George Czarnecki is a living connection to a century of underground Venice lore
Photo by Travis McCoy /

Best Bartender-Historian

George Czarnecki
The Townhouse & Del Monte Speakeasy
52 Windward Ave., Venice
(310) 392-4040 |

George Czarnecki has tended bar with timeless class at The Townhouse & Del Monte Speakeasy for a quarter-century. That may seem like forever, considering how much Venice has changed since the early 1990s, but he’ll remind you it’s only a chapter or two in the 103-year history of the Westside’s oldest bar.

He’ll tell you how Caesar Menotti, who ran a speakeasy here during Prohibition, would run bottles of liquor from ships off the coast under a long-gone pier and through a utility tunnel into the secret basement bar. And how there weren’t any steps down from the first floor — just a rope-and-pulley elevator, meaning you had to know the bartender, and you had to behave yourself.

George inherited much of this history through Frank Bennett, who bought the Townhouse in the mid-’60s and racked up his own fair share of wild stories before selling the place in 2007 to Louie Ryan, who had the vision to honor history and put the sophisticated shine back into the place.

If you ever have the chance to hear George speak, as I did in July during a gathering of Venice Heritage Foundation supporters in the Del Monte, take it. And if you catch him behind the bar, order an old-fashioned and remember to behave yourself.

— Joe Piasecki

The sarcophagus of Nes-Khonsou
Photo by Prof. Matthew Dillon

Best Secret Museum

LMU Classics & Archaeology Department
(310) 338-5835

Images of ancient human-animal gods are intricately painted in red, orange, yellow and blue on the nearly 3,000-year-old Egyptian sarcophagus of Nes-Khonsou, Keeper of the Storehouse. Cuneiform tablets — some of the earliest examples of written language — keep the company of Dionysian revelers painted on ancient Greek vases, Etruscan gorgons threatening doom, stoic idols of Babylonian gods, and hundreds of other heirlooms of man’s distant past.

All of the artifacts in the library and museum of Loyola Marymount University’s Classics & Archaeology Department are familiar to Professor William Fulco, S.J. He assembled much of this collection himself over six decades of field work, and for the past 20 years he’s built the nation’s only hands-on undergraduate archeology program around it.

“Every piece is a friend of mine. I know its history; I can picture who made it and how they made it,” says Fulco. “That’s why it’s so important for my students to hold these artifacts, to pick up a bowl and know that 4,000 years ago a woman cooked with it.”

While LMU’s collection may be the best-kept secret in Westchester, you don’t necessarily have to enroll for a glimpse of it. Gracious faculty members occasionally grant advanced requests for public tours as time allows.

— Joe Piasecki

Best Flash Mob Co-Conspirator

Dance teacher Lisa Kellogg, center, choreographs epic wedding proposals

Lisa Kellogg
(310) 980-5049 |

You’re planning to propose to your partner, and you want it to be special — really special. Why not do something totally outrageous? Call Lisa Kellogg, who will coordinate, choreograph and direct a flash mob marriage proposal just for you … in public.

A hip-hop dance teacher in Venice who danced in Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” video and toured with Young MC, Kellogg has choreographed 45 flash mob wedding proposals.

“I like the element of surprise, but I also love the sentimentality,” she says.

Kellogg teaches hip-hop dance six days a week at the Capoeira Besouro studio on Lincoln Boulevard. She also choreographs wedding first dances, deejays and emcees at parties, and produces special events. After 30 years of teaching dance, she knows how to pump up a crowd. But her favorite part of the job is making people feel happy and building community.

“I love my hip-hop classes,” she says. “We’re like a family. We come to get our groove on, and we get to know each other and really care about each other, which is a great feeling.”

— Jessica Koslow

Jeff Gilbert, right, throws a renowned neighborhood bash every summer

Best Annual Backyard Party


“An old-school backyard Dogtown jam session” — that’s how Jeff Gilbert describes his one-of-a-kind house party, Jeffest. With 14 years of word-of-mouth success under its belt, Jeffest is basically guaranteed to be a good time: people are friendly, beer is plentiful, and the music is just plain fun.

Without fail each July, local musician Jeff packs an Ocean Park backyard with the coolest cats in walking distance and bands that play hard. Outsiders are welcome, just be prepared for a good-natured ribbing in the drinks line. The real stars of the show are your friendly neighborhood natives — humans of all ages connecting and reconnecting. Some haven’t seen each other in years; others since breakfast.

