Santa Monica’s Tom Kirlin on turning his Pancakes & Booze art-and-music happening into a full-time job and a global phenomenon

Tom Kirlin lives it up with the beautiful undead after one of his Zombie Fashion Show events Photo by Tony Hulse

Tom Kirlin lives it up with the beautiful undead after one of his Zombie Fashion Show events
Photo by Tony Hulse

The premise is simple enough: a big party featuring a pop art group show and a lineup of local bands.

Add batter, water, syrup and a goodly amount of alcohol and you have the recipe for Pancakes & Booze, a biannual Los Angeles happening that has gone global and even spawned a sister event, the Zombie Fashion Show & Creature Art Exhibit.
Both are the brainchild of Santa Monica resident Tom Kirlin, who worked as a cameraman shooting videos for the Foo Fighters and Marilyn Manson, travelogues for the National Geographic Channel and “a lot of indie movies you’ve never heard of,” he says, before starting to burn out on the film business.
“It was such a competitive business. You could never build any long-term relationships,” says Kirlin. “I wanted something secure.”

Using some of the entertainment industry contacts he had been able to compile, Kirlin launched a 1,500-square-foot photography studio in a warehouse building in South Los Angeles not too far from The Forum. Able to rent out the space only part of the time, he decided to use some of the downtime to throw an art party. And so in May 2009, Pancakes & Booze was born.

Today, Pancakes & Booze is a traveling art show with visits to more than 20 cities, including San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Denver, Austin, New Orleans, Chicago, Boston and, for the first time six months ago, New York. Last Friday, Kirlin staged his first overseas Pancakes & Booze in Toronto, with more P&Bs in the works for London and Bangkok. Most Pancakes & Booze shows are one-night engagements, except in L.A. and San Francisco, where the event runs over two nights and attracts between 3,000 and 4,000 people.

Kirlin’s friend Steve Kriozere, a television writer whose credits include “NCIS” and “Castle,” joined Kirlin early on as the P&B machine’s self-appointed Flapjack Master. Kriozere’s distinctive cowboy hat and red apron has made him the de facto mascot on P&B poster art.

“Tom has a chill vibe that makes all the artists and performers feel comfortable. This is their art show. He makes them top priority,” says Kriozere of the secret to Kirlin’s success.

As for his own: “Everyone loves free pancakes,” Kriozere says. “That night, I am everyone’s best friend.”
— Michael Aushenker

How did the first Pancakes & Booze event come together in 2009?
I was renting [the photo space] out, but never five days a week. I was trying to find ways to utilize the space. So [Venice artist] David Phillips [a.k.a. Wino-Strut] said, “Why don’t you throw an art show?” He wanted to exhibit his stuff, and I thought, hey, why don’t I get on Craigslist and we’ll make more of a party of it. We’ll get beers. I went to Home Depot, got some wood, some lights, built a little bar.

Why pancakes and booze?
I always kind of had this idea for a pancakes-and-booze restaurant. IHOP is the only place serving food after a night of drinking. I used to think how great it would be if IHOP served booze.

At what point did Kriozere become Flapjack Master?
By the third or fourth one. Originally, I let people make their own pancakes, but people started making a mess when we began getting hundreds attending. I was overwhelmed. Steve had come to the show. One time, he brought this cowboy hat and apron and started making pancakes. I’m a pretty shy guy. Steve’s a decent-looking dude; he loves to talk and I don’t.

At what point did P&B hop to its current Loft 613 location downtown?
The cops in the area [of the original location], they were used to dealing with much bigger problems but they would come by. They would hang out and see that we were selling beer. After a year, [a policeman] came in and said, “Hey, this has got to be the last one.” They were getting complaints from neighbors. So that’s when I sought out to rent a legitimate venue with a liquor license. Once I rented a space in L.A. [in 2011], that’s when I realized I could rent a space anywhere. That year, I did one in Nashville.
How long before more cities followed?
Almost immediately. A couple months later, I did another Nashville show, Minneapolis, Denver. I did those on rotation, then San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Boston, New Orleans, Seattle, Philadelphia, Phoenix. I’m doing around 22 cities.

How do you know which neighborhoods to stage an event in outside of L.A.?
That’s part of the risk. It’s not cost-effective for me to fly around, so I research online. I flew blind. Later on, in Nashville, I met this girl who said, “I’m from Atlanta, I know the perfect space for this show.” That’s how I got Atlanta. That’s actually happened a lot.

How did the Zombie Fashion Show event come about?
It started as part of Pancakes & Booze. I love makeup effects. It’s kind of what I wished I would’ve done instead of camera. Three years ago, I decided to do a zombie fashion show. A week or two before Halloween, I got a couple of effects guys to help me. People loved it. In October 2012, we held the first Zombie Fashion Show & Creature Art Exhibit at the Alexandria Hotel [in downtown Los Angeles]. I really liked the Alexandria; it had a history of being haunted.

At what point did staging these events go from side passion to full-time career?
Around 2011-2012.I’ve done this all by myself — every email, every show, up until a year ago when I hired a full-time guy to help me. It’s gotten harder, but that’s because I’ve gotten ambitious. I’ve been doing it for five years almost every weekend. I can’t expand if I don’t start building a team.

What skills have you learned through all this that you didn’t have when you began?
I can throw a show blind now. I’m not as stressed out. I’ve done over 100 shows, so it makes it easier. I can hang artwork like a whiz and I don’t need a tape measure anymore.

What has staging these artist and musician-heavy events done for your social life?
I’m a pretty shy guy, so I don’t go out of my way to meet too many people. When you run an event, people find you.

Tom Kirlin’s Zombie Fashion Show happens from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday at Loft 613, 613 Imperial St., Los Angeles. Admission is $10, including free pancakes. The next L.A. Pancakes & Booze is from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Oct. 17 and 18 at the same location. Admission is $5 each night, including, of course, the pancakes.  Call (323) 934-7777 or visit pancakesandbooze.com.

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