Best of L.A.

Best Of 2013

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Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment

Best Open Jamming

The jam sessions at Petie's Place in Tarzana are noncompetitive, so don't be scared. Held on Wednesdays, they're hosted by Amy Licence and Rob Sisino, with house drummer Jim Xavier providing assistance. The venue provides drums, amps and PA; all you need bring is your instrument or drumsticks. (And, of course, your vocal cords, should you be inclined to sing.) Other than that, come as you are. Many in attendance are musicians who are there just to jam, while others arrive in groups to showcase their work. It can feel a bit like karaoke, only more inspired. One recent night a local belted out some Blondie, followed by a blonde in thigh-high white boots and hot pants doing ZZ Top, backed by a bass player and a guitarist. Because, why not? 6025 Reseda Blvd., Tarzana. (818) 708-7773, facebook.com/pages/Peties-Place-Open-Jam-Night/592094260815360. —Norm Jenssen

6025 Reseda Blvd., Los Angeles, 91356
MAP
818-708-7773
Best Place to Go Brazilian
Brasil Brasil Cultural Center

Ask the average American to describe the culture of Brazil and he or she may cite the bikinis of Ipanema and Copacabana, the gang violence of the favelas, the popular beauty-salon waxing trend or the off-Strip Vegas casino called Rio. Brasil Brasil Cultural Center is here to spread the rich, authentic and energizing traditions of the proud, ethnically mixed South American nation. Launched by husband and wife Amen and Nayla Eva Santo almost 25 years ago, BBCS is a spacious cultural and community center, which spreads and shares Afro-Brazilian culture through classes in capoeira (a dance/martial arts hybrid), samba, belly dance, Zumba, kickboxing, multiple musical styles and fitness and language instruction. Pra caramba! 11928 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City. (310) 397-3667, brasilbrasil.org. —Adam Gropman

11928 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City, 90230
MAP
310-397-3667
Best Music Class for Toddlers
Scruffin Rock

Let's face it, baby music can be a nightmare. Less Wiggles, more rock, right, parents? If only kids could develop the same taste in classic jams that we have. Well, in fact, they can, especially if they're students in Julie Ingram's Scruffin Rock class. Classically trained, with a master's degree in music, Ingram has created a program akin to those Pixar movies that sneak innuendo into their dialogue: entertaining for your kiddo but with elements even adults can enjoy. Toddlers in Scruffin Rock sing, dance and learn rhythm and melody via music inspired by rockers such as Chuck Berry, The Go-Go's, Big Mama Thornton and Neil Young. It may look like they're just batting kiddie tambourines, but they're really learning the fundamentals of good music. With any luck, it will counteract the Bieber craze you know is coming. 3141 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village, facebook.com/pages/Scruffin-Rock/109744712416682. —Ali Trachta

3141 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles, 90039
MAP
323-669-2821
Best Do-It-Yourself Crafts
Duff's Cakemix
Photo: Diamond Bodine-Fischer

Need an activity that will entertain everyone from your mom to your 8-year-old cousin? Just love being crafty? If you answered yes, then Duff's Cakemix is your place. Located on Melrose Avenue at Sweetzer, it's not far from some of the most popular designer shops in Los Angeles. At Duff's Cakemix you're first given a "Kit Menu" from which you choose your cake size, flavor, filling and canvas (buttercream or fondant icing). Once you've decided on your foundation and gathered your decorating materials from the decorating bar, the team of trained pros at Cakemix helps you as much (or as little) as you please. With the assistance of Duff Goldman's Cakemix crew and its collection of decorating tools — which includes everything from cookie cutters to an airbrush station — even the uninitiated and untalented can create a cake that will impress. 8302 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd. (323) 650-5555, duffscakemix.com. —Diamond Bodine-Fischer

8302 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, 90069
MAP
323-650-5555
Best Blacksmithing Class

Some hobbies are just more badass than others, and blacksmithing is about as badass as they come. Adam's Forge is a nonprofit group that encourages students from beginner to pro to express themselves through metal. Their weekly Discovery Days are $20 and feature projects simple enough for anyone. The volunteer staff is passionate about the craft and offers an inviting environment for first-timers. After attending a Discovery Day, if you're interested in going deeper, you can pursue your CBA (California Blacksmith Association) certifications at Adam's Forge. Their calendar is filled with always changing specialty classes like Mokume-gane and Viking Cutlery. If you reach the point where you're confident enough to work independently, they even offer "open forge" times to aspiring blacksmiths and passionate hobbyists alike. 2640 N. San Fernando Road, Glassell Park. (323) 257-5855, adamsforge.com. —Diamond Bodine-Fischer

Best Gay Men's Discussion Group
Tribe

Need to talk about issues, such as dealing with a homophobic boss or navigating the dating scene, which only another gay man can understand? Want to connect with your gay brothers outside of the loud, sometimes intimidating bar scene? Feeling as if you're all alone in what you're going through as a gay man? Look no further: Go to Tribe, a fantastic gay men's discussion group that meets in the Community Conference Room of the West Hollywood Library. The setting is safe and friendly, with an emphasis on building the self-respect and personal power gay men already possess. Men from a broad age range — 20s to 50s — attend the meetings, held at 7:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month. So you'll hear many different generational perspectives, which will be invaluable, and not always easily accessible outside of the group. 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., W. Hlywd. (323) 848-6460, weho.org/tribe. —Patrick Range McDonald

