Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It's a Celebration: 1-Year Anniversary!

Around this time last year, what were you doing? Thinking about? Hoping for?

President Obama signed the widely discussed health care bill.

Mo’Nique won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in the film “Precious.”

And I was toying with the idea of launching a blog about where to eat, drink and be merry in Los Angeles.

It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since Wilson’s “Where To” Guide first emerged. I remember seriously contemplating whether or not I wanted to step down as the Saturday Night Magazine nightlife editor – a fun little side-gig with wonderful perks – to enter the realm of blogging where countless other of writers had something to say about every topic under the sun. I thought I had a grasp on what it was all about: sign up on Blogger, write weekly posts, spread the word and that’s it, right? But I didn't realize I was getting myself into a weekly commitment of posts even when I was dead tired, the never-ending quest for awesome destinations, and most importantly, building an engaging, trustworthy resource from the ground up.

Yet through it all, I have made it to the one-year mark and now, I can’t even imagine life without my blog. As a celebration of Wilson’s “Where To” Guide’s 1st official birthday, I wanted to take the time to give you behind-the-scenes look, so read on.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog as much as I have enjoyed putting it together, week after week.

Happy Birthday, Wilson’s Guide!

What’s this blog about?
In a nutshell, Wilson's "Where To" Guide is a resource on where to find stellar social activities: bars, lounges, restaurants, nightclubs and other recreational endeavors. Five-star restaurants to hole-in-the-wall dive bars have made the cut, as well as chic Beverly Hills lounges and fast food joints in South Los Angeles.

They may differ in location and price range because really, the only real criteria to make it in this guide is the following: they always make you feel right at home, comfortably invited and pleasantly entertained.

Now I will admit – as an African-American woman, I do go out of my way to highlight exceptional places that are minority-owned (i.e. CiCi’s Café), located within historically African-American communities (i.e. Randy’s Donuts, pictured to the right) and/or undeniably diverse and multi-cultural (i.e. The Do-Over). However, if you’re good to me, you’re great, and you’re making it on the list. And obviously, you don't have to be just African-American or a woman to find somewhere great in this guide. :)

So how did Wilson’s Guide get created?

Wilson's "Where To" Guide came to fruition from three separate concepts:

First, after 2.5 lovely years as nightlife editor for a local publication, I was ready for a bigger challenge, and naturally, blogging seemed the next logical step. To try and find a voice amongst thousands of other bloggers and to maintain longevity, those were my new lofty aspirations, and still are to this day.

Secondly, I kept running into scores of recent transplants who would exasperatedly proclaim: "Where are all of the great, non-shallow, non-Hollywood spots in LA?" I’d passionately rattle off ten noteworthy hangout destinations, leaving most inspired. I couldn’t always feature these places in Saturday Night Magazine, but I could highlight them in my very own blog.

Lastly, for those like myself who get down with the “urban” scene, I realized that while it's easy to find a classy party one given night or a networking mixer ever so often, there just didn't seem to be one resource that provided insight into a range of different activities that catered to the diverse urban interests. My goal, which has also been realized through my Twitter account (@WilsonsGuide), is to help fill that void.

Milestones?
Honestly, anytime anyone ever mentions they read a post and especially when they mention that they went somewhere I wrote about and actually liked the place, I do a little dance in my head. I just want to provide options for good times and to know that I’m doing that – it’s the best feeling in the world.

With all of that said, I also feel so blessed for the following:
- To have interviewed three Grammy-nominated artists and other celebs (like Quddus, pictured above to the left).
- To have partnered with awesome entrepreneurial spirits like Made Woman Magazine, Yoo-N-La Magazine, The Commercial Mix, Chrystal King and many others.
- To have launched a first ever @WilsonsGuide Twitter contest in partnership with The Brown Betties.
- And seriously, to have consistently posted on a weekly basis while shuffling full-time work and whatever life may bring. The hardest thing as a writer is to keep on writing!

Well what does the future hold for Wilson’s Guide?

Great question! Of course, there will be more recommendations, more interviews, more fun contests. I’m continuing to redesign the blog, thanks to the creative mastermind of Room050 founder Alf, and, I’m hoping to throw in a bi-monthly e-newsletter to the mix.

Closing Thoughts?