The party starts in the early afternoon and continues late into the night, thanks to good relations with neighbors and PD. Local bands play reggae, rock and jam music that gets more spirited as the day goes on. Wear your dancing shoes, or your favorite pair of ripped jeans, or a top hat and cane for all anyone cares; just as long as you bring a smile and, you know … be cool, man.

— Andy Vasoyan

Weezer played a surprise concert at Winston House last November
Photo by Kyle Jetter /

Best Listening Room Experience

Winston House
Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice

Beyond a metal security door facing Electric Avenue is an expansive loft space that on Thursday nights becomes the most intimate, influential and exclusive concert venue in Los Angeles — except that shows are free, and anybody has a chance to get on the list.

The Winston House weekly music show-
case is primarily about building community among emerging artists and culturally dialed-in audiences, but that’s also attracted support from some of the biggest names in music. Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber, Janelle Monáe, Dua Lipa, The Shins and Hozier have played here to crowds of about 200 people in what’s essentially founder Corey McGuire’s living room.

McGuire started hosting concerts three years ago after his roommates moved out and musicians needing a temporary place to crash in L.A. started moving in for a week or two. A scene started forming organically around that, and in early 2016 an unannounced Justin Bieber show put Winston House on the inter-national music map.

Performers aren’t announced until audiences are in the venue, lending an element of mystery. The whole thing starts off like a house party for the young, beautiful and Instagram-famous, but by and large everyone is focused on the music once it starts. Guest lists fill up mostly by word of mouth, but anyone who subscribes to Winston House texts or emails has a reasonable shot at scoring an invite.

— Joe Piasecki

Mother’s Beach reopened in July as a much more inviting public space

Best New Public Works Project

Marina Beach Improvements
4135 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey
(424) 526-7777 |

Most construction projects in Marina del Rey — and there are a lot of them these days — increase the visibility of architecture at the expense of the natural environment. For the long-awaited renovation of Mother’s Beach, Los Angeles County officials wisely decided to go the other way.

The first order of business: restore the harbor view. Where grim concrete walls of dilapidated picnic enclosures had barricaded Admiralty Way from sand, sea and sky, there is now a clear line of sight from the tip of D Basin to the horizon. Shiny aluminum shade covers hover above at sharp angles like awnings of a vintage Googie diner or, as county planners intended, mainsails catching
the wind.

There’s still a central restroom enclosure along the curve of the beach, but it’s next to a welcoming central awning that tilts to emphasize open space. The textured concrete walls that face the beach do their best to fade into the background with muted blues and light greys that honor sense of place.

Beachgoers wouldn’t notice, but a new drainage system hidden under the concrete pedestrian promenade plays a crucial role: diverting stormwater runoff away from the beach into underground filtration tanks, keeping the water cleaner for the families it serves.

— Joe Piasecki

Photo by Maria Martin

Best Affordable Fashion on the Fly

Irene’s Story
4762 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey
(310) 306-8880 |

I needed a sweater — fast — and was bracing to pay dearly for a showpiece I probably wouldn’t wear that often. But that’s when I discovered Irene’s Story, a contemporary fashion boutique in Waterside at Marina del Rey with surprisingly low, nearly Target prices for a wide selection of on-trend but still practical casual ware. From chic fitted sweaters to oversize dusters and matching designer slacks, Irene’s Story strives for universal appeal.

“We want to fill each store with garments that are inspired, timeless and relatable,” says Irene Lee, whose inclusive approach to style has allowed her to expand to seven uniquely curated stores over the past 12 years.

Michelle Kim, who started as a buyer and now designs clothes for the Irene’s Story label, says the brand strives for clean, natural looks.

“We want people to walk into a calming environment devoid of crazy colors and overworked styles,” says Kim. “Hopefully, the physical stores are a place where people can go to escape the sensory overload of the world.”

And the name? It’s not just about Irene, says Kim, but how clothing plays an integral part in the memorable occasions of our lives.

— Nicole Borgenicht

L.A. alt-roots band Jed’s Dead plays a Saturday gig at the Cinema
Photo by Maria Martin

Best Hole-in-the-Wall Honkytonk

The Cinema Bar
3967 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City
(310) 390-1328 |

There’s a damn good reason why Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore shot the video for their greasy roadhouse anthem “Downey to Lubbock” with a throng of L.A. roots community scenesters at The Cinema Bar — and it isn’t just because of the scene-setting properties of the beer mirrors, show posters and bumper stickers plastered across its red walls.

