Mat Yuriditsky and Scot Rogers’ stoner food journey that is Marinate has seen its ups and downs and relocations over the past four years, including kitchen fires. But thanks to local set designer extraordinaire, Dr. Christmas, the journey that started near the Hollywood Forever Cemetery has found its forever home in the heart of West Hollywood.
The four-month-old comic book store meets gay bar meets fast food shack meets orange walls covered in LGBTQ+ pop culture images of L.A. history, is a throwback to the old funky Sunset Blvd. shops of the ‘80s and looks like it’s been there for years.
Known as the “Tree Stylist To The Stars,”Bob Pranga and his business partner Debi Staron have been providing custom Christmas and special event design services for the likes of Beyoncé, Whoopi Goldberg, Steven Spielberg, Ryan Seacrest and other luminaries. They’ve decorated sets for Elf, Christmas With The Kranks, American Horror Story and teamed up with HGTV for A Very Brady Renovation: Holiday Edition.
A WeHo fixture for more than 30 years, Pranga got to know the “The Boys” when they moved into the little space on Santa Monica Blvd. and he became a regular fan of Marinate’s twist on fast-casual fare featuring sweet Hawaiian chicken, chipotle pork and root beer beef, which have been marinated for a minimum of 24 hours and are only cooked in pressure cookers.
“I got to know them over the last year during quarantine while they were doing the best they could,” Pranga, who also curates the Hollywood Museum, tells L.A. Weekly. “They were going on about finding somebody to help them create a space. I told them if you’re going to be in Boystown, you’re going to have to gay this place up a little bit.”
Never having attempted a restaurant space before, Pranga sat down with the straight boys and advised them to cater to the neighborhood, covering the bright walls with iconic LGBTQ+ images from Tab Hunter to Hattie McDaniel to famous divas and local drag queens.
“The image of West Hollywood is slowly becoming homogenized,” says Pranga. “A lot of us don’t want to lose the neighborhood’s original character. With all due respect to Lisa (Van der Pump) and the rest of them – they’re not helping. The heartbeat stopped for a year here and people have very short memories. It’s very tempting for developers to come in who don’t care about that character and just do whatever they want. I wanted this space to look like it’s been here for years.”
At the same time, the set decorator by trade wanted to create a blend of commonality and cater to a neighborhood that is looking for an affordable and comfortable place to interact.
“I mean, we’ve got 19 letters LGBTQ++++++ – I had to find interesting folks of representations of gay people who did interesting pop culture things, but also something that was inviting to the straight population and makes them feel comfortable walking in as well,” says Pranga. “At the end of the day, you have to have a place with heart. People just want to come and hang. Most of our bars have become so glitzed and glammed and have the personality of Saran Wrap.”
The bright walls covered in the history of L.A. gay culture are an appetizing backdrop to Marinate’s menu, which includes signature favorites like grumpy fries (seasoned curly fries topped with buffalo sauce, ranch, bacon crumbles and fresh cut cilantro) root beer beef tacos and honey-lime shrimp sliders. Panels from the S.S. Poseidon ballroom in the 1972 classic Poseidon Adventure separate the kitchen from the eating area.
The small bathroom tucked in the back of the restaurant is everyone’s favorite spot, a melange of superhero images based on famous pinup art which was once only devoted to women. An eye-level shot of an impressively endowed Aladdin is strategically positioned over the urinal, designed for the 50/50 chance that only men will notice it.
“I told them, your bathroom in a gay neighborhood has to be just a little naughty,” says Pranga. “Nowadays, the kids are so lucky, because there’s so much good representation in their mediums of seeing themselves. It wasn’t just picking superheroes who were gay or transgender, but also picking some classics like Superman and Wonder Woman. And there’s a little bit of fantasy art – I mean doesn’t everyone want to see Captain America making out with Black Panther?”