Ice Cube Confidential – Why the Science of Clean, Clear Ice matters to Beverages and your Health

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Consider buying fresh bags of clear, clean ice cubes at the store from now on in place of using the freezer cubes from your refrigerator. Here’s why.

For those who use the ice cubes from the refrigerator freezer that happen to be cloudy white and not clear, don’t forget to change your water filter every six months or sooner, depending on frequency of usage. Many factors are involved with keeping the water clean from rust, sediment, bad odors and other impurities such as sodium (salty cubes) that after melting/diluting in your drinks and killing carbonation, can cause health issues like weight gain, high blood pressure or hypertension, water retention and heart strain over time, all from not making ourselves more aware of these little, yet important parts that end up in our diet. Easy to overlook.

Cloudy ice cubes also melt up to 5x faster than clear ice cubes because the pure ice cube is harder frozen. Also, quick-rinse your ice cubes so you don’t have any freezer frost in your drink. It’s also the water you drink from the refrigerator tap as well. Same thing, just liquid not frozen. Dissolved air and dissolved minerals cause the white cube as it freezes from the outside-in, concentrating to the center. Clear ice cubes are from special ice machines that freeze the ice in layers from the inside-out. There are also the differences between filtered water > distilled water > and boiled water = more clear, clean and pure ice cubes.

If you have a frig with a single evaporator, that means air moves between the fresh food and freezer compartments, and carries odors with it that gets in the ice cubes if not cleaned and kept up with baking soda boxes in both areas. A dual-evaporator refrigerator are compartment-dedicated so no air passes between the two spaces.

Cubes not forming the way they normally should? The water line may be slowly getting clogged without the normal run of water making it into the cube trays.. Dissolved gases, mainly nitrogen and oxygen, can get trapped and forced into micro-bubbles during the freezing process. Dissolved minerals, generally calcium and magnesium, can be present in the form of bicarbonates and/or sulfate.

Contaminates. A high level of TDS – Total Dissolved Solids –  can cause misshapen ice, resulting in a freeze up of the machine. Water high in dissolved sodium can taint your beverages. A high concentration of iron in the water can cause slime and bacteria that also gets on the ice. If there is chlorine in your city’s water system, the ice can give off a swimming pool taste and odor, and as it melts in the drink, the chlorine is released, therefore ingested during the consuming of a beverage.

Hard water states like Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Texas and Colorado end up using treatment systems in their homes, such as sodium chloride (salt) water softeners, potassium chloride salt-free systems, or filtration systems that remove the chlorides from softened water.

But this water is throughout the house – you drink it, you cube it, you water your plants and garden vegetables with it, you cook with it, you coffee and tea with it, glassware out of the dishwasher is spotty and filmy, you wash your hands and shower with it where you end up having a slimy feeling on your skin, the water comes out of the faucet or shower head too bubbly, as though in a carbonated state to save water, regardless of the temperature.

And then turn around and wash clothes with it, where after a stint in the dryer, they don’t feel soft. It’s all tainted with salt of the soft-water system. There may be no way to get around it in these states mentioned, unless of course you have the money to install a complete clean, clear fresh water system throughout the entire house.

I’ve worked parties in a few private homes here in Los Angeles that have such a system in place, where the shower water is just as identically clean and pure as the drinking water out of the faucet. It’s costly in one direction, but saves on your plumbing and house water fixtures in another, not to mention your health.

Until then, maybe that filter-less shower water is part causation for your hair-thinning and graying over years of the same usage. Dry or irritated skin maybe? Thoughts to consider.

This is not all there is to learn about the science of ice, more importantly, clean water for clear cubes, and general usage of water throughout the house. If interested, go online for further information to read up on in whatever specific areas you’re concerned with.

And by the way, there are plenty of How-To make clear ice cube videos on YouTube. I only put a couple of them here in this post as quick examples, but I would seriously suggest checking a variety of them out to choose the favorites that help you the most. Some are 5 minutes in length, some are 15 minutes.

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Interview – with Mario Castillo, Research Scientist of Token Bitters – Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

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Flavors Produced to Date

Strathcona Orange ~ Ritchie Cherry ~ Calder Chai ~ Whyte Lavender ~ Garneau Grapefruit ~ Meadowlark Mocha ~ Montreal Maple ~ Saskatoon’s Berry ~ Cloverdale Cedar ~ Stampede Caesar ~ Hawk’s Ridge Hops & Hemp ~ Muskoka Smoke

They also have an original sampler set of 4, a new flavours of Canada sampler set of 4, and an Orange, Spice & Everything Nice set

Founded – 2016

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Bitters Hub – What was it that motivated you, along with Cam, Keenan and Jamie to get started in the world of bitters production?

Mario Castillo – I’ve always been fascinated by the different flavours, textures, and colours in foods and drinks that detonate a series of sensations in your body. And bitters aren’t an exception! Bitters bring food and drinks to a whole new level. Average consumers and bartenders at home don’t get that full experience by mixing rum and coke, and that’s a shame because with a few drops of Ritchie Cherry bitters you can get pretty close to a drink made at a high-end cocktail bar.

BH – What experience do you have in the culinary field, or another field of study, that gave inspiration to delve into the now-popular craft of bitters products?

MC – I’ve been cooking at home since I was a child -and by cooking I mean experimenting in a playful way- so being in the kitchen has been my favorite hobby from childhood. It’s not surprising that I ended up studying 2 additional years of a 4-year bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Food Science in University. I was done with my program but I felt the need to learn more about food engineering, sensory science, consumer science, functional foods and nutraceuticals, and making bitters requires me to utilize the knowledge and skills I obtained in school.

BH – Are you originally from the Edmonton, Alberta area?

MC – I’m originally from Mexico City actually. I was born and raised there and I moved to Edmonton 11 years ago to get married, to have a family, and to study -in that particular order haha- but that’s a whole other story!

BH – Can you tell us a little about your process of maceration?

MC – The maceration process is very straight forward. I steep the desired biomass in high proof ethanol at different temperatures, some of our recipes have a maceration process in cold (between 32-50°F) and others at room temp ( 68-77°F). Temperature plays an important role in our process because it has a significant impact in colour and taste of our bitters as it aids with the selective extraction of tannins, anthocyanins, polyphenols, and terpenes, naturally present in the biomass.

BH – I love how you’ve named all of your bitters flavours after Edmonton neighborhoods and streets as a nod to your great city. Are all of you guy’s idea masters as a collective and who came up with that one?

MC – That was a brilliant idea that Jamie had. We collectively matched the flavour profiles with the neighborhoods’ vibes to represent them accurately.

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BH – How is the supply and demand going so far with your bitters, and what could be improved, if anything, knowing that bitters is for the most part, a small-batch artisanal endeavor?

MC – The demand is large and growing, however, the nature of bitters in the beverage industry imposes a lot of challenges to meet the demand with the current supply. Cocktail bars, mixologists, and bartenders at home are becoming more popular than ever due to a cocktail ‘renaissance’, but the general consumers don’t know what bitters are or how to use them, hence bitters are not the best sellers in conventional liquor stores which discourages distributors to add bitters to their portfolio. Despite that, our sales continue growing organically, more local businesses are requesting more custom flavors, and the popularity of our craft bitters in international markets keeps on growing and growing.

BH – Do you mainly use organic gentian as your bittering agent, or do you use others as well?

MC – Yes, that’s correct. We use organic gentian root as the main bittering agent in our recipes.

BH – In regards to handling the various tasks of the job when it comes to getting things done so it all comes together, who does what exactly in department?

MC – Keenan steers the ship as our CEO, Cam has taken an advisory position in the company so he is not actively involved in the operations for the moment, Jamie is our business developer/ public relations/ support staff whenever we need him, Richelle is our community manager/sales manager, and I’m the product developer/ head of production/ QA, QC/ and export manager. We have a lot of flexibility and fluidity in the company that allows us to fill in for each other when needed.

BH – What is it like and what do you see from your perspective hanging out in your city/community in regards to support with your various products? And do you have pretty good reach so far with sales from your online presence?

MC – That’s a very interesting question! I used to see the city and the community completely different before bitters came into my life. I always loved the city and its people, but I never had the chance to connect with business owners that are known for their contributions to the city and their exceptional products/services. Now I’m connecting with them at a level I never thought would be even possible. For example, since I moved to Edmonton in 2018, I always admired the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald for its beautiful architecture and history. And it was until I joined this project that I had the opportunity to go inside the historical building and get to know the people dedicated to keeping the place running like 100 years ago. It was an incredible experience to go behind the curtain to get all the insights and the inspiration that later translated into a bitter flavour .

-Ohh what a nice transition! I didn’t see that the next question was about the Fairmont hotel-.

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BH – I noticed your brand has partnered with the gorgeous Fairmont Hotel Macdonald located in your area. How many bars and bartenders do they have there? Did the bar staff get into the usage of your bitters in a serious way?

I ask this because the industry as a whole from a standpoint of GM’s, Beverage Managers and Bar Managers in various establishments, especially hotels, bitters brand owners have had a bit of a time convincing the culinary importance and word-of-mouth benefit that can be gained from the bar and staff mastering the practice with having a large array of bitters flavors behind the bar to essentially game-up all cocktails across the board. How is it all working with them so far?

MC – It’s been great! They had been using our bitters in their menu for a while before we started working with them but I didn’t know that. When I met with the general manager and he mentioned that they were using Token Bitters in their bars, it was a no brainer to offer them a custom flavour which then sparked the idea of giving their menu a ‘facelift’ with the new custom flavours. I work directly with their general manager, their bar manager who is also the head bartender, and their other two bartenders. The flavours I made for them were inspired by the history of the building, my admiration for the place, the bartenders’ needs, and the consumers’ experiences.

BH – What is the facility like in which you create your bitters?

