The Historic El Rey Theatre: Standing Room Only

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

It’s almost embarrassing to say it here, but I’m old.

I tried last night, I really did. I wore my sensible shoes. I made sure, against the pleas of the reasonable voices in my head that would say otherwise, to drank a double espresso at 6pm to ensure that I wouldn’t need to slump against the floor of the venue sooner than later.

I mean really, who, at my age, drinks a double espresso after oh, say 10 am?

The caffeine didn’t even touch it. Not at all.

We drove up from Orange County at a sensible seven pm after dropping the kids off with the babysitter. The doors opened at eight so we made it perfectly. I know what you’re thinking: pre game it by taking a nap at 8, driving up at 9, arriving by 10 just in time for the main act. I know. I know how you’re supposed to do it. But I’m 39, y’all. If I go to sleep at 8, I won’t wake up until the next morning.

So we push through, friends. We push through.

The Historic El Rey Theatre, for many shows, is General Admission, which in my language means I’ll be standing up crowded against strangers for four hours. Luckily it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I’m no alien to standing room only venues, in fact, some of the best shows I’ve ever seen have been at places like that (insert Troubadour reference here). Plus if I had been sitting down, say, at the Wiltern or similar I would have fallen asleep into my gin and tonic at 10 pm.

It was built in 1936 as a single screen movie theatre and showed movies for 50 years. In the eighties it became a night club and then in 1994 it was refurbished to become a live music venue. If it feels historic it’s because it is. It still retains some of it’s “Streamline Modern” style and was originally designed by Clifford Balch. Balch designed a ton of art deco movie theatres during that time including the Regency Lido in Newport Beach and the Fox Theatre in Pomona. Many of Balch’s theatres have been demolished or are serving other purposes, like the El Rey.

It’s really a beautiful and fun small venue to see pretty much anything, I would think. Even the back of the theatre feels close to the front. The drinks are good and not overpriced.

Last night the headliner was Shakey Graves, who, if you have never heard of him, don’t beat yourself up. But you will. Actually, you just did. Just say you heard it here first. He’s an up and coming blues/rock singer-songwriter whose real name is actually Alejandro Rose-Garcia. He’s energetic and fun and got his start as a one-man-band (please don’t envision Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins here --- think more dark, brooding and sinewy in a cowboy hat) by making a drum kit out of a suitcase.

The only thing I regret is that he didn’t play his one song off of And the War Came that everyone wanted him to. Or maybe he did, but this 39 year old mom of 2 had to make it home, I’m guessing, by the time he got to “Dearly Departed.” I’m sure he played it and I’m sure it brought the Streamline Modern house down, but I was well on my way to In and Out by then.

But what I did hear? So so good.

Another one to watch is one of the opening acts, Rayland Baxter. On the stage was simply Baxter with only his impressive beard and guitar to accompany him. And the guy whistles. Again, don’t get caught up in the fact that yes, whistling could be corny or strange. Here it seems like when, years ago, Jewel made yodeling cool. Yes, that. Baxter has made whistling way cooler than I ever thought possible.

So, yes to the El Rey. I’ll be back. I promise.

And yes to Mr. Graves, or Mr. Rose-Garcia. But please put your best song sooner in the set next time, for all of us almost-forties. Deal?

The El Rey Theatre is located at 5515 Wilshire Blvd in West LA. Parking is either valet or at a safe, covered garage at the corner of Cochran and Wilshire. Last night parking was $10 but it may vary for different shows/days of the week.

For their calendar of upcoming shows click here. 

Also, Shakey Graves is playing one more time tonight. If tickets aren't sold out then you can buy them at the door starting at 8 pm.

LA Craft Beer Tours: Drinking and NOT Driving

Monday, October 20, 2014

I’ll admit I ran across LA Craft Beer Tours as I was attempting to find a great birthday activity for my husband who recently turned 40. I saw that their Yelp score was pretty impeccable and so I filled out their contact form which was promptly responded to by one of the co-owners, Pat.

We figured out what breweries and when and for how long and then Pat took it from there.

And we had a bus. A bus, I tell you! It pulled up in front of my house and all the people gasped. It was wonderful.

LA Craft Beer Tours operates both scheduled and private tours (we booked a private) that run from about $50 per person for publicly scheduled tours to a bit more per person for private ones. Prices for private tours depend on how many people you have and how far they will be transporting you.

