all while soaking in the action happening on the street.
- Open for breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner. Take that, take that!
- Ahhhh, there’s a late night happy hour, too, beginning at 10pm.
- Photo booth. On the 2nd floor. Do it.
- Fun, friendly fact: The Churchill is actually the second establishment for Beau Laughlin and Brett Cranston, the creators behind the West Hollywood popular spot, The Hudson.

For more information: 
The Churchill
8384 West 3rd Street 
Los Angeles, CA 90048 

Friday, December 9, 2011

And Where Do You “Where To”: Wines With Toni

The spirit of the holiday season has demandingly settled upon us!
 Lights must be strung on roofs, kids must cheese it up with Santa, creamy eggnog must now be consumed in large quantities…

And of course, there’s the daunting task of buying gifts for family members, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, clients…your boss, your mechanic, your brother’s obnoxious girlfriend and like, 20 other people you don’t really like and/or know, without breaking the bank in the process.

So with the hectic holiday commotion slightly stressing me out, my mind turned to wine – wine to give as a gift, and wine to savor after battling checkout lines packed with savage shoppers.

While back in April I met with Corkbar owner Caleb Wines to discuss popular spring wines, this fall/winter season, I turned to the exceptional wine guru herself, Toni Staton Harris, a Los Angeles based author/writer/blogger who runs a very informative (and fun!) blog, Wines With Toni.

We initially met at the Blogging While Brown Conference this past summer and kept in touch over the following months. In all this time, I’ve appreciate her vast knowledge – and love – for wine, and she has helped me to discover the wines I like most through extensive conversations and friendly trips to Ugo Wine Bar in Culver City.

So if you’re like me – looking to expand your wine knowledge, and wildly curious to know what wines to sip these chilly evenings and which wines to gift – read on, and learn some wise and useful tips from Toni!

Miss Wilson: As an introduction to everyone, 
what is your blog all about and how did you get started?
Toni Staton Harris: I have two blogs. My first blog is Wine With Toni, which features recommendations, experiences, destinations about wine all over the world. One of the things that I was just telling you that I’m really excited about is a new feature coming soon by the end of December where I will actually wine style people. That means they give me their name, their email address, answer five questions about things they like in life, and I will actually recommend great wines that I know will be specific to them and their palate. I love Wine With Toni because it really is a shared experience about wine. I don’t profess to know everything about wine because one can’t. There are millions of varieties; there are a 1,001 brands, and the thing about wine is, it’s always a journey. It’s always a discovery and it’s always a shared experience. And that’s what I want to make sure comes across in the blog. It’s not authoritative; it’s more a shared experience because I take recommendations from people.

The second one is called Checkin’ Up and Checkin’ in with Toni Staton Harris and this is my hot topics blog where I share my opinions and I talk about your opinions about a number of hot topics that affect our lives daily. I talk about anything and everything here. I talk about film, TV, food wine…anything that tickles my fancy. I check up on you, find out what’s going on with you, and I check in with you, to tell you what’s going on with me. That’s actually a very new blog that just started a month ago.

I said I have two blogs...I actually have two and half, because the third one I write with a blog partner is called Girl TD. That is a lifestyle, fashion, relationship blog where we focus on issues that arise from the television show The Game. Like tomorrow we have a post coming out that I’m doing called: “Divorce. Who Gets the Friends?” Everybody talks about the kids, everybody talks about the house, the dog, but who gets the friends? People don’t often realize that friendships and relationships outside of the marriage are deeply affected by divorce as well. So that’s the stuff I like to talk about.

Miss Wilson: Nice! So now, let’s talk wine…
Toni Staton Harris: [Laughing] Let’s talk wine!

Miss Wilson: How do you have all of this knowledge about it?
Toni Staton Harris: A lot of informal study, a lot of tasting, a lot of reading the bottle. I have this saying: read what you see. Reading the bottle will teach you so much about the wine – the temperature it’s supposed to be served at, what foods it pairs well with, what notes are incorporated into it.

I do a lot of exploring, but I think the biggest reason why I retain a lot of information is because I’m open to the possibilities. I don’t believe that I know everything about wine. I believe that wine comes with infinite possibilities. I listen. I talk. I have my own opinions and sometimes they change, sometimes they don’t. I recognize that it is a journey and it’s a process. I’ve been dealing with wine and figuring out what I like for at least 15 years now. It’s about exploring, tasting and opening your mind to the possibilities of what it’s all about, and knowing what you like.

Miss Wilson: I know in our previous conversations you mentioned that you can get a good bottle of wine for under $25. How does that work? How is that possible?
Toni Staton Harris: That’s a wonderful question. First of all, my median range for pricing is $10. If I pay $20 for a bottle of wine, it’s because I absolutely love it.

Wine doesn’t have to be expensive. As we all know, wine is very subjective. It’s all about your palate – what you like, what you like to taste. So price doesn’t denote quality. Just because something is a high-priced wine doesn’t mean that it is a quality wine. Or, it doesn’t mean that you’ll like it. Price is not the determinant for a great glass of wine. A great glass of wine is what’s good to you.

There was a time when wine was considered of the snobs’ drink or inaccessible, because people didn’t really understand it. But now, you can try wines by the bottle, by the gallon, by the box – whatever – and find out what you actually like by giving yourself clues. What you like in life, you’ll like in wine. You like honey in life? You’ll probably like a nice honey-based, vanilla-based, strong note chardonnay. If you like spice, you’ll like perhaps a shiraz, an Australian shiraz.