MC – Well, in the beginning we shared the space with Hansen Distillery but as we both grew, the operations got complicated to coordinate in the facility. Then I started experimenting with different extraction technologies at the Bio Processing Innovation Centre (BPIC, a government research center in Edmonton) with small batches before moving into our current facility, the Mercer Warehouse (can find more about the building  here ) The office space is on the second floor and the production area is the basement of the building and has the layout and settings of an industrial kitchen with lots of extraction vessels, beakers, graduated cylinders and jars. The facility is not visually impressive but what goes down in there is for sure!

BH – Are the legal requirements and approvals strict and/or lengthy for producing bitters in Edmonton? Do you need some special license and/or certification, how does that all go for you?

MC – Yes, there are legal requirements and approvals we need to go through to produce bitters. First, we need to obtain a federal and provincial alcohol user’s license that permits us to buy high proof ethanol in bulk, store it, and use it in our production process. Second, the ethanol we purchase with those licenses can only be used in approved formulations. Every single recipe (flavor) must be tested by a government lab to ensure that the ethanol present in our end products is denatured (chemical analysis) and tastes gross enough so people wouldn’t drink it on its own (sensory analysis). This represents a challenge for me in the process of formulation because the bitter must taste strong and bitter by itself, and it must taste great when diluted in drinks.

BH – What are your storage and temperature necessities that you feel equate to the best results for your bitters?

MC – Room temperature is suggested. Even though the temperature during the extraction step varies from recipe to recipe, the product should be stored in a dry, away-from light, space at room temperature. The flavor should continue its maturation with time but it’s very unlikely that you will notice that difference in flavor because you will finish that bottle before it significantly changes in flavor.

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BH – How do you decide on which bottles and tops to use when it comes to eyedroppers, atomizers, dasher tops, woozy, Boston round, flask-style etc.?

MC – We test sample bottles that suppliers send us, we pay more attention to functionality rather than looks. For clients in bars and restaurants we use dasher tops since bartenders have a better notion of dashes as a metric unit and can leave bottles uncapped on their counter tops , while for the general consumers we use graduated droppers that make it easier to measure drops or mL when they are following cocktail recipes in a book. The bottle must be amber to filter light that can induce and propagate photo-degradation of sensitive flavor compounds.

BH – How did you determine the best bottle sizes to use for your brand?

MC – We gather feedback from customers. Some people prefer to purchase 4-15 ml bottles of different flavors (sampler sets) over a 100 ml bottle of just one flavor, they want to try as many possible. We also had to switch to 100 ml bottle size because we were getting a lot of suggestions from people who wanted to take bitters in their carry-on bags.

BH – I love your bottle label design and packaging. Such a colorful, yet solid look to them. Who’s in charge of that creative endeavor?

MC – That’s the work of Lauren Berkman, our marketing director on the other side of the company (Token Naturals).

BH – What were the deciding factors in your flavor choices of bitters to produce?

MC – Requests from clients and formula approvals. I have formulations that are not commercialized, and I make for friends and myself.

BH – I love all of the flavors you’ve come out with so far. I recently received your sample sets, and that Muskoka Smoke is an incredible blend – what is that, like a Charred, Mesquite, Barbeque, Hickory combo? Just amazing!!! I love the woodsy stuff too so, looking to get a bottle of your Cloverdale Cedar as well.

MC – I’m glad to hear that! The first test batch of smoke tasted so much like well-edged whisky and I knew it wouldn’t be approved because it tasted so good, so I had to get creative in extracting all the smoke notes from hickory wood. The wood was treated with heat at different temperatures and times to achieve those rich charred notes that resemble mesquite and other more subtle vanillin notes as well.

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BH – What are the most samples and least samples of trial and error testing you had to go through to get the flavor profile you wanted with a couple of your bitter’s releases?

MC – Three samples is the most I’ve gone through. Saskatoon berry took me three trials to get the right flavor profile, it was hard to balance the sweetness of the fruit with the spiciness of the caraway seeds and the bitterness of gentian. Some recipes like grapefruit have been the easier ones that get approved with the first trial.

BH – When you retire a flavor, what all goes into the decision-making for that consideration?

MC – Production cost is the bottom line. If the flavor is not selling very well and its production cost is high, the decision is very simple. However, we have retired flavors for other strategic reasons and the decision is hard to make because people constantly ask “Why did you retire that flavor? I loved it”.

BH – Any other flavors you’re thinking about creating/producing down the road?

MC –I just finished the formulation of an umami bitters for our biggest client in Japan, and it was quite a long and challenging process. I’d like to take a break or least not think of creating a new flavor for now. When the time comes, it will happen in the most natural way without even thinking.

BH – What kind of feedback do you get from professional bartenders, and do you wish that more bartenders would get involved in regards to upping their game with bitters usage?

MC – The most common question I get from bartenders is “Do you have any flavor like Angostura bitters?”, which is sad for me to hear because that indicates that they learned their cocktails in a very generic way, just memorizing old recipes that call for Angostura bitters. When I get that kind of question, I have to do a little bit of explanation that the cocktail-making process shouldn’t be like that. It should have a base or backbone from which you can build off with different ingredients and techniques, and the bartender’s voice should also be present. Often bitters are the medium for that voice.

I wish that bartenders would approach the cocktail-making process differently, instead of being told what to use and how much to use, they should find those answers on their own by testing and tasting!

BH – Mario, thank you so much for taking the time with this insightful interview into your bitters world. I’m sure the visitors here on Bitters Hub will appreciate you sharing your knowledge on how things go in creating Token and to get a glimpse into what it takes to be a multi-task master of your brand. Cheers!

MC – Thank you, Kyle, for showing your interest in finding out more about the work that goes into making bitters (an ancient practice) in this modern era, and for sharing this interview with your followers.

Website – http://www.tokenbitters.com

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“In Memorium” – Stories and Encounters by Kyle Branche

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Death happens. And once or twice a year I get the call. Whether it be a burial or cremation, there are times when a memorial service or after-service gathering takes place at home. Family and friends meet in a more natural setting, the environment in which the person who passed once lived. The feeling is warmer and more relaxed.

I usually know beforehand what I’m walking into, especially with this type of get-together. I step into the home with an energy of quietude, moving slowly and looking for the person in charge, the client. This was in October of 2008 in the Bel-Air area of Los Angeles just off of Sunset Blvd., which is basically the zip code right next door to Beverly Hills.

I met the daughter who was taking care of everything, and found out later on that it was her mother, entertainer Edie Adams, who passed away. Though she was a star of stage, screen and TV, Edie was best known for her sensual delivery in pitching Muriel Cigars in ads and commercials in the 60’s with her come-on line “Why don’t you pick one up and smoke it sometime?”

Edie was previously married to comedian, actor and writer Ernie Kovacs, and West Coast jazz trumpeter Pete Candoli, who played with the big bands of Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Les Brown and others. He was inducted into the International Jazz Hall of Fame in 1997 along with his jazz trumpeter brother, Conte, who with his many musical credits including Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, was also a member of Doc Severinsen’s NBC Orchestra on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

It was only a gathering of 40-50 people expected to show, so the two of us, myself on the bar and Desiree on the floor ,was all that was needed to assist in the food and beverage department. Desiree and I showed up on the street to park just about at the same time. It was a very steep incline of the road. I was on one side of the street and she was on the other. We walked in together.

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From what I heard, there was a service elsewhere earlier in the day, so we had a call time of 3:00 pm for a 4:00 pm start. This is smart timing for family and friends because it beats most of the rush hour traffic early on, and ends with people leaving around 8:00 pm, back in normal traffic. Unfortunately, with L.A, it’s one of those timings where it’s always better to figure in for guest considerations. It was also on a weekday, which helped the ease of everything.

Nice and mellow was the play of the day for me at the bar. Not sad, nor cheery, just somewhere comfortably in the middle. At this stage of performing the work for so long, one could safely say that I’ve earned a masters degree in human relations (or guest relations in my case) with a minor if not double-major in psychology. No classroom studies required when you’re working with humanity, the real thing gig-in and gig-out in elements outside of a closed room in an office on the 15th floor of a high-rise building. Next to bartenders as someone to talk to with discretion, people usually like to spill it to shrinks. It’s easier than talking to their spouses. But the bartender position is #1. And there’s a reason. Shrinks cost hundreds of dollars an hour, when bartenders simply appreciate a generous tip, with no paperwork or billing of insurance. It’s just too bad I can’t find a way to put the sensory overload of my eidetic memory to a better, more valuable use in terms of financially productive gain outside of the bar.

That’s the one bummer with how education is set-up in this country, is that you can earn OJT (On Job Training) credits in high school when you’re also working a job, but it doesn’t continue on when you’re out of school and in the real working world, so I can’t use the decades of experience as college credits toward a degree on paper, where I could enter those occupational fields mentioned. I would have to take all the other questionably meaningless-to-the-role side courses that are always part of the scholastic mountain to climb, all in the name of rounding out the curriculum, and of course for the universities to make more money! It’s much like a bill that goes to the senate floor for a vote, but by the time it finally arrives, all this other pork belly shit is added and/or hidden into the bill that doesn’t really belong there.

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The bar is set-up in the covered patio outside in back, near the screen door that leads into the main dining room. Perfect, outdoors, nice day, though a slight chill entered into the evening. The beverage inventory delivered was filled with everything needed for a full bar, with all the basic spirits and mixers, liqueurs, juices, sodas, waters, fruit, and a nice wine and beer selection. And I can make a few classic and specialty drinks if so requested.

It’s nice to not have the bar product so trim to the point where I can barely make anything memorable. There’s been a few times where that sort of thing has happened in the past when it comes to spirits and cocktails heavily minimized, making it a difficult limitation which can sometimes lead to all of it running out quickly when there’s not a wider selection to please the range of people’s drinking interests. If I don’t have their preferred spirit and mixer, they may end up choosing just a wine or beer. But you never want the guest to have to settle for a different category of drink if you can avoid it.

