Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Greatest Pint in Los Angeles

Beer and peanuts, MacLeod Ale
The best place to have a pint in Los Angeles is…in a garage.

Tourists may flock to the Sunset Strip, the newly super-gentrified downtown, or the perpetually gentrifying Hollywood, but if you really want to have a great beer in an even greater atmosphere, there’s only one place: MacLeod Ale.

Make sure you look carefully. MacLeod is shoehorned into a totally industrial neighborhood in Van Nuys, sandwiched between a body shop and another body shop on a block with 12 more body shops (we counted). Can’t find it? MacLeod’s Website cheerily tells you to “Look for the lime-green bike rack!”
Once you find it, you’ve found a place that’s so damn down-home, you’d swear you just warped out of L.A. MacLeod sports a bare concrete floor, a plain concrete bar top, and stools straight out of an 8th grade shop class. It’s also the micro-est of micro-breweries, specializing in cask-conditioned ales served at 54 degrees. And they’ll give you a discount if you come in wearing a kilt, or with your dog, or with a pig. Really.
MacLeod is the brainchild of Jennifer Febre Boase. Her unlikely road to brewmistress of Van Nuys started a few years ago when she and her husband decided to learn some new musical instruments. She took up the bagpipes and really loved it. He took up the cello and really loved…his cello teacher. The two split, but Jennifer quickly found Alastair Boase, and remarried.

Jennifer saw the change as a chance to reinvent herself, and set up a new status quo. The pipers she knew were all beer lovers—stereotypes have to come from somewhere, right?—and Jen started touring local microbreweries with her pipe band. She drank, she learned, and she rolled the dice, selling her house and cashing in her IRA early, penalties be damned. And since Alastair’s grandfather was named Roland MacLeod, well…everything fit. MacLeod Ale was born. And she wouldn’t change a thing.

“Initially, I just thought about starting a company that could make money,” Jen laughs today. “I really didn’t think about the community-building aspect. I was just thinking about myself. But as I’ve seen this community grow, it’s dawned on me that we’ve really got something here, and that’s really exciting.”

MacLeod has become a crazy-eclectic neighborhood gathering spot. On a random Wednesday night at 6:30, 35 customers fill the taproom. Then again, it’s the monthly stop for the Yarnover truck. Ladies come by to buy yarn, knit, and have an ale. Bartender Nicole Geletka approves. “What I didn’t know is that women who knit like to drink,” she says. “So maybe that’s a hobby for me.”

A yarn truck is just the tip of the iceberg for MacLeod. Alastair flexes his brain cells on promotions, and comes up with some interesting ones. The Burns Supper salutes famed Scottish poet Robert Burns (with haggis, of course) on his birthday, and MacLeod celebrates the end of prohibition on Dec. 5, giving its customers period costumes and “We Want Beer” picket signs to march down the street with. But the crown jewel of MacLeod promos is the simple “Buy a Friend a Beer” board.

Customers can pre-buy a beer for someone, and the staff writes the name on a chalkboard. The board is periodically shared on social media, and if you see your name, hey—free beer waiting for you.

The board has taken on an amazing communal spirit. People have bough beers for “any teacher,” “Guy with a Duff tattoo,” and “Willie the forklift driver.” Just before Veteran’s Day, the board was littered with squares that simply said “Veteran.” Harrison Ford was on the board, now gone (presumably, he claimed his beer). Nury Martinez, who represents Van Nuys on L.A.’s City Council in the 6th district, has been on the board. “She’s come in a few times,” Jen says matter-of-factly.

And Martinez has company. Cindy Montanez, who’s running against Martinez in an attempt to unseat her, recently scheduled a meet-and-greet at MacLeod on Feb. 13. We’ll let you know how the election goes on March 3.

But politics aside, the big star at MacLeod is Rosie, a micro-pig owned by a local resident who pops in from time to time. The pig drives business. “Rosie is so popular. If I put on Instagram that Rosie’s here, people come in immediately,” Jen says. “She doesn’t bother anyone. She likes to stay among the peanut shells.”

By 8 p.m., the Wednesday night knitting crowd is up to about 50 people. One of them is Grant Paulis, a 30-year-old camera operator from Van Nuys. Paulis hit the MacLeod taproom on the day it opened in 2014, and came back every day (“I had perfect citizenship!” he exclaims) for two months until he finally had to go out of town for a bachelor party and missed a day. But that’s nothing. His twin brother, Sean, made it 90 days straight form the opening. “Then his girlfriend finally got mad, and she would no longer accept any explanation of why he had to go to the brewery every day,” he says.