So because wine is so competitive, it’s very easy to find great wine for $10 a pop or under. It’s just a matter of going into your wine bars, going into your wine stores like Total Wine and BevMo and places like that. They have thousands of brands, thousands of wines. Once you figure out your grape, go for it.

Miss Wilson: Even if there’s not necessarily a price tag on good wine and it depends on your palate, is there a wine that you would say is popular for this season, for the fall?
Toni Staton Harris: I like to drink red wines in the winter and white wines in the summer. I like a full-bodied, heavy-bodied red wine with a little spice, a little earthiness. 

Seasonal wines, especially in the fall, tend to be your Australian reds, your pinot noirs, your cabernet sauvignons, your shirazes, your syrahs. They make for great holiday gifts. They make for great sipping wine.

My go-to pinot noir is always Edna Valley, which is in San Luis Obispo. San Luis Obispo is taking names and kicking butt. Willamette Valley in Oregon is also taking names and kicking butt. And California needs to watch out for not only Willamette Valley in Oregon, but we need to watch out for Washington State, because they’re doing pinot noirs, they’re doing your cabs. They’re really coming after the Sonoma Valley market. Washington State does a cab called 14 Hands that’ll make you kick somebody and I take no responsibility for them kicking back. 

So spicy, bolder reds, flavorful reds. And there is a big difference between flavor and some basic elements like sugar. I just did a post on Wine With Toni, Sweet vs. Fruit Forward. A lot of novices as well as connoisseurs don’t really understand the difference between sweet and fruit forward.

Miss Wilson: So what is the difference?
Toni Staton Harris: Great question. Sweet is when the residual sugar of a wine is the star of the show. That’s the first thing you taste. It’s the main thing you taste, and the flavor is secondary or even tertiary to the actual wine. Meaning, white zinfandel is always going to be sweet, because white zinfandel is not actually a grape; it’s made up of residual sugar, residual grape pieces as well as added sugar, food coloring and water. That’s your white zinfandel. Your moscato is going to be sweet because you’re taking the ripened grape and you’re extracting sugar. Some winemakers are even adding sugar, not so much for the sweetness, but for the alcohol content, to raise it.

And we know sweet. Sweet is lemonade. Sweet is sweet tea. But a fruit-forward wine doesn’t necessarily have to be sweet. It just means that the fruit is the star of the show. You taste the burst of flavors. You taste the burst of grape or you taste the notes, like currant, blackberry, cherry. That’s more prominent in your mouth than the sugar.

It can be difficult to distinguish, and a not so pleasant way to determine if you’re drinking a fruit forward wine or a sweet wine is when you’re drinking the wine, close your nose and sip. If you taste sugar, you know you’re drinking a sweet wine. If you don’t necessarily taste sugar while you’re holding your nose but you taste something other than sugar, you’re probably drinking a fruit forward wine. It’s the same as the difference between cocoa and milk chocolate. Cocoa tastes like cocoa; milk chocolate tastes like sugar.

Miss Wilson: Would you say that there’s one wine that’s a classic wine – one that’s always and maybe always will be – a wine to appreciate?
Toni Staton Harris: That changes. Again, wine is so subjective that it really is about what you like. Very popular ten years ago, straight up, was your merlot and chardonnay. In the whites, chardonnay still remains the most popular wine consumed. However, the sauvignon blancs are steadily catching the chardonnays because people are starting to say, well just because I like white doesn’t mean I like only oaky. Maybe I don’t want oaky. Maybe I want more vanilla. Maybe I want more fruit. However, where merlot was your most popular – merlot and cab used to fight each other for popularity – pinot noir is taking over.

Now personally for me, I’m still a merlot girl. I just love it. So it really is about your personal taste. Pinot noir is definitely a safe bet and a contender up against merlot and cabernet. The thing about pinot noir is that it can be so complex, and people are often afraid of that wine. And that’s the one thing that my blog does. It demystifies all of that. I give you permission to explore and exchange information and not feel bad, guilty, or unknowledgeable about something that you’re tasting. I really do give you the permission to free yourself from the snobbishness and the mystery of wine, because it’s so accessible, and it should be.

But I would definitely say pinot noir and your sauvignon blancs and your chenin blancs, also known in South Africa as Steen, are really moving ahead in the white category.

Miss Wilson: You mentioned that wine is subjective several times, so I want to go back to something else you were talking about: wine as a holiday gift. Can wine make as a good holiday gift and if so, is there a safe one to choose, such as red or white?
Toni Staton Harris: If you know the person really well, it’s always great to go with the family of their favorite. You know Toni’s favorite pinot noir is Edna Valley, so I’m going to try maybe giving her a bottle of pinot noir from New Zealand…ecause I know she likes pinot noir and I want to gift her this wine, I’m going to give her something different.

But when you don’t know the person, don’t get caught up in anything. Give whatever you want them to have. Because the beauty of gifting wine is that you’ll either give the person something they like or something they don’t know. Even if it’s not their particular cup of tea, they’re having a little get-together, they can present that wine and pour it. So gifting wine is easy, but it’s also great because you are free to give whatever.