For example, a couple times a month LACBT runs a public tour in LA that stops at Los Angeles area breweries. The scheduled for the first weekend of November stops at Angel City, Golden Road and Eagle Rock Brewery. That tour is $49. At each stop on both the public and private tours each person gets either a flight of tastings or a pint to enjoy before they move on to the next location. Some breweries offer tours and at one, we met the owner and master brewer who chatted with our group all about his particular process. It was fascinating.

They run tours in all three coastal counties: LA, Orange and San Diego and will take even take you up toward Ventura and Santa Barbara from Los Angeles. Some tours (where there is more driving involved) can be an all day thing (from 9 hours) but most that are local run about 5 to 5 ½ hours.

Pat or Dale run the tours and one of them accompanies each one. At each brewery, Pat gave us recommendations based on what kind of beer we liked and what he preferred at each one. We happened to go on one of the hottest days of the year a couple weeks ago, so he rearranged our day to include the one with the least air conditioning early on (you’re all outdoor Bootleggers, but I love you anyway!) and even reserved a table for our group in the shade.

Loved it, loved it, loved it!

And I’m even thinking about taking one of the scheduled ones with some friends to experience some fun new breweries we’ve never been to.

Seriously. Pat is super knowledgeable and I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Plus not a single one of us should be driving after visiting THREE BREWERIES! Right?

Of course I'm right.

LA Craft Beer Tours can be found on the web here and on Yelp here. Choose from beer tours in San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, the South Bay and Ventura/Santa Barbara.

You're My Fun Friend: FAQ for CALovesCulture

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Because, as you may know, I've tiptoed quietly over from another blog to secretly (or not so secretly) write this one.

Right now, you're my favorite. Really you are.

(Said like a horrible mother to only one of her dear children.)

But yes, yes, yes, I write both.

You know like when you have a two different friends and you love both equally. One is deep and brooding and you can only take so much and not every day, for sure. But like once or twice a week you leave her a Vox because any more than that is just way too much. And then you have another friend who's fun and happy and easygoing and it's just super easy to chat because you talk about wine and shopping and movies.

You're my fun friend. Really. You are.

So here's a gently FAQ that I wrote for my other readers on my deep, brooding blog. If you want to check me out over there, click here.

Sarah, will you still be writing your regular blog:

Yes. As much or more as I am now. Hopefully more. I’ve just been a little burned out on writing lately. I’m hoping this infuses a little more life into me creativity-wise. And that this kind of writing, a little more light hearted, will be a good thing for me personally.  I am also still writing regularly for (in)courage, Deeper Story and The Art of Simple.

What if I don’t live in Southern California? Will I still like it?

Well I hope so! Do you ever plan on visiting? Do you like seeing pretty pictures of the beach? I’m slightly kidding, but I’m not kidding. I’m primarily directing this toward people who live here in Southern California and are able to go to the places I’m featuring, but I’m hoping it will inspire people to make a trip out here as well!

I don’t live in Southern California but I live a different part of the state. Will you ever be featuring other places?

Yes and I hope so. Part of my four-pronged approach is local travel (Arts, Culture, Food and Drink, Travel). My favorite vacation destinations are all within this great state. (Is there a name for people who are prejudiced toward California?) So I’m planning on writing about nearby destinations. Also, if I’m lucky, I’d like to also take submissions from other people who live in NorCal, Central Coast, Central Valley and San Diego with their local favorites. But that will be later.

I’m a local business owner. Will you be writing about anything like that? What if I have an idea for you?

Yes. Hopefully. If you have a suggestion, whether it be a local business or event, or anything else, please email me and let me know! I’m highly curious and I have a loooong running list of places to go, people to see, things to visit so throw them at me.

Blurred Lines: Venus in Fur at the South Coast Rep

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What a smart play. Seriously smart.

That’s the first thing I thought as I left the Julianne Argyros Theater on Sunday night. Smartly written, smartly performed and so ingenious I can’t stop thinking about it.

Not heady-smart, and certainly not academia-smart. But Venus In Fur by David Ives is sociologically-smart, witty, engaging and made me think hard about women and men and the idea of who’s in charge. Should there be someone in charge? It made me think about my own relationship and ask myself the hard question, in a metaphorical sense, am I a Vanda? Do I want to be in control?

I’m not sure. Maybe. Probably not.

It is interesting that Ives’ Venus in Fur it is loosely based on a nineteenth century German erotica novel by the same name, but all the sex and sexual tension between Vanda and Thomas amounts to words, looks and emotion. There is no nudity. There is no overt sexual act the play at all, but the chemistry between the actors is as electric (almost severely so) as the chemistry between the Vanda and Severin and Vanda and Thomas.

