Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
What Todd Ray and his clan have created is nothing short of astounding: That a pricey slice of Venice boardwalk could offer wonders of the world, with a $5 entry fee, is a feat worth of Ripley himself. But Ray's Venice Beach Freak Show beats the Believe It or Not behemoth on all fronts. Ray possesses not only the world's largest collection of "pitch cards" (souvenirs touting individual circus and sideshow performers) but the world's largest collection of two-headed animals — living and deceased – as well. Ray's collection is so large that displays are rotated — with pickled punks, cyclops pigs, big-top miniatures, John Merrick memorabilia (the Elephant Man to you), Fiji mermaids, even a skeleton of a human "Y monster." On any given day, you may be entertained by the world's youngest sword swallower while Larry Gomez, Mexico's Wolf Boy, mills about. "This is a magical planet," Ray states emphatically. Of his collection, as with reality, he says, "You don't know what's real and what's not. You only think you know. If you've lost your sense of wonder, you'll find it here." 909 Ocean Front Walk, Venice. (310) 314-1808, facebook.com/people/Venice-Beach-Freakshow/570526448.
Leave the appletinis and gossip to the Sex and the City gals — this ladies' night is more about IPAs and home-brewing tips. Every third Wednesday of the month gals are invited to Eagle Rock Brewery for the Women's Beer Forum, to taste, learn about and discuss rare and delicious craft beers. You need not be a microbrew enthusiast to attend. The event is as much for the beer-curious as it is for aficionados. Venue co-owner Ting Su founded the forum last March, in part to educate ladies about beer in a space that feels less judgmental than, say, that sketchy dive bar on your block. It draws a diverse crowd, and serves as a rare opportunity for suds-minded women in L.A. to meet each other and make new friends. There's nothing but beer on the agenda, but, sorry fellas — no boys allowed. 3056 Roswell St., Atwater Village. (323) 257-7866, eaglerockbrewery.com.
Harsh morning sunlight bouncing off unforgiving concrete makes Hollywood hangovers a little bit crueler than the rest. Escape your unfortunate present by hauling your half-drunk ass up the El Capitan Theater steps to a 1920s movie palace balcony — a creature all but extinct — and into a Hollywood past preserved in amber. Leave the world of screaming kids and half-remembered regrets far below as you ascend ever closer to the ornate East Indian ceiling that speaks to a bygone exoticism and never judges you. Nurse your heavy head in the cool darkness as the dulcet tones of the Mighty Wurlitzer waft their way up to you before the curtains part and you drift off into a hazy past when seeing a movie was A Big Deal. Time your visit for those in-between weeks and you're rewarded with an old hand-drawn animated classic lovingly crafted by Disney's Nine Old Men. Hydrate well from your lofty vantage point, and by the time you are awoken from your reverie and re-enter the bright world of the present, you'll feel better about the town you decided to call home. Forget your troubles, and come get Dopey. 6838 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd. (818) 845-3110, elcapitan.go.com.
Although the Museum of Neon Art is moving to Glendale, its incredibly fun downtown bus tours continue. Start out with a little social and liquid lubrication, aka drinks and appetizers, before climbing onto an open-top double-decker bus to cruise the streets of L.A. for two hours in search of the city's best neon art. Well-versed docents help you discover both the history of neon and Los Angeles as seen through its old neon signs. Akin to the L.A. Conservancy in its efforts, the museum's mission statement proclaims that it "encourages learning and curiosity through the preservation, collection and interpretation of neon art." Judging by its blast of a bus tour, it's fulfilling that mission. Visit its website for an entertainingly informative explanation of how neon really works. (Yes, I'm a geek.) 136 W. Fourth St., dwntwn.; neonmona.org.
I am always amazed at how many people don't seem to know about the Craft and Folk Art Museum. With a fascinating history — it began in 1965 as The Egg and The Eye, an avant-garde café and shop — and a forward-thinking philosophy, this incredibly intimate gem of a museum was capturing the beauty and artistic integrity of the functional and international before anyone either promoted or protested the ideals of globalization. From Joseph Cornell's shadow boxes to a just-closed show of Jennifer Angus' extraordinary insect installations, this tiny museum, which feels like an uber-hip New York art gallery, presents some of the most expertly curated shows around. With affordable craft classes for both children and adults, this is one museum you owe it to yourself to visit and join. 5814 Wilshire Blvd., Miracle Mile. (323) 937-4230, cafam.org.
Sure, you've let your children blow off steam running through the outside spray fountains. And I know you've explored the interactive exhibits about bugs. But did you know you also can barter some of those curious seedpods and snakeskins you found on your last hike? Kidspace Museum's Nature Exchange allows you to trade your wild discoveries for other natural treasures such as polished minerals, shells and fossils. You are allowed to bring in three items at a time, and points are given based on both the item's rarity and your child's ability to explain it. The more research you've done together — they even have field guides there to help you look up all your finds — the better. By the way, ask me the history of ginkgo trees. 480 N. Arroyo Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 449-9144, kidspacemuseum.org.