And that’s when price does make a consideration. For example, my birthday was in November and my girlfriend called me up. She said, “I want to give you that wine you were talking about that you wanted so badly.” And I said, “No, I’m not going to tell you what it is.” She said, “Why not? I want to buy it.” And I said, “Because it’s a $100 bottle of wine and it’s not worth it.” I’m not going to say the name, because you know, I don’t want to disparage somebody else’s taste. But to pay $100 for a bottle of wine for me is not really worth it, unless you are in a position that $100 is $10. Now somebody else may feel differently and great, good for you. You can afford to spend $300 for a bottle of wine during dinner? How about it. But that just doesn’t work for me.

But the beauty of gifting is first of all, it’s rare that the actual price of the wine is on the bottle, so you can buy a nice bottle of wine and you don’t have to have gone over $20. And it could be worth much more, in terms of taste.

Miss Wilson: Is there anything you want to add? I think we covered so much.
Toni Staton Harris: I would like to add a few simple tips:

Buy through the label.

Don’t be fooled by the fancy labels, the fancy names. If you’re not sure, pick up the bottle and read the back. If that doesn’t give you what you want to know, ask a clerk. Ask a winemaker. Ask somebody in the store.

Ask somebody for a recommendation: hey, have you tried…or what do you like?

Be open to the possibilities – the journey – and ask questions. Don’t be embarrassed by any questions that you ask, because nobody – even your master sommeliers – know everything about wine. They just don’t. We just can’t. We absolutely can’t. It’s so big, it’s so vast.

Miss Wilson: And like you said, it is very subjective. A sommelier might have spent years and years studying wine, but at the end of the day, it is what your mouth says.
Toni Staton Harris: Exactly, it’s what you like. So buy through the label. Don’t be intimidated by the label, the terms, or anything like that. Remember at the end of the day, like you just said, a good glass of wine is what’s good to you. And that’s about it.

Miss Wilson: That’s good – thank you!
Toni Staton Harris: You’re welcome!

For more information on Toni, visit her website 
or follow her on Twitter at @winewithtoni!

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Friday, December 2, 2011

And Where Do You “Where To?”: FREE Giveaway/Contest #3- WINNER

Thanks to everyone who submitted their favorite LA winter destinations over this past week! It was sooo much fun reading where everyone huddles up during this "terribly cold" Southern California winter!! 

Although it was a super tough, tough decision, a winner for the $50 gift certificate to the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza’s X Bar has been selected:

"Love, love, love The Grove for the holidays. A ginormous Christmas tree, holiday music and it snows in the P.M. Fun for all!"

I agree! Aside from having the usual shops and restaurants and such, The Grove really goes all out for the holiday season and works hard to make it feel like a genuine glitzy LA Christmas. It's a great destination to entertain and impress out-of-town guests, hyper little kids and quite honestly yourself too, if you want to get in the Christmas spirit as you buy gifts for the fam or take a leisurely stroll while window-shopping. Fun for all ages, and for all pocketbook sizes.

Here are some of the other spectacular entries that were submitted as well: 

May of Sherman Oaks: "My response is the W Hotel in Westwood. They have an ice skating rink, warmed cabanas with tv and spiked hot cocoa!"

@therealMattyMC: "Fav winter hangout is in Redondo Bch: HT Grill. Amazing outdoor patio w/huge firepit to sit around, meet locals, drink&smores!"

@StockMyGalley: "my fav winter hangout is Wood & Vine ... super cozy, great indoor fireplace & outdoor firepit to snuggle up to & tasty food!"

@MadeWomanMag: "But I'ma homebody in the my couch a valid entry??"

Also, a big THANK YOU to X Bar for donating the $50 gift certificate!

Friday, November 25, 2011

And Where Do You “Where To?”: FREE Giveaway/Contest #3

Giveaway #3: 
Contest Running from Thursday 11/25/2011-Thursday12/01/2011 

I’m feeling so warm and fuzzy from all of the tryptophan in the turkey I ate yesterday, so in the spirit of the thanksgiving season, I’m doing another giveaway/contest/drawing/competition/whatever-you-want-to-call-it and offering a $50 gift certificate to X Bar to one lucky person! 

So who is the lucky person? 

It’s easy – whoever has the best answer to the following question: 

In your opinion, which Los Angeles hang out destination has the best ambiance for the winter?
Perhaps it’s because of a roaring fireplace, a cozy bar area or a warm, toasty main dining room.
Whatever it is and wherever it is, be as descriptive as you’d like, including the place and why it’s a winner (photos, although optional, are always welcomed).

Be sure to include your first name and your location.
All answers can be submitted in the comment box below, 
sent to or tweeted to @WilsonsGuide

The person with the BEST most innovative, unique winter destination (picked by yours truly) will win! Contest starts today and will go until next Thursday, December 1st, at 11:59pm PST.
Winner will be announced on Friday, December 2nd.

A big THANKS to the X Bar for donating the certificate!
Love that place – it’s definitely a destination of where to eat, drink and be merry!  

Miss Wilson

· This giveaway/contest/drawing is free and open to anyone over 18 years of age.

· Please note: all entries received may be potentially retweeted and/or posted on at a later date without further compensation. If an entry is posted and/or retweeted, only the entrant’s first name or Twitter username will be posted in conjunction with the entry.

· One winner will receive a certificate, entitling him/her to a $50 credit to X Bar at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza. Certificate is valid anytime. Winner will be given specific instructions on receiving the gift certificate via Twitter and/or email, depending on how the winner submitted his/her entry. 

