Monday, September 10, 2012

Dance the Night Away -- Cicada Club Style

Sometimes a delicious meal out in a fabulous atmosphere can be icing on the cake! So, you can imagine my (Misha) delight when I, alongside my fellow Deco Divas, stepped into the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles and through the doorway of our own black-and-white delicious movie.

Let's start with the door to Maxwell DeMille's Cicada Club, a place that is touted as a popular swing dance venue and vintage nightclub in Los Angeles that celebrates the magic of old Hollywood. 

Known for its 1920s Art Deco design throughout the 15,000 square foot space as well as a 30-foot ceiling and posh bar and lounge, Cicada can truly transport any visitor to Hollywood's golden age of nightclubs and glamour.

In front of the door is Cicada's very own dapper doorman, who graciously opened the door for us (and even obliged our request for a group photo!). Immediately we were transported into an era that although is long passed is still very much celebrated. 

Rarely do you find a place in Los Angeles where people actually dress up to go anywhere, whether it be the theatre, dinner or even an art exhibit, so I was just delighted to be greeted by a staff dressed to the nines, not to mention everyone seated at their dinner tables. 

I noticed people of all ages dressed in vintage attire and actually wished that I had taken my ensemble a bit farther. My fellow Divas looked like the bees knees I do have to say, especially Chandra (the brunette on the right in the adjacent pic) who is amazing with makeup and hair. She had her look down perfectly--with that perfect shade of red lipstick.

Walking to our table, Maxwell DeMille’s band was fine-tuning their instruments, and I immediately wished I had my dashing husband with me to twirl around the dance floor. Though I knew if the mood struck me, I’d just grab one of my divas to dance with me.

Now, at this point in this Cicada review, I could focus on the inspiring entertainment and fabulous dancers in front of me, which included The Johnny Holiday Program. But since I am the official reviewer for our upcoming book about art deco and Hollywood, I will focus on reviewing one of my favorite topics: food.

Our waiter immediately informed us that he was new to the restaurant and asked for our patience. With us four molls, he didn’t have to worry, especially since we were ordering a drink right away.  I demurely asked for my favorite cocktail, a very dirty vodka martini. 

When he brought it, I noticed right away that this was a MARTINI.  It wasn’t in a tiny little glass like most hot spots deliver, but it was in a healthy martini glass. I was duly impressed. I was even more so when I took my first sip. This had to be the best dirty martini I have had in years. It was perfectly dirty (like me) and I had to hold myself back from not wanting to drink it too quickly.  

We settled into our menus then, and I was thrilled at the variety.  I have to admit that my experience with supper clubs before then has been less than stellar. Usually they focus on the club and forget the supper. But this Northern Italian menu has so much variety that it was hard to choose.

Lara and I decided to split the Caesar Salad.  Readers...GET the Caesar Salad. The Parmesan Crisp and Garlic Puff on top could have been my whole meal. (Lara doesn't know this, but I did the splitting and couldn’t help but give myself the bigger slices. Shhh. Don't tell.)

Loving this salad, I couldn’t wait for the main course. One of the specials was a filet mignon Gnocchi, and Chandra was all over that. I had a hard time between that and the Smoked Chicken Ravioli, which is on their regular menu. Come to find out, either way was a perfect choice.  

Cori and I ordered the Ravioli, and Kitty had the Pistachio Crusted Salmon. Luckily we are a group of gals who like to share (because, after all, sharing is indeed caring!), and forks were flying everywhere. Our ravioli came with asparagus in a pink sauce, which was divine. Some pink sauces can be too heavy-handed with either the alfredo mix, but this was just perfect.  

Now I’m not much of a fish eater, but Lara’s Salmon was amazing. The Leek Mashed Potatoes and Lemon Caviar Beurre Blanc sauce were a splendid combination with the Salmon, and I was hoping she wouldn’t finish it so I could have more. 

I do have to say, between Cori, Chandra and I, the Gnocchi was something we could have ordered again...and again.  The steak was succulent in the frommage sauce and next time, if they have this as a special again, I am ordering a whole loaf of bread to dip in it. 