Paulis knows his beer. He loves MacLeod’s offerings, but hates beerier-than-thou attitude. He tried to bring his dad into the world, but a tap-pulling snob at another brewery shot dad down.

“My dad said ‘I like amber lagers. You have anything like that?’ And the guy told him ‘Amber is not a style of beer, it’s a color.’ He was that total craft beer douchebag,” Paulis says. “But you get none of that here. You get, ‘Hey, would you like a pint?’ That’s the way it should be.”

Boase knows regulars like Paulis are getting MacLeod off the ground, with both bent elbows and word-of-mouth. “Craft beer” may be booming everywhere, but a startup is still a startup, and up-front costs can be staggering. “You can’t survive without a taproom initially,” Boase says. “It takes a while to build retail. We’re just getting there now.” MacLeod is providing about 14 barrels a week, approximately 450 gallons, to 22 bars in the L.A. area, and just secured a distributor that will expand their reach from San Diego to Santa Barbara. That’s good news for Boase. She’d love to be a bigger microbrewery, but never lose her roots.

“I like the idea of doing something right here at home, boosting Van Nuys,” she says. “We’re thumbing our nose at Hollywood. They can have the hipsters. We’re happy with the forklift drivers.”

Paulis agrees. “Anyone who’s ever pulled a tap here is very personable. I’ve hung out with most of them off the clock, whether it’s at another bar, or at my house for ‘extra innings,’” he says. “There aren’t TVs, so you have to talk to people, and I think we’ve forgot as a society that that’s how you make new friends. I’ve made lots of friends here. I know most of the regulars by name. It’s a comfortable, homey place. It’s like my own personal ‘Cheers.’”
  


—MacLeod Ale is located at 14741 Calvert St. in tragically unhip Van Nuys in Los Angeles. Look for the lime-green bike rack!

Originally published February 2015 atBerkshire Hathaway Travel

750 Sodas, One Man's Passion

John Nese of Galco's Old World Grocery
It isn’t just beautiful old architecture that falls to the wrecking ball. Sometimes tastes do, too. The sweet tang of Nesbitt’s, the “finest orange soft drink ever made.” The crisp bark of Bubble Up. The surprisingly different flavors of Dad’s and Hires root beers.

But there’s a place where dreams live forever—in Los Angeles, of course. John Nese has created a haven for more than 750 different sodas, many of which you were sure had gone the way of the dinosaur. Welcome to Galco’s Old World Grocery.

Nese is no fool. He knows it’s tough to fight the Krogers and Albertsons of the world. That’s why, in the mid-’90s, he converted his family-owned grocery store to a super-specialized soda stop. You won’t find regular ol’ Coke or Pepsi here—you can get that anywhere. But you will find Faygo Red Pop, Brownie Caramel Cream Root Beer, and Delaware Punch.

“What the general public doesn’t know is that supermarket shelves are bought and paid for,” Nese says. “Coca-Cola and Pepsi buy up all the space, and Coca-Cola doesn’t care about anything unless they can do a million cases. We don’t do that here. We care about one case. We care about what you want.”

What people often want are memories. “People will come in, see something they haven’t in 20 years, and freak out. They’ll tell you the first time they tasted it. They’ll say, ‘My grandmother used to give me this. But that was many years ago. I thought this was gone.’ Sometimes, they’ll cry. It evokes memories. We hear it a lot.”

Tears of joy are only part of the ambiance at Galco’s. About one third of the floor space is devoted to storage and a burgeoning mail-order business. The product? Nese is down to soda, beer, candy, a sandwich counter, and a few bags of chips. Three plastic tables sit inside for folks who want to lounge with a sandwich and soda, while a small patio area outside boasts a few more picnic tables. And make sure to look up. The tops of display cases are mini-museums, home to cool original pop bottles and cases of yesteryear.

And Nese thinks that part of his mission is making sure that yesteryear crashes into today. That’s what happened a few years ago when he clamored for Bubble Up, a then-defunct lemon-lime soda.

“The manufacturer said, ‘Why? No one’s gonna buy it.’” Nese says. “I told him, ‘You’re right. If I don’t have it on my shelf, no one’s ever going to buy it. So let’s fix that.’ He hemmed and hawed around, and I said, ‘If you do it, I’ll take your entire run. But it’s gotta be done right—cane sugar, a glass bottle, all of that.’ He agreed. I didn’t even know how many cases I’d have to take, and in he end, I still took them—I just said I’d have to do it over the course of six months. In the meantime, he tried to sell some locally. A month later, it was flying off the shelf for me. I called him up and said, ‘Hey, Mike, send me the next batch.’ And guess what? He was sold out of my six-month supply! He said, ‘You’ll be happy to know the next run of Bubble Up is next week. It’s back.’ He found it had a pulse, and if he put it out there, people would find it and want it. We brought it back.”