As I get the bar organized and chilled down, the restaurant deli caterer drops off the variety of small munchies and desserts in large tins for Desiree to transfer over onto some of the nicer kitchen plates, Lazy Susan turntables, and large bowls, along with condiments and silverware, all placed attractively on the long cleared-off dining table, just eyeshot of the bar area.

My gears are always set to go with the flow, high or low. The invites of family and friends began arriving. I can see them way down on the street below the raised property, as it was to my back outside where the bar was. The home was a very cool 60’s-ish dig, not as big as your typical sprawling estate for the neighborhood. Though, I’m sure it had a floor below or partial above way in back not easily noticeable from the inside. That’s the thing about curious floor plans. They beckon one to explore the mystery of the layout and the history of who’s lived there before.

I got busy with some drinks for guests and greetings at the bar, a few of them grabbing a smoke at the same time, while Desiree comes out to the side of the bar to grab a few cocktails for other guests inside hanging out and chatting, many of them catching up with old friends or past business associates they hadn’t seen in quite a while. That sort of strange time distance between hookups can happen when you live in such a big, spread out area like Los Angeles where many seem to live so far apart from who they know, not to mention work drives. You have the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Downtown, over the hill in L.A. proper and Hollywood, Santa Monica on the west side, the beach areas, Malibu and the Palisades. That’s a lot of territory!

With this sort of low-keyed event, I initially prefer to have the guest engage with me when at the bar instead of myself being forward with anything else beyond a hello and what can I get you to drink? If it’s a comfortable place in the conversation, I can offer my condolences to them for their loss, but it’s also not the type of thing you want to end up making a habit of repeating too much either when you’re in my position. In these cases, less is usually better, light and easy. However, I also don’t want to come across morose all through the evening. Again, it’s finding the balance of how best to communicate in any situation, given the combination of event, mood and personalities attending. There were a few kids in the mix of adults who came to the bar and ordered Shirley Temples. There are many times when I’m behind the bar almost anywhere I work and at times don’t realize that I have audible sound effects going on when making drinks until someone notices. The children start to laugh and get a kick out of it, like being mesmerized by a magician with movement and creation. It’s a nice accidental way to keep their spirits up.

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Desiree and I were only there for five hours total. It was a short and sweet get-together of individuals both mourning their loss and celebrating the life of their dear departed friend. And I kind of feel the emotion of it when I’m there too. It can’t help but permeate a little when it’s all around you. It certainly makes you think about your own life and the ones you love a little deeper in that moment in time.

It got dark out soon enough, and the patio lights were turned on, keeping some shine on the bar to the degree I prefer, without it being so bright where I would have to put sunglasses on. There’s nothing worse than a badly lit bar. It has to be just right to produce a certain visual look and appeal both close up and from a distance. With Desiree coming out to the bar for more drinks, my work was a pretty easy cruise to just stay put behind the bar and keep company with those who were outside talking close by.

This was one of those gigs where even though it wasn’t a high-energy event, the time moved by fairly quick mainly due in knowing that we weren’t going to be there a sixth or seventh hour, which is the norm most of the time. I love these short gigs though. You’re in and out in a snap. And it’s great for Desiree too, as she has another job modeling with her identical twin sister. Sometimes, the easier the gig, the better!

Guests started to fade little by little after hanging out for a few hours. I began trimming the sails of the bar in a way where no one quite notices, and Desiree was inside doing a slow wrap and clean-down. Her and I, like others that I work with, get a feel for when we need to hit our end time on the hour. We went through some product at the bar, enough to the point where there was only a couple boxes full of still-sealed goods left for the beverage service to pick-up the next day for client reimbursement.

Edie’s daughter came outside to settle up with us soon after the last guest had left. Everything went well as expected, no glitches and nothing broken! I grabbed my bar kit and off we went, back into the city at night.

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“Blessings of the Pipe” – Stories and Encounters by Kyle Branche

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There are days where I work events outside in the summertime and it’s hotter than hell, like Western desert heat, deep desert where the prehistoric thunderbirds hide! The weather patterns for Southern California shifted say over the last five years to where both the hot/cold are more noticeable now instead of gradual, no longer the eye-to-the-sky mystery it once was. It’s more like Nevada in the summer and Seattle/Pacific Coast in the fall and winter. Gone are the days and nights of expected perfection in temperature during seasonal changeover, when it has a harder time deciding which way it’s going to turn.

Nestled in the mountains up off Kanan Road on Mulholland Highway in Malibu is the Saddlerock Winery & Ranch, part of Malibu Family Wines, that grows 60,000 vines on 65 acres, producing six different reds, four different whites, a rose, a port and a sparkling wine. It also doubles as a venue for weddings and events, with four different settings; The Garden, The Oakgrove, Camp Cabernet, and The Vineyard, a quaint octagonal stone house called Chateau Le Dome, located on a hillside overlooking the vines and the property overall ,to accommodate guest counts from 50 to 2000. The ranch complete with horses, zebras and where the buffalo roam is quite a beautiful site, facilitating many parties and gatherings of all kinds.

I love the place, but working there in the heart of the summer is a different story. There’s only parking down below in the lot and you have to be shuttled up to the hilltop. It’s always a bitch for me in particular because my bar kit of preferred and comfortable necessities is so much that it takes two trips to complete, as opposed to just driving my truck up for the drop off and then park back down below and take the shuttle back up empty-handed. Either way, it all takes extra time and effort, so arriving on-location earlier than my scheduled call time is a must, and with it being scorching out doesn’t help matters when you’ve already broken a sweat before you even start setting up the bar.

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I lived in Arizona for many years where you get used to a certain degree of high temps, but working in it is different than just lounging or playing in it, where you can go in and out of it, taking breaks. I think I’ve slowly been spoiled with weather more to my liking since moving to California in 1985, therefore decreasing my interest in being out under the blazing sun for hours on end. Outside on the job from June through September, I’m always longing for dusk if it’s an early afternoon start.

It’s gorgeous up there no doubt, but the grounds surrounding the geometric house on the hill are a bit uneven in several areas, so staging the wedding and reception in regards to placement of the tables, the bar, the dance floor and the DJ vs. confirmed guest count is important so it all looks nice and is spread out properly to fit everyone. And there’s always a photographer and/or videographer at weddings, so it’s important that any hung lighting for the night is attractive and nuanced with a wattage of bulbs that doesn’t make it too bright or too dim, for them, the guests and for us who are working the event. This is why I always have my Velcro-adjustable finger lights with me, so if the bar has some dark areas I can happily make up for the loss and make cocktails with them on, of which the guests get a big kick out of, as they’ve never seen them before. I can see their minds spinning with the ideas of their use.

The maximum you can have up there comfortably is no more than 100 people. This gig that happened in the summer of 2008, we had about 75 guests, which in my opinion is even better. Anymore and it stars getting a bit tight. With catering, you’re bringing the food and kitchen line set-up as well, that’s on the other side of the house, so every department has its own mise-en-place. Some of the bar product, red wine especially, had to be kept in the unused kitchen area in the house to keep cool. The 50lb. ice bags are in the long igloos, but it still melts as if they were laid up against a tree. It’s like any situation, you just do what you can and hope for the best.

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At the end of my set-up, I’m soaked, so I shuttle down to the truck to take a breather, towel myself off, change clothes and have a smoke before, yet once again, go back up in the shuttle. I get back behind the bar and do some final rearranging of tools, tubs and expanded product chilling while shape-shifting my mood for customer service with me alive and kicking, more close-up and personal than real bar establishments. There’s less technicality and management oversight with it, more loose and fun with the only camera on me being the eyes of the guests.

So I’m hanging out and ready to rock with guests arriving shortly, and I see this guy with really long hair walking with a woman in the distance, slowly getting closer and closer. My sunglasses are on, so no one can see exactly where I’m looking, just a general direction. And low and behold, I knew who they were. The last people I expected to see there, my sweat lodge leaders, Wolf and Lisa Wahpepah. We greeted, as it had been a year or so since the Malibu sweat lodge on old Piuma Road up on the property of the architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, had closed due to new fire hazard code. This was an amazing property at the top overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

This lodge happened on Monday evenings, a perfect day off to participate in the Native American Indian ceremony of purification, the first stage of the Red Road experience, of which I did once or twice a month for a couple years. It was great to see them, but I was surprised as to why they were there, aside from them potentially being invited guests of the bride and groom. They were licensed to officiate the wedding and perform the marriage ceremonies. Who would’ve thought? I had no idea they did this on the side. All the sudden I felt like I was back with my tribe. If the bride and groom hired them, they must be doing sweats too. A comfort came over me and I was set for the night.

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Guests poured in by shuttle drops, so my activity making drinks and serving wine and beer was occurring in rushes and waves. It was warm, so I knew what was going to happen, a quenching of the thirst for an hour until everyone was present, and then the announcement of the ceremony about to begin, which took place down at the end of a forty-yard narrow, overgrown path that opened up to a flat lawn space for seating, where the vows are exchanged beneath a fallen oak tree arch entwined with grapevines, a very cool setting to be one with nature.

Wolf and Lisa even performed the pipe ceremony in the middle of the service. The bowl is made of a red stone called pipestone, and the stem is made of wood. The bowl, the female part, from mother earth, receives the stem, the male part. With this unity, it becomes very strong medicine. Lisa begins the pipe-loading song, and the pipe is loaded with red willow bark and prayers. The prayers are said to the seven directions; East, South, West, North, Below, Within and Above. If the bride and groom wish to smoke from the pipe, they take one puff without drawing the smoke into the lungs, then they gently blow out so the smoke sends the prayers to the wind and the spirits, and that completes the connection, as the prayers are spoken by Wolf.

