L.A. the Blog: Los Candiles Night Club – Decadence Welcome (A changing city, Part 1)

The night air left little doubt that summer sat and reigned over the city. On the streets of Hollywood women wore mini-skirts and guys short-sleeved shirts as they bar hopped, waited in line for night clubs and found the nearest tattoo parlor. The signature city heat that makes Los Angeles either a massive, sweltering discombobulation of people or a destination-dream-paradise cradled the city like a blanket, and added a frenzied pace to everything happening on the boulevard as if heat aiding the movement of mass multiplied and proliferated the various possibilities alive in the night. The mass – people, traffic, love, friendship, drinking, drugging, music, sex – everything.

This city is often like a slow blooming flower, every year unfolding a new petal, unveiling a new aspect of itself for anyone looking and discerning the cities beauty. Hollywood sits close to the heart, but numerous other areas and neighborhoods combine to create the rose that is Los Angeles, or maybe it resembles more a lily or a farewell-to-spring. Forget Hollywood for the moment. This story only starts in Hollywood with a ride into the dark-rising heat of the city streets, ending just on the other side of the L.A. river directly north of downtown in a small nondescript Latin nightclub named Los Candiles. Just for the purpose of translation, Los Candiles means “the candle.”

If asked where the club resides you might say Eagle Rock just because most wouldn’t recognize the name Glassell Park. Like so many working-class neighborhoods its history and uniqueness rest forgotten and ignored among a maze of similar streets with names like Desire, then further lost in a puzzle of similar cities and neighborhoods that all fit into a mold named America. Or perhaps with a history of violence and crime people looked more towards Eagle Rock or Atwater Village for homes, writing the neighborhood off as the bad side of town. Glassell Park – the bad side of Eagle Rock, the bad area of Atwater –  goes unmentioned. For instance the LA Weekly published a story about a crime family, an AK-47 and typical L.A. violence that belongs more to the late 80s and early 90s but happened in Glassell Park in 2008. Or just the other week while talking to a resident he simply stated in sterile terms how some kid recently got beat with a baseball bat, and June 12 of this year a young woman and young man died in a shooting. Violence makes neighborhoods disappear in this city like so much bad food in the refrigerator, people must discard it or the stench and mildew ruin the pleasure of modern society. For instance have you ever heard of the neighborhood of Del Rey?

Of course for the past 20 or 30 years (if not more) a majority of working-class families have called the neighborhood home, and only recently with the whole area of downtown including everything below and above experiencing a renaissance in every sense of the word, although some call it gentrification, the neighborhood has begun to see a shift towards the middle. With middle we mean demographically. Young professionals looking to buy good real estate and others just seeking a more authentic Los Angeles find the neighborhood perfect. With beautiful large homes atop hills that lead into Eagle Rock providing breathtaking views and hidden away in trees; or authentic and great Latin food available through street vendors; or even a sense of community that exists where people live and die together daily; the neighborhood offers a friendly hello at the local gas station, that is of course if you don’t mind a rougher handshake and a little dirt covering up a gem. A gem discovered and just starting to see the light.

Take Los Candiles, an unassuming Latin dance club that sits along a main drag in Glassell Park. You find these clubs all over the city. Some like the ones in Echo Park and Venice have been converted into new sleek dance venues for indie rock and electronic acts, but most in the city still keep their original flavor and offerings. At first look nothing out of the ordinary, but like the neighborhood this club is a gem. Scouring the online website gives the first hint that this club offers something unique with the traditional Latin dance music. “Venga y disfrute con nuestro show Fantasia con Las Estrellas” that loosely translates as “Come and enjoy our show / Fantasy with the Stars”; or later when you click the ‘show’ link in the menu sidebar “Ven y disfruta con nuestro travesty show Fantasia Con Las Estrellas” and the show Fantasy with the Stars comes up again, this time with the word “travesty” attached. Most people relate travesty to what happens during a war when innocent people die, but few relate the word to its original usage that is closer to “burlesque” than to “appalling.” In fact the Latin word “travestire” means to disguise or more literally to cover up with clothing; and travesty means a literary or artistic imitation usually incongruous in style, treatment, or subject matter. Maybe it gets confused because it is so close to tragedy, or because people use the statement “travesty of justice” too often changing the meaning. So a travesty show? Call it what you will, but at Los Candides it means a drag show with singing, and don’t forget the male stripper and the DJ.

