Chad and I are constantly on the hunt for a delicious crunchy taco. Pinches in Culver City is our favorite at the moment, but today we were in Redondo Beach when the craving hit. A quick Google search indicated that Tom’s Tacos has the best crunchy tacos, so we high-tailed it over. Once we arrived, we noticed something even more mesmerizing next door….The Anza Inn.
Unfortunately closed for remodeling, The Anza Inn looks like a wet dream: a nondescript dive bar/Thai restaurant hybrid located in a random strip mall in Torrance. Yes, please!
I WILL see you next week!
Every summer as a kid, we'd jump in the Oldsmobile and make the 60 mile drive to a wonderland called Wisconsin Dells. The Dells, and neighboring town Lake Delton, are sleepy little burgs tucked away in the pines along the Wisconsin river in south central Wisconsin with a population of around 5000 souls between them in the off season.
Come Memorial Day weekend, the area begins to swell as it becomes the Midwest's premiere vacation destination. In the 60s, developers decided this was the perfect location to create what essentially became a city-sized theme park. There are too many miniature golf courses and go-kart tracks to count; innumerable themed restaurants and resort communities. They've got bungee jumping, penny arcades, a Gyrotron, at least a half dozen Old Tyme photo joints, stage shows, ski shows, sky shows and even robot shows. Also, the area has the world's highest concentration of water parks (indoor and outdoor, including America's largest park, Noah's Ark). Not to mention it's Indian country, so you can throw tomahawks and spears at a multitude of native preservation attractions. This place was the apex for bored and restless Midwestern kids deeply in need of stimulation.
The last time I was here, I was maybe 14 and not yet really able to look past the flashing lights and street barkers at what all the parents, who were bankrolling this whole thing, were most interested in: the bars.
As Andre and I were passing near the area, I forced him to detour so we could at least hit the Big Chief Go-Kart track (which we did...and it was fucking awesome!) and grab some lunch. It was a few weeks before "opening" weekend, so the town was pleasantly quiet.
Lunch at Monk's Bar & Grill: I throw my hands in the air, shrug my shoulders and say, "Eh, it's a sports bar". Admittedly, the burger was pretty damn good and it was the first time I tried deep fried pickles. If you can get over the blisters on the roof of your mouth from eating them, they're delicious. Also, they had Leinenkugal on tap, which is always fun to see. It's new and clean, but not my scene.
Naturally, we needed Old Tyme photos so we stroll across the street. Jesus, these guys have this system perfected. I think the whole thing took a total of four and a half minutes and $47 later, BAM!, photos in hand, thank you very much, arm over shoulder and shoved cooly out the door with a pat on the butt. I felt a little dirty and used but look at how handsome these guys are!
I look up from the sidewalk and see a sign erected, long before political correctness and concern for social mores, inviting me to have a swig with someone named Nig. Not one to refuse an invite of this caliber, I concede, and step up into a gorgeous bar in a building from the early 1900s when they still made them solid. This is a really great space: high ceilings, hardwood floors, wraparound bar and that pleasant smell of hundred year old cigar smoke so deep in the woodwork that, even with current smoke-free laws, you will never get rid of it.
Midday local patrons bellied up to the bar in the classic stooped posture of the committed day drinker? Yes, and they were none too happy to see what appeared to be the first wave of tourists. I'm sure if you caught them in the middle of the winter when there's 10 feet of snow outside and a fair chance you may need to sleep at the bar as the blizzard won't let up, they'd be a jovial lot, but you could feel the tension in the room. Like the moment before the doors open at WalMart on Black Friday...everybody was a little spooked.
I presume the Nig in Nig's bar is an abbreviation for the name of the gentleman who opened this joint in the mid-40s, but most everything I've read online alludes to how offensive they find this place (this is admittedly misleading as you need to take in to account the type of person posting some of this stuff. One review I found made me laugh out loud. Should you ever meet Angela P from Plainfield, IL, please give her a cunt punt for me as she states, in part, "I had a cranberry vodka, he had a captain and coke. Drinks were fine. Then we ordered Jello shots. They were prepackaged, like pudding cups! And they tasted awful.").