Suffice it to say, there wasn’t a morsel left on any of our plates.  But did that stop us from ordering desert? Are you kidding? One mention of the Chocolate Molten Cake from our waiter and we were salivating again. 

Of course I needed to try a specialty drink to go along with this. I asked our guy to bring me one of the signature drinks and that’s when he delivered to me the Tropical Snatch Martini. Filled to the brim with Makers Mark, Cucumber, Pineapple Juice and Simple Syrup, I knew after one sip that this giggle juice wasn’t your average beverage. 

What a perfect ending to a perfect evening.  Watching the couples in their vintage attire twirl around the dance floor, especially the lovely 70-year-old couple at the table next to us who couldn’t keep their hands off each other (awww!), and sipping on my cocktail, I was transformed back to a more glamorous time when elegance was celebrated.  

I didn’t even mind that I had to fight three other girls with my fork to get my fair share of that warm, chocolate gooeyness. 

Mental note to self: Next time order two desserts. Maybe three, especially if you plan to stay and watch all the glorious dancing and singing in front of you.

Contact Info: 
Cicada Club
617 South Olive Street  
Los Angeles, CA 90014
(213) 488-9488 
(lists special events, like their upcoming Halloween party)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Give My Regards To Old Town Music Hall

The Music Hall's Wall!
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to go to a movie in the 1920s, you don’t need a time machine—just a ticket to Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo. And at ten dollars a ticket to see a film, it’s a tad more economical than the time machine option. 

Also, the theater has something the 20s didn’t: Bill Field, who’s the owner, organist, and host. (Full Disclosure: After coming to Old Town Music Hall and meeting Mr. Field, I—Lara—was so moved that I volunteered to help him out with Twitter.)

When you step through the curtain off the lobby and into the theater, the first thing you will notice is the massive organ that takes up almost the entire stage, all the way to the ceiling. 

Organ size DOES matter!
Old Town Music Hall bills itself as the home of the Mighty Wurlitzer Theater Pipe Organ, and the easiest way to describe it is that it’s kind of like a one-man band. It’s 30 feet wide, 16 feet tall, with 1,600 pipes, 268 instruments, and 244 keys. And I thought playing the recorder in third grade was tough! 

Sitting at the console, Bill can bust out something like “Yankee Doodle Dandy” or “Give My Regards To Broadway,” and you’ll see tambourines shaking and drums pounding, all controlled by him.  

And there are sound effects, too; the Rudolph Wurlitzer Organ Co. built pipe organs in the early 1900s to accompany silent films, and tricked ‘em out (Pimp My Organ?) with things like gongs, whistles, and thingamajigs that can make sound effects like rain. It was cool to hear a horn honking during a W.C. Fields short involving a wild ride through Downtown Los Angeles. Suffice it to say that Dub C would fit right in with the maniac drivers on the 110 today.

Aaahhh, yes…the short before the movie. You know how when you go to a movie these days, and there are so many commercials and previews that you’ve finished your ginormous buttered popcorn before the film and anything exciting actually starts? That’s not the case here. 

Arrive early (there’s plenty of free street parking), and bring cash or a check for your tickets and snacks (they don’t take credit cards). Grab a movie and concert schedule on the way in (the theater also hosts live concerts twice a month on Sundays), get some of the best salty popcorn EVER, and say hi to Bill in the lobby. At show time, Bill will take a seat at the organ and tell you something fun about the movie you’re going to see. 
The first film I saw at Old Town Music Hall was 1923’s The White Sister, a silent film starring the delicious Lillian Gish as the hottest nun in the history of nuns, and the dashing Ronald Colman and his mustache. Bill talked about how Ms. Gish stepped out from under D.W Griffith’s shadow to work with director Henry King on this film and how it was filmed in Italy, and then played some of the big hits from ’23, including Mexicali Rose and Who’s Sorry Now? 