Burning through the hot night the road led through the up-and-coming neighborhood, to the unassuming Latin dance club and to a birthday party for an unknown girl with unknown people at an unknown place. The invite seemed strange at first, a phone call promised a party with a ton of women while at the same time offering a drag show. For some reason the two promises didn’t go together, I always equated drag with gay bars in West Hollywood, not straight woman celebrating a birthday in a working-class neighborhood. After learning more about Glassell Park the place even seems more unlikely since gang violence and the machismo of the hood normally make anything GLBT (Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender) unacceptable. Or even more so with a possible large Catholic population, you would think such a place harbors the ill will of the church. Regardless of its location and its stigma, for the ladies who arrived to the birthday it meant dancing to sweaty South American rhythms and letting loose in a place tingling with an open atmosphere that celebrates what it means to be beautiful and a women.

The local crowd loved the band playing, while the ladies loved every minute of every second. Every song brought out dancers, and the enthusiasm of the small local crowd showed they came for the music. The birthday girl found a dance partner for every song.  She often grabbed a friend, or a friend grabbed her, some of her guy friends followed the girls to the floor to dance with the birthday girl as tempos sped up and the band picked up energy.  A few times an older gentlemen, a veteran of Latin rhythm clubs would escort her to the floor and steal a few moments of youth back. Him and the other few older gentlemen masterfully controlled the dance floor leading their partners around in what from afar seemed slow rhythm combined with the quick turns and spins of ballroom dance. Looking more closely the majesty of what it takes to have that control and grace was tantamount to intricate and precise dance steps that happened quick and fast so the eye could barely follow the practiced patterns that flowed with ease. For these few gentlemen the smiles on their faces and sparkles in the eyes meant that whatever happened earlier in the day at work or home, and whatever happened tomorrow meant nothing in the moment of the dance. For some a cold beer and a shot of hard liquor washed away the day, the week and the years. For those weaving a spell with the Rumba or sweeping across the floor with a Cha Cha the dance gave them the same dignity along with the semblance of eternal youth.

The club wasn’t very packed but if everyone got on the floor room became sparse. This led to a perfect intimate spot for a birthday. As the women drank alcohol and their male friends did the same the atmosphere around the table slowly unwound becoming looser and looser. More alcohol, more drinking and finally the show started, the “travesty show Fantasia Con Las Estrellas.” Beautiful women dressed up as famous Latina stars, the most notable Shakira in gold and flowing blond hair. In true Burlesque and travesty, sexuality permeated the singing and dancing along with a hint of the more sultry tradition of strip clubs. Every so often a famous Latin singer would mount the lap of a gentleman in the crowd shaking her hips back and forth while continuing to lip sing to the radio hits.

After a few acts of famous latinas, they unleashed the male stripper onto the floor dressed in classic cowboy attire, chaps and all. He made his way around the room to the various women at the various tables, collecting dollars along the way, unzipping his fly for extra smiles and girlish embarrassment. At this point it might be worth skipping the entire rest of the episode for a stripper is a stripper. Hunter S. Thompson in “The Rum Diaries” writes this beautiful scene during the Carnival celebration where a beautiful woman dancing with a fabulous man gets drawn further and further into seduction as the tempo and rhythm of the Samba create an explosive sexual energy. If anything about the stripper at Los Candides, his pure sexual energy should be remembered. When tempted over to the birthday girl by dollar bills and innocent eyes, her friends put her up to experiencing first hand the show and his dancing while the alcohol made anything possible, words alone and even pictures fail to describe what happened next. Never has a female stripper ever performed that well for a man, and the question remains who was more surprised – the dancer for his own abandonment in the passion of the moment, or the birthday girl for her willingness to wear a cowboy hat and straddle his lap, chaps and all. The club gave them everything they needed for a memorable night of partying. Of course if they forget they can always refer back to L.A. the Blog and the pictures we posted online of our brief time at Los Candides. We hope the girls tipped their cowboy dancer extra for that one.