The fact that they offer a camouflage shirt and hat combo above the bar with the logo and tagline does not help them, however, this place is a real slice of small town Main Street bar culture that does not appear to have changed much since they opened their doors back in the day. Most of these establishments have disappeared. Something like this would never fly in a place like Los Angeles. Just based on the name alone, by now it would have been shuttered and repurposed as something safe and inviting like Obligitory's Pub -- most likely subdivided to include a baby clothing boutique.
My point is, should you find yourself near Wisconsin Dells, make a pit stop at Nig's Bar and enjoy a cold, cheap beer while not taking yourself so seriously for a minute. You might find you enjoy it. I most certainly did.
In May, my friend Andre and I did a cross-country trip from his hometown of Detroit to Los Angeles. The idea was to poke along, driving no more than around 8 hours a day so we could enjoy the sites and not die when one of us falls asleep behind the wheel somewhere in Idaho.
Having woken up late in Madison, WI with a righteous hangover on Day 2, we made it as far as the border of Minnesota and South Dakota before deciding to stop for the night. If you've ever been to this part of the country, you know there are not a lot of options for lodging and late night entertainment. However, before losing cell reception 30 minutes earlier, we were able to locate an Indian casino just south of interstate 90 across the Iowa border. Given that we had spent the better part of our time in Detroit at casinos and their bars, it seemed like a safe bet. We exited county Highway 75 and cut south on a two lane back road that we hoped would get us there.
One may think that the convergence of three exciting states like Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa (I'm sure referred to in local parlance by the news affiliates as the "tri-state" area) would create some sort of vortex proven to balance your chakras and give you a diamond cutter for a hard on. That would be wrong. There's nothing but miles of dark road, shacks with cars on cinder blocks and cornfields. Lots of cornfields
After 30 minutes off the freeway in pitch black with no cell service and a grim feeling we were completely lost, we finally started having The Discussion. Namely, who would take it up the ass after being run off the road by a pickup truck while the other ran for help. It was beginning to get heated when we drove over a hill and found the Grand Falls Casino sitting in the middle of a cornfield miles from civilization. No joke, in the middle of a cornfield.
At check-in I noticed the flyer for the upcoming casino events. If Engelbert Humperdinck is making the trek all the way out here, it can't be that bad.
We dropped the bags in the room, hit the ATM, and sauntered up to the bar.
"Good evening. What can I get for you?"
"I'll have a Jack, neat and a beer, please," I tell the bartender who did not look the least bit happy to see customers at midnight on a Tuesday.
"It'll be one or the other. Maximum of one drink per person every 20 minutes."
Apparently there are drink restrictions at a casino in the middle of nowhere. Is this a fucking joke? How do they expect to rape and eventually murder me at craps or blackjack if they won't let me drink myself ballsy with my own money? Let's be honest: how many Indians limit their drinks to three an hour?
...And how do they track that? I looked around the bar expecting to see at least a couple dozen digital kitchen timers counting down with post-its stuck to them describing the alcoholic they're moderating. Nothing but a crabby old man tapping his fingers, impatiently waiting for my order.
"Ok, ok," I say, "how about a double Jack?"
"Nope, one ounce liquor per drink."
"Really? How much do you put in a Martini?"
"I just told you: one ounce of liquor."
"Jesus Christ. Is it free?"
"8 bucks," he replies, not looking the least bit amused.
"Right then, I'll have a beer," I tell him, scanning the bottles on display. “A Grain Belt Premium."
I've never heard of Grain Belt Premium but, as it looks like generic local brew, I can safely assume that it will get me drunk quicker and cheaper than 8 dollar snorts of whiskey or vodka and will at least keep my hands busy when I want to fidget before belting out a line by REO Speedwagon (I only bring up the last bit because shortly before arriving at the Grand Falls casino, I'd had another one-sided conversation about how great REO Speedwagon is based on one song: ‘Take It On The Run’. I have only one ally in this argument, Max, whom you'll hear about via Lompoc).