Keep on reading – you haven’t seen anything yet! And to think, it all started with one post on one of my favorite places – Simply Wholesome (pictured to the left) – and deciding to never look back.

Cheers,
Miss Wilson

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

And Where do You "Where To?": DJ Lady Sha

Ever been in a nightclub at 1am and watched how a crowd worked itself into a frenzy once the DJ started blasting Michael Jackson’s “Rock with You?”

I know I have.

On several occasions.

DJs have never ceased to amaze me, with their fascinating ability to manipulate audiences’ moods with the switch of a song, their VIP treatment by club promoters/owners, their nocturnal tendencies and their innate cool-factor.

One DJ in particular who has always impressed me with her dope sets and successful longevity in the game is DJ Lady Sha (pictured above to the left). She’s fierce, she's talented and she’s most certainly held her own in a male-dominated industry. She’s brought soulful, funky music to the masses in Miami, South Africa, Europe and Jamaica, amongst many other places.

And as an LA native who currently resides here and has graced some of the city’s most popular nightspots – Teddy’s, H.WOOD, Bar Lubitsch, Crown Bar, Zanzibar, Stone Rose Lounge, the list goes on – DJ Lady Sha was the perfect guest for Wilson’s Guide. Here’s what she had to say!

Miss Wilson (MW): How did you get started as a DJ?
DJ LADY SHA: During my sophomore year at UC Berkeley, my neighbor, DJ Phatrick, convinced me to take his DJ course on campus so the class would get funding. Two weeks later I was on Craigslist purchasing the 2 technics turntables I have to this day. That semester changed the course of the rest of my life as I was pre-med and heading to med school up until that point. Once I got hooked into DJ culture through DJ Phatrick, I began taking gigs and realizing that could be the path I was looking for in music. I continued practicing and really fine-tuned my craft during my semester abroad in South Africa, where my university in Durban actually had a DJ practice room (coincidence or fate?) I always joke that I got all my mistakes out of my system on South African dance floors and came home from that semester a much more polished DJ. After graduating from CAL, I moved home to LA and went full force with DJ-ing to this day.

MW: You've had a lot of amazing accomplishments such as becoming the first female DJ to spin on live radio in South Africa. So what would you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
DJ LADY SHA: My great accomplishment up to this point is becoming the first woman to not only compete in the Miami Winter Conference DJ Spinoff, but to also win first place in 2008. It was such an intense month of practice and nervousness leading up to that moment of competition. I remember when my plane was landing in LA after the competition, it finally sunk in that I had actually won, a moment I'll remember forever.

MW: Which city has the best nightlife scene, and what makes it so phenomenal?
DJ LADY SHA: I love the nightlife scenes of so many cities and appreciate them for their individual nightlife cultures. My favorites would have to be SF [San Francisco], Miami, Vegas, NY [New York], and my home of course, LA. Especially here in LA, there are at least 2-3 parties to attend any night of the week in almost any genre you are craving to hear. I would never take that for granted. I've been to cities where all there is to do at night is listen to crickets. LA has everything from live music on Sunset Blvd to indie/electro parties in Silverlake and downtown, with mainstream parties in between in Hollywood.

MW: Where are some of your favorite places to hang in LA?
DJ LADY SHA: My favorite spots are a combination of quality music and an amazing atmosphere or view. I love SoHo house, The Roosevelt Hotel (Teddy's, Tropicana pool, or The Penthouse), and the downstairs red room in the W Hotel on Hollywood.

So there you have it! Find this luminous lady making crowds shimmy at Champagne Fridays and hop on her email list to find out where else she’ll be.


For more information:
Blog: www.djladysha.tumblr.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/djladysha

Facebook: www.facebook.com/djladysha

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Where to Be Merry: Art @ M. Hanks Gallery

On Santa Monica’s Main Street several blocks removed from the hustle and bustle of the lively cafes and storefronts, there’s a nondescript brick building that quietly sits near Rose Street. This two-storey edifice can easily evade the watchful eye if you’re not on a vigilant quest for it. And while the exterior may be plain, that's no testament to the treasures that lie within it. For the past 23 years, this building – the M. Hanks Gallery – has proudly displayed the exceptional works of African-American artists throughout the decades.