The ceremony lasts about 30-40 minutes. I took a breather to regroup my bar needs and stock up to start fresh again for the reception. I have glassware for the adults and plastic cups for the kids. I serve everyone. I dig making Shirley Temples for the kids just so I can see the look in their eyes. It’s a treat for them. They love being able to belly up to the bar at an outdoor event like a grownup. Once they realize that I’m basically a kid at heart too, then they relax their initial apprehension when ordering sodas and juices. I’ll even make them special no-alcohol concoctions if I have the right stuff of selection to play with. The adults have cocktails, the kids have mocktails. I aim to please!

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As the ceremony ends, the waiters are ready with their trays of appetizers to pass as the guests walk back up to the main area. And here I go again, getting busy with some serious cocktailing, slowly hit by everyone this time. It’s always a challenge to go in and out of high gear for hours. But I’m used to it after thousands of events to keep the energy rolling at the bar, the fun spot to hang out, with my position being the first direct and reoccurring contact point with the people. I have to be on my best, cheerful behavior at all times.

The DJ starts the musical engine for everyone to catch a groove of enjoyment, while Wolf and Lisa make it up to the bar for a spirited libation after a glass of water or lemonade at the spigot jar self-serve station. It was nice to see them in a different setting where they weren’t conducting the lodge gatherings or anything, where they had a seat at a table like every other guest. And for them to see me do what I do was probably a bit strange for them as well, in and out of each other’s elements. But hey, after a couple drinks, who cares?

It turned out to be a beautiful evening once the sun set over the highest peak in the distance, and the lights turning into a night party, with the blessing of a mild, cool breeze crossing bodies in silent relief. Dinner was served at its scheduled timing following the post-ceremony reception of about ninety minutes. The DJ took over as Emcee during the last half of dining for the usual activity of giving the microphone over to the parents of the bride and groom, and eventually anyone else in the crowd of family and friends who wanted to say a few words to the new couple.

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Meanwhile, I’m hanging out behind the bar trying to stay busy and occupied with whatever, though I sometimes will take a bottle of red and white with me and go around to the tables, mostly at Pierre’s request, even though there are bottles already on the table, it just feels nice to go out and mingle a stretch, and then disappear, like I’ve never been gone! My work is my favorite energy mode to be in, which is probably why I still like to do the job to this day. Making drinks for people and talking with them is fun, no stress. You learn to take it all in stride.

Following some after-dinner relaxation with walking around, the guests are ready to party, and the DJ kicks up the dance floor with some great music from the 60’s to 90’s mainly, very fitting for the crowd, and myself. I’m busy again with more drinks, but a steadier pace this time with no hurry of thirst.

There’s a point in any private gig that I do where dinner is served, like this wedding for example, where at the beginning I’m buried during the initial bar set-up and then the reception hits the bar heavy right after the ceremony, which is why I’m usually the first floor staffer to arrive and many times even the last one to leave at night. So there’s a middle period during guest/table sit-down where the bar gets a short respite and slides into a cruise control when it picks back up.

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This is when the floor waiters and food really gets rolling into their high-volume phase with its three courses and sometimes more, depending on if it’s plated or buffet style. This lull was welcomed not only to catch up behind the bar, but to have a chance to chat with Wolf and Lisa when they walk up for another drink. At other venues where the grounds of the event are more spread out, I may have to switch from a bar in one area to a bar in another area, which means I have to uproot all my bar gear and schlep it over with me and lay it all out again. That’s a drag!

This venue location is truly beautiful, but it’s a bit trying and stressing on the mind and body in the summer heat. All goes well with another event pulled off with excellent execution. It’s funny, all the events and parties I do basically being a touring bartender all over L.A., into the thousands now, and with the bar being the number one spot that guests love to frequent and hang out at through the night, which by the way includes a lot of communication gig after gig, but when it comes to my own life, I don’t even know how to go out anymore and hang on that side of the bar as a guest or customer. It’s just a weird “fish out of water” feeling for me. It’s hard to have much interest or care about going out or to a bar when I already spend so much time behind them.

I break down the bar here on the hill, gather my gear once again, get my paperwork for the next gig from the caterer and take the last shuttle down. It is quiet when I arrive, and silent when I leave. All these moments in time just passing by and passing through . . . the lives of others.

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“The Sicilian Connection” – Stories and Encounters by Kyle Branche

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In 1995, I was called and asked by Tony, one of the Bellissimo brothers, to come and work his bar at the Café Bellissimo in Thousand Oaks, off of Moorpark Road and the 101 freeway. It was a great building and property along with the interior, and with its volume potential, I couldn’t say no.

However, it did require me to drive 15 miles to work as opposed to just walking to work at the original Café B on Ventura Boulevard near my home in Woodland Hills, between Shoup and Fallbrook Avenues, where I started with the family. I’ve only been in three situational proximities of walking or riding my bike to work in 30 years, and when you live in L.A., not having to drive everywhere is a sweet thing, and not easy to give up.

But my truck was young then, and with the opportunity to make more money as both bartender and bar manager, it had to be a yes. It also had easy parking in back which is something I always pay attention to, not like Hollywood where it costs you and then you still worry and pray it doesn’t get broken into after hours when you get out after 3:00 am. I have a phobia about that because my truck has been vandalized five times, but has never been stolen. I prefer to keep it that way.

Of course, this meant having to go back to doing inventory and ordering of all the bar product, like I had done at other gigs in the past where I handled both roles, and once again created my own inventory sheets and system to make it as easy and quick as possible. But I also wanted to help Tony out with putting it all together, from the bar end.

We took over a pre-existing restaurant establishment, so the bar was already in place, it just had to be cleaned thoroughly in and out along with re-arranged placement of certain things; bottles, glassware and all cooler stock with more efficiency of expected usage, especially with an occupancy rate of close to 200, plus eight seats at the bar, serving food along with drink as well. Luckily, the kitchen and bar were only separated by a wall, making it close to get to, drop off an order, and get back into rhythm.

We even had a wine cuvee to make by the glass easier/quicker to pour with less moves involved. It was a 4+2 model, chilled for white wine and room temp for red wine. It was mainly designed for 750ml bottles, but I was able to find a way to extend the tube-in-bottle by fitting a certain inch-length of clear plastic tubing on the end of the cuvee’s main tube for 1.5 Liter bottles, as it would make it all the way down to the inside bottom of the bottle, making each bottle last twice as long before it had to be changed.

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One of the top focuses for Tony was to assemble the waiter talent. After all, this was a singing-server restaurant, just like the original one I started at in Woodland Hills the year before, 1994. So the job description was of dual task, yet of equal importance. With many auditions, things started taking shape. I on the other hand, was not required to hit the stage. It was more of an option.

And we had a centered stage in the main room. It wasn’t off in some corner of the floor plan. As part of the audio for the sound system, Tony acquired this special rack CD component with many features, including one that would remove the lead vocal track on any music CD you put into it. This made it so the waiters/singing servers didn’t have to rely on or be limited to the use of cassette tapes from those mini-mall karaoke stores. You don’t want talent hindered by a watered-down musical cheese version of a song when you could have the real deal sound production instead. Tony paid his ASCAP entertainment fees, so why not!

We don’t know where he got the machine, but it was a brilliant move and allowed for the ultimate in flexibility with unlimited musical choice and range. My guess is it had to have been a high-end special order from out of the country, that no one knew he had, as there was no way to tell just by looking at it. You had to actually utilize the component’s functions by finger to know, of which we did.

Along with all of this, we had a variety of musician accompaniment almost every night of the week. I remember Alan who used to be the touring guitarist with Johnny Rivers. The retired fireman and his band. The major touring band side player we had, Johnny our Harley-riding acoustic singer. And the regular musician that was at Café B in Woodland Hills, who pulled double-duty at our place initially to start things off when we opened. These were guys who could play and sing a wide swath of music real well.

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Tony was our leader and became one of the showmen too. This period of time was back when (okay brace yourself as this might hurt a little bit) the “Macarena” was hugely popular. So along with singing “That’s Amore” and other good guy favorites like “New York, New York”, Tony also took the reign almost every night and nailed the “Macarena” to the wall. Every once in a while early on in the song’s worldwide rise to fame we’d all catch one another clapping and singing to the song, then the waiters and I would go into a temporary hiding in back for a minute until the tune was almost over, realizing what we had done. Just kidding!

If you hear a song like this too many times, of which by the way followed the heels of the whole country line-dancing craze that I had just left with Denim & Diamonds in Santa Monica, hundreds over the course of a year, it’s very possible one may have to enter a mental institution for an undetermined length of time for what could only be termed as an audio exorcism. Even today, if by sheer strange occurrence I hear it blasting out of some distant loudspeaker or broken boombox, I find myself saying “No, no, please, please don’t, I can’t listen to this, no really, I’m serious”, all the while forming a crucifix with my fingers and pulling my beanie down over my ears like a dog hearing an endless siren or some high-pitch freak out. Bringing up that memory from the archive feels like it will never go away. Yes, the “Macarena” burnout was that bad!

The place got cleaned up inside and out, the kitchen crew were put into motion and trained on the menu, and everything seemed to be in place. The wine selection was finalized for both glass and bottle, along with popular domestic micro-brews of the time, and the basic spirits that fit the bill, nothing fancy, product that moved, not sitting around gathering dust on an upper shelf for six years. And this was Italian/Sicilian food, so the wines didn’t have to be super high-end to be good and acceptable, like one might expect in a fine-dining establishment. They’re not as snobby as the French! Café B had an old-world style and charm to it that only the original owners, Tony and Emilio, could duplicate. It was family oriented, therefore avoiding stuffiness in trade for all to have a good time.