· By accepting the certificate, winner releases X Bar, Wilson’s “Where To” Guide and Miss Wilson and all of their respective officers, agents, and employees from any responsibility or liability in connection with the awarded gift certificate. Winner also agrees to release X Bar, Wilson’s “Where To” Guide and Miss Wilson of any injuries, losses, or damages of any kind resulting from acceptance, use, misuse, possession, or loss of the gift certificate.

· By entering this giveaway, entrants accept and agree to these rules.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

And Where Do You “Where To?”: 2nd Annual Thanksgiving Edition

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: 

I am not ashamed to admit that even I don’t know every single amazing place to eat, drink and be merry here in the city. 

That’s why for the 2nd year in a row, I’m doing my Wilson’s Guide “Thanksgiving Edition,” where I’ve asked my fellow bloggers, writers, creative minds and movers-and-shakers in the LA area to share where they “where to” – to let us know those the places that they’re thankful for and just simply can’t live without. These are people I’ve met over the past year (like The Minty) or that have started new ventures since last year (like Marque of That’s Rude Comedy).

So sit back, enjoy, read, eat tons of turkey today, and then check out one of these highly recommended destinations. Perhaps I’ll see you at one soon! 

Room 050 Graphic/Web Designer Ernest Alfonso says: “My favorite bar/lounge is Rush Street in Culver City. I have been going there for three years and that place simply treats me like a king. From the security, servers to my favorite bartender Steve, Rush is my personal favorite place that I am thankful for! The drinks are always strong and the food is pretty good. The Rush burger is my favorite burger served at any restaurant. During the week its great to lounge and watch whatever featured sports game is on and on the weekends it gets crackin’, all the good looking people come out and party!”

Jennie of The Happy Hour Tour declares: “I am thankful for Bodega Wine Bar, the most comfortable bar in LA to enjoy a glass of fresh wine. It's a place that proves that you don’t need to be fancy, have a reservation, or be on a list to have a nice glass of wine. It's just a fun place to have a good time whether on a date or catching up with friends or chatting with the amazing staff, who I've become friends with outside of the bar. It's become my Cheers and I am thankful for that.”

That’s Rude Comedy says: “We're thankful for Koffea Coffee shop in Koreatown. Creative drinks, nice couches and round tables, speedy wireless; all that good shxt that helps our meetings run smooth.”

Actress Madia Hill says: “I’m super grateful for SHIKI SUSHI and their lunch special! $7.95 gets you two different rolls, Miso soup and salad. Its located in Studio City.”

The Minty says: “The place where I find myself over and over again is Drago Centro. I first started going when my office was across the street. If I wasn't there for lunch, I was there for happy hour. If I wasn't there for happy hour, I was there for dinner. But let me explain- ‘happy hour’ isn't just limited to a few hours every night. The bar menu is available all day, all night! You can try $5 cocktails, $4 pizzas and a number of assorted bites. It's the same high quality the lunch or dinner menus from the genius of Chef Celestino Drago and his right hand Chef de Cuisine, Chef Ian Gresik. If you want to find The Minty, find her at Drago Centro.”

Photographer Jeremy says: “I am thankful for the beauty of Los Angeles. I like to be merry on my favorite hidden hiking location; Canyon Fire Rd. in the hills of Topanga Canyon State Park. The peak of the trail overlooks a fantastic view of Santa Monica, Hollywood, Downtown LA and even as far south as Catalina Island on a clear day. Bring your hiking shoes and be prepared for a climb! Roundtrip for the view described above is around 8 miles, but oh so worth it. :)”

Looking for more ideas? Check out last year’s Wilson's Guide Thanksgiving post!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 18, 2011

And Where Do You “Where To?”: GRAMMY-nominated Saxophonist Mike Phillips

If the name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, perhaps the artists he’s collaborated and performed with do: Brian McKnight, Mariah Carey, Notorious B.I.G., The Floacist, Babyface,  and the list goes on…

Mike Phillips is one of the smoothest jazz saxophonist out there, lending his musical prowess to the songs we love, like Jill Scott’s “The Way (Live)” and touring with legends like Stevie Wonder.

And of course, he’s assuredly proved that he can pull his weight on his own; he’s put out three successful CDs in the past nine years and he’s exclusively played for high-profile icons such as President Bill Clinton, megastar Oprah and South African President Nelson Mandela.

This past summer I had a chance to interview him before his incredible performance at Arts Brookfield’s 4th Annual “Summer on the Plaza” concert series in July. 

I was stoked for several reasons:

Number one, I was excited to finally meet him. Back in my good ole college days, I interned at his record label, Hidden Beach Recordings, where his face would stare back at me from the countless CDs that I’d file away in the storage closet or send out in press packets.

Number two, I was delighted to have another opportunity to hear him perform…this time for me, legitimately. Again, when I was a mischievous college kid, a few friends and I snuck into the NAACP Awards after-party. It took some time for us to strategize that we’d run through the kitchen and slickly sneak in through the black curtains, so that by the time we found our way inside the packed affair, Phillips was just ending his onstage solo.

And number three, I was curious to hear about what he had in store for the future. After releasing his third CD MP3 last year, would he be touring? Doing more shows? Headed back to the studio for yet another project?