Then, it was time for the sing-along. I have a voice that should be heard by NO ONE, EVER, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES, but that didn’t stop me from belting out Shine On, Harvest Moon (“I ain’t had no lovin’ since April, January, June, or Julyyyyyyyyy”), and I encourage you to do the same. It’s dark in there—no one will know it’s you.

It was in the early 60s when Bill first had the idea to recreate a 1920s movie-going experience. In fact, the seed was planted even earlier than that! As a child, Bill used to go to Downtown LA every day with his grandmother, who watched him while his mom and dad were at work. He would beg his grandma to take him to the Barker Brothers Home Furnishings Store, not so he could jump on the couches, but so he could hear the Pipe Organs that were played there. 

Bill received a small organ for his eighth grade graduation present in 1954, and began attending concerts and studying the musicians while also taking lessons. He then bought a tiny movie projector that he saw in the toy department at Bullocks and started collecting films for it, with one of the first being a Hopalong Cassidy movie. 

After high school, Bill Field met fellow organist Bill Coffman, who would be his business partner until Mr. Coffman’s death in 2001. The two spent $2,000 to rescue the Wurlitzer that’s currently in Old Town Music Hall from the Fox West Coast Theater in Long Beach, where it had been chillaxin’ since about 1925. It took a year to repair the organ and then a year to set it up in a space they rented from Bill F.’s aunt that they decorated like a mini-theater. 

They began presenting Sunday afternoon programs with the same Music/Sing-along/Short/Feature format that is what you can see at Old Town Music Hall today.  A few years later, they needed more room, and saw an ad in the Daily Breeze that the historic State Theatre (build in 1921) in El Segundo was for rent. 

They opened for business in 1968 with pipe organ concerts, and then tried adding in some classic movies. They found that silent films were not such a big hit with the kids at that time, but musicals were. The first movie they showed was Rose-Marie with Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald (a picture of the two hangs in the lobby), and it opened to a line around the block.

We'll cover more about this in our upcoming book, but you will want to visit Old Town Music Hall because:

  • They show the best movies EVER, and it’s a great value for $10. There’s also something about seeing a classic movie on the big screen that can never be duplicated at home. And these are movies that deserve our focus and attention. Without special effects to rely on for excitement, it’s all about the story and the dialogue. Plus, does it get any better than Rudolph Valentino in a close-up that’s many feet tall? If you saw this at the Music Hall’s Valentino Film Festival, you understand why crazed female fans once climbed the gates at Paramount Studios to get to him (the gates have since been fortified), and why even today women fight over him in the comments on YouTube, One Direction-style.
  • You will probably be introduced to a star or movie that you’re not familiar with and might not normally DVR; that’s how yours truly found out about the aforementioned Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, who were a huge onscreen superstar duo that made lots of musicals in the 30s and 40s, and possibly had a hot off-screen romance.
  • You will find a wonderful sense of community at the theater. It’s just FUN to laugh and gasp at a great movie with other people, and then discuss it in the lobby afterwards. After I sobbed my way through 1940’s Bitter Sweet, I entered the lobby looking like Alice Cooper with mascara everywhere and screamed at Bill, “Why didn’t you TELL me?” To which he chuckled and pointed to another lady with a tear-stained face who was walking quickly to the restroom and said, “Hey, she’s crying, too!”
There were no tears, however, as Bill and I sat in the darkened theater one muggy afternoon in August for our interview, and he was all smiles as I asked him about his hopes and dreams for the future of Old Town Music Hall, which has been providing great family entertainment for 44 years now: “Just that we would be here, and that we would continue.”

They just don't make organs like they used to!

Contact Info:

Old Town Music Hall
140 Richmond Street
El Segundo, CA 90245

For a complete schedule (through March of 2013!!!) and showtimes, check out

Here are a few upcoming movies:
Laurel And Hardy Comedy Festival Sept. 7, 8, 9
Charlie Chan At The Circus Sept. 14, 15, 16
Gold Diggers of 1935 Sept. 21, 22, 23
China Seas Sept. 28, 29, 30