Galco’s dabbles in beer as well, and true to their soda mission, it’s hard to find a Bud Light there. They carry mostly regional breweries such as Rogue Ale and Anchor Steam. And wouldn’t you know it? Schlitz—regular ol’ Schlitz—is back. Why?

“I complained,” Nese says matter-of-factly. “They told me it couldn’t sell. I told them to fire their salespeople. They finally brought back their original brewmasters and used the 1960 formula. They brewed a 30-day supply of Schlitz, and rolled it out in Milwaukee. Guess what? It was gone in three days. Now we carry it here.”

And they recognize Nese’s contribution. Schlitz just did three prototypes for a new 16-ounce can. Nese has can #2, a gift from Schlitz.

At the urging of his daughter, Nese has added old-time candy to the mix as well. If you want a Pearson’s Nut Goodie or a Zagnut, Galco’s has them. They also have Nese’s favorite.

“The Goo Goo Cluster, from Tennessee,” he says, almost falling into a Homer Simpson drool. “Oh, my goodness. I tried the peanut, and I thought it was the best candy bar I ever tasted. Then I found out they have the supreme, with pecans! You eat that on a hot day. It melts in your mouth, and it’s great.”

Memories and melts-in-your mouth come surprisingly cheap. Most sodas and candies are $1.29 at Galco’s. Nese says the average price for an item is about $2, as some imports and very hard-to-find items might run you a whopping $5. Nese is always looking to add more—and to drop some of his encyclopedic soda knowledge on you.

“People are looking for Afri-Cola right now,” he says, speaking of a little-known German brand. “It’s a dry-finish cola that’s really good. We had Afri-Cola in the United States from 1898 ’til about 10 years ago, with bottling here in the U.S., but then they went away. But now it’s making a comeback in Cologne! We have no way to get it now, but maybe soon. I really like that one.”

And if Galco’s can’t fulfill your taste off the shelf…you can make your own soda. Their “Creation Station” dispenses carbonated water, and you can make your own mix. Nese has anywhere from 60 to 100 flavors on a given day, including coconut, watermelon, and even habanero lime.

“People enjoy making things,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be pre-programmed. Up here behind me, we have this sign. It says ‘Freedom of Choice.’ People should have choices. You take choices away, and you get little robots. We don’t do that.”


—Galco’s Old World Grocery is located at 5702 York Blvd., in Los Angeles’ Highland Park neighborhood. They’re online at www.SodaPopStop.com

Originally published January, 2015 by Berkshire Hathaway Travel

There Used to be a Ballpark Here

Everybody loves a good baseball road trip: Plan a few days off of work, make some friends do the same, grab a map, load the van, and you’re off to enjoy America’s pastime.

And baseball has been the pastime for a very long time. While you’re criss-crossing the country catching today’s action, feel free to stop and smell the roses—or in this case, take a quick side jaunt to visit some of the most interesting Major League ballpark locales of yesterday.


MINNEAPOLIS (and, okay, Bloomington, Minn.)
The Megalithic Mall of America stands proudly and retail-y at the junction of Interstate 494 and Cedar Avenue in suburban Bloomington, Minn. But back in the day, the MoA was the site of Metropolitan Stadium, home of the Minnesota Twins from 1961-1981.

Photo: John Seals
The Mall honors that heritage with a replica of the Met’s home plate in its original location, which is now right in front of the SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge rollercoaster (because we live in a world where SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge rollercoasters now exist where ballparks used to). And hey, you’re in the middle of a four-level shopping mall with hundreds of stores and dozens of food options. Grab an Orange Julius while you’re there, huh?

Side Trip: Get your urban on (and a White Castle, just one block away!) by visiting the corner of 31st and Nicollet in Minneapolis. Right in front of the Wells Fargo bank is a plaque commemorating the site of Nicollet Park, home of the minor league Minneapolis Millers from 1896 to 1955. Hey, Willie Mays played there!

LOS ANGELES
The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was opened in 1923 and hosted multiple events for both the 1932 and 1984 Olympics. Today, it’s the home of USC football, with the Trojans and campus located conveniently across the street.