From a surprising stellar performance to learning about his exciting new ventures, I got to hear, watch and learn more about Phillips. So let me stop rambling on and let you get to the good stuff. Here’s what he had to say – read on!

Miss Wilson: How would you describe your music?
Mike Phillips: I would describe the music as a fast-forward into where the future could be with the respect and infrastructure of where we are now, which is hip-hop, but also with the infrastructure of the past – of Dizzy [Gillespie], Ornette Coleman, Farrell Sanders, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington.

I consider myself a hybrid because as much as I am into hip-hop, I’m into the history of jazz and even the infrastructure of everything and how it started. It was us getting our behinds whipped in slavery, which started the whole movement of the Negro spiritual. You had two options to go: God is gonna make a way, or I’m tired of getting whipped, which was the gospel or the blues [respectively]. With that in mind, I’m just not playing just to play – I’m a musician that’s sensitive to the reasons why the music exists, the history and digging into it to be effective.

Miss Wilson: You’re going to be performing today, so how do you usually prepare for a performance? Do you have any special rituals that you do?
Mike Phillips: No. The only thing that I would do is when I’m sound-checking, I’m feeling the spirit of where the musicians are, what their skill set is and how they’re feeling. And then when you combine that with the crowd and what’s happening, you come up with a set list. I don’t have a planned set at all.

Miss Wilson: Is that challenging?
Mike Phillips: It’s challenging when you have musicians that can’t follow you. But these guys? I’m cool.

Miss Wilson: How do crowds affect your performances, if at all?

Mike Phillips: It’s like a 180. They give it to you, then it comes back. They give it back to you.

And then also, you can’t be somewhat affected by them because some people absorb the music differently. You have people that, they absorb the music, but they don’t get caught up in the kinetic energy of the appreciation of it, so that could be a misread. You could have somebody sitting down like [he stops talking, crosses his arms across his body and simply stares straight ahead for a moment before resuming talking] and just because they’re not going like that [now he vigorously waves his hands above his head], they’re still enjoying the music immensely. That’s one of the things I’ve come to understand – that people absorb the music very differently from others.

Miss Wilson: What about any memorable performances – who has been a favorite artist to perform with?
Mike Phillips: I would say it’s between Stevie [Wonder] and Prince. Those are my most memorable artists. Obviously because of who they are, but also because of how intense their music is. They challenge you, even in their songs.

Miss Wilson: You performed their songs?
Mike Phillips: I performed with them onstage. I toured with both. So you’re entrenched in history. When they talk, you listen. When they play, you understand. And there’s a quote that says: you can only be a great chief if one day you’re a great Indian under a great chief. So, there’s no way around it. You have to learn when you’re with them.

Miss Wilson: What’s a lesson from both of them that you’ve taken with you?
Mike Phillips: Stevie, I’d say one of the lessons I learned from him is being prepared. He hears everything. You’re not gonna come unprepared or think that you’re gift is going to be a crutch to you not knowing what you’re supposed to be doing.

Prince, is be sensitive to how the music feels. What you feel is everything. It’s a constant absorption; what’s happening, what he feels. With Prince there’s a lot of emotional lessons that you learn with playing and being connected.

Miss Wilson: So what do you usually do after a performance? Do you chill, or do you go out?
Mike Phillips: I chill out. Some people say that I’m an introvert, but I’m really not. After I’m finished, I feel that my gift is – I’m done. Some people have different purposes in life. I think after I give my all on the stage, it’s like, what else can I do? I re-up and I get replenished before the next moment that I have to create that’s God-given.

Miss Wilson: Where is your favorite city to perform in, if you have one?
Mike Phillips: New York, because of the life. The life there – you can wake up at 2’o’clock in the morning and find somewhere. Music, life and art is [sic] constant there for some reason that I don’t understand. It’s constant. So as an artist, running to Brooklyn and seeing the countless amount of art galleries, or running to Manhattan and seeing them jamming at three ‘o’ clock, four ‘o’ clock, or going to CafĂ© Wha? and they’re getting it in until like four, five. It’s pretty amazing.

Miss Wilson: And you’re from New York, so how does the whole nightlife scene compare to Los Angeles’ nightlife scene?
Mike Phillips: Los Angeles…it’s a different culture in the presentation of how things are. It’s top-notch. If the club is sexy in Los Angeles, it really is sexy. New York sexy can be a little gritty. But they’re two different levels of what the expectations are. People move around in New York. It’s very busy. They’re very adamant. LA is laid back. New York, they’re very adamant, and they don’t really care. And then that shows in the grittiness of what you do in New York.

It’s two different attitudes. Both are very good. Because to get over in life, you’re gonna have to have some balls. You’re gonna have to be able to man up. But then there are times that you just gotta chill out – it ain’t even that serious – and that’s what LA is. So as a New Yorker, when it’s LA time, it takes the edge off of me. It’s like, look, I’m in the sun, it’s breezy, it’s 86 degrees, what else can you ask for?

Miss Wilson: Do you have a favorite place to hang out in LA, whether that’s a restaurant or even outdoors?
Mike Phillips: Venice. And if it’s an eating spot, The Cheesecake Factory.

Miss Wilson: Are you hanging anywhere specifically this weekend since you’re here?
Mike Phillips: Well, I’ll tell you what. I’ll hang out in my hotel lobby. The JW Marriott is pretty banging. I ain’t gonna lie to you.

