Venice: Speakeasy Hosts Secret Shows

by BECCA FRUCHT · March 22, 2010

Josh OsswoldIts proprietors wear thick flannels, stiff overalls, rolled-up jeans, and leather moccasin boots. Its supporters sport tatted sleeves, boho vintage frocks, ratty beanies, Ugg boots, board shorts, greying dreads and dog collars (think actual canines). Oh yeah, and Ben Harper likes to stop by and Jackson Browne got up to jam recently. So there’s that.--


For those of us privileged enough to live in beach cruiser proximity to what the Dogtown inner circle is calling “The Vortex,” this cosmic upwelling of artistic collaboration in the form of weekly word-of-mouth concerts at the local landmark is a throwback to vintage Venetian vibes from a bygone era.

I’ve gotten the good word on several of these underground singer-songwriter shows – one of my first was catching my college buddy and righteously talented performer Joe Pug – but last night’s mystery gig had that real je ne sais pais feel. Ironically, my personal invitation came from the headliner Josh Osswald, whom I met while we griped about the indignity of our smart phone enslavement at the Verizon store off Lincoln. You take the tips wherever you can, right?

So it was a no-brainer that I’d wander over to the spot after a slice of salad pizza at Abbot’s. I greeted the hipster lumberjack at the door with a nonchalant nod and walked up the dimly lit stairs to an eclectic crew of local insiders and lucky outsiders milling around a gorgeously dark and airy room. The vaulted ceiling, exposed brick, heavy leather couches, ornate old piano and flickering candles set the mood for the sweet, clear sounds of Clare Means. After a couple songs, she checked the time by pulling a cell phone out of her well-worn boot. You get the picture.

clare means

Later, as the crowd sang Happy Birthday to cheery crooner Chantelle Berry, I made a pit stop at the Prohibition-style bar tucked in the corner by a curious selection of illuminated apothecary bottles. The bartender naturally offered cans of obscure Central American beer and jug wine.

While Travis Warren warmed up with his band (I swear his guitarist was in Stillwater), I took my cold can outside to chill with the subversive socialites on the fire escape. I petted a model’s hound dog. I chatted with an actor/dance instructor/tennis pro with way better hair than me. Then I heard the Axl Rose-worthy sounds wailing through the window, so I came back in to catch Travis’s rad rock ballad originals peppered with some impressive covers of Led Zeppelin and Jeff Buckley.

Finally, my new friend Josh Osswald wore out his harmonica Hendrix-style and made the pretty girls dance with an all-star cast of local musicians, including Malibu maverick Billy Wilson and legendary bassist Phil Chen. The crowd had grown steadily throughout the night and magically brimmed to a perfect blissed-out boil. There was never a line at the door. Even more miraculously, I honestly don’t think a single soul updated their status on Facebook, blew up the spot on Twitter, or checked in on Foursquare.

And all this was going down while Jordan B. Nice (it’s his real name) made like Bob Ross and painted a turn-of-the-century landscape on a massive easel at stage left. Jordan summed it up best in the smoky post-show streetlight when he said attending a speakeasy night at Venice’s new antiestablishment establishment is like “being inside an acoustic guitar.”

jordan b nice Josh B. Nice

So here’s hoping you kids get an invite to the real Venice. It’s all happening.