But from 1958 to 1961, the Coliseum was also the home of the Los Angeles Dodgers while Dodger Stadium was under construction. The Coliseum was not built for baseball. Its left field fence was a scant 250 feet from home plate—beer-league softball players could reach that, and in fact when the Dodgers and Red Sox played an exhibition there in 2008, the Dodgers didn’t even bother with a left fielder. They played with a five-man infield instead. Still, a staggering 115,300 fans showed up for a mere pre-season game just for the novelty of seeing baseball back at the Coliseum.

The Coliseum is part of L.A.’s massive Exposition Park, which also features the California Science Center and Natural History museums. The new Expo Park/USC station stop on the Metro Line lets you walk through two blocks of beautiful rose gardens on your way to check out where the Dodgers got their start in L.A.

Side Trip: Just one mile east of the Coliseum is the site of L.A.’s former Wrigley Filed (yes, L.A. had a Wrigley Field, too), home of the Los Angeles Angels in 1961, and the great ol’ 1959-61 Home Run Derby TV show you might have seen on ESPN 8, The Ocho. The site, now a city park at 425 E. 42nd Place, alas, has nothing to commemorate that a real big league park once stood there, but guess what? The Little League team that plays there is called “Wrigley Little League.” Now ain’t that sweet?

PHILADELPHIA
Shibe Park, later known as Connie Mack Stadium, was home to the Philadelphia Athletics from 1909 to 1954, and the Philadelphia Phillies from 1938 to 1970. In its time, it was a palace, the first-ever steel-and-concrete baseball stadium that crawled from the Jurassic era of rickety wooden grandstands.

The Athletics moved to Kansas City in 1955, but the Fightin’ Phils kept up the fight until 1970 and their move to new Veterans Stadium. Large portions of the stadium caught fire in 1971, and the property was gradually demolished between 1974 and 1976.

Today, a plaque marks the site of the old ballyard at the corner or 21st St. and Lehigh Ave., right between a church and a shopping center.

KANSAS CITY, MO
Travelers to Kansas City can triple-dip: A Royals game, a trip to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and Monarch Plaza.

Photo: Cullen Stapleton
The Plaza, home to the historical site of Kansas City Municipal Stadium, is located at 22nd and Brooklyn, a mere three-quarters of a mile from the Negro Leagues Museum (at 18th and Highland). The Plaza does a great job of honoring the heritage of the site, where the Royals, Athletics, and Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues once played. Monuments to past greats such as Amos Otis, John Mayberry, Satchel Paige and Buck O’Neil dot the landscape.

Okay, make it a quadruple-dip: The put-well-near-amazing Gates Bar-B-Q has a location less than a mile away at 12th and Brooklyn, and it’s the only Gates location that serves chili. You’d be crazy to pass that up.

SEATTLE
The Seattle Pilots lasted a mere one year—1969—before decamping for Milwaukee to become the Brewers. The site of ol’ Sick’s Stadium, named for brewing magnate Emil Sick, is now…a Lowe’s Home Improvement store at the corner of Ranier and McClellan.

Photo: Brian Randolph
The store does a lovely job marking the site’s history with a large sign and a replica home plate, but please don’t listen to that great bastion of inaccuracy, Wikipedia. The markings for basepaths and the pitcher’s mound, along with the display case of old baseball memorabilia, are long gone. The staff doesn’t know where they are, but the wood screws are on aisle 11.


Originally published February, 2015 at Berkshire Hathaway Travel

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

When expansion is good

John Robinson, photo courtesy Graham Crackers Comics
John Robinson started from humble retail beginnings, but is now the co-owner of 11 Graham Crackers Comics stores located across Illinois and Wisconsin. Find out how he got there, and what he's done right and wrong, over at icv2.

Jim McLauchlin

The Future of Event Security

Inflatable props such as the above might be the future of comic conventions
Event security changed rapidly over the course of three days in May. The bombing at an Ariana Grande concert and the arrest of a man with loaded weapons at Phoenix Comicon made event planners—and more importantly, venues and law enforcement—examine their methods.

For a full look at comic convention and event security and where it's headed, truck over to Newsarama.

Jim McLauchlin

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Kenneth Johnson, Man of Legends

Kenneth Johnson, surrounded by his works.
It says "Kenneth Johnson" on the cover of his new novel, The Man of Legends, but he's just "Kenny."

You may not know the name, but you DEFINITELY know the work. Johnson is the creator and/or producer and/or director and/or writer of famed TV shows and movies such as The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk, V, Short Circuit, and more. And he does a spot-on Lee Majors impression.