Miss Wilson: Have you been to the rooftop pool?
Mike Phillips: It’s nuts.

Miss Wilson: I agree. And are there any upcoming projects that we should know about, such as the Michael Jackson Immortal Tour or your newest CD?
Mike Phillips: MP3 came out last year and it debuted at #1 on the iTunes chart. So that’s out and my time now will be just about the Immortal Tour, getting it up and running. I’m really, really curious to see how this is going to go, because they are really putting together a show.

Miss Wilson: Can you give us a sneak peak?
Mike Phillips: I can’t do that, but all I can say is it’s one of the most ambitious shows that Cirque [de Soleil] has put together so far, and with that in mind, the anticipation is building, and it’s gonna be crazy. It’s gonna be nuts.

Miss Wilson: And it’ll be in LA?
Mike Phillips: Right.

Miss Wilson: Well thank you so much for your time. I’m excited to see that, and also the show tonight.
Mike Phillips: Thank you.

For more information visit

Also, check out a the video clips from his performance! 
One features a candid revelation about working with Prince, and another features one of his solo performances.

*Photos Courtesy of Tulani Watkins

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Where to Drink: Bar 1886 @ The Raymond

Bars. Bars. Bars.
There’s no shortage of them in this town.
Sports bars, dive bars, neighborhood bars where everyone knows your name.

Then there’s also a special type of bar; the drinking parlor. The Raymond Restaurant’s Bar 1886 falls into this category, worth a visit when you’re in the mood to sip and savor finely crafted artisan cocktails within a rugged, historic setting.

Set amongst the sleepy foothills of South Pasadena, Bar 1886 occupies the former caretaker’s cottage of the old Raymond Hotel, originally opened in 1886 and once the popular hangout destination for the elite and celebrities like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

A tragic history filled with infuriated fires and Great Depression woes caused the grand hotel to close decades ago, but fortunately for us, The Raymond Restaurant and Bar 1886 which opened a year ago after a massive renovation, remain. We can still venture down the windy driveway that leads to the forest green cottage, open its unmarked door, meander through the quiet restaurant and enter the door plainly marked “est. 1886.”

What you’ll find is an area that’s earthy and vintage – cozily intimate yet airy. The lines between outdoors and indoors politely blur, especially once dusk starts to settle in. The main room, which fits about 22 seated, pays tribute to its past origins with an Industrial Revolution era decor, complete with an intricately detailed tin ceiling, Edison bulb light fixtures, dark wallpaper, wooden accents and amber-hued candle holders placed on tables. Opposite of a well-lit bar is a wall with expansive windows that open out onto the outdoor patio, which is canopied by an ancient wisteria tree.

Now I’m not superstitious per se, but I’ve heard a few rumors here and there about paranormal activity going on at the bar…locked windows (in the picture to the left) that mysteriously creak open at the same exact time every single night. So if you're sitting at a table and the window behind you randomly pops open, don't be alarmed - just remember what I told you.

Whether or not spirits are roaming around, the spirits and libations behind the bar are worth a try. They incorporate many ingredients that would have been widely popular within the late 19th century – lots of classic gins, homemade syrups, fruits and herbal spices.

The cocktail menu doesn’t simply list drinks and their respective ingredients either; instead, it includes each cocktail’s background story and original inventor. The cocktails hail from famed bartenders around the country and from various decades. Bartenders, chefs and friends of the establishment have all helped to the cocktail program as interesting and diverse as it is.

Similar to how Nike designer Tinker Hatfield makes each Air Jordan sneaker look like a work of art rather than just another typical athletic shoe, the talented Bar 1886 team makes each cocktail look like a mini-masterpiece, rather than just some alcohol and ice swirling around in a glass.

Several, like the Malted Mule pictured below, are like an installation art piece; slowly pour the ginger ale over the homemade gingersnap ice cream, which subsequently runs into the Lemon Hart 151, rum and barley malt syrup concoction.

Others, like the Bitter Bee pictured below are like a beautiful collage of colors. Less potent than the Malted Mule, this blend of vodka, honey, mint and bitters is like sipping a minty lemonade on a sweltering summer’s day.

And yet, still others such as the flight of three Vintage Caprices pictured below are meant to be tasted, pondered upon and discussed. This flight examines the natural progression of wood on a cocktail, presenting the same mixture of gin, orange bitters, dry vermouth and Benedictine after sitting in a sherry-rinsed oak barrel at three distinct phases: when the mixture is not aged in the barrel, when it’s been in the barrel for four months and when it’s been in the barrel for eight months. Compare and contrast the subtle differences between each phase.

So the next time you’re looking for a genuine drinking experience – more than a mere vodka and cranberry – I highly recommend Pasadena’s Bar 1886. The cocktails are truly incomparable, and the ambiance is quite enjoyable. Perhaps I’ll see you there on the patio soon!

Miss Wilson’s Tips:

- Bar 1886 has an interesting selection of appetizers and snacks, including many American standards, like the Griddled Cheese Sandwich, unique cultural variations, such as Poppadums, and even original inventions, like the Grilled Flat Bread with sweet potato, sweet corn and bacon, pictured below. 
- The Raymond Hotel and the City of Pasadena simultaneously observe their 125th anniversary this year, just as Bar 1886 celebrates its one-year anniversary this month. Partake in celebratory festivities with artisan cocktails, beers, boutique wines, hors d’oeuvres samplings, small plates and desserts at a proper affair this upcoming Thursday, November 17th, 6:30-10pm. For more information, click here.