But the blurred lines. Oh the blurred lines! And I’m not talking about a certain pop song that cost a man his marriage.  I’m talking about the play within the play, the roles within roles. I’m talking about the fact that even though the source material (the German novel) is in many ways the precursor to a modern conversation about more fringe sexual desires, Ives’ play itself, I thought, was more about the blurred lines between what we want in a relationship, what we say we want and then how we act.

I will give no spoilers (because you MUST see this without knowing the ending) but for example, Thomas’s Vanda wants to be “directed” but in the end she wants to “direct.” Thomas wants to dominate but perhaps realizes (or confesses) that that’s not exactly what he wants.

Who wins? I won’t tell you.

But isn’t that what every relationship is on some level? A play at power? Maybe you say that yours isn’t. But it just might be.

I will say that for a play with only two actors in it, I realized by the middle that these two actors (only) must carry the weight of the emotion, hold that emotional and sexual tension tightly and bring the audience to “release,” if you will, all by themselves. Jaimi Paige, as Vanda, and Graham Hamilton, as Thomas, do an amazing job during an intermissionless performance, taking us with them every step of the way. For ninety minutes they build and build and then, and as only two actors like Hamilton and Paige can do, bring the play to its proper resolution.

Venus in Fur is smart, witty and imaginative. Don’t miss out on this amazing performance.

Venus in Fur, directed by Casey Stangl, is at the South Coast Repertory on the Julianne Arygros Stage until October 26. You can buy tickets here. Because of the subject matter, this play is for adult audiences only.

All photos courtesy of South Coast Repertory.

To view their 2014/2015 season click here.

Things to Do in October in Southern California

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

October is an interesting month in Southern California.

Autumn seduces you. It says, “It might be cool, it might be sweater-weather, it might be lovely, it might be Pumpkin Spice Latte weather but it might not be.” Bam. All of a sudden it’s 100 degrees again and we are all sweating through our boots again. We go to the pumpkin patch or apple picking and our kids are yelling because it’s 105 degrees in the shade. Yes. This is SoCal.

But we manage. We make it work. We say things like “December will be better.”

And it usually is.

But I digress.  We still live in the warmest, most summer-like part of the country whilst all our friends on Instagram are sporting new Etsy scarves. So we must. Make. Do. We must make it feel like fall while battling the heat and Santa Anas at times.

So what do we do in October in Southern California?

Conffession. October has always been my favorite month because I like to write the number 10. I know. I’m odd. I remember in high school October is always the best because I can write “10” for an entire month. The perfect, evenness, and squatty personality of the number surely can’t be beat. I hate January for this reason alone.

October. What to do?

1. Pumpkins. Yes. Of course. But you don’t have to do the normal, circus-y pumpkin patch. You can head east out to Oak Glen and instead of the Apple Picking, which they are known for, you can pick your favorite pumpkin. Our favorite is Riley’s Farm. Please get the apple pie. Please. For me. In case I can’t go this year.

2. Wine tasting. All year round. But autumn is the perfect time to hit the local wineries you avoid in the spring and summer because of the heat. Our favorite Temecula winery is Wiens Family Cellars. They are known for their bold reds. Take advantage of the cooler evenings and hit them up for a tasting. On October 24th they are hosting a Refugio Vertical Wine Dinner. Click here for details. The local wineries often have festivals or live music on the weekends so call around and see what’s happening.

3. Explore new beverages. And I’m not just talking wine. I’m serious. There are a lot of snobby new ways to do coffee and tea and because we live in such a great place to explore that, take advantage of it. Pour-over coffee isn’t new, but I’m guessing some of you don’t know what I’m talking about. Figure it out. Coffee from a beer-style tap? Yes and yes. You’ll thank me. There are many in our area. Portola is one in Orange County as well as AoSA in Huntington Beach (hint: they serve Stumptown). Also my friends in LA love Intelligentsia in Silver Lake and Pasadena as well as Cafecito Ogranico both in OC and LA (they have several locations – click here).

4. While we’re talking beverages, how about some beer. Okotberfest is happening everywhere this month. Grab your favorite people and head over to a local beer garden. And I mean everywhere. Here are a few to choose from. Los Angeles: LA Oktoberfest, The Wirsthaus, The Red Lion Tavern. In Orange County: The Phoenix Club, Old World Village.