Johnson reveals a little peek into his new novel and a DEEP dive into his amazing memorabilia collection over at Newsarama. Give it a peep; you'll be glad you did.

Jim McLauchlin

Foot. Comparison. Andre the Giant was BIG.

Crazy-cool memorabilia from a long career.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Why asking Why is important, with Joe Quesada

Joe Quesada, courtesy Joe Quesada

Joe Quesada has been an award-winning artist, a self-publisher, editor in chief of Marvel Comics, and now the chief creative officer of Marvel Entertainment. Along the way, he's learned a lot, in particular, why asking "Why?" is one of the most important things you can do.

Read all about it over at icv2.

Jim McLauchlin

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Chuck Klosterman, Cultural Observer of our Time


Chuck Klosterman's tenth book, Chuck Klosterman X, is out. It's a collection of his recent articles from GQ, Billboard, Grantland, and more. You can get a taste and read the interview with Klosterman at the mighty Los Angeles Times.

Jim McLauchlin

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

After 14 years of dinner, a store

Photo courtesy Rob Young
It took Rob Young at Borderlands Comics and Games 14 years of buying a man dinner to finally get a shot at owning his own store. He's made the most of it, and says his REAL job is "creating a memory" for customers, his staff, and himself. Read all about it at icv2.

Jim McLauchlin

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Bill Willingham goes sword-and-sorcery again with Lark's Killer

Art from Lark's Killer #1
Bill Willingham, a longtime Dungeons & Dragons and comic book vet, is returning to those sword-and-sorcery roots with Lark's Killer, the story off a teenage runaway who mysteriously winds up in a violent, medieval world.

You can read all about it over at Newsarama.

Jim McLauchlin

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

30 Years as the Dark Horse

Mike Richardson, courtesy Dark Horse Comics
It started with a teddy bear from his wife, wound through some lunch meetings, and ended up at a multi-million dollar publisher. Mike Richardson has seen a LOT since founding Dark Horse Comics 30 years ago and you can read all about it at icv2 here.

Enjoy!

Jim McLauchlin

Monday, March 20, 2017

Blazing a Trail with a New Venture

Mike Marts, courtesy Aftershock Comics

Mike Marts has been around the block in the comics biz as an editor with Marvel (three times!), DC, Acclaim, and even a stint at Wizard. He left he warm embrace of the known for something new and different at Aftershock Comics and you can read all about it at icv2.com.

Jim McLauchlin

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Building a 100,000 attendance Comic Con

Phoenix Comicon, photo courtesy Phoenix Comicon

Matt Solberg went from the world of political campaigns to comic conventions, and created a doozy—The Phoenix Comicon, which now gets a yearly attendance of more than 100,000 people.

How'd he do it? There were may steps along the way and lessons learned. Read all about it at icv2.

Jim McLauchlin

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

How even big names use crowdfunding


Dave Johnson wants your money, but only $1 at a time. Bill Willingham will take $1 to $10. Greg Pak gives you LOTS of options. And ALL these peeps give you something VERY cool in return.

Crowdfunding in the comics sphere ain't just for the "trying to break in" crowd. Lots of established creators are doing it as well. You can read about what they're doing, and more importantly the "where" and "how," over at Newsarama.

Jim McLauchlin

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

What Happens when "Geek" and "Nerd Become Cool?

Ming-Na Wen's Twitter avatar
Linguist Charles Harper Webb tells us that "language bends to use." And so what happens when "geek" and "nerd," once all-purpose put-downs, become hip and happening marketing buzzwords?

We tell you right here over at Newsarama.com. Enjoy!

Jim McLauchlin

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

100 Fascinating Comic Book Facts!


Did Stan Lee write standing up? Which comic artist used to keep one foot in a bucket of ice water to keep himself awake on overnight deadlines? What famous Superman cover original was pulled out of a trash bin moments before the garbage man came? And why are artists drawing on bowling pins?

You can find out these answers, plus 96 more over at Newsarama.com. So durned big, we hadda run it in three segments! See Part 1 here, Part 2, and hey, bring it on home with Part 3.

Read it today; you'll be glad you did!

Jim McLauchlin


Monday, January 2, 2017

Joe Quesada, first-time director

Some of Joe Quesada's storyboards for Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Artist, editor, and current Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada has just dipped his toe in the directing pool with a four-minute short for Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Read all about the skills he took in and the lessons he took out over at Newsarama.

Jim McLauchlin