3 dollars later I receive this:
Had I not taken advantage of the casino's sluggish wifi to look this beer up, I would have figured it was bottled in a broom closet somewhere in the building with last night's swill bucket and dishwater. This shit's horrible. According to the website, it's brewed in St Paul, MN and is marketed as "The Friendly Beer". What the fuck does that even mean? Friendly like the fat girl at the bar with ashtray and sour beer breath that's eager to make out at the end of the night? Oh gee, thanks for the mouth herpes, Schell Brewing Company! That said, I still drank like 6 of them...
They do have a pretty cool hoodie on their website though.
I give Grain Belt Premium beer and the Grand Falls Casino a big limp one.
Although the post WWII tiki bar craze has died down a bit (Trader Vic's in Beverly Hills and the bastion of seven seas garishness, Bahooka in Rosemead, CA, have both padlocked their doors), there are still a few treasures around. In the past few months, Alyssa and I have both been swept up by the island spirit and have started viewing fruity rum cocktails and the bars that serve them as a great way to spend an afternoon (or weekend, as served up by the Ventiki Challenge).
Tucked away just off the main drag in El Segundo, near LAX, you'll find a great spot called The Purple Orchid. The "PO", as it's know to regulars, is a decent sized space with all the proper trimmings: ample bar and table seating, some pool tables, a small stage, blowfish hanging from the ceiling and enough bamboo to build yourself a couple of huts on your favorite beach in Tahiti. Great attention to detail with hand painted trim and flickering tiki torches on the wall. There are giant wooden tiki idols for sale should you find yourself drunk enough to desperately need one in the passenger seat for the ride home. This place totters perfectly on the edge of sleeze and dive.
According to the bartender, it was a scuzzy biker bar until about 10 years ago before being converted to the Purple Orchid. Clearly its earlier life has soaked into the foundation.
Versions of all the classic cocktails are available with the bonus of most being available as volcano bowls. Who doesn't like a big ol' volcano bowl?
We arrive shortly after opening around 2 o'clock, cozy up to the bar and order a Mai Tai volcano bowl. I don't pretend to be any kind of expert on tropical drinks but it was delicious: big, fruity and full of liquor. In the summer months they offer a version of the Mai Tai with fresh watermelon purée (my 2nd round) that's really quite good.
After a bit of effort and a phone call to the owner, the bartender finally gets some tunes on the stereo. Although there's an "old school" CD juke in the joint, I was just fine with the house playlist on a Sunday afternoon. It was a good mix of lounge, classic rock and a contemporary oddity thrown in for good measure. Kudos to Alyssa for figuring out it was Cake covering the Muppet Show classic Mahna Mahna without the use of Soundhound. Sacramento natives must all be vibrating on the same frequency...
Word is that the place gets pretty packed on Friday and Saturday nights but the crowd on a weekend afternoon is pretty chill. A few old timers coming and going for a drink or two and only one crazy. Not bad.
They also have official Purple Orchid mugs for sale at 12 bucks a pop and some nifty Don Ho glassware. All told, The Purple Orchid is absolutely worth a trip to El Segundo. I hope to see you there.
My mom is so gonna get it for not telling me Crestview Lanes closed down. And not even recently, like four years ago. This place was as divey as bowling alleys come. I used to come here with my grandma and brother all the time when I was a kid, so this loss definitely hits home.
The Crest Room: Um, just look at it. I never had a chance to legally drink here, but this would definitely be one of my hangouts today if I still lived in Sacramento, or if it were still open... I can't vouch for the drinks (I'm sure they were strong) or the prices (I'm sure they were fair), but I still feel it is necessary to commemorate this gem of an establishment.
Rest in peace, my friend.
I need to stop drinking on school nights...
On Sunday, Chad surprised me by taking me to Power House, a dirty bar I've wanted to visit ever since I worked on Cahuenga. From the outside, Power House looks like a dive...and then you walk inside...mega dive.
We stop in for a quick drink before lunch, but soon one drink turns into four and that's when the weird shit went down.
We park at the bar and order a round of drinks. The clientele consists of younger rocker dudes on our right and a guy with his Dachshund to our left. The bartender is looking all cute and streetwise in her newsboy cap. The walls are covered in vintage, garage sale art, and everything has the yellowish tinge of cigarette smoke. The bathroom is covered in graffiti and lacks a mirror, ala the Blue Lagoon in Santa Cruz.