Not unlike Austin’s aptly named Hole in the Wall, the even smaller Cinema feels like home (minus the bathroom graffiti). In fact, it can feel like your living room, whether you’re playing to a packed house of sweaty dancers, crammed into a songwriter round (as RJ Bloke has frequently done with local favorites like Kat Myers and Brian Whelan), or just jawboning at the bar while veteran L.A. sidemen like Rick Holmstrom, Rick Shea and Jeff Turmes jam with their own bands onstage. It’s a place where artists give birthday shows with potlucks on the back patio, daylong memorial celebrations are held in memory of community members gone too soon, and local acts who’ve paid their dues with innumerable gigs on the corner stage are honored by having their albums enshrined in the old-school jukebox along the back wall.

— Bliss Bowen

Daybreakers wake up to a sunrise dance party in Marina del Rey
Photo by Daniel Sozanski

Best Morning Wake-Up Call

Daybreaker Dance Parties

A dance party before dawn might sound like an oxymoron, but grooving before the sun rises is the raison d’être of Daybreaker — a “morning movement” that throws deejayed parties in the early a.m. in cities across the globe.

In recent years the group has thrown some killer Westside parties, including a nautical fête on a boat in Marina del Rey, a denim dance-off inside hipster hotdog haven Wurstküche Venice, and a “white-out” party at Playa Vista co-working space CTRL Collective. Just yesterday, they celebrated their fourth anniversary at West End in Santa Monica. Look for the next one in November.

Driven by antioxidant-rich energy drinks rather than booze, Daybreaker parties typically kick off with an invigorating yoga session around 5:30 a.m., move into a high-energy dance party at 6:30 a.m., then conclude around 8:30 a.m. with a live music performance and recitation of a yogic intention. It’s a “flip on nightlife,” notes L.A. co-organizer Andre Herd, that aims to rejuvenate — rather than deplete — mind, body and soul.

— Christina Campodonico

Tuna salad perfection — bet you can’t eat just one!
Photo by Maria Martin

Best Tuna Salad Sandwich

Röckenwagner Bakery Café
12835 Washington Blvd., Mar Vista
(310) 577-0747 |

The tiny tuna salad sandwich at Röckenwagner is about the cutest sandwich you’ll ever see. The dome-shaped brioche mini-bun sits like a top hat above tuna that’s the perfect blend of chunky and creamy, flavored with lemon juice, salt and capers. Red onion, avocado and a tomato slice add crunchy and smooth textures.

When my daughter was a baby, my stepmom would stroll her to the café as she napped and pick me up two of them for lunch (because you can’t eat just one). When my daughter turned two, she caught the tuna sandwich bug. I loved to watch her run over to the take-out case and grab a square-shaped plastic container holding the savory treat — it was like a see-through present.

Sure, it’s easy enough to make a tuna salad sandwich at home. But it’s hard to resist pulling over at Röckenwagner and dashing in for a quick fix — at least until the bakery closes at 4 p.m., or whenever the case runs out.

— Jessica Koslow

Natural materials are ingredients for magic in the hands of Sophie Monet

Best Handcrafted Wooden Adornments

Sophie Monet Jewelry

Some of her pieces reference the abstract fine art of Alexander Calder and Joan Miró. Others are inspired by the adornments of ancient Roman goddesses. But every piece in Venice artist Sophie Monet’s eponymous line of handcrafted wooded jewelry reflects the earthy elegance and effortless cool of Southern California beach living.

A pink and perfectly polished pearl set in a tawny piece of pine brings to mind an oyster, or a piece of driftwood. “The pink is really reminiscent of the sunset and the pearl is obviously the ocean,” says Monet, “so combining those two visceral ideas was really the inspiration for that ring.” If worn with the right gown, a green malachite nestled in a dark shedua setting could be mistaken for a moonlit emerald if worn with just the right dress.

Taught the art of woodworking by her father, Venice fine art sculptor John Okulick, Monet makes all her jewelry out of the Venice studio she shares with him. Smooth and lightweight, they’re the kind of accessories you could easily put on with a pair of jeans, or take with you on a weekend getaway.

“I’m a T-shirt and jeans girl. I throw on beautiful statement earrings and a nice pair of shoes, and that’s my outfit,” says Monet. “I think wood jewelry is versatile and it goes with any style. … It’s bold, but subtle at the same time.”