625 N. San Vicente Blvd., West Hollywood, 90069
MAP
310-652-5340
Best Salon

Founded by writer Gregory Rodriguez in 2003, Zócalo Public Square is a series of public events at which big ideas are pursued, examined and cherished. The locations change, but the topics always draw top experts to explore how humans' attempt to control nature affects L.A.'s wildlife and open spaces, the myths and legends of the Santa Ana winds, and how automobile drivers and bicyclists can peacefully coexist in our fair city. Zócalo, which holds well-attended panels in Los Angeles and now in other major cities nationwide, does a good job of making people think about ideas they've never considered before. It also has a great website, which offers an "idea exchange," with articles about everything from the rise and fall of nuclear power plants to the real-life impact of the Affordable Care Act. You want to be smart, informed and ahead of the curve? Hook up with Zócalo. Location varies. zocalopublicsquare.org. —Patrick Range McDonald

Best Lecture Series

For more than 20 years, the Skeptics Society's Distinguished Science Lecture Series has featured thought-provoking, even trailblazing ideas at the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena, where such big guns as Jared Diamond, Leonard Mlodinow and Sam Harris discuss everything from how modern society can learn from pre-industrial traditional societies to the inherent conceptual flaws of free will. Minds are always blown. Michael Shermer, the Skeptics Society's executive director, even brought in Oxford research psychologist Kevin Dutton to explain how being a "functional psychopath" helps some people to excel in certain fields. Tackling issues involving the paranormal, fringe science and pseudo-science, the Skeptics Society and its lecture series take a special pride in blowing up conventional wisdom with vigorous critical thinking. 332 S. Michigan Ave., Pasadena. (626) 794-3119, skeptic.com/lectures. —Patrick Range McDonald

1200 E. California Blvd., Pasadena, 91125
MAP
626-395-6811
Best Special Effects Classes
Gnomon School of Visual Effects
Photo: Norm Jenssen

Set up in the old Hollywood Technicolor building, Gnomon School of Visual Effects is a jumble of squeaky, metal staircases and industrial structures, which hides a posh, post-industrial fantasy within: a maze of dim rooms filled with young people busy at state-of-the-art workstations, lounging in fancifully imagined snack rooms, taking instruction in sculpting, or using its massive, 70-foot-wide green screen. Staffed by industry professionals and best known for its two-year program, Gnomon also offers classes without the big price tag. Ten-week classes range from about $575 (anatomical drawing and sculpting) to about $1,600 (digital modeling), and for $10 anybody can attend its live-figure drawing featuring the Gallery Girls. For high schoolers, weekend workshops include digital painting, character sculpture, 3-D animation and more. Take a peek yourself — Gnomon holds open houses. 1015 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd. (323) 466-6663, gnomonschool.com. —Norm Jenssen

1015 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles, 90038
MAP
323-466-6663
Best Place to Channel Houdini
Sorcerer's Apprentice Class at the Magic Castle

Anyone can learn simple card tricks, sleight-of-hand and magical wizardry from the best, by taking the four-week Sorcerer's Apprentice Class at the Magic Castle taught by history's first TV magician, Mark Wilson, and his wife and assistant, Nani. They teach magic basics while bestowing upon students a monthlong temporary membership to the infamous Castle, a private club for magicians. Wilson, a legend in magic circles and star of the 1960s CBS show Magic Land of Allakazam, has performed worldwide for more than 60 years. He uses wit and humor to bring the beginners along, showing them how to surprise friends, family and business associates with disappearing coins, rope gimmicks and other sorcery while breathing in the ghostly inspiration of the Castle's long history. If you seriously practice your new artistry, you can then try out at the Castle's twice-yearly audition. If you're good enough, you may be chosen as a magician member yourself. 7001 Franklin Ave., Hlywd. (661) 288-2517, naniwilson@sbcglobal.net. —Nikki Kreuzer

7001 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles, 90028
MAP
323-851-3314
Best School of the Senses
Institute for Art and Olfaction
Photo: Tanja M. Laden

A trained artist, Saskia Wilson-Brown is the mastermind behind the Institute for Art and Olfaction, where she promotes the use of aroma molecules to make art you can smell. As with any medium, there are purists who advocate natural over synthetic materials, but when it comes to perfumery, Wilson-Brown embraces both. IAO offers weekly, three-hour, perfume-making workshops, where everyone from earthy hippies and serious artists to chic fashionistas chooses four to six ingredients from the institute's hundreds of aroma molecules, blending them together, using pipettes, vials and beakers while keeping careful record of what they've done. Wilson-Brown likes small groups, because if there are more than 12 people, the place can get really funky — literally. Unlike most department stores, IAO doesn't use coffee beans to clear the nasal palate: Wilson-Brown believes that's a myth: "What I tell people to do is just smell their armpits." 1933 S. Broadway, Ste. 1122, dwntwn. hello@artandolfaction.com, artandolfaction.com. —Tanja M. Laden

932 Chung King Rd., Los Angeles,
MAP
Best Super 8 and 16mm Filmmaking Class
Echo Park Film Center

While plenty of massive film schools in Hollywood can teach you how to show off with the latest film technology, there's only one nonprofit school that offers affordable classes (generally $100, or less) in the tactile art of Super 8 filmmaking and hand-processing; 16mm filmmaking and hand-processing, tinting and toning; film projection; and even found-footage assemblage — all in classes of no more than a dozen adult students. For more than a decade, Echo Park Film Center has not only been a homey hub for experimental cinema — its screening room could be mistaken for a living room where public events are hosted on the weekends — but also an educational resource where kids and teenagers can learn film history and technique in free, after-school sessions taught by working artists, film archivists and historians. 1200 N. Alvarado St., Echo Park. (213) 484-8846, echoparkfilmcenter.org. —Jennifer Swann

1200 N. Alvarado St., Los Angeles, 90026
MAP
213-484-8846
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Best Open Jamming: Petie's Place

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