Gene Simmons, center, of Kiss with his two partners Michael Zislis, left,… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)
Gene Simmons knows a thing or two about night life, and now he has a new gig: bar owner. The KISS leader is one of three principals behind the recently remodeled, music-focused craft beer spot Rock & Brews, and keeping his attention at one of its outdoor bar stools is no easy task.
Two sentences into explaining why chefs are the new rock stars, a pair of onlookers capture Simmons' eye. He stops the interview, and waves two young women into the sidewalk-adjacent El Segundo beer garden. "I like girls!" he shouts. "Can I take a photo with you?"
"Shouldn't," one of them says, "we be asking you that?" It's no real surprise that self-promotion comes naturally to Simmons. After all, the KISS name, he says, is in the hands of 2,900 different licensees, and in a span of 15 minutes at Rock & Brews he pauses to take photos with six different fans, including a local police officer.
When a Rock & Brews employee brings over her two daughters for a photo opportunity, Simmons stands in mock amazement: "Your children! I thought this was your sister." It's clear that, as principal and restaurant/hotel entrepreneur Michael Zislis puts it, "It doesn't hurt to have a celebrity partner."
Rock & Brews is perhaps the surest sign yet that the craft beer movement has achieved mass acceptance in Los Angeles, as the casual, LAX-area eatery deviates from L.A.'s influx of higher-end, beer-focused gastropubs. Let it be known that the space takes beer seriously, as its 52-beer tap line can pour at two different temperatures. Yet the menu is dedicated to well-known American staples and Rock & Brews, though associated with a fire-breathing rocker, is aimed squarely at families.
Kids can make their own pizzas, and Zislis insisted that all the rock 'n' roll art on the walls be rated PG. Simmons, whose band recently struck a partnership with Hello Kitty, went so far as to say that he consulted with wife Shannon Tweed to ensure that waitress outfits weren't too risqué. If there's a dangerous side to rock 'n' roll, it isn't on display at Rock & Brews.
"When you have kids, it's expensive to have a babysitter," Zislis said. "You can bring them here and they can play in the playground and they can play on the arcade games. The parents can have a pitcher of beer and a pizza. If you can keep the kids entertained, and make it dog-friendly, people will travel."
Soon, they'll have plenty of Rock & Brews options. This fall, Zislis, Simmons and their other partner, former rock promoter Dave Furano, will open a Rock & Brews outpost at LAX's Terminal 5, and the three are already targeting locations in downtown and Redlands, plus franchises in Tokyo and Denver.
The idea sprung from Furano, who began the process of securing a music-focused bar at LAX a little more than three years ago, and approached Zislis and Simmons. As a trial run in 2010, Zislis told Furano to see what he could do with the patio space attached to the El Segundo pizza parlor he was then leasing. It worked well enough to persuade Zislis, best known for Manhattan Beach dining spots Rock'n Fish and the Strand House, to buy the property.
"I don't like leasing. There were lines at the bathroom. I didn't have the temperatures I wanted on the tap systems. All the stuff you should have, I wouldn't have spent on the original concept," Zislis said. "I'm a businessman first. I spent $200,000 and then I spent $3 million."
Zislis has roots in the L.A. beer scene dating back to the late '80s, when he opened Manhattan Beach Brewing Co. "Then I got into traveling for the beer business and was building breweries everywhere," Zislis said, helping launch brewpubs in China, Japan and Croatia. Still, it was lessons learned from live music rather than the recent craft beer expansion that inspired Rock & Brews.
"Dave said that money is the merchandise," Zislis added. "The money is in the beer. If you go to Staples Center to see a game, you spend more on beer than you do on merch. If I go see a Rush concert, I'll have four of those $14 Heinekens."
Though the walls are covered with rock icons, Zislis didn't want it to feel like Hard Rock. He has a strict no-merch policy when it comes to what is displayed. Simmons has his own visions.
"This is the experience of being a rock star," he said, letting his imagination run free. "You will be waited on hand and foot. If we can arrange it — and this is not a bad idea — we'll have the most beautiful girls peeling grapes for you, your highness. It's the idea that you're special and should be treated that way."
Rock & Brews
Where: 143 Main St., El Segundo
When: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily
Price: Starters, $5.95 to $9.95; pizza, $9.95 to $19.95; sandwiches, $8.95 to $10.95
Info: (310) 615-9890; http://www.rockandbrews.com