Chad goes to the juke box to play some music and I start flipping through an issue of 'Girls and Corpses' that we bought at a nearby newsstand. I feel someone caress my arm and look up to find a smiling man who is not my boyfriend.
He starts asking me questions in a thick Russian accent, which I can hardly articulate, so I redirect my attention to my phone. I know the Russian is still standing next to me, as I can feel his gaze and heavy breathing over my right shoulder. I keep looking over at a completely oblivious Chad, who is clearly enamored by the CD-style juke box. The bartender comes over to check on me, and shortly thereafter, Chad comes back and reclaims his bar stool. He doesn't at all seem weirded out by the smiling Russian dude two inches away from him.
The Russian is having a hard time standing, so Chad offers him his stool. The bartender rewards our good deed with a shot of Fireball.
After we leave, we run into the patron with the weiner dog. He shouts over at me, "That guy hitting on you was the weirdest thing I've ever seen"...
Ohhh, Chad's poor liver...
HE COMPLETED THE VENTIKI CHALLENGE!!!
And with flying colors, might I add; the guy barely flinched.
Serving as both a spectator and head cheerleader for Chad in his quest for the gold, I will take the reigns and write up a solid review...because I don't think he remembers much from last weekend.
Basically, the concept of the challenge is to drink all 19 drinks listed on the card. The first 100 people to successfully complete this challenge receive a t-shirt, a Ventiki logo glass, and their name immortalized on a plaque for all to see.
After Chad learned about this challenge, he was determined to get his name on the plaque (and hey, not a bad way to shamelessly promote The Underbelly). Unfortunately, we live in Los Angeles, about an hour away from Ventiki..not exactly stumbling distance. We decide to drive back up to finish the challenge the following weekend. Three down, sixteen to go; he's totally got this.
SATURDAY -Decisions, decisions. The strategy here was to drink the "bad" ones first (aka, anything with Gin or Anais). Voodoo Temptress? CHECK. Dr Funk? CHECK. One of the owners, Scott, warned us about a couple of the drinks (order the Dr Funk light on the "funk", was one of his suggestions), but honestly, all the drinks tasted great. My personal favorites were the Mai Tai, Alter of Sacrifice, and I.C.C. of '73; all had the perfect amount of sweet and spice, and if you're a light weight like me, they'll hit you quick and leave you feeling drunk for a while; a whole lot of bang for your $10 to $15.
If the drinks alone are not enough to convince you to visit Ventiki; the food, ambiance, and engaging staff will.
FOOD - Fresh sushi, poke bowls, pulled pork, ribs, even a Spam option..literally, I would order one of everything on the menu if I had the financial and stomach capacities.
AMBIANCE - Maui is my favorite place in the world, so anywhere that can re-create that hybrid of serenity and culture gets my stamp of approval. But it's not that Ventiki just threw plastic leis and palm trees around their bar and called it tiki...no, no. The attention to detail is meticulous; everything from the light fixtures, to the tiki mugs, to the straw-hut roof is completely on-point.
STAFF - Because we literally spent two whole days at Ventiki, we bonded with the owners, Scott and Carrie, as well as the various bartenders. It was insightful to talk business and booze with Ventura locals, and it is majorly impressive to see a local business doing so well within their first nine months of business.
Oh right, back to the challenge. By drink number six on Saturday afternoon, Chad was feeling a little lethargic. We head to the hotel to take a nap and recharge, then head back to Ventiki around 8:00pm.
Ventiki is significantly more crowded at night, but we are able to find a station to sit, snack, and slurp down a few more cocktails.
I stick with my new best friend Mai Tai, while Chad knocks a couple more off the list. Wearing down, but still sturdy, he opts to finish the remainder of the list on Sunday. Although fucking delicious, ahi tuna and coconut shrimp skewers are not enough to sop up the booze in our systems, so we stumble over to Cafe Fiore for a carb-loaded dinner.
SUNDAY - Eight drinks left and severely hung over, Chad was concerned that we might need to make a third trip to Ventura. I would never encourage my boyfriend to drink himself to death, but I've seen him put down more than this, and we still had a whole Sunday ahead of us. Eye of the tiger, Chad.