5. Halloween Type Things. I didn’t grow up really making a big deal out of Halloween, but as an adult, I’ve come to a place where I really am fascinated and intrigued by Halloween and all things October. Why not try the Day of the Dead celebration at Hollywood Forever? It’s actually on November 1 so it’s technically not in October, but by the time I post my November post it will be said and done. If you go, let me know how it is. I’m thinking about steeling myself to do it next year.

I hope you have a great October. What are you going to be doing this month?

Third Wave Coffee: I'm Late to the Party but OH Portola!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

It’s really exciting to be in a local business that is at the apex of it’s popularity and influence. The buzz, the lines out the door, the all-of-a-sudden rushes and the camaraderie among the employees is a fun thing to observe. And the way Portola Coffee Lab is set up, you feel like you’re a part of the excitement.

I know I’m a bit late to the Third Wave Coffee party but I stopped being embarrassed about being late when I started having kids several years ago. I’m sure you’ve been drinking coffee like this for years, but it’s a little like when you finally discover what ROFL means. Or LOL. Then it’s all you can do to NOT use it. Or in this case, not drink coffee like this.


At Portola, the baristas are in the middle, so you can see all the magic up close and personally. I always love watching someone do what they love; it makes you love it too. These baristas are coffee evangelists. In fact, their motto, so it seems, is “try it black.”

I’ve been a black coffee drinker twice over. Once when I gave up all creamer and sugar when I went on Weight Watchers 15 years ago and then once again 3 years ago when I began giving up processed foods one by one.

So I’ve been an I’ll-take-my-coffee-black girl for quite awhile.

All the ways that coffee is brewed, both hot and iced at Portola is enough to make a newbie like me crack. But they’re nice and they explain well, and even though they are “evangelists” as it were, I didn’t feel like they were snobby. Some of the Yelp reviews disagree with me in this regard, but my experience was great.

I ordered a Kyoto cold-brew drip. I can’t even begin to explain to you the unique taste. There is almost a tangy sweetness to it and so don’t you dare put sugar in it.  That would be like putting A1 sauce on a nice steak. Ketchup anyone?

No. Don’t do that. And yes, try it black. The coffee, that is.

They also have a Chai that I hear is wonderful so that should be my next venture when I visit.  It’s located at the super-cool, super-hipster marketplace called the OC Mix at SoCo (details below) and shares some common seating space with the nearby gelato shop, a tea shop and a wine bar. Theorem, an extension of Portola with a different vibe, is also next door.

If you enjoy coffee, every stop in Orange County must include Portola Coffee.  And I hear they’ll be opening another one up across the street from my workspace at Batch in the next few months.

Welcome to Santa Ana, Portola!

Portola Coffee Lab is located at 3313 Hyland Ave in Costa Mesa. It is inside the OC Mix in the SoCo marketplace center.

Beer Plus Hymns Equals Love

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Maybe you’re the churchy type. Maybe you’re not. Maybe you grew up singing hymns. Maybe you didn’t. It doesn’t matter. You’d have to be pulse-less not to love a good old-fashioned pub sing-along.

Gathering once a month (ish) in different parts of Orange County, Beer and Hymns OC is a collection of people who like to sing, like to drink (beer or otherwise) and like to have a great time.

On Sunday night we somewhat channeled the Irish (or the British) for the first event at Durty Nellies off of Red Hill in Costa Mesa. They opened up the bar on a Sunday night especially for us. Eighty-five people raised their glasses (I drank a Harp and possibly a bourbon) and sang together songs like “Be Thou My Vision” and “Blessed Assurance.”

We sang loud. And we sang strong. And not a one of us was drunk but who knew singing could be so much fun after a beer? I guess only EVERYONE WHO EVER DOES KAROKE, right? I digress.

This was no karoke. This wasn’t even “church” (okay, maybe for some of us it was). This was pub-singing songs that a lot of us grew up with and this was pub-singing at its best.

The band played two “sets” and by sets I mean they led the way while the crowd/choir sang louder. I’m telling you, I had never thought “In the Garden” could lend itself to a bar, but no lie, it never felt better than at Durty Nellies.

I’m so excited about this. Can you tell? You want to be there. I know you do. In fact, we can’t stop thinking about it over here at our house. And in the spirit of full disclosure, some of our besties are at the helm with this so we are fully invested.

If you're nearby, please come out in a few weeks. You will not be disappointed.

The next event is on Sunday night, October 19 at The Harp Inn in Costa Mesa. Click here for the Beer and Hymns OC Facebook, Insta, and the website with all the rest of the details.

And if you can make it in October, RSVP here!

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