- Bar 1886 might remind you of another Wilson’s Guide favorite, The Varnish, and there’s a good reason why. Both of these bars are located in historical LA establishments and feature artisan cocktail menus directed by the widely popular cocktail experts Marcos Tello and Aidan Demarest.

For more information
Bar 1886
at The Raymond Restaurant
1250 South Fair Oaks Ave.
Pasadena, CA 91105

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Where to Eat: Lunch and Dinner @ A-Frame, Culver City

A-Frame to me, represents a fusion of not just Asian and American foods, but of new trends and traditions, of old and new, of excitement and low-key vibes.

One step into the restaurant, and you’ll understand precisely what I’m talking about. Housed in a former IHOP, A-Frame didn’t simply tear everything down to start afresh. Instead, it kept the space and even the signature slanted IHOP roof and transformed them into something completely different: an organic, earthy space with modern fixtures, lots of large windows to let in natural sunlight and lots of walls paneled with striking blond wood.

And that’s just the inside.

The outdoor patio is rather ruggedly chic, with tables hidden amongst shrubs and a long table that sits underneath these colorful, indescribable, larger-than-life light shades.

Wherever you end up, inside or out, be prepared to feast not just with the folks you walked in with, but also with everyone else who decided to dine at A-Frame that day. Communal tables are the norm here, and as much as dining at the same table with strangers might seem slightly intimate, after the tenth time you’ve unconsciously bumped shoulders with the guy who keeps inadvertently kicking your leg, you start to feel a connection with everyone, as if you actually know them.

But let’s move on to the good stuff: A-Frame’s food.

As much as I honestly don’t understand many parts of the menu (I have nooo idea what a “century” egg is compared to a regular egg in my favorite entree, the Cracklin Beer Can Chicken), I thoroughly enjoy reading the titles and descriptions, like the “Chu-Don’t-Know-Mang” churros, chocolate milk and ice cream combo dessert (pictured below) and the “Thick Ass Ice Cream Sandwiches.” I mean, I haven’t been to many restaurants where I can freely curse at my server when ordering without getting back a few sideways stares, if not some jabs.

But as fun as it is to muse over the menu, there’s even more fun once the food appears. Presentation reigns king at A-Frame, so even before digging in, there’s much to admire. Vibrantly colorful entrees and appetizers are set on distinct, one-of-a-kind plates and bowls. Menu options cater to many tastes and appetite sizes as well. For example, if you’re watching the calories, there are entrees such as the Baja Fish Tacos pictured below. 

Or, if you’re like me and say to hell with all of the calorie-counting madness, then there are many fabulous goodies: the widely popular Cracklin Beer Can Chicken pictured below, the Knuckle Sandwich with oxtails, the monstrous Double Cheeseburger with a fried egg, and the list goes on and on.

A-Frame’s dishes are similar to its ambiance; they’re meant to be shared, so order a few different entrees and don’t be bashful when it comes to reaching for one of your friend’s Kitchen Fries (pictured below). The food is also meant to be eaten with fingers, not forks...albeit, should you not want to mess up that fresh new manicure, bright yellow buckets of utensils are strategically placed on all of the tables.

As much as the food intrigues me, I can't fail to mention A-Frame’s cocktail program. In my personal opinion, bartenders manage to find that delicate balance between just the right amount of alcohol and the right amount of flavorful ingredients. Each little libation has its own personality, arriving in its own special cup, with its own special style. I’m fond of the Mai Tai (pictured below), which is strong, and of the Ramos Fizz, which is light, sweet and…well…fizzy.

It’s hard to believe that yesterday officially marked this restaurant’s one-year anniversary, because there’s something about A-Frame that makes it feel so settled into the neighborhood, as though it’s possessively claimed that lot of land right there on Washington Blvd. for ages. But I guess that’s just another one of those inexplicable quirks that makes A-Frame so unique and refreshingly fascinating.

So the next time you’re looking for a fun “off the beaten path” dining experience and really, really good food, I say you head over to A-Frame. See you there soon!

Miss Wilson’s Tips (So you know “What’s Up” When You Go):

- Weekend lunches and dinners, weekday dinners.

- Sorry, no reservations here.

- I’ve never tried it, but I would imagine that it could be a bit of a challenge to hold a large dinner here due to the communal table set-up. Instead, I’d recommend A-Frame for a date spot (I’ve seen many couples here) or for a group of four to six people.

- Fun fact: A-Frame is the brainchild of celeb chef Roy Choi. If you don’t know his name, you probably know his truck: he started the Kogi Truck, which in turn, started the whole fanatical LA food truck movement.

- I must give shoutouts when shoutouts are due: fellow blogger The Minty first introduced me to A-Frame when she suggested we go here for dinner this past spring. I’ve been hooked (clearly) ever since!

For more information:
12565 Washington Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066

Monday, October 31, 2011

Where to Be Merry: Pacific Standard Time @ The Art & Design Center, California State University, Northridge (CSUN) (Part 2 of 2)

There’s a cultural phenomenon sweeping over the city. It’s a celebratory wave of the arts and more specifically, an appreciation of Southern California’s 1945-1980 art scenes. For the first time ever, more than 60 museums, art spaces, exhibitions and similar institutions are simultaneously showcasing artistic works by local artists and/or works that distinctly capture postwar life out here in the west. The mediums might vary from films, installations, sculptures, paintings, drawings and more, but the objective remains the same: to reveal what life was like in California throughout these four decades. Launched as a Getty initiative, it’s Pacific Standard Time, taking place now until April 2012.

