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On the Town

A Fantasy Getaway Right in Town

Travel dreams, cabin kitsch and shoe shopping--themed bars, restaurants offer a little escapism.

September 05, 2002|AL RIDENOUR | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Bigfoot Lodge also recently opened a second location, in San Francisco, but Green doesn't have the same aspirations toward a themed empire a la House of Blues. "It has to be mom and pop," Green says. "If it's slick and corporate, no matter how crazy the theme, it's just hard to care. You completely lose the whole campiness of it."

For Green, whose Lodge is occasionally visited by a costumed Sasquatch, humor is an ingredient in the formula. He and partner Al Newberry, he says, began their first venture--Cacao, a themed Westside coffeehouse--"as a joke." The cafe, now owned by loyal customer Jeremy Bell, is a kitschy outer-space-Polynesian hybrid. "It was only after we opened, we discovered a huge tiki underground," Green says. "We had no idea there could possibly be anybody into this like the two of us."

During this early '90s revival of interest in lounge culture and its take on Polynesia, Green met fellow devotee Lee Joseph (now a Bigfoot DJ) and other tikiphiles flocking to tiki happenings and faux-tropical landmarks like Rosemead's colossal Bahooka or Silver Lake's boisterous family-run Tiki-Ti.

Around the same time Cacao opened, another artist opened a rather different space-themed hangout in the Fairfax area. Cary Long's Nova Express Cafe takes its name and subcultural orientation from the novel by William Burroughs. Decked out with glowing amoeboid tables, intimate black-light vortices and a sculpted astral ogre with gaping floor-to-ceiling jaws, Long's "walk-in sculpture that sells pizza" was created largely from scrap materials. It represents, for him, the tangible outcome of his study of art and philosophy at Berkeley as well as three years in a Buddhist monastery. "I believe artists should try to integrate themselves into society, and this was one way I could show how that could be done," he explains. The community of regulars who begin filling the place at 11 p.m. seems to validate his notion (shared by proprietors of Beauty Bar, Saddle Ranch Chop House and Bigfoot Lodge) that a stimulating environment helps people interact.

But don't call this inter-dimensional environment escapist. "Around the time I opened this place," Long explains, "everyone was talking about virtual online communities. To me that's escapist. This place is different. It's about getting out of your house and actually connecting with people." Airstream's Wally Byam would certainly approve.

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Airstream Diner, 9601 S. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 550-8883. Bigfoot Lodge, 3172 Los Feliz Blvd., L.A., (323) 662-9227. Beauty Bar, 1638 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 464-7676. Star Shoes, 6364 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 462-7827. Saddle Ranch Chop House, 8371 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 656-2007. Rome, 9000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 859-7663. Nova Express Cafe, 426 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A., (323) 658-7533.

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