Category Archives: La-La

How journalism can survive

“This company, indeed, this industry, must invest more in solid, relevant journalism. We must integrate the speed and agility of the Internet with the news judgment and editorial values of the newsroom, values that are more important than ever as the hunger for news continues to surge and gossip pollutes the information atmosphere. Even in hard times, wise investment — not retraction – is the long-term answer to the industry’s troubles.”

Jim O’Shea gets it, and for that he was fired.

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Hollwood is for (movie) lovers

Despite my ongoing love-hate relationship with this town (where “love” means “feel indifferent”), I will confess that this is a great town for movie lovers, even if you’re not interested in making movies but just enjoy watching them. The studios and the major film archives are right here, so rare or recently restored prints are common. Studios unveil works in progress or otherwise-unreleased films on a regular basis. There are tons of theaters dedicated to showing films for film lovers and not just the latest blockbuster.

Case(s) in point: on Tuesday night I took in the nerdtacular double feature of Tron and The Last Starfighter at the New Beverly, a single-screen theater that doesn’t seem like it’s changed much since those movies were in their first runs. It was great fun, laughing at the ridiculously cheesy parts of those films (“Greetings, programs!”) while reliving some of the excitement we felt when we first watched them. (Unsurprisingly, the male-to-female ratio at this screening was unbelievably high.) Then last night we ventured to the Aero for a sold-out screening of Hotel Chevalier and The Darjeeling Limitedfollowed by a chat with Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, and Wally Wolodarsky. There have been two advance screenings of Control, the Ian Curtis biopic, in the last week. Earlier this year we saw Brand Upon the Brain, Guy Madden’s latest film, accompanied by a live orchestra and live foley artists. These kinds of things are so rare in SF, and yet down here screenings of rare prints, in-person appearances, and other activities for film lovers are rather commonplace.

Bowery: A rant

“Just so you know for next time….”

I hate hearing that phrase pass through the lips of any waiter or other restaurant employee, because (1) it means they’re about to blame you for their mistakes and (2) they presume you’ll be coming back, the chances of which drop dramatically once they start talking down to you.

Last weekend we heard it not once but twice, from first our server and then the bar manager at Bowery restaurant near the Arclight. I’d been wanting to check it out for a while and had read that the burgers in particular were tasty, so we went there to grab a bite after seeing a movie.

We walked in, digging the sleek New York vibe, courtesy of white subway tiles and a long, dark bar. After we were seated we glanced over the drinks listed on a chalkboard on the wall, only to realize that they offered no beers on tap–not even Stella or Amstel, which for a bar in Hollywood is shocking. Strike one.

D and I ordered the hamburgers we’d read so much about; he asked for medium, I asked for medium-well. The food took a while to arrive, but we were content to munch on sweet potato fries as an appetizer while drinking our (bottled) beer. When the burgers finally arrived, I joked that I shouldn’t have ordered mediuem-well–my burger looked like a charred hockey puck. I took a bite: hmm, curious, the interior of this burger is kinda pink. Like, a hair’s breadth on the medium side of medium rare. About the time I was realizing this I heard an exclamation of consternation from D, who was pulling back from a mouthful of rare ground beef, blood and juices dripping onto his plate.

D did his best to pick out the few cooked bits while we waited for our server to come back. When she did, we explained the situation and she apologized but looked a little pissed off. I don’t think she was angry with us, though–I got a feeling that this had happened before and she was angry with the kitchen for sending out uncooked food, which undoubtedly would lead to a decreased tip. I told her my burger was also undercooked but didn’t need to be sent back; D’s was carried back to the kitchen to be cooked a little longer.

About five minutes later the plate came out again, and I should emphasize that this was the same plate. The same plate covered in blood and uncooked meat, which had been jostled around so much that the juices ran into the accompanying salad, rendering the greens inedible. As she set it down, the waitress said, “Just so you know, the burgers here will always be a little undercooked, because we use such high-quality meat.” Gee, waitress, that would have been good information to have at the front end, when we placed the order and you asked us how we’d like it cooked.