There was even an older couple who worked at both Café B’s, where the husband created balloon animals for the kids, while the wife was a palm reader who had a table just inside the front entrance of the restaurant, for customers who were waiting for a table to open. So with this Carnie meets the Supernatural within the walls topped with live entertainment, a magical suspension of belief had been created, like a stationary traveling circus without a tent that never left. Intoxicating and addictive. For several hours we would take the mind away from all life’s troubles, like walking into an improv movie musical that lasted for a night moon, and having dinner in the middle of it while it was being shot.

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At its busiest period, it was crazy and chaotic, a runaway train where everyone got caught up in the emotions of the good and bad of what happens on any given shift, even some of the customers. About a year after we had opened, Tony had got underway with a major wraparound outdoor patio construction that turned out gorgeous when it was completed, and added even more seating and volume to the business. It was a lot to handle for me as one bartender when it was packed, like a heated race to get to the finish line. The rotation of glassware, ice fills, all the drinks from over the bar and all of the waiters, product preps, fruit stock, food orders, it was nuts. Sangria preparation also came in later on with Tony’s nephew, Luigi, who put a large batch concoction together, that was very tasty. I still use that recipe today whenever I have a need.

The waiters – Jerry, Michelle, Camille, Zamora, Christine, Matt, Amy, Daniel, Stephanie, Georgina – were a great collection of singing interests with some incredible voices. There were others during that whole stretch of business, but one can only remember so many names. Jerry was the Neil Diamond king, Michelle sang sweet songs and movie themes, Camille was already an impersonator doing Cher, Carmen Miranda, Liza Minnelli, Ethel Merman, and Marilyn Monroe for birthdays. Amy was a young, great blues singer, Stephanie was a musical theater major, Daniel sang in a variety of genres, Christine and Zamora sang classic rock and pop tunes, Georgina was pop and Broadway, and Matt was a legitimate operatic tenor who wowed everybody. Matt and Stephanie did “The Phantom of the Opera” to some amazing applause.

After it bleeding on me enough, I finally started to get into it as well. I knew I had a good shower voice, but never pursued it before. This was the perfect avenue to enter and sweat it out till I got it right. It took a while to lose most of the shakes, but then I gained more confidence, which then helped my voice relax into the microphone’s amplification. I just had to stay with it, but I had the best support and instruction around me so, it was the best of both worlds, singing on the job!

Eventually, after doing many songs solo with just a guitar or piano to accompany me or the use of my own music CD’s, I was asked to perform duos and songs with multiple harmonies, which I found was very natural for me. With Christine, I did “Leather and Lace”, with Matt and Alan we did a three-part harmony to “Helplessly Hoping” by Crosby, Stills and Nash, A bunch of us guys got up and shared verses and harmony to Don McLean’s “American Pie”, and I ended up singing lead in a five-part harmony to the Eagles “Best of My Love”. Zamora and I perfomed “More Than Words” by Extreme, Alan and I performed an acoustic version of the Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes” with him on guitar and me on vocals, and I sang Poco’s “Crazy Love” with the fireman’s four-piece band. On my own, I went in a jazz direction with Michael Franks and Charlie Watts Quintet, the British pop/rock of Paul Weller, as well as Journey, Kansas, Boz Scaggs, Lyle Lovett, Stone Temple Pilots, Dan Fogelberg, and the Doobie Brothers. My musical choices were all over the place. I was good with variety. It was great fun. But memorizing lyrics was a bitch, some easier than others. It would usually take me a half-dozen times singing the song before I got it down,. Yet if you don’t sing a certain tune for awhile, one could slip and forget a line. I sing here and there today with a lot of new songs that I jam on that weren’t out twenty-plus years ago, and I’m still with good voice in the shower, where steam on the throat and vocal chords is the best medicine.

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Tammy and Travis were our young seating hosts, and they both got up to sing at some point too. Travis was hilarious and a really smart kid. Him and I would play lounge lizards behind the counter when nobody was looking, putting our own lyrics into songs. He also had this short dancing jig that he would do once in a while that was off the wall, yielding gut-wrenching laughs from all of us watching. I wanted him to do it on the stage to a banjo song from the soundtrack of the movie Deliverance, but the moment was never found. We had our jobs to do. It was crazy!

There were a couple stretches of time during those four years I was there where I was gone for a few weeks at a time. One was for three weeks when I took a temporary acting and touring gig as the set-up man and referee in a Foxy Boxing and Oil Wrestling show with a friend of mine, Dave Robinson, who was both the Emcee and tour lead for a company out of L.A., where he would do this a few times a year for awhile. We basically had 15 shows in 18 days that started in Wyoming and ended up in Pennsylvania before we headed home. It was interesting doing these shows in states like Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Indiana. I was also the night driver. We were in a big, long van with him and I and the four gorgeous girls towing a U-Haul filled with equipment. One of them was supposedly an ex-wife of original member and guitarist of the band Heart, Howard Leese. I never really investigated as to its truth, but she was a very beautiful woman.

Most of the places we were booked in were not fabulous. They were bars and clubs, some seedy, some not so, but they all felt like strange environments when you’re there for a one-off show and then you’re gone to the next. In the ring, I would referee the girls boxing in sexy outfits they would wear, and even less so with the oil wrestling. I remember being clocked in the face a couple times with the girl’s misguided punches. Though the gloves were soft, it didn’t necessarily feel that way when it clobbered your jaw. Guys would pay to get in and wrestle with them, and they had a bidding contest, it was nice entertainment and borderline sleazy as you would expect.

The ex-wife and I chatted on the tour and I remember her and I going to have breakfast one time at a restaurant nearby after we arrived in the early morning snow of Colorado to do the first of three shows in two different towns. One night during a show, I was on the outside of the wrestling ring leaning down and sort of officiating but staying out of the way. She sneaked over to the corner on her knees when I wasn’t looking. I turned around and she plopped a big, juicy kiss right on my lips. That’s what I get for not paying attention. I should be aloof more often! It probably wasn’t the best thing for her to do in front of an audience, and it didn’t continue on.

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But it was all in fun, it was a good show, and we all made good money, had hotel rooms and food so, I just said what the fuck and went for it, got paid to see some of the country, and was exhausted when I got back. The road home back across the country was a long one. I didn’t mess around with the girls, as much as the appetite may have been there. Opportunities presented themselves on a few occasions, but it was best to keep it clean, in case I wanted to go on another tour in the near future. I didn’t want the word to get out to the wrong person and get nixed from any consideration down the road, possibly without me even knowing.

The other time I was gone from Café B was that of an emergency. I was getting ready to go to work at the restaurant, it was a Friday in July, and a few minutes before I was going to leave the house, I got this collapsing pain in my side that wouldn’t go away. I was in great shape and had no idea what was going on. I called work and rushed to the emergency room with the aid of a friend. It was impossible for me to drive. They sedated my pain and started doing tests, finding out far after that it wasn’t my appendix, but a couple polyps had perforated in my colon. They were leaking out. I had Diverticulitis, which is an acute case of Diverticulosis. But they didn’t know or diagnose that at first. It just came on.

Early the next day I was on the operating table for what I thought at the time was going to be short repair and a couple days in the outpatient. I woke up from what ended up being a 6-hour surgery to find out that they had to do an exploratory on me. Luckily it was in the ascending section that they could sew up and put me back together without leaving any skin and tube holes open. I was in for seven days with no food, no drink, and no sleep due to that nasty NG tube being so incredibly uncomfortable through the nose and down my throat. I had tubes and vein lines everywhere, even in a place I would have never guessed as necessary. And that was all too creepy getting pulled out!

I had lost 20 pounds of weight that I couldn’t afford to have removed from my body, when I barely had any fat percentage to begin with. It was brutal and exhausting, not to mention the morphine giving me hallucinations in the middle of the night from no silence and peace in the rooms with the nurses and intercom system calling doctors through the ceiling speakers in the hallways. All I wanted was “shut the door and turn off the lights”. The first couple days after surgery the morphine drip made me feel “More Fine”, but during day three I had to cut it loose and get off it. It was getting me too numb and a bit dreary, too far in the fog. After all, it was morphine for pain, not pleasure.

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When I got home, I had to eat very easy foods to digest, though I was hungry as a horse. I had to really teach myself again. Now I have a nice big zipper in the middle of my stomach, along with the one they cut for the appendix. I got the 2 for 1 special! All is good though, with my internal engine running even better than before. That’s what happens when you get cleaned out and overhauled at the same time as the cut, remove and sew, or as the doctors called it, a dissection. It was three weeks before I got back to work, nice to return and resume the normal activities in my life again. But I had to go slow until I built up the stamina again. Everybody was wondering what the fuck happened to me. It was too debilitating of a situation in the hospital bed to have visitors other than my mother. So I filled them all in on the medical details and drama with the doctors mandatory “Filet of Kyle” final report in short form and got it over with.

For the next couple years the restaurant stayed nice and busy, packed on the weekends, and our first couple New Years Eves were sold out, as well as other holidays. We developed a lot of regulars that loved coming in just for drinks and appetizers and to see the musical entertainment, as every night it was a little different with something new. And no cover charge at the door.

One of the regulars was this older guy who came in early after we opened and sat at the bar. We got to know each other over a period of time, and he eventually let me know that he was a retired CIA agent, spending half of his career time in and out of South America. I didn’t make it a point to inquire too deeply, but did make him aware that I was intrigued and was hoping to hear more. He mentioned a couple assignments he had in the past and went into a little detail. He noticed my keen observation skills as a natural, and mentioned that if I was ever interested in becoming an agent, I would have to learn three specific other languages – Russian, Gaelic, and one other that still eludes my memory today, but it very well could be Spanish. One other strange piece of Intel he told me was that in the Thousand Oaks and surrounding area, where the restaurant is located, had the most densely populated group of retired CIA agents and retired MOB bosses than anywhere else in the country. It’s hard to ever find out if that’s a true fact, but given the mostly beautiful weather year-round, I wouldn’t be surprised. I guess they still keep an eye on each other. And there I was, working in a Sicilian restaurant!