I had my first Pacific Standard Time experience last Thursday, when I joined the Black Journalists Association of Southern California (BJASC) at CSUN’s Art & Design Center for an exclusive preview of the Identity & Affirmation, Post War African-American Photography exhibit, which officially opened to the public on Sunday, October 23rd. During the private reception that evening, about a dozen of us comprehensively discussed the exhibit’s photographs taken by 12 photographers and photojournalists with curator R. Kent Kirkton. We even received a welcomed surprise visit from one of the exhibitor’s photographers Willie Middlebrook (pictured below), who explained his "Selections from the Series, Watts Revisited Beyond the First Look" (1980). 

And of course, we eagerly looked at the 125 images on display.

Now between you and me, when I first entered the gallery, I thought to myself: “Hold on, this is it?” Just imagine walking into a nondescript, square room, bare, with nothing but framed photographs fastened to white walls. No eye-catching props or grand architectural statements – just black-and-white photos and walls, surrounded by a black floor and a black ceiling.

But first impressions can be deceiving.

Once I started to actually examine the photos, I found myself spellbound by the scenes that unraveled before me. Here were instances – little flickers in time – of the varied African-American experiences within Los Angeles and its surrounding areas. Some photos were funny, others solemn. Some had subjects confidently beaming towards the camera, others revealed only outlined silhouettes. Yet each photo had its own unique story, demanding us to stand still and watch, and wait for what it was going to tell us.

Some photos offered insight into what it must’ve been like to be a Black Angeleno in this era. There’s the bustling Dunbar Hotel in the 1940s…carefree schoolchildren from diverse backgrounds contently clinging to one other and laughing in the 1950s, as seen in Harry Adams' "Elementary school playground" (1958), pictured below…glimpses of poverty, struggle and stubborn hope in the 1970s, years after the notorious Watts riots. 

From working class mechanics to the first Black Rose Parade Queen, from Calvin Hicks' "Venice Beach" (1978) pictured below to Hollywood, it’s interesting to see how the social and physical landscapes have – and really haven’t – changed throughout the decades.

Other photos proudly proved that numerous prominent African-American figures did indeed visit Los Angeles quite often. Jack Davis' "Mahalia Jackson performing at the Los Angeles Coliseum"(1960) shown below highlights the gospel singer putting on what appeared to be a spellbinding concert right in our very own Coliseum. 

Learning about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in my youth, I had always read about him working in the South or on the East Coast. But lo and behold, several photos such as Harry Adams' "Dr. Martin Luther Kings, Jr." (1963) seen below prove that King advocated for equal rights in Los Angeles, basking in our sunny weather and protesting on our downtown streets, just as he would have in Alabama and Georgia.

And even more intriguing, other photos slyly shared private, vulnerable moments with our esteemed, iconic African-American figures, all with Los Angeles as the backdrop. In Charles Williams’ "Johnson Bath House" (1965), Dorothy Dandridge stands on a scale, enwrapped in nothing more than a mere towel, seemingly shocked by the scale’s readings. A young Muhammad Ali compassionately gazes at a young boy whom he holds; Duke Ellington, Nat “King” Cole, Marie Ellington, Jimmie Hamilton and Harry Carney share a laugh while sitting in the Shrine Auditorium.

It was fun to go through the gallery’s rooms and to recognize faces and places, yet to see them cast in a different time era and setting. I felt like I learned so much in the couple of hours that I spent there. So if you’re interested in photography or historical Los Angeles – if you grew up in the city or want to know what it was like when you weren’t here, I highly recommend paying this photography exhibit a visit. But don’t wait too long – these photos will only be on display until December. See you there soon!

Miss Wilson’s Tips (So You Know "What's Up" When You Go):

- Admission is Free!

- Running Date: October 23, 2011 – December 10, 2011

- Art & Design Center hours: Monday-Saturday, 12-4 p.m., except on Thursday, 12-8 p.m. Closed on Sunday.

- CSUN is massive. This exhibit is in The Art & Design Center’s Art Gallery, which is on the north side of the campus. Enter the campus from Halsted St. and park in Student Lot E6 (a Day Parking Pass is $6). Walk west on N. University Dr., and the Art Gallery will be to your right. On this CSUN mapyou’ll see Student Lot E6 in the top middle section and the Art Gallery immediately to the left of it.

- It’s not all on the walls! A small television in one of the rooms, pictured below, has rotating photographs from churches and religious events, and a room towards the entrance has a slideshow of about 200 additional images.

- Interesting Fact: CSUN’s Institute for Arts and Media holds 850,000 images from African-American photographers and photojournalists, making it one of the nation’s largest collections. 

- So much art, so little time! With more than 60 Pacific Standard Time participants, where do you even start? Answer: on the PST website: Not only is there a list of all exhibitions, but site tools help you find which exhibitions you might like and even makes recommendations on other exhibitions that might interest you, based on what you’ve already checked out. There’s even a section where you can save your preferences.
California State University, Northridge
18111 Nordoff Street
Northridge, CA 91330