I first discovered the gallery last year when I attended a special showcase and discussion with artist Phoebe Beasley (pictured below, to the right). Meandering through the endless rooms of paintings hung on rich ruby red walls, I was so moved that I recently returned to meet with owner Eric Hanks to find out what was new at the gallery.

It turns out that the “Masterpieces of African American Art” exhibit is the latest happening, featuring the paintings and sculptures of 35 artists, hailing from various socioeconomic backgrounds, time periods and cities. The art covers the span of more than 130 years, from as early as the 1880s to as current as 2010. Oils on canvas, acrylic, mixed media and even serigraphs and lithographs wondrously bring to life everyday scenes of urban sprawls, powerful political statements, peaceful landscapes and the many faces of the African-American experience.

There are pieces from the world-renowned to the lesser known, from the highly successful to the struggling trailblazers. To give you an idea of how wide the range of art is, there are two 1880s paintings from Grafton T. Brown, the first known African-American painter on the West Coast (pictured to the left) alongside pieces created by sculptor Meta Warrick Fuller who helped to set the Harlem Renaissance in motion.

Owner Eric Hanks willingly shares the history behind the artists’ lives and their works and let me tell you, the stories are good. There are enough tales of poignant tragedies, scandalous family secrets, rich heritages and remarkable accomplishments to create Tyler Perry’s next six box office hits.

With owner Hanks’ vast wealth of information and such visually entrancing pieces, you can easily spend hours here, soaking in wisdom, art and history. So when you’re in the market for that perfect painting to spice up your living room, you now know where to turn. See you there soon!

For more information:
M. Hanks Gallery
3008 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA 90405
310.392.8820
www.mhanksgallery.com

Miss Wilson’s Tips:

- The gallery is open by appointment only. Call in advance to arrange a time to come in.
- You don’t have to have Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s pockets to purchase an art piece here; prices range from as low as $200 and soar up to $280,000.
- Parking in this area can be challenging so remember that there's a parking lot adjacent to the gallery.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Where to Drink: Springtime Cocktails @ Geisha House

Whenever I think about Geisha House, the trendy little sushi restaurant and lounge in Hollywood, I hardly think about the sushi rolls or the sashimi. Instead, what comes to mind is sipping sexy cocktails amidst a glamorously chic crowd in an extremely sexy atmosphere. Yes, there’s an impressive list of creative signature rolls and an endless selection of entrées that are as beautifully presented as they taste, but quite frankly, I don’t think anything on that menu can beat Geisha’s amazing cocktails.

“We make the cocktails to fit our environment, our vibe and our clientele that come in,” General Manager Travis Eichensehr informed me when I stopped by over the weekend. “They’re fun and they’re delicious and they stand on their own.”

And stand on their own they do. So many of these beverages have such bold, distinct personalities. And as we “March” into spring, I’ve taken the liberty to pick out the top three Geisha House cocktails that I personally believe embody the very essence of what this season is all about. The following drinks are revitalizing and refreshing, youthful and invigorating, jovial, carefree and wholly delicious. You have to order them at least once. Read on:

The Geisha Whisper: Spring is all about shedding the pounds we packed on during our winter hibernation in order to start prepping for the bikinis and trunks we have to squeeze into by early June. It’s the time for healthy lifestyle options, and with this drink’s abundance of muddled blueberries and cucumber slices, you’ll not only be getting a good dose of essential fruits and veggies you need to burn fat, but you’ll also be chugging down lots antioxidants to give you glowing, youthful skin.

The Fallen Sun: With its perfect balance of Ketel One Citron, Triple Sec, Chambord, lime and lemon juices, this sweetly smooth cocktail is reminiscent of lemonade with a twist, on a warm summer evening. Like Tyson Beckford walking a runway, this cocktail is as beautiful to look at as it is to drink. A masterpiece indeed!

The Hai: An exciting, adventurous blend of White Lotus Vodka, fresh strawberry puree, lemon and lime juices, sweet and sour, and a spritz of champagne on top. The chunks of ripe strawberries give the Hai a thrilling allure to it with each and every sip. It’s almost like sipping a smoothie spiked with a good amount of vodka.

So who conjures up such delectable delights? “It can be myself, it could be our beverage manager or it could be the owner,” said Eichensehr. “Maybe he was in Thailand and saw something that was inspirational or I was in Vegas last week and I noticed this new product. We’ll tie those things to those cultures to come up with these drinks. It could be something new tied in with something traditional and seasonal from Japan.”