Los Candides and Glassell Park might never be the same with young people looking for new exciting and fantastic neighborhoods to live. We left the girls and their friends still drinking and partying. The DJ came on before as we walked out replacing the band and his opening track rocked like a Tijuana night club. Before getting in the car we grabbed tacos from a food stand down the street. One of the best burritos we have ever ate. Maybe year after year from this point forward the murder rate in Glassell Park will slowly become nonexistent, and like so much of the city that we grow up in the neighborhoods continue to change and become wealthier as the working class moves on. Local thrift shops become small boutiques, and development slowly brings large corporate chains. Maybe Los Candides will eventually host techno clubs and indie line-ups, but for now it remains a jewel of a good time … especially for the ladies.

UPDATED: Below find some video from Los Candides …

L.A. the Blog: 2012 Silver Lake Jubilee

Memorial Day weekend came and went. Sunday meant work at a kiosk in the local mall selling candy while thoughts of peoMonday Memorial Dayple having fun at BBQs made each sale anxious. Guys in shorts and tank tops, girls in bikini tops with colorful tattoos, maybe a kitty pool or spray bottles to escape the first days of summer’s heat. Potentially the actual holiday – Monday – might have fulfilled Sunday’s fantasies but ended as it began with a handful of dudes sitting around watching reruns of shows on the TLC channel, some food, then more reruns this time an old movie. Enough to make anyone question if life held any meaning or if that perfect picture of the nuclear 50’s family sitting around at home turned into a dark nightmare of single men watching TV together hopeless with memories of past failures and the loneliness that comes with the statement, “If I only did that differently.”

This isn’t about past failures and missed opportunities, not about loneliness and bad jobs, but instead about making the best of what you have with what little, if anything, you have available. It is about defiance in the face of authority, maybe about the attempt to take back what is rightfully yours and not taking no for an answer. It is about celebrating freedom and ingenuity, and honoring the personal sacrifice of men and women, all which makes this nation great. It is about the Saturday before that Sunday and Monday, about how no one invited you to a party, about so-called “friends” you wanted to spend the weekend with ignoring you, and most of all about the 2012 Silver Lake Jubilee.

The Jubilee setup right off Sunset Boulevard at the famous and quaint location known as Sunset Junction, or where Santa Monica Boulevard meets Sunset. A few trendy restaurants, a few hip shopping retailers and that damn good cheese store that sells those damn good sandwiches keeps the area vibrant with foot traffic and popular with the young crowd of successful Hollywood hipsters. We arrived with a thirst for coffee. For coffee you have two options, the first is a cafe with a constant line out the door, and filled tables on the outside patio that makes it seem like they give out free coffee. Actually it couldn’t be further from the truth and the joint more than anything else gives the area its reputation for catering to success. Your average coffee drink at the place runs for a fiver, and people gladly pay it all day long.

Along with two other guys none of us worked. The recession you heard disappeared in other areas but left Los Angeles around an estimated 11 percent unemployment in the summer of 2012. A few spotty good jobs here and there but otherwise work meant a lot of odd jobs moving furniture, giving rides to people for cash and eking out what little unemployment insurance provided. A fiver for coffee didn’t add up so we headed for option number two, a cafe a block away that also posed as a spiritual center, and along with coffee and healthy fare sold yoga outfits and good smelling candles. Buddha might not make as good of coffee as capitalism, but the price sure felt better on the pocket. Sadly, they still charged higher than average for a cup and as a friend in New York once said “I hate paying more than a dollar for coffee.” Call us old fashioned.

Jubilee Herb BoothCoffee, check, next stop some BBQ food because that is what you do on holiday weekends in America, eat BBQ. Ditching the main drag we dipped into the front area of the jubilee that started at Sunset and stretched down Santa Monica for a good amount of blocks to Virgil Avenue. Each entrance to the festival held a large stage area, with smaller music areas squeezed between booths selling merchandise of all types, including a booth that sold only fresh herbs for cooking. Though random in appearance, and at first look one might wonder what prompted a booth selling items such as thyme and basil to setup in the middle of pop culture t-shirts, beer vendors and corporate sponsors, such as Pepsi, but that is L.A. for you. Maybe Coca-Cola setup shop as an herb booth to sneak in under the exclusive rights contract that Pepsi possibly garnered for their monetary support of the event.

Looking closer though nothing better represents the culture in this nook of Los Angeles known as Silver Lake, Los Feliz and Echo Park (that many of the newer residents consider the east side of L.A. but actually is only east of the west side of L.A. and is more the north-central side of the city, though still slightly west of the real East L.A. of Chicano heritage – or better stated in the common phrase “we never go west of Western”) then the herb booth at the festival. It stood as a testament to a community in the face of development, or gentrification as people call it these days.