D takes a bite as the table hangs in anticipation: slightly more cooked, but by any definition (except, apparently, Bowery’s) it was still rare! As we debated our next course of action (dare we send it back yet again?) the manager of the restaurant approached our table. “Sorry about that, I wanted you to know that I knocked off half the price of the burger, given that it wasn’t cooked to your liking.” Ah, yes, that’s proper service! “Just so you know for next time,” (uh oh) “we use a really high-quality meat here, so the owners are always telling the cooks not to overcook the meat. I know it might be a little pinker than you’re used to, but it’s really high-quality meat so you don’t have to worry.”

Seriously? You use a “higher-quality meat” and therefore are not subject to all norms and standards for cooking food to order? And we are in the wrong for wanting our meat to be cooked without shouting distance of the doneness we requested? And yet you don’t explain your “high-quality meat” until after you’ve failed to meet a customer’s expectations and put a damper on their dining experience in your restaurant?

So, yeah. We left a far smaller tip than we have in a long time, then dashed down the street to the Cat & Fiddle, where we could get a proper Guinness in the outdoor courtyard. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I guess, but next time we’re looking for apres-movie dining, we’ll just go straight to the pub grub at Cat & Fiddle.

Dear neighbor:

Your liberal use of fabric softener has almost knocked me unconscious. When we moved into the apartment above the laundry room, I knew I was signing on for a certain amount of dryer exhaust to seep through my open windows, and our bedroom regularly fills with eau d’laundree. But today the scent is so overpowering it smells like I’m sitting in a bath of fabric softener. Or doing lines of Downy like I was Lindsay Lohan on a bender.

Accounting

Number of hours I waited in line for a Pinks famous hot dog: 2*

Number of minutes it took for me to eat: 7, tops

Cost of  my chili dog with sauerkraut: $3.15

Number of times I heard the word “heartburn” while waiting in line: 3

Number of times I heard the word “heartburn” while eating: 1

Actual heartburn experienced: 0 (so far)

Number of times I plan to return: 0**

* I readily acknowledge that this is ridiculous. There’s always a line at Pink’s so I was prepared to wait at least 45 minutes. At the 45-minute mark I was about 2/3 of the way to the front, and once you’re that far in it’s hard to bail. If only I’d known that my advancement up until that point was largely due to attrition of customers in front of me who’d grown tired of waiting.

** I’m glad to have finally tried the dog everyone’s talked about, but it honestly isn’t worth waiting for. Sure, it has nice “pop” (what is the obsession with hot dogs that pop anyway?) and the chili was pretty flavorful. But everything else about the dog was kind of bland. Give me the spicy chili of Carneys–where, btw, I’ve never had to wait.

Drinking downtown

So I was bummed about missing Jonathan Gold, but happy to have even more time to check out some downtown bars. There’s a bit of a resurgence of drinking establishments downtown, but I don’t make it that far east very often, so I was psyched to have an excuse to hit some bars.

When we left the library there was still some light in the sky so we went to the rooftop bar at the Standard. Even though I act the jaded urban dweller I have to confess that it was supremely cool to be hanging out so high above downtown, surrounded by even higher buildings. And the whole jet-set swanky decor was too pitch-perfect to seem annoyingly contrived. It felt like I was a guest at the coolest summer party ever. Sure, the (tiny, overpriced) Manhattan I ordered seemed a little watered down, but that was a good thing because I had to drive home.

And because we had plans to follow up with a trip to the Standard’s polar opposite, the Library Bar. Which was all warm and cozy and pitch-perfect in a different way–like a sophisticated pied-a-terre in a cosmopolitan city. (I’m thinking it’ll hit the spot even better in wintertime.) About the only thing I didn’t like was the TV hanging over the bar, which I will grant may be a necessity for downtown happy hour–but for chrissake turn the thing off after 7pm!  I’d heard that the beer sommelier from Father’s Office had moved here, so I was expecting a long list of hard-to-find brews. The Library’s list is much shorter than FO, but they do carry the hard-to-find Craftsman beers. Being in the mood for something dark and broody, though, I ordered the always-good Old Rasputin Stout, which was smooth and chocolately from the tap.