Dr. Laura Schlesinger was a regular at the Café B in Woodland Hills, and when Tony opened up ours in Thousand Oaks, her and her husband came out to dine there too on occasion. And the parents of Ron Goldman (O.J. Simpson murder case) came in once in a while after that whole legal debacle and the terrible loss of their son. That crime happened in 1994, just a year before the Thousand Oaks Café B got going. So hard to believe it’s been almost 25 years already since that horrific tragedy.

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All in all, we had a lot of fun during the time of the restaurant’s existence. But by 1998, business volume started to tail off at a concerned degree. The prices got hiked with some of the dinners on the menu a couple times in that last year, and I started to see the writing on the wall that maybe it was time to move on. Tony’s girlfriend, who would sometimes sit at the bar and have a glass of wine, mentioned to me that she heard that the nightclub Provence, on the property of the Westlake Inn up the street in Westlake Village was looking for a bar/nightclub manager. So I went over there to Human Resources and put a resume in. I was called in for an interview within the following few days, got the job, and gave my two-week notice to Café B. The plus is that it was five miles closer to home. The minus is that I had to get used to putting in 50-hour work weeks, on an acceptable salary. Initially, I was just happy to make a smooth, quick transition from one job to the next, and thankful to the boss’ girlfriend for the tip and hookup.

I worked with the Café B family for close to five years in total, along with picking up other bar work whenever Tom needed me at The Gardenia on nights I had off. But this is how it goes in the business. Establishments rise and fall. So I always have to keep an eye and ear open for when it’s time to make that shift whenever it comes around and shows itself as a necessary next move. There are some places of work where you really don’t want to leave, but you also need to avoid getting caught under the bridge.

It was a good run . . .

“Chelsea Behaving Badly” – Stories and Encounters by Kyle Branche

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Punk’d is the only word I can come up with what happened, or at least what it ended up to be after the smoke cleared.

Back in 2004 I was working all over at the time, a couple years after I left Lakeside, including gigs at the Palladium. One of the bartenders I worked with often there was Marie, who was a regular combination of angel and devil. So each time behind the bar with her could either be fun or a scene of sensitive communication during the shift. My goal – keep her in a good mood and enjoy her great breasts whenever she brushed them by my left upper arm back and forth while getting draft beers from the tap, which was usually on my side, strategically positioned!

The easier I made if for her, the better. She was like a tough, sexy street girl with some incarnation of bad ass, combined with a bit too much pull towards religion and politics going on in her head, all the while being another struggling actor in Hollywood. Let’s just say that with questions of attitude, getting along has a lot to do with making it in Tinseltown. And still being a rebellion in your late 40’s doesn’t quite cut it for the temperance that needs to be practiced to have success in the big picture, and a shit load of quality connections built up over years.

Some people are more comfortable remaining stubborn instead of embracing change, as though they have something in a dark past to uphold and drag around like a ball and chain, of which most of us have at some point or another in our lives until we just say “Fuck it, I’m Me”. But this surrendering of “I can’t carry it anymore” is exactly what’s needed to slowly ease the hold and let things go. To forgive, to apologize, and say goodbye to weighty, negative things of all kinds so they fall away to the past, where they belong, in an archive deep in the mind’s library. Forward out of the cave is forward, and that direction is one-way.

I remember for some time trying to help her with what she even admits and acknowledges about herself, of which I admired and respected about her, as we had fun together too, Marie had a nice side as well, it was just the stern edge of an undercurrent that needed to disappear. But it could sustain brutal outcomes at times when it wasn’t necessarily called for.

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I get a call from her one day in the middle of the week, asking me if I want to tend bar with her at a gallery showing in the Artist’s District of Santa Monica. It was just for a few 3-4 short hours. My minimum is usually 5 hours. I had to think about it for a minute, because if another gig came up for the same date where I’d make more money, then I’d be stuck. Luckily it was on a Thursday evening, lessening the chance of a double-booking, so I went ahead and confirmed to do it with her. The money was okay enough to make the trek over the hill from the valley, taking Topanga Canyon through to Pacific Coast Highway, then PCH to Santa Monica, avoiding the 405 freeway altogether.

Our friendship/relationship was that of a title from the Led Zeppelin song “Good Times, Bad Times”. The day of the event she calls to let me know that something came up on her end and she wasn’t going to be able to do the event with me. She mentioned there was a replacement for her, so I would be walking into another mystery gig hoping all would go well, with or without her there.

I arrive in the parking lot early, so I hung out listening to Tom Leykus on the radio while taking a couple drags of a cig and got my bar kit ready to schlep over my shoulder, yet once again. Walking into the building with first eyes on where the bar was set-up, I introduced myself to someone that looked like they might know what was going on. The lady, named Chelsea, than introduced me to the other bartender, Melissa. She was a nice, young cute girl with I’m guessing some Filipino in her. I get there to find out the bar was limited to select wines and micro brews and just a few choice spirits, sodas and juices, making it easier and quicker to throw together in ready mode.

Soon I found myself standing around for a while before guest arrivals of the artsy type, kind of up my alley actually, except for the potential snob factor. Then all the sudden I began over-hearing a distant but audible freak out session happening in the back room. Chelsea in charge came out and was heading directly towards me. Where’s my disappearance switch when I needed it?

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Face-to-face, she told me an artist was not going to make it in with a final painting to fill a big, open naked spot on the wall that I could see from the bar clear as day. The question followed:

Chelsea:   Kyle, I have a big favor to ask of you, have you ever painted before ?

Me:   No, not really, but I have an artistic background with other things I’ve done.

Chelsea:   Well, I have a 24×36 canvas in the backroom with someone’s color palate of paint and a couple brushes. Can you fill it up with something/anything will do, just so I can hang a piece in that spot for now until the showing is over. We only have about 20 minutes. Can you please, please do this for me?

Me:   Ahh, ugh, yeah, umm, I’ll do what I can for you. Bring out the stuff so I can see what I have to work with.

Chelsea:   Oh, thank you, thank you so much, you’re a lifesaver.

Touching my shoulder, she walked away to the back room to gather what was needed. I went to work, quietly, but ever curiously. Intuition works best in those with free, silent minds, and something was knocking that door, a signal trying to come in, while I was occupied with the acceptance of this impromptu task at hand. Whenever I commit to doing something, I prefer to get to the finish line if I’m going to put the time in at all. This painting was no different. It was a bang-it-out job, that’s all, a piece in an overall wall puzzle to fill a void. But still, I tried to do something special with it, given what I’m given to work with – life’s designed limitations !

I mean, how much heart could one put into the art with less than a half hour to work with. It’s not like I was commissioned or anything. But effort is effort, however racing the pace was. With the colors I had to work with, the end result was like a sky blue inner-outer background with white clouds peeking through, centered more or less with yellows, greens and reds, orange and browns, like tulips in a spring wind or a chili pepper soiree. I wasn’t going for that or anything in particular, just following where it was taking me. It’s interesting to paint with nothing in mind, little care, not much concern, but you don’t want to produce total shit either. I was just hoping for a passable piece that I wouldn’t turn away looking at it myself, once it was mounted next to the real works of art.

So I thought . . .

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Chelsea came out of the back room as I was finishing up, though with a painting, it never really feels done. It can be endlessly tinkered with until you run the possibility of screwing it up altogether, where you scrap it and start all over. But I didn’t have that luxury. There is a point moment when you have to drop the brush and let it dry, surrendering to whatever is.

The Artist’s Life Nightmare – The suffering for perfection while attempting to settle for excellence. Most people would love this life . . . but as a leisure hobby . . . not to survive off of it. I clean my hands and get back to the bar. Chelsea takes the easel and materials in back and has the painting hung on the wall just in time for the doors.

Melissa arrived back behind the bar that I really preferred to work alone since Marie made a clean exit elsewhere, so we engaged in some mild conversation sharing the same space, but you can’t create your own individual vibe of presence as much when working alongside another, especially a rookie stranger from another generation. This always leads to several “get me out of here” moments, but I do my best to maintain a sense of professionalism that others around can be oblivious to position or concern. It made me curious of her in the form of further investigative observance while I was there on location.

Guests arrive like a slow, staggered platoon getting dropped off by a bus. A line had gathered outside unnoticeable from the inside with the glass of the door’s tinted. Greeting and drinking took its first turn around, and after the initial rush to the hosted spirits, you then become the casual observer of event activity, like the suited bald guys in Fringe. With the guest count of this event, I could have worked the bar solo, but since there were two of us, it made it easier. Too easy! Melissa was cool, but I was also happy when she would leave the bar for short periods. Otherwise, the time would go by slower.

The discipline of an enlightened master lacking need or initiated interest to speak at all – internal peace in the middle of chaos, serving with the kind silence of responding gestures instead of words.

The walls get busy with eyes gazing at the works from the various new contemporaries. The petite femme fatale hip-hugging me, nudges and points with surprise as a few gallery goers hover and chat with Chelsea around and underneath my freshly-fucked painting. She is there to sell and make a commission. Her motivation was strong. Though a humorous grin peeked at the possibility, I didn’t take it seriously at all. And then it all changed into the high drama nightmare.

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A couple minutes go by after some happy commotion at a distance, and Melissa decides to walk over and catch Chelsea as she was walking to the back. She comes back to me with the news. Out of all the art work, Chelsea sold my painting first, for $10,000. Hard bargain to swallow, much less believe. I stood and watched it play out but was too far away to hear specific words. I asked myself “Had it even fully dried yet?” My bar girl was looking on my stoic stance, and then says to me “You know, she plans on keeping it all for herself, including your commission, and giving you nothing”. “Really” I said “I didn’t know I was supposed to get something . . . though I wouldn’t say no to receiving”.  But all the evidence wasn’t in yet.

