"Been to Crayons yet?" I asked Jonathan, man about town, well versed in the nuances of hip. I was talking about Crayons Bar & Grille, the Westside Pavilion's answer to the Beverly Center's Hard Rock Cafe--music so loud you have to scream across the table, theme decor.
Here, however, instead of '50s rock 'n' roll, the theme is restaurant from outer space, from horror movies, from comic book hell (Day-Glo dinosaurs hanging from the ceiling); blacklight graffiti murals; robots, skulls and toy spacemen glued to the light fixtures, all of it executed by eight Los Angeles artists, among them Tony Mack, who says his background is the sensibility of noise in art, and Peter Bolton, who did the floors at New York's Palladium nightclub.
Of course Jonathan had been there.
"I suppose comparison to the Hard Rock is inevitable," Jonathan said with a weary sigh. "But the Hard Rock is, in its way, pleasant and fun. It's corny, but it works. This place is merely pathetic. I say pathetic because if I say it's hideous, which it is, they'll say that's just what they've intended. So I'll just say Crayons is sad--so nakedly, desperately trying to be hip in such a 1983 way, embarrassing in the blatancy of its attempt at hipness."
"How about the food?" I asked. "What did you think of the food?"
"The food ?" he said. "I didn't eat there, did you?"
Well, let's just say I tried. I tried George Orwell and Sci-fi burgers; a THX-1138 pasta salad. I tried a Blade Runner sandwich; a King Kong chicken dinner; a Day the Earth Stood Still warm chicken salad. I tried veggie skins, Lord of the Rings onion rings, Monster Zero French fries and an Outer Space vanilla shake.
The first thing to note about the food was that it had nothing whatever to do with its name. What did George Orwell have to do with a burger served with sauteed mushrooms and Swiss cheese? Or King Kong with a broiled chicken breast in teriyaki sauce?
But did it matter? After all, they were just trying to be clever, have fun. Why was I being so testy? Was it the incessant, insistently loud synthesizer music? Was it the interminable wait for service and food? The terminal cuteness of the surroundings? Would any of this have mattered if I'd been brought something decent to eat?
But the fact was that the food was awful. The burgers were soggy, lukewarm, and so were the spiral fries. The chicken teriyaki tasted carmelized. The Blade Runner crabmeat sandwich, interestingly seasoned with curry mayonnaise, was a mushy triple-decker mess. The warm chicken salad, an unappetizing vat of lettuce topped with nuts, tomatoes and bits of undercooked, underseasoned chicken truly did look like something from a horror movie. If the onion rings were crisp and edible, there was an explanation: They were the frozen variety a la Mrs. Paul's.
The final assault was something called the Swarm--deep-fried chicken wings coated with a blend of vinegar and Tabasco so acrid that I actually felt I was being attacked by a food. I don't mind being attacked by art and music--but food ?
Wait in line to get into the Hard Rock if you want. But if you go to Crayons, do so at your own risk.
Crayons, Westside Pavilion, 10800 West Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles, (213) 475-0970. Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-midnight; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Full bar. Credit cards. Dinner for two, food only. $15-30.