By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Glenn von Kickel has immortalized plenty of celebs in his 25 years as an artist. He’s done President Clinton, Burt Reynolds, Marilyn Manson, Mr. T and Steven Spielberg, among others. And he’s sculpted everything from boats to cars to musical instruments. But there’s a special ingredient to his masterpieces: cake. From his Cake and Art (8709 Santa Monica Blvd., 310-657-8694)shop, von Kickel can create literally anything with cake: the Getty Museum, toothbrushes, atomic explosions, mermaids and the entire animal kingdom. If you simply pointed to the sky he could probably whip up some sort of heavenly concoction. Von Kickel hand-paints the colors and designs on his white, lemon, carrot and chocolate cakes, which go for anywhere from $15 to $5,000. The 800-pound carousel-shaped carrot cake he created for Casey Kasem served 2,000. You might dispense with the traditional three-tiered wedding cake and opt for one of von Kickelclever specialties: a man and a woman in a bathtub. And then there’s the X-rated menu of body parts and various sex acts. Yes boobs, balls, bestiality and other erotic-themed eats go flying out the door, especially come bachelorette season.
Each morning, a table at the entrance of the Chabad Russian Jewish Community Center and Synagogue (7636 Santa Monica Blvd.; 323-848-2999)is covered with loaves of bread free to anyone hungry who wanders in. Hundreds of people come here on any given day to worship in the corner synagogue, learn a new language, dance, play chess, or just chat with the locals. For the 3,500 Russian immigrants in West Hollywood and thousands of others in L.A. adjusting to life in a new country, this has been their all-purpose meeting place for the past nine years. Founded by Russian émigré Rabbi Naftoli Estulin, the center moved from several old locations, finding its permanent home in a former auto-repair shop. It offers an almost endless list of services: sports camp, summer job placement with the county, senior citizens program, wedding and funeral services, clothing and furniture distribution, circumcision for infants and adults, and a citizenship program with the INS, among others. To date, more than 30,000 people have become citizens with the Chabad’s assistance. Because religious practices were so rigorously supressed by communists, families under former Soviet rule often arrive with little knowledge of their religion or traditions. So education is an integral part of the center’s curriculum, which includes a Russian-language library at 7414 Santa Monica Blvd., classes in Russian, Hebrew, Yiddish and English, as well as prayers and the history of Jewish holidays. The Chabad Russian Synagogue, usually open till midnight, has a memorial for the millions of Eastern European Jews killed in the Holocaust.
Refining the premise behind the usual head shop, the Galaxy Gallery (7224 Melrose Ave.; 323-938-6500)offers an espresso bar and comfy couches in its "Chronic Café," along with the regular assortment of glass pieces and paraphernalia found in most head shops. The café serves the normal blends, plus its own hemp coffee, and it can’t be said enough times how cozy the couches are. They make you want to stretch out and light up. The shop cries out for conversation with its cool, browser-friendly vibe, a rotation of local artists’ works on the wall, live music several times a month and, hopefully, a comfortable refuge from the standard head shop full of whips and strap-ons. Russ Cress, who three years ago opened the joint, wanted to "bring in the more intellectual side of the culture, instead of just the Beavis and Buttheads all the time."
L.A.’s music scene has watched the passing of the sitar and the 15-minute drum solo, but the guitar remains a tool that endures, even at its Motley Crue worst. With this in mind, the seven shops of Guitar Row, on the 7000 block of the Sunset Strip, have been the best places in L.A. to consummate your guitar love. The Wal-Mart of guitar shops, the original Guitar Center (7425 Sunset Blvd.; 323-874-1060), has been L.A.’s music capital since ’64, when it stopped selling organs and followed the money. No need for Celine Dion background music here, in arguably the cheapest place to hear live music in L.A., with half a dozen tunes being strummed at once on some of the 1,500 guitars in the store ($149 to $100,000). Outside on the sidewalk you can browse over the palms of the masters on the famous Rockwalk. Down the street you’ll find a number of small shops that have prospered despite their more mass-market neighbor. Freedom Guitar (7501 Sunset Blvd.; 323-874-4876) specializes in retaining long-term customers and luring in newcomers. While business today cannot match the boom of the ’80s, Freedom’s been able to find a niche among the monopoly-hungry corporations. Carvin (7414 Sunset Blvd.; 323-851-4200)sells only Carvin guitars, and is a good place to find a bass. Johnny Guitar (7500½ Sunset Blvd.; 323-969-8555)caters to metal heads, with an amazing graffiti-art mural outside.
Klezmer’s buoyant wailing pours out of speakers from Hatikvah (436 N. Fairfax Ave.; 323-655-7083) sucking in passersby like a musical vacuum. Part music store, part Library of Congress, and part local landmark, Hatikvah (meaning "The Hope" in Hebrew, and also the name of Israel’s national anthem) has the world’s largest collection of Jewish music on CDs, cassettes and video. There are Hassidic standards, baroque Jewish music, cantorial (for religious services), Ladino (combination of Castilian and Hebrew from Spanish Jews) and, of course, klezmer. Hatikvah’s klezmer — the bittersweet folk instrumentals born out of Eastern European villages — goes as far back as the early 1900s and up to current bands like the Klezmatics and Klezmer Conservatory Band. Israeli pop stars Zehava Ben, Yehoram Gaon and the late Israeli Yemenite singer Ofra Haza share shelf space with old-timers like Moishe Oysher and swing/big-band singers the Barry Sisters. Want Johnny Mathis singing in Yiddish or 2 Live Jews’ rap-parody As Kosher as They Wanna Be? No problem. Back when it was called Norty’s Music Center, this was a hangout for a young Herb Alpert and Phil Spector, and also where Jerry Leiber once worked, eventually going on to meet songwriting partner Mike Stoller here, too.