When Chelsea came to the bar with a frontal assault of the sale, that’s when my passive shifted to aggressive. When something is put in your face like that, you may as well bark and defend, hell, it’s almost being requested of me. Delivering with no armor, I engaged in a verbal joust with Chelsea that started with medium body, all the while Melissa was standing there offering encouragement for what she thought was rightfully mine, a cut fair and square. Chelsea played it off like a shark clamping to the money bone, happy with her expanded chunk, sufficient with her reasoning, than slowly walked away with the guilty smile of a bitch in high gear.

With the entire crowd of invitees hanging out and talking amongst themselves over art, drinking and eyeing plates of finger food not in arms reach, I walked out from behind the bar and went to the center of the main floor in the open room, and proceeded with getting everyone’s attention for a minute.

Watching Chelsea’s jaw drop from the corner of my eye was sweet to behold, at the same time I sent Melissa into OMG! Status as she stood behind the bar alone. Out loud it poured from me.

“Can I get everyone’s attention for a minute, please . . . thank you . . . Hello, my name is Kyle, I’ve been your bartender for this evening. I wanted to let you all know what just happened here. Before you arrived, I helped the host of this gallery showing . . . I’m sure you all know her, she’s right there. She was in a jam with an artist not showing up with a painting to fill a space on the wall. I painted a canvas on-the-fly for her. Well, that painting sold just a few minutes ago for $10,000. That’s not the problem, though. The issue is to let you know that she plans on keeping all the money, instead of just her commission, so as the artist, I get nothing for helping her out in a pinch. I don’t know how you feel about that, but I thought it only fair to let you know. I’ll leave it up to you to decide . . . but I feel I should get something. Thanks”

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I walk back to the bar and stand next to Melissa. A couple minutes later, a slew of once invisible crew walk over to the bar, including Chelsea, to let me know in no silent treatment “Kyle, you’ve just been pranked on Girls Behaving Badly!” That’s when I just put my arms in the air, walked out from the bar and surrendered with relief and laughter.

Getting punk’d didn’t bother me nearly as much as knowing that Marie made money off of it, while she was gone as a participant from a distance. She got a good laugh at my expense. But over the years, I took that money and more back out of her pocket in ways she doesn’t even know about to this day. She’s one of those individuals that can dish it, but can’t take it. There are some times where an eye-for-an-eye is fitting punishment as return volley. Knowing Marie and her capability for vengeance, if I would have done such a thing to her, she would have exploded in anger like a scene from Scanners.

The whole time, I was on the fence with taking all this as being real and true, than knowing at a certain stage of the evening that it couldn’t have been, which is why I made my final curtain call at the end in an attempt to even the score, just in case. I had nothing to lose at that point.

Months later, I was contacting them to get a VHS copy of the segment or episode for myself, but I can only pull teeth for so long. Eventually, it showed up in the mail. I shoved it into the player just to find out that whoever the editor was cut out the good stuff and made me look like an ass instead. I never watched their program, so maybe that was simply par for what they do. It could have been, in my opinion, so much better entertainment, but they weren’t about to air my grandstanding of turning the table and calling Chelsea out.

Oh, by the way, the then Chelsea I’m speaking of . . . is the now famous Chelsea Handler.

One final note. I did end up getting the painting as a parting gift. I have it in the garage at home.

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“A Glass of Cabaret” – Stories and Encounters by Kyle Branche

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Only a very small percentage of establishments in the food & beverage industry and entertainment business survive the test of time. Most go for a few years and disappear for a variety of both legitimate and suspect reasons that individuals like myself, are all too familiar with seeing in the world of hospitality and nightlife. They can be here one day and gone the next.

The Gardenia Room has been my occupational hub away from home off and on, in and out, for close to 30 years now. A length of tenure unexpected of me. With working the bar at the club, it’s allowed me the flexibility to also work with many other establishments and outfits, practicing and expanding what I do, which included a 10-year stint writing for the industry magazines, and now being the creator and site runner for the online global directory of all things Bitters. I’ve entered into the world of apothecary !

I guess I’ve grown and come to some sense of maturity over 37 years in this field where I’ve learned to accept and let it go more than contend and repair. A relief for me of sorts, when your mind is a creative castle of ideas and production, it became a necessary outlet. A metabolism built for speed finally paces itself into cruise control for the long run.

Of course, that was the main reason and /or problem for any early arguments that Tom and I had back when we were younger, of which were mostly my fault. I was still growing and getting used to LA. Well, that and just a few unnecessary dramas. It’s the restaurant business. Scuffles and mistakes exist and happen when juggling the many moving parts. Tom and Bruce, the owners of the club have always kept the door open for me, even at times when I didn’t know it. We’ve seen each other go from our late 20’s and 40’s to our late 50’s and 70’s, employers and their employee.

At times, Tom would come and sit at the bar, just after the doors open when the bar is set-up and the room/floor is ready for another night, as he hands me the bank to count into our 1944 “old school ching-ching” National cash register, the caught glimpse silently saying to each other “We’re still here”. After so many years, we could run the place sleepwalking. A surreal quality haunting the hallowed ground created 38 years ago. The same goes for Nichole and Leonel who’ve been on the clock for a combined 40 years, those numbers also easily qualify. It’s a small room. The less staff come and go, the better.

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The Gardenia is the longest-running Cabaret Supper Club in the United States. It deserves some recognition for its staying power. The credit goes to Tom and Bruce. They could have cashed out long ago and made life easier on themselves, but sometimes it’s better just to have something to do than to exist with too much open everyday time, unless you have a large garden to tend to at home. I think it was the right move, for dual purposes of longevity and keeping a rare art form alive. Today it’s gained even more in popularity and trend over the last decade.

The room has become a club of legend, with numerous luminaries of Hollywood, stage, film and television having frequented the venue many times over the years. The four decades of shows and performers at the club are more than likely in a ‘lost count” status, though I believe Tom has kept all the annual performance/reservation date books and has them in a safe place, in case the history channel calls for a Chasen’s-style documentary. One time he mentioned that he had an offer some twenty-plus years ago from the studios to have a television show produced about and in the club itself, but declined for reasons unknown.

It’s one of those old style places with the ambiance being that of classic and period, not modern, so when you walk into the room it takes you back in time. If you’re not initially hip to that, than it may take a little getting used to. But after a great cocktail or two, you’ll be fine and fit right in, even if a celebrity icon is sitting at the table next to you, or in my case, at the bar, where I’ve served many who’ve simply preferred to lounge back in the very comfortable, cushioned raised seats and become unknown, since they’ve already achieved the opposite status. I enjoy serving the ones who prefer to disappear.

Holding only 60-70 people, every seat is basically an orchestra pit. But we can get some persnickety individuals wanting this or that table for various reasons, without realizing that when it’s a packed house the choice becomes limited due to the deuces, three and four-tops of reservations that more-less design the seating arrangement so that everyone fits with no seat open and empty. Not an easy thing to do in an L-shaped room of this size. But we still try to accommodate all that we can, especially for some of the more regular supporters in the Cabaret community. We just can’t always guarantee anything and everything.

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If you consider the numbers over this journey of time, we’ve had well over a thousand singers through the room, and ones that still perform here today into their own decades-long careers. The art of the intimate performance; it’s like saloon singing, but without the high stage. And you never know who’s going to be in the audience, so it’s always good to hit it out of the ballpark. After entering the club, the eyes adjust to the lighting on low, and the mind is soon transported into your own musical film noir where one can turn into any character they so desire for the night. Welcome to the town of make-believe !

The Gardenia is also home to the longest-running open mic night in Los Angeles, now in its 20th year. This gives newcomers a chance to feel welcomed into the Cabaret community, where they can gain equal footing and confidence to sing their craft and build a show of their own all the while experiencing and hearing other singers, voices and interpretations. A camaraderie into the art of the song.

This is the venue where Michael Feinstein got an early start, along with Andrea Marcovicci, and Maude Maggart, who’s younger sister is Fiona Apple. Barbara Brussell early on as well who recently performed this year back at the club after many years away. These are just to note a few of the too many to mention. Then you had already established legends like Margaret Whiting who performed at the club way back many years ago, as well as Julie Wilson before they passed. Janis Paige and Neile Adams did shows as recent as a few years ago, and they’re in their 80’s and 90’s, respectively. You’ve got to hand it to the older Hollywood gals, they just keep on rolling!

And there’s one that still stands out in my mind that I remember from back when I started working behind the bar, and that was actress/performer by the name of Clare Peck. She only played the room a couple few times and then disappeared, but she always packed the place. Her son is soap actor, Austin Peck. Another that recently popped into my head that performed at the club years ago as well, and that’s Phillip Officer. I never know when the past will come up to greet me again with other singer memories.

The biggest supporters of the club who live in the area are just too many to mention, and I know I’d accidentally leave a name out and feel bad about it, but you all know who you are and are on my personal FB page as well as the Gardenia FB page. Not to mention all the club goers who come in to see shows of all kinds who are not performers themselves, as well as ones who work in all the other areas in back of the cameras of the entertainment business, but don’t do Cabaret. Scotty Bowers and his wife, Lois, before she passed, had been coming into the club for many years. Scotty, a bartender way before my time, is the author of the recent New York Times Bestseller “Full Service”, sharing his experiences doing what he did in Hollywood for over 60 years.