Once we got out of the line at the library, it turned into a stellar night. If it hadn’t been a weeknight and I hadn’t had to drive home (curse Los Angeles and its car culture!) I’d have hustled on over to Seven Grand, just to scratch one more Downtown Bar off my list of Places to Check Out. But I’m also happy to leave something left to explore.

On not meeting Jonathan Gold

Last Friday I saw a listing that said Pulitzer Prize-winner Jonathan Gold, who is without a doubt the best food writer in the nation (his evocative writing and obvious love for LA are what I turn to when I need reassurances that LA has something good to offer me) was going to be interviewed on stage at the Central Library tonight. I went to the organizer’s site to make my free reservation but received an e-mail that said due to overwhelming interest, blah, blah…we’d have to show up at 6:00 to get on the standby list. This afternoon I packed up my laptop and headed downtown, figuring I’d beat rush hour, finish up my work day on the library’s wireless, then go down around 5:30 to get in the standby line.

I wound up being #2 in line, behind this hippy-looking, energetic woman, about five feet tall with long brown hair that was greying on top. She seemed normal enough when we started chatting, but then she just didn’t stop talking, and she became more and more insane the more she talked. She shared her opinion on immigrants: she herself is the child of a South American immigrant, but she can’t stand people who come to this country and never learn English. Not the Armenians and Russians who live near her in Glendale, they’re serious, studious people, and most of them speak English or at least try. She just doesn’t like the lazy Spanish speakers who come to America but don’t speak any English. Pretty soon Spanish will be the predominant language in the United States and that just isn’t right.

Oooooookay. I steer the conversation to what I think are neutral waters, talking about the library. She tells me about the libraries near her, and I offer up that I live in West Hollywood. Her eyes light up. “I used to live in West Hollywood!” she exclaims. I smile, thinking we’ve found a subject that we can sustain with light chit-chat until my friends arrive. “That’s where Vanity Fair and the other parties are. I love to go to events, like the one tonight. I met Ringo Starr by accident at an event in West Hollywood.” I expressed surprise. “There’s a little log cabin building there on Robertson near Melrose and I always wondered what it was,” she said. I knew the building, a meetinghouse of some sort. “Turns out it’s where the AA meetings are. So I went to a few, and you know, there are all these skinny women, the actresses, who work in soaps and things.” She proceeded to describe the people she’d seen at the WeHo AA meetings like it was a party she had been fortunate enough to be invited to. “One time there was this guy there who had this British accent, and as he talked I placed it as a Liverpudlian accent. And I thought no, it couldn’t be, but then he stood up and said, ‘My name is Richard and I’m an alcoholic.’ I thought, Ringo Starr’s real name is Richard Starkey. Of course he didn’t say his last name, because I guess they don’t do that, but I was pretty sure it was him.”

Honestly, Reader, what can you say? When I related this to my friends later, one suggested that I should have replied, “You know, I’m in AA and I don’t take the tenet of anonymity lightly. I can’t believe you would attend an anonymous support meeting just to gawk.” How I wish I’d been so quick-thinking. But I was like a frog in a pot of hot water that doesn’t realize it’s being boiled to death; I started listening to a seemingly sane person, and I was only partly aware that the longer I talked to her the more insane she became. By the time my friends arrived she was all wound up, and I thought we could safely ignore her. But in the end she was so manic that she yelled at us for standing too close to her, and insisted that we listen to the reason she left all that space around her. Psycho!

Aside from Crazy Lady the whole event was very poorly organized. The line was chaotic and no volunteers were assigned to crowd control. I didn’t really worry about it because my friends and I were 2, 3, and 4 in line for standby, and given that the RSVP was free I figured there’d be a lot of no-shows. But after standing in line for an hour, and even as the line of people with reservations still snaked down the hall, we were told that there would be no room for standbys. “Don’t you have to seat all the reserved people in order to know that there’s no room left?” my friend asked the organizer. “No, we’re full right now,” was the reply. They’d overbooked AND told people they could show up for standby. So in addition to us hopefuls, about 30 people who even had confirmed reservations were being turned away. Fortunately we knew it was a roll of the dice when we showed up, so we were OK with just moving on to a few bars in the neighborhood.

Tomorrow: where we drank.