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Urban Moment

A Salon Works on Tresses and All Sorts of Stresses

Each month, Venice locals flock in for free health remedies and entertainment.

June 14, 2002|SUSAN CARPENTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

No one at the Slave hair salon in Venice got a haircut Tuesday night. Instead, they sipped martinis, listened to live bands, watched a belly dancer and got their backs cracked. It was hair salon as theater; it was Ruby Tuesday.

From the outside and on its surface, the event's concept seems, at best, confused, but to the Venetians who've been crowding in to this Abbot Kinney Boulevard salon the second Tuesday of every month, it's just another extension of this artistic, eclectic community where anything can and does go.

For the record, Reuben De La Casas, whose idea it was to create Ruby Tuesday, does cut hair. The 44-year-old hairdresser with a ponytailed beard, and muscles courtesy of Gold's Gym, has been snipping and styling for 26 years. He's been at Slave for the last nine months, and running Ruby Tuesdays there since January.

It is, beyond hair, a "health and wellness beauty soiree" designed to introduce people to nontraditional medicines in a relaxed and festive environment.

"We're in an area that's very nonconventional and artistic," said Joshua Hammond, Slave's 22-year-old co-owner. "Every day's like a blank canvas. We just like to have something for people to rally around."

This Tuesday, there were men in jeans with tanks, T-shirts and motorcycle jackets. Women in miniskirt suits and peasant blouses, teetering in their wedge heels. And children in fuzzy pink jackets hanging around their parents' necks.

All of them were milling around the cavernous, red-walled salon with cathedral ceilings and exposed wooden rafters. Some chatted with their friends, snacking on chips and dips. Others sat on leopard skin couches and black vinyl stylist chairs, watching De La Casas ring a girl's head with curling wands that made her look like Princess Leia.

"If you want your back adjusted, give Ken Gee a try. He's upstairs. He's great. It's free," De La Casas said, referring to the chiropractor giving complementary spinal alignments to anyone who was game.

"There are free martinis in the back," he added, rolling a final wand into the silky brown hair of a pretty girl in pink.

"I wanted to take hairdressing beyond hairdressing.... By holding these forums, I think we can bring out people's beauty and also [reduce their fears] of trying new and innovative health care," said De La Casas, who became involved with alternative medicine six years ago after suffering a mild stroke.

Seth Litton, 24, came to Ruby Tuesday with a friend who was singing at the event. He had been there once before and enjoyed the free drinks and snacks, but this time he thought he'd visit the chiropractor.

"I wanted to try something that I'd never done before," said Litton, a sandy-haired studio manager who lives in Culver City. "It kind of scared me, the idea of someone cracking my back, but that's why I kind of wanted to face it and see what it was about."

In an upstairs alcove, the chiropractor instructed Litton to lie face down on the black table. After running a hand down his spine, he then asked Litton to roll on to his side and cross both his arms and legs. Laying one hand on Litton's shoulder, the other on his hip, he pressed down quickly. The crack of Litton's spine was audible, even over the finger cymbals and flutes accompanying the belly dancer performing below.

Sharnai Wiggins, a 29-year-old hairdresser from Ontario, came to Ruby Tuesday with her boyfriend, who works at the barbershop across the street. "It's good networking. Other stylists come out, see what's new, what's hot," said Wiggins, who held an empty plastic martini glass as she flipped through racks of hip-huggers and camouflage bikinis in the clothing store at the front of the salon.

"They also have really cute clothes," said Wiggins, who was wearing a single-strap Lakers tank top she made her herself.

Meanwhile, a punk band wailed in the background. Its singer: one of Slave's hairdressers. Just like the other band and belly dancer who had performed before her.

At Ruby Tuesday, something new was happening every 20 minutes. The multi-sensory extravaganza served as both an outlet for the hairdressers' other talents and a means of keeping the crowd entertained. "People's attention spans these days are very short. You've got to keep things going," said De La Casas.

That's exactly what kept Lexy Smith at the event. "I thought I'd do a drive-by 'hi,' but I've actually stayed more than 25 minutes. I have ADD. It kept my attention," said Smith, a 24-year-old comedian from Hollywood who has one green eye and one blue one.

Previous Ruby Tuesdays have featured an acupuncturist, nutritionist, herbalist, detox specialist and Indian head masseuse. Next month, a fire-eater will perform.

"It really embodies what we're all trying to do as artists here and why we all pay the ridiculous rent," said Alec Ravencruz, the 27-year-old owner of a film production studio just off Abbot Kinney. "This street, you're plunging a little bit more into the New York, Melrose inner-city vibe.... It feels like a community. I walk up and down the street every day. That's how I came here. Just saying hi to Helen, the girl who works here. She was like, hey, come by tonight."

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