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Big Fun in Little Bavaria 

Alpine Village without tears

Thursday, Oct 6 2005
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In a culturally crowded city like L.A., where Little Armenia cohabits with Thai Town in East Hollywood, and the Byzantine-Latino Quarter is just a stone’s throw from Koreatown in Pico-Union, the existence of a neighborhood-within-a-neighborhood is hardly unusual. Except, perhaps, when that home away from home is made to look like a 365-day-a-year, Bavarian-themed ski lodge right off the 110 freeway. In 1968, German transplants Hans and Teri Rotter brought back a bit of old Deutschland into sunny Torrance (home of the German American League!) when they built Alpine Village (833 W. Torrance Blvd., Torrance, 310-327-4384), making it not only another expatriate enclave but one of L.A.’s kookiest virtual tourist destinations for locals. This “Little City From the Alps,” as with most Little Anywheres, is an idyllic version of the mother country, like winter in a snow globe or spring carved out of a cuckoo clock that’s all kitsch and fantasy. More than 20 shops sell such tchotchkes as lederhosen, brindles and glazed steins, while the Alpine Market offers all foods European and beyond, from frozen Polish pierogi to Moroccan sardines. And, if getting hitched in a Vegas drive-thru doesn’t feel quaint and cozy enough for you, there’s a chapel located on-site. Now that we’re in the midst of Oktoberfest (the Mutter of all SoCal celebrations), the beer garden becomes the sight and sound of oompah-pah brass bands, bratwurst platters and the village’s own brewed hofbrau that flows like the Rhine. You’d have to be hammered to do that inexplicably popular “chicken dance,” in which drunken revelers in floppy soccer-fan hats flap their arms to polka songs. But while Alpine Village is that yearly autumn trip for most people, there’s also a dance floor full of retirees at the Alpine Village Inn for whom this place is the senior Studio 54. Serving classier Mitteleuropean fare like schnitzel, veal and goulash, the two-level restaurant — look for the giant bust of Beethoven — has three bars and will no doubt be the place to shout “Goooooal!” at the big-screen TV come next year’s World Cup. And, to be sure, there’s simply nothing more entertaining than watching elderly couples cha-cha, foxtrot and waltz to whatever song sounds like the Muzak version of “Guantanamera,” “Lady of Spain” or “Volare.” Just study the way the couples pivot and turn and dip like they’re on a bad ballroom-dancing TV special, only minus the costumes and nuclear-orange tans. Or the way the fan lady fans herself as if she were a Spanish señora, gliding along the dance floor while stray kids fleeing the 75th-birthday tables get caught under her feet. Get out of the way! Not in front of the fan lady!

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Reach the writer at sbabayan@laweekly.com

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