Partaking in all of this drinking will surely cause you work up an appetite, in which there are several options that nicely compliment these three fabulous cocktails. The Maguro Mango is light and refreshing, featuring thin slices of buttery tuna topped with colorful mango and a tangy mango chile sauce. The popular Maguro Spicy Taru-Taru Crispy Rice is a personal favorite of mine. The spiciness of the tuna and the crispness of the rice pleasantly stands in stark contrast from the sweetness of the drinks. Both of these appetizers are pictured to the left.

Having sipped on such exquisite cocktails and indulging in such appealing appetizers, I left the Geisha House completely satisfied. Well, almost satisfied. In Wilson’s Guide fashion, you know I had to ask Eichensehr: What’s his drink of choice? Did he love the Fallen Sun as much as I did? Was there another one he favored even more?

He faintly smiled and responded: “My favorite is The Jozen, a premium sake. It’s a little drier, it’s a little sweet, but it’s very clean at the end of the palate.”

Well, there you have it. It looks like I only reached the tip of the iceberg with my infatuation with Geisha House’s cocktails. Now it looks like I’ll be back to try the sake as well!

See you there soon!

For more information:
Geisha House
6633 Hollywood Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90028

323.460.6300

www.dolcegroup.com


Miss Wilson’s Tips:
- Aside from cocktails, Geisha House has an extensive list of whites, reds and sakes.
- With a live DJ and a vibrantly bubbly atmosphere, you’ll feel as though you’re in a lounge on Friday and Saturday nights, while on other evenings, it’s more subdued.
- Don’t overlook the sushi bar area! It’s also a great section to dine and enjoy a few beverages.

**A big shout out to photographer Juan Enriquez for his stellar photography skills! Check him out at http://www.eclecticstate.com/. :) And if you want to read a more in-depth exchange with GM Eichensehr, read my article at Haute Living Los Angeles.**

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Where to Eat: The Coffee Shop Experience @ Pann’s Restaurant & Coffee Shop

Just south of Slauson Blvd. is the actively bustling intersection of La Cienega Blvd. and La Tijera Blvd. If you’re familiar with that area, you’re probably know about the Ladera Center's Ralph’s, the eccentric Starbucks or Magic Johnson’s T.G.I. Friday’s. And if you’re like me – a commuter who happens to drive down La Cienega Blvd. – you’ll most certainly know about the ghastly bumper-to-bumper traffic that builds up and refuses to budge during rush hour.

Yet there’s another special landmark not to be forgotten: Pann’s Restaurant & Coffee Shop. Its pale yellow sign and abstractedly shaped building have a tendency to blend into the background of the urban setting; I’ve driven by this diner thousands of times without so much as giving it a second thought. But once you’ve had a taste of Pann’s appetizers, entrées and/or desserts, it will be impossible not to incessantly think about this place.

In a nutshell, Pann’s has just really good American coffee shop classics. Whether breakfast favorites like “Rena’s Favorite” (half a waffle, two chicken wings and two eggs, pictured to the right) or lunch/dinner specials like the smoked ribs, you can’t really ever go wrong with a pick. Whatever you’re in the mood for – breakfast or lunch, pork, chicken, beef or vegetarian options – Pann’s got it and knows how to make it perfectly. And don’t forget to save room for a shake at some point!

As memorable as Pann’s food is, its physical space is just as intriguing. One step into the diner, and it’s apparent why it’s been recognized by the prestigious Los Angeles Conservancy, featured in films like Pulp Fiction and included in the Los Angeles Magazine’s 2008 “Best of LA” section. Set amidst ceiling-to-floor windows and lush, tropical trees, the diner’s Googie architectural design style is apparent in everything from the shape of the booths to the countertop and stools in bar area (pictured to the left).

Pann’s is to Ladera Heights what Mel’s Diner is to Hollywood. It’s rich in history and abundant in scrumptious selections. It’s the timeless tale of the American dream come true: two Greek immigrants relocate to California to realize their aspirations of offering delicious food to the masses. Thus Pann’s emerges in 1958 to take off and never look back. So the next time you’re in the mood for the coffee shop experience on the Westside, you know to check out Pann’s!

For more information:
6710 La Tijera Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90045

323.776.3770

http://www.panns.com