For anyone who thinks local history is limited to the Walk of Fame, Disneyland and Grauman's Chinese, the Da Camera Society unearths L.A.'s best hidden landmarks with its live performance series Chamber Music in Historic Sites. Founded at Mount St. Mary's College in 1973, the Da Camera Society takes its name from musica da camera, a 17th-century Italian term for chamber music. The organization reinvigorates the classical tradition by bringing it away from the auditoriums and back into the "chambers" of today — including the Bradbury Building, the L.A. Zoo and the Pompeian Room at the Doheny Mansion‚ an Eisen & Hunt building with a massive Tiffany glass ceiling. Highlights from the Da Camera Society's most recent concert series include the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra at the new LAPD Headquarters downtown; Tanya Tomkins on Baroque cello at the former Flintridge Biltmore Hotel; and the Harlem Gospel Choir at the Trinity Baptist Church in Jefferson Park. 10 Chester Place, University Park. (213) 477-2929, dacamera.org.
—Tanja M. Laden
Before he dreamt up the Chinese Theatre or El Capitan, legendary entertainment impresario Sid Grauman built the Egyptian Theatre, two years before the 1924 discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb ignited a worldwide design craze inspired by King Tut's treasures. The lavish, artfully decorated theater was the site of the first Hollywood film premiere, screening Robin Hood with Douglas Fairbanks in 1922. Today, it's home to the American Cinematheque, a nonprofit that's been operating the Egyptian since 1998, when it wrapped a $12.9 million renovation of the sprawling movie house. The American Cinematheque is an independent cultural organization that's all about screening new releases and revivals, programming regular film fests that showcase niche genres such as film noir, Italian horror and British rock flicks, just to name a few. While other historic L.A.-based theaters have turned into electronics stores, evangelical churches or seedy nightclubs, the Egyptian is one of the few movie palaces that's still actually a movie palace, and in a city fond of systematically striking down landmarks, that means something. 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd. (323) 461-2020, americancinemathequecalendar.com/egyptian_theatre_events.
—Tanja M. Laden
On the 13th of each month, this band of urbane spook-splorers converge for cocktails at a different haunted SoCal locale, from a hanging tree in Calabasas to the coffin-shaped pool of the Figueroa Hotel (a suicide jumper favorite). The "Spirits With Spirits" mixers, like all Ghost Hunters of Urban Los Angeles (GHOULA) events, have "a certain ghoul-rilla aspect" to them, co-founder Richard Carradine says. The group has a way of uncovering places you didn't know about, or at least didn't realize had been touched by death's spectral embrace. Seasonal events — like the Ouija Board Exchange Program and renegade film screenings — keep things hopping. GHOULA's new tour company — offering bus tours, walking tours, interactive tours and special events — melds imagination, expert guides and reasonable prices ($13 and up), focusing on the paranormal, the twisted and the quirky, and offering the first UFO-themed tour in town. ghoula.org.
Maximillian Gallery at the Sunset Marquis might at first blush seem like an anomaly — a gallery in an upscale boutique hotel showing Shepard Fairey, Destroy All Design, COPE2, CYRCLE, Gregory Siff and Desire Obtain Cherish instead of bejeweled eggs, bronze cheetahs and happy landscapes. But in reality, this model is the harbinger of the future wherein street art has been accepted into the mainstream, for better or worse, and thus serious art dealers begin the work of placing it in the lineage of art history, among certain strains of abstraction and text-based painting. And Maximillian Gallery's founder and director, the one-named impresario known as Caradoc, is just the man for the job, having grown up in Paris, New York and L.A. with artist parents and a grandmother (Esther Robles) whose La Cienega gallery represented the top artists of the 1950s and '60s. "You could say art is in my DNA and I've been inspired by it my entire life, especially from emerging artists." And right now, that means street artists. "I wanted to create a high-end, intimate, yet accessible gallery like the ones I remember visiting. One of the amazing things about being at the iconic Sunset Marquis is that the most interesting people from all over the world come here and discover these artists." 1200 Alta Loma Road, W. Hlywd. (310) 881-6025, maximilliangallery.com.
—Shana Nys Dambrot
Boyle Heights' Corazon del Pueblo bills itself as an arts, education and action collective, which is another way of saying it's a bilingual clubhouse for the neighborhood, and the city beyond. Contemporary local art adorns the walls. A variety of classes meet regularly. The semiweekly "Flowers of Fire" open-mic Wednesdays spill over onto the sidewalk and into Thursday morning. Like its '80s neighbor in space if not in time, the great Cafe Cultural, Corazon also gives a leg up to other useful neighborhood phenomena, such as the brilliantly named Ovarian Psycos (ovarianpsycos.com), an all-female bike brigade. In a too-suspicious city, Corazon del Pueblo radiates hospitality. 2003 E. 1st St., Boyle Heights. (323) 780-9089, facebook.com/corazondelpueblo.
If you've ever stopped in at 2000 Avenue of the Stars — the Century City monument that houses CAA — you know it resembles a spooky megachurch, a temple devoted to the glory of the Hollywood hustle. But climb a nearby flight of stairs and cross a small courtyard, and you'll find a chapel of an entirely different sort. The Annenberg Space for Photography hosts photo exhibits and lectures, adding a splash of color to the chrome and glass surroundings. The current exhibition, "Beauty Culture" (up through the end of November), examines Western standards of attractiveness through fashion stills and video. The photographs provide a welcome relief from the corporate materialism that abounds here — until you remember that sex also counts as a kind of currency. Whatever. Entrance to the museum is free, and parking will run you just $1-$3.50, depending on the time of day. 2000 Avenue of the Stars, #10, Century City. (213) 403-3000, annenbergspaceforphotography.org.