The great thing about LA nightlife is that each little city in the LA area has its own bar & club scene. After being here for half a month, I have come to learn that you can truly never get bored of LA at night.
On my first night in Hollywood, I ended up meeting and, thank God!, watching my new favorite band Purple Melon perform live at The Viper Room. I would later find out that an MTV crew was there and the show ended up on this week’s episode of The Hills. Though I am not really a reality TV person, I watched the show just to relive some of the raw excitement of that night, when I discovered a band that is truly unique.
In retrospect, this seems like the true LA experience; rockers, camera crews, and MTV. The following night was a bit different. At the concert, we had met these cool group of Canada-based Serbians and Croatians. We wanted to get together, and they were going to visit some friends out in Pasadena. My friends said Pasadena at night was really cool, so, it was settled.
Now, the only thing I remembered about Pasadena, before going there, was that the ruthless Hollywood producer played by Tim Robbins (now separated from Susan; sad news…) in Altman’s MAGNIFICENT ‘The Player” kills his writer out on a parking lot by an art movie theater in Pasadena, where he had been watching the italian classic “Bicycle Thief” (one of me and my 5 year old niece’s favorite movies: she watches it in Italian, doesn’t understand a word and still loves it! Now that is what I call masterful filmmaking…)
So, I expected to find basically deserted parking lots and art house theaters, but Pasadena’s Main street was bustling with people walking from one bar to the other. This was a busy nightlife scene. We looked around; our new friends were only coming later, so, we decided to go have some Spanish tapas at Bar Celona (clever name, ain’t that?).
Bar Celona had a very Spanish feel to it, and it reminded a bit of this fabulous Basque cuisine place I once visited near the Ramblas in that glorious Spanish town. Our waiter was, of course, hispanic, but for some reason he would only speak to us in English. That reminded me of when I worked on cruise ships and we were not supposed to speak our own language in guest areas, so, I thought, “oh, maybe he’s not allowed”, but then I realized the cruise ship employee mentality had gotten a hold of me: in the restaurant business, it is supposed to be an advantage to know another language, right? Well, for whatever reason, this guy who had a quintessential Mexican look, would only speak to us in English, and that was that.
The service (in whatever language) was extremely good. My friends had clear Sangria, which is what we call Clerico at home. It was actually too sweet and very light on the wine side. Luckily, I had ordered a glass of Merlot, which was far better than the sangria. As a cocktail mixing enthusiast, let me digress here and give you a good recipe for CLERICO (my sister-in-law Caro makes the best one, though): 2 liters of white table wine. Use dry as opposed to sweet wine for better results. Pour the wine into a bowl, add grapes, cherries and diced peaches and pineapples in syrup. Use some of the fruit syrup for sweetening instead of sugar. Add ice, let it sit for a while, and you are all set! (Awesome drink for a summer sunset, trust me).
Although our Pasadena clerico wasn’t very good, I ordered some grilled shrimp (still on the no-flour diet -it’s working wonders, I’ll show you sometime) that was the best I have had so far in California. Garlicky, of course, as all Spanish food should be, it was as fantastic as it was scarce… My tip if you go to Barcelona is just order two of those upfront. Totally worth it.
With our hearts happy and our stomachs full, we proceeded to the other side of Bar Celona, which was complete with a dance floor. It was quite busy, but we thought the people there looked a bit bored, for some reason. So, we decided to check out Pasadena’s home of Karaoke, namely Barney’s beanery.
Now, being Latin American, I am not a big fan of the whole karaoke situation, but we thought it might be fun to watch people embarrass themselves singing (yeah, we are mean), so we headed down to Barney’s beanery, which was a couple of blocks away. Our walk was quite colorful. I guess it is always surprising and actually cool when you see people actually walking on the street in LA, because there are whole areas where there are only cars on the street. Some party boys, hobos, insane asylum escapees, and one Italian ice cream later, we entered the den of Barney.
The bar was huge. It had comfy booths lined up along the longest bar. I didn’t much care for the million TVs on different channels, but that’s just me. When I thought of karaoke, I had imagined an organized setting where people would go singing one by one. Well, that was not the case at Barney’s. Apparently, the Pasadena way (at least at 10 pm on a Saturday night) is for everyone who has had that extra drink to crowd around one mike and sing the cheesiest songs available on the playlist. In a weird way, it was actually kind of fun to watch this for a couple of minutes; at least we could lip sync to the songs…
When we had had enough, we went upstairs and secured a prime location booth. We had each our favorite beer and just had a good time amongst ourselves until we started being harassed by this really drunken fireman who insisted on lifting his shirt to show us his muscles. He was still there when our Croatian and Serbian arrived. As clueless as I usually am, I didn’t recognize them from the night before, when they sat down in our booth, Luckily my friend Veronica did, and they didn’t notice.
These guys were amazing. One of them was a soccer player (or had been, I forget) like my also Croatian Canadian friend Josip. The other one was now a music teacher, composer,and what not in Canada. He had been living in LA for a while, and he had been part of a band called Million Dollar Mouth. They were just really interesting people to talk to. My favorite story was how they had met this stereotype of a blonde bimbo (said by a blonde, hey..) at the beach and, when they mentioned where they were from, she asked “what side of the wall are you on?” I believe comments are not required; the girls spoke for herself. I guess she had missed XXth century history 101…
After a while, and one or two more beers (well, you see, I CAN’T DRIVE, so, that’s easy for me), the boys were hungry and we decided to go look for a place. We asked around and were directed to a sushi place that was supposed to be open still. (This was probably 2 or 3 AM). The place smelt like fish A LOT, and we passed. As there was nothing suitable in Pasadena, we drove out somewhere I don’t remember to a restaurant that is open 24 hours, where we were waited on by a lovely black waiter called Edgar. He had commented on how cool the new Canadian bills looked, when our friend Vanja took out his wallet, so, we got a big smile from him when he discovered one of them in his tip. We had some amazing conversations, and I could see us hanging out with the boys a lot in the future; but, alas, this was Pasadena, California, and everyone is a tourist! They were going back to Canada on Monday.
Later that night, the boys drove out from Pasadena to Santa Barbara. They invited us, but I had to work on my film the next morning. I sort of felt sorry that I didn’t join in the adventure, but yesterday, when my private test screening went really well, I knew I had done the right thing.
Goodbye Pasadena, goodbye Andre, goodbye Vanja. Hope to see you all soon, though, I still have to check out the Studio City and the Santa Monica nightlife…