Sometimes it’s nice to bring statement pieces back from your travels. Sometimes it’s nice to bring a piece of home with you.

— Christina Campodonico

Nat Geo Live offers intimate glimpses into the wonder and fragility of the natural world
Photo by Ronan Donovan

Best Global Advocacy Event Series

Nat Geo Live at The Broad Stage
1310 11th St., Santa Monica
(310) 434-3200

National Geographic’s globetrotting conservation photographers are doing their damnedest to alert the world to myriad environmental threats through images captured in denuded forests, polluted waterways, conflict zones and even the ocean floor. Their work is sufficiently stunning (and, frequently, heartrending) to break through the daily scrum of political headlines.

But these environmentalist-artists are no longer content to let these images speak for themselves. Nat Geo Live, a speaker series hosted locally by The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, puts informed eyewitnesses to planetary devastation in front of eyes and ears ready to watch and listen.

As award-winning photographer and Sea Legacy co-founder Cristina Mittermeier told us before her talk last December, she strives to take viewers “beneath the blue line” of the ocean so they’ll see what’s at stake is more than just the next election or life in some other country; “it’s all of us.”

Next up on Oct. 4 is Ronan Donovan, who like Mittermeier trained as a biologist. He’ll discuss his intimate photos of chimpanzees, gorillas and wolves, and the ways in which their complex social interactions resemble those of humans. Wildlife photographer Florian Schulz follows on Dec. 13 and 14 with “Into the Arctic Kingdom,” discussing the vital but ever more fragile ecosystem at the top of the world.

— Bliss Bowen

The Sycons channel the sun’s energy to generate uplifting tunes
Photo by Jason Hill

Best Carbon-Free Outdoor Party Deejays

The Sycons

Falling in love, getting your dream job, the birth of a child — there are a few experiences in life that make you feel like you’re truly walking on sunshine. The Sycons, also known as The Solar DJs, want you to dance on it.

Since 2009, the Venice-launched deejay duo of Chris Gee and Mark Farina have been bringing sunshine-fueled music to the Westside and Greater Los Angeles through their solar-powered PA system, quite literally powered by the rays of the sun.

A 100-watt solar panel for the speakers and smaller solar panels on the covers of their iPads or laptops fuel the tunes that pump through their sets — a blend of upbeat electronic, house and hip-hop that the pair has delivered at Coachella, the Venice Green Festival, SXSW Interactive, CicLAvia and the Otis Kite Festival. “Whether it’s people riding their bikes or dancing,” says Gee, “we keep it fun, danceable, light.”

Unbound by electrical cords or traditional generators, they can go wherever the sun shines — even after it sets. “We can play for two hours or more [after dark],” says Gee, thanks to a battery that soaks up and stores solar power (much like the absorbent marine sponges for which they’re named).

On Sept. 30 you can catch the Sycons along Western Avenue when CicLAvia rolls between Disney Hall and the Hollywood Bowl. On Oct. 7 they return closer to home for Santa Monica’s COAST Open Streets Festival, a similar event at the intersection of sustainability, alternative mobility and reactivation of public spaces.

— Christina Campodonico

Nonna’s Pan Cinnamon Roll is designed to be shared

Best Cinnamon Roll

Nonna’s Pan Cinnamon Roll
Del Frisco’s Grille, 551 Ocean Ave.,
Santa Monica | (310) 395-7333

“Ooey, gooey, gigantic, delicious,” says my friend, grinning widely, as she savors a slice of Nonna’s Pan Cinnamon Roll at Del Frisco’s Grille in Santa Monica. “Warm, doughy, decadent, scrumptious,” she continues.

The string of yummy adjectives feels endless, like the cinnamon roll itself. Purposely large to make it undeniably shareable, this special brunch item has an ulterior motive: to bring the table together and get the conversation going.

Its sheer size is celebratory. You’ve given yourself permission to order dessert for breakfast. But that’s OK, because you’re only having one slice. You’ll definitely bring some home as leftovers to heat up for a late-night snack, or to gift to the unlucky mortal who missed such a decadent meal.

Chef Shawn Quinn says he picked the cinnamon roll to add to his brunch menu because it “feels like you are back home enjoying a lazy Saturday.” He suggests it’s modeled after the traditional cinnamon rolls “grandmas used to make,” but the bourbon caramel sauce with a hint of espresso makes it a little more sophisticated than your run-of-the-mill roll.

As my friend professes, “This is not like anything my grandma made.”

— Jessica Koslow