It's 11:00am and we're the first to arrive. The bartender looks up from slicing fruit garnishes and greets us with a smile, "Here to finish the list?" An apprehensive Chad nods his head yes, then takes a seat to tear into his first beverage of the morning: Blue Hawaii.
He consumes four more drinks before we decide to saunter over to the Harbor to grab lunch. Aww...little dolphin rider >>>
At lunch, our fair competitor couldn't resist a $2 Bloody Mary, which caused a significant set-back when we returned to Ventiki. I guess vodka, tomato juice and horseradish didn't mix so well with the mass amounts of rum and fruit juice from earlier in the day.
Three more drinks to go...including the dreaded finale - The $25 Mai Tai <<< (dreaded mainly because of the $25 price tag, YIKES!). With little struggle, Chad conquers the final three and joins the 48 others on the hall of fame plaque!!!
WAY TO GO, CHAD!
Although he's still feeling the hangover today, we at The Underbelly are extremely proud of his achievement. If you're in the Ventura area, stop on by Ventiki. Always a good time.
19 drinks, 2 days, 1 liver
We found ourselves in Ventura last weekend and tried a new place called Ventiki. It’s a great little tiki-themed bar with an extensive fruity cocktail menu and tasty looking food rolling out of the kitchen.
After the first round, the bartender hands us a couple of cards and explains the Ventiki challenge: Drink all 19 of the house cocktails and receive a t-shirt and a Ventiki mug. No time limit and can be completed over multiple visits but must be certified by bartender on your drink card. Great, right? It gets better.
The first 100 rum-swilling, salty seadog patrons to complete their card will have their names immortalized on a plaque. 48 have completed (despite Aarika A’s Yelp claim that this is “likely unattainable”).
We’re going back this weekend to ensure Lost In The Underbelly secures its name on that plaque.
On the menu:
Mai Tai – ALREADY CONSUMMED
Jet Pilot – ALREADY CONSUMMED
Zombie – ALREADY CONSUMMED
Shrunken Head – ALREADY CONSUMMED
Voodoo Temptress of the Seven Pleasures (I’m excited for this one…)
Blue Hawaii Cobra’s Fang
Alter of Sacrifice
I.C.C of ‘73
Lagoon of Forbidden Desire
$25 Dollar Mai Tai
The plan of attack has been set: drink, feed, hydrate, nap, repeat. We’ve even also created an 'I CAN DO THIS' t-shirt for the occasion.
Making it official...
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Getting lost in the LAX vicinity sucks. If you don’t make it over one lane in the knick of time, the next thirty minutes of your life are gone, as you are forced into the mighty traffic jam that is LAX. I’ve experienced this once or twice, shame on me, but my second mistake did lead to my discovering a very special restaurant: the Proud Bird. Like the fat child picked last in gym class, trains, dinosaurs, magic cards, and airplanes get me hot and bothered, so I make it a mission to get my ass back over there to enjoy a cocktail. I can only imagine the signature cocktails…”I’ll take the Amelia Earhart with a twist, please”.
After a competitive two and a half hours of bowling at the AMF Lanes on Lincoln, Chad and I decide to cap off our victories with refreshing adult beverages at, where else (?), the Proud Bird. We pull into the beautiful, bountiful parking lot and wander around the premises for a while. Model airplanes and lush green plants adorn the entire stretch from my car to the front door.
We step inside and are greeting by an array of aviation memorability, a sprinkling of geriatric patrons, and a beautiful empty bar, fit for two. We pull up two bar stools and order drinks: a Manhattan for the gentleman and something called a "Skinny Colada" for the lady. There were, unfortunately, no homages to famous pilots on the house cocktail list.
The drinks are decent and pair nicely with the view of planes landing at LAX. After we finish, we walk around the restaurant to discover various banquet rooms, one being occupied by Harry's 100th birthday party. Happy birthday, Harry!
Although the Proud Bird is outdated and
looks and smells like a museum, I would recommend it to everyone. I read that they might close the restaurant in the next couple of years, so definitely stop by and experience this treasure before it's gone.