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The one great thing that separates The Gardenia Room from other like-venues across the country is that Tom kept the club open out of the passion for the art as an environment for new talent to grow. This has to do with his own previous career as a dancer, singer, actor and choreographer on Broadway. He also worked at New York’s famous Latin Quarter that was owned by Barbara Walter’s father, Lou. He was on stage with Lauren Bacall in “Applause”. He auditioned Rita Hayworth. He choreographed Ann Margret’s Las Vegas nightclub act. Tom has told me many of his stories over the years. Why he never wrote a book/memoir of his own is beyond me. And I asked him to. We’re also the only club of its type that doesn’t take a cut of the performer’s cover charge.

Cabaret is like the nicer sister, with Burlesque being its naughty twin!

Though it started out more just as a restaurant for lunch and dinner in the very early years, it included a back patio for afternoon seating. Industry types running businesses in the area known as the Hollywood media district would walk down the alley between Sycamore and La Brea and turn right up into Tom’s lunch patio. In fact, the original chairs used to be corner-stacked up against the fence and brick wall of The Guitar Institute next door, out in what used to be the patio, now weathered by rain and rusted from years of non-use.

The Record Plant Recording Studios are right down the alley from us. Down Sycamore just walking distance one block South at the corner is the old Howard Hughes art deco building that he acquired shortly after it was built in 1930, and was used as the main headquarters for his company’s movie/film division. It has always been kept in pristine condition, and has recently been submitted for landmark status. Down the boulevard heading West one block is the famous and now newly reopened Formosa Cafe. And right up La Brea a couple blocks near Sunset is the now Henson Recording Studios, but used to be A & M Records owned by Herb Alpert, and before that is was the historic Charlie Chaplin Studios. The Gardenia is surrounded by Hollywood history.

Change happens over this length of time, and links to the past can be hard to let go of, when you don’t quite want to say goodbye yet. As you get older, memories can seep in deeper in the mellow attempt of holding on to what’s already gone. The youth in the mind still remains. Knowing me, I’d be the same way, for building good experiences makes for lasting memories later, creating a never-ending smile inside from participating in something historic for the record books. There’s a sentimental feeling with being the boy behind the bar at a place of note for so long. When you have the same original owners, and the staff’s low rate of turnover, we all know each other well. We come in and do our jobs. We don’t have to be told what to do.

I remember when I first got hired. It was in 89’or 90’. I was looking for more work in the yellow pages after checking out the want ads, as I also liked calling establishments that weren’t necessarily hiring at the moment. I lived in Burbank at the time, and drove up Olive Ave. into Hollywood to fill out an application, not knowing if they could really use me or not. But I had just left a downtown gig that I couldn’t stand anymore, on 444 Flower Street right across the way from the Bonaventure Hotel, so I needed to fill my work schedule out as quickly as possible to avoid a financial nosedive.

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Tom and I talked, along with his manager at the time, about me actually coming in to start shifting behind the bar with a beginning schedule. Poof, I was in. But what I had gotten into, I had no idea at the time. It was a weird period of adjustment for me at the onset, getting used to the vibe and my place within it. And I had to cool my energy down to fit in to how the room rolled from the beginning to the end, finding my place in the script. Tom was the director, and took a chance on me as the young bar actor. The position carried with it a center of attention as the opening act. It took me awhile, but I learned how to control it and ride the wave to shore.

The reservation books dictate to a large degree of how busy a night is going to be, and they wanted me behind the bar on some slow nights too, of which there was a slight misunderstanding at first until I figured it out, that sometimes included calling in to see if they needed me, or them calling me, as the numbers in the books can and do increase day-by-day up until a performer’s show date. I was a newbie to this rare kind of venue in Los Angeles, as anybody would be with this few and far between theme, so it took me a while to adjust to the life of activity in the room before I settled in with everything I needed to be aware of in my overall job description, which included being in charge of the house music and volume, the phones, coffees and waters, and disappearing into the shadows of the bar when the show starts.

One of the odd things that happens every night unlike anywhere else is, when it’s show time at 9:00 pm, after full seating and dinner and drinks have been completed, the room goes dark except for the stage lights, the bar is dimmed, and I’m the only one left out on the floor (behind the bar) being quiet as a mouse, even to the point when making drinks during the show, all martinis have to be shaken during the applause so the sound doesn’t interrupt the performance, which is why we don’t use blenders anymore, too loud for the room no matter what. I like that! We even had to get rid of the soda gun because the compressor would never fail to turn on in the middle of the show.

There was a few times in the last couple years when a performer was in the middle of a slow, quiet medley of songs and the crowd wasn’t huge, at the same time I was jammed with a few martini orders from the waiters, so I went outside on the sidewalk of Santa Monica Boulevard and rocked my full bullet martini shaker for a good 10-15 seconds, came back into the club, raised the bar gate, and poured into the already chilled martini glasses.

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With all the traffic going by, it’s good no squad cars caught me. Who knows what would have happened. Imagine me going to jail for preparing cocktails on the street. However, one thing I can say about that is, this part of the boulevard in Hollywood is also part of the last extension of Route 66 that goes all the way to the Pacific Ocean’s edge in Santa Monica. Therefore, I can officially say that I have shaken martinis on Route 66, however late it may be for the history books.

These types of clubs survive on a shoestring more or less, so as a community of like-minded artists, everyone supports each other as much as one can, as it tries to keep a toehold of exposure and recognition in American entertainment. Facebook not only helps get the word out, but images, video and bio content as well. I’ve been the administrator of the Gardenia page since it began eight years ago. It’s funny out of all this time I’ve never sat in the main room to see a show on an off night. Occasionally when I’m alone in the room early on setting up the bar, I’ll turn on the mic and music system and practice belting a few songs just for fun, as I used to perform twenty plus years ago in a singing server restaurant called Café Bellissimo.

It all remains a grassroots effort to keep it alive and kicking. An avenue for talent, of which it has in abundance, both new and established, and making money at it as a performer depends on the size of your band. Musicians have to be paid. You have a small room in which to fill up. The only advertising the house does is with the marquee on the boulevard and the Facebook page. It’s up to the performer to promote. These factors go into the price of your cover charge, all with a prayer that your besties come in to see the show and are not out of town. Most of the time, you’re just happy to break even. And about musicians, we happen to have had the best of the best in Los Angeles perform in this room over the decades, and it has been an honor to sit back and listen in awe.

But you see all kinds in the world of Cabaret, from super-talented singers who are completely broke and get little to no help or support, to performers in a financially easier position but may not possess as much talent. What I’m saying is there are all kinds from all walks that come here to this great city of chance and give it their best shot. The one universal centerpiece that doesn’t budge – you need to have talent and luck on your side. No other combination works, not even money and nepotism. When executives invest in talent, they count on it for as long a run as they can, so you also have to be professional and intelligent with your craft and in the business, and a charming and workable-with personality doesn’t hurt either.

Even though Tom is no longer with us, his spirit is always present in the chair in the back of the room where he sat with Bruce to watch and enjoy many of the performances in a space that he created for the very purpose of attempting to help others with their dreams of making it in show business like he did. This is his legacy. And we continue it today in the same room in Hollywood that he opened back in 1981, in honor of what he gave to so many that embrace the heart of his purpose and intention with the greatest of appreciation and respect.

Below is a listing of some of the celebrities that have graced the room at The Gardenia since I’ve been there.

Clint Eastwood     Ann Margret     Charles Bronson     Michael Learned    Tom Bosley     Annette Bening     Chevy Chase     Raquel Welch    Richard Mulligan     Rita Moreno     Henry Jaglom     Carol Channing    Michael Madsen     Natalie Schafer     Kevin McCarthy     Charlene Tilton    Stevie Wonder     Maria Shriver     Henry Mancini

Cheryl Bentyne     Norman Lear     Lesley Ann Warren     Robert Goulet     Carol Lawrence    Gil Gerard     Marion Ross     Michael Feinstein     Nancy Sinatra    Mel Brooks     Anne Bancroft     Gregory Harrison     Lainie Kazan    Sidney Poitier     Bonnie Franklin     Ron Glass     Phyllis Diller    Martin Landau     Shirley Jones     Bruce Vilanch

Nancy Dussault     Tim Curry     Sally Struthers     Richard Benjamin     Judith Light    Patrick Swayze     Bea Arthur     Nick Cassavetes     Jean Simmons    James Garner     Michelle Lee     Mike Stoller     Carl Reiner  Joanne Worley     Rex Reed     Peri Gilpin     Mr. Blackwell     Peisha McPhee     Leonard Maltin     Sally Kirkland

Gary Collins    Joan Van Ark     Jack Klugman     Barbara Bain     Dick Sherman    Anne Rutherford     Elliot Gould     Carole Cook     James Cromwell     Yvette Mimieux     Robert Urich     Karen Morrow     Richard Gautier    Melissa Manchester     Ray Evans     Amanda McBroom     Ken Berry     Anne Kerry Ford     Robben Ford     Lee Meriwether     Tyrone Power Jr.

Tyne Daly     Ray Jessel     Fiona Apple     Jason Alexander     Sally Field    Richard Chamberlain     Charlotte Rae     Lawrence Pressman     Betty Garrett    Leonard Nimoy     Marcia Wallace     Dick Van Patten     Mary Ann Mobley    Peter Gallagher     Pia Zadora     George Chakiris     Jackie Collins    John Glover     Adrienne Barbeau     Keith David

Michelle Phillips     Bruce Davison     Anne Jeffreys     Frank Strazzeri     Susan Blakely    James Pickens Jr.     Mary Jo Catlett     Sammy Williams     Margaret O’Brien    Rob Reiner     Sally Kellerman     Buddy Collette     Cloris Leachman    Billy Vera     Estelle Getty     Robert Wuhl     Lydia Cornell     Chris Noth

Jim. J. Bullock     Deborah Van Valkenburgh     Robert Guilliame    Beverly Sanders     Alan Mandell     Jackaye Harry     Michael Ironside     Robert Forster     Dale Olson     Stephen Schwartz     Richard Dreyfuss     Kelly Lange     Mews Small     Kate Vernon