The community people who possibly grew those herbs in community gardens when the idea of community gardens was to give people space to fulfill the ancient heritage of tending the earth, but also took empty derelict lots in the city back from neighborhood blight to create spaces not where homeless slept off alcohol and drug induced blackouts but rather where something beautiful stood that people took pride in as they grew tomatoes and found each other. These community people who moved into hard neighborhoods riddled with crime and enduring with love stayed making the place that much brighter for the new families who slowly moved in opening eclectic businesses where art, good food and the American dream flourished. Eventually the crime moved on and left only a place full of energy that attracted more and more people until eventually upping real estate values drew more and more affluent people into newly remodeled condos and apartment buildings.

Funky OutfitThat is how the community stood, at the height of its creativity and in the beginning of its death throes. New cafes with $5 coffee start to replace the $1 coffee shops, clothing stores that sold secondhand merchandise or local designers for cheap turn into designer boutiques where the average price of pants is more money than a staving artist receives in a month from the county general relief fund. Many of the same types of creatives (the new generation) like those who helped shape the neighborhood can’t afford the expensive rents and now move further into Los Angeles into other neighborhoods. Those successful artists and entrepreneurs who opened the first shops and art galleries of course stay and who can blame them, they helped create the community and it belongs to them still, even though it is changing.

Those other people who helped form the community without experiencing the same success; maybe they too were artists but never caught fame, maybe they started failed businesses or lost their leases from the rising rents, maybe they never did anything but bring love and friendship to the neighborhood, or helped plant flowers in that same community garden; they see themselves pushed out as developers seek their rented real estate and their landlords who before welcomed stable tenants now see greater profits if they move. These people too move deeper into Los Angeles and into new neighborhoods as the more affluent replace them.

Slowly the neighborhood changes and while the unique character of the place will always endure in painted murals and a funky shop here and there, the heart and soul of the community forever disappears. It happens in every city all over the world. New York, Seattle, Houston, Chicago, in every major city and in other neighborhoods in L.A. like Santa Monica, Venice, and Hollywood. Places that eventually corporate America finds and sees an opportunity for money. They open drug stores and grocery stores, restaurant chains and clothing store chains, ice cream parlors and pizza joints. Where before the neighborhood didn’t fit a demographic they approved for business, now it held what they sought – people with money. When this happens real estate values become unattainable for anyone but corporations as they pay the highest price for 10-year leases. When the chains move in the neighborhood forever dies.

So the herb booth is not such an anomaly but makes perfect sense standing next to the giant corporate sponsors, it is a microcosm of gentrification, an illustration of the larger change happening in the community. Sadly, there small mom and pop operation seems out of place now. You can hear this said too if you listen close enough to the new young and hip generation in L.A.

Us three for example standing at the entrance of the jubilee, we say the same thing as everyone else, the place is too expensive, the shops are too trendy, the place isn’t “it” anymore. We hear that Boyle Heights or MacArthur Park represent the new frontier, where you can still find an apartment for six bills.

Truthfully the place still lives, not like Venice Beach that is beyond hope of recovery and forever gone.  For instance the first stage while entering the jubilee is set up just for local teenage high school bands. What better says community than inviting those growing up in the neighborhood to play and perform along those already established.  It is only us who love the dirt and grime of L.A. that mourn the coming loss, those of us who can’t afford the rents.

The next order of business after getting coffee still is the fresh Memorial Day BBQ as it looms large in the imagination of every American. The only burgers and hot dogs available at the Sunset entrance came from a food truck, not a fresh BBQ. Some bar was in the process of BBQ’ing chicken and sausages, but a taste for good old-fashioned burgers and dogs needed satiating. Two of us sat to wait while the search for food led further down into the block party. The BBQ setup had to exist, just where and when. The excitement and energy of the place felt palpable and contagious the further you moved into the thick of the crowd, until it died in an instant with two large looking security officers at a gate asking a simple question, “Do you have a yellow wristband?”

Of course the event cost money, everything else in the neighborhood cost money, why would they put on a free event for a holiday with bands? Looking over at the booth selling wristbands, sidling up to the front and cutting in line, the price of one yellow wristband left a bitter taste in the mouth. A twenty spot for a yellow piece of paper around the wrist. Of course it also meant twenty to find the BBQ desperately wanted as outside the event burgers and dogs didn’t exist, just like three twenty spots didn’t exist to gain us all entrance.

Yellow Post-It StripsDefeated and starved the food truck seemed more appealing now. The two guys who held back took the news with indignation and disbelief. No fun here for the broke, and since people weren’t jumping at the chance to invite us to parties the day turned into less a holiday and more into a reminder that when life sucks it can really suck. One burger at the food truck and a soda to wash it down – $10. Here is a good chance to comment on the wealth of food trunks that have become a staple in Los Angeles streets. While a good food truck is divine, a burger truck is a poor second when you want a BBQ burger. For that matter most food trucks like the jubilee and the coffee shop sell poor food overpriced. There are the few jewels of gourmet food that started the trend, but now who can distinguish the good from the bad with everyone in pursuit of making a buck jumping on the coattails of success.

Anyhow finishing off the last remains of the food an idea struck that seemed simple enough, genius really, and it meant entrance at a very low price, possibly even for free. They were just yellow wristbands available at any local store. The idea presented passed among us and three smiles formed as trusty mobile devices came out of the pocket and the search for wristbands entered that stage of virtual planning. No parties stores around, nothing within walking distance except, yes, there on the other end of the party a few more blocks past Virgil stood our new hope. An office supply that advertised a solution for every business need. A long shot but businesses needed wristbands too, right?

Skirting the outside of the party the three of us slowly made our way through the neighborhood; passing happy drunk people, happy young kids and merry hipsters on their way to the jubilee. A new spring in our step matched theirs as our devious plan brought us into the store. Quickly we spread out and searched for wristbands. Not in aisle one or two as they only held blank paper stock for printing. Maybe use paper and print some wristbands? Too time consuming. The other aisles held pens, erasers, electronic devices, office furniture, clipboards and paper clips. No wristbands.

Jubilee WristbandUntil we saw it, not wristbands but something yellow, paper and about the same width as what the event staff gave out for entrance. Immediately grabbing the sticky Post-It strips two of us agreed they would work while the third argued the yellow wasn’t the same color. Demanding that we keep looking for something better we finished searching the entire store, but at the end the yellow sticky strips seemed the best option.

Call it broke desperation and a criminal undertaking, or call it harmless fun and American ingenuity. Call it whatever tickles your moral fancy but at that moment at the counter when we purchased our event wristbands for a little over a five spot all the disappointments of the past week, month and year fell off each of us. We beat the system.

Of course the wristbands worked and we cruised the event for a few hours harassing cute girls, drinking the free Pepsi being passed out, and listening to the local bands and electronic music in the glow of triumph.  Most of all for those hours the thoughts of her who never returned a simple phone call that day disappeared also.  Rejection never sits well with victory, and at a place like a jubilee there is always other fish.  At the magic hour, as film people call the end of the day when the light begins to change and darkness begins to settle, we left for other pursuits.

In this story you won’t find famous quotes from the U.S. President because the President doesn’t attend this specific jubilee, and a jubilee is likely not the proper place for him on this weekend of remembrance for those who died for our freedom. Nor does your average person get to add their voice simply because the experience doesn’t lend itself to the definition of average. The closest thing to communication you get from anyone is a simple middle finger saying f*!ck you, or maybe two middle fingers if you really look closely.

It is important to note that last minute guilt and remorse made the conscious nag, and one wristband got purchased for the event by this author.  If you are interested below too you can find a slideshow of pictures taken at the event and short video featuring a taste of the music played.

In all respects the event soothed the droll weekend that awaited, and not just because two of us cheated the promoters. Good music and a good crowd with interesting booths and funky outfits happily captured the heart and soul of Silver Lake, Echo Park and Los Feliz, or what heart and soul remains. Sadly, we never came across an actual BBQ going, just more food trucks selling different foods.

In the end a simple story about that coffee shop that sells $5 coffee best sums up everything that went on that day. A friend just ate a big meal at some fast food joint and was standing in the long line that always stretched out the door. Upon entering the store area the heat and the food begin to get to him, making him feel queasy. As the line continued to lag eventually the heat got to him and he threw up all over the floor. Just puked in front of all those people who can afford $5 coffee. After that he walked out and left the puke heading for some other neighborhood in Los Angeles.

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2012 Jubilee – Los Angeles, CA from Aaron Howell on Vimeo.