Knife On Camera

Pop Culture and Sublimated Rage

Bourbon & Bleach: 24 Hours in the Double Down Saloon

This piece originally appeared in my column Tourists For Breakfast, March 8, 2000.

I am not a drunk. Never call me a drunk. That kind of talk could get me a reputation, and besides, I’d much rather you describe me as a lush. Anyone can be a drunk, given the tools and the time. Being a lush, it seems to me, requires a measure of urbanity. A lush could drift through a Noël Coward play without incident: “Oh, that’s just our Geoffrey. A bit of a lush, but otherwise a fine fellow.”

But this is Las Vegas, not Look After Lulu. And I spend my drinking hours not in the countess’ arboretum, but at the Double Down Saloon on Paradise, which is a place for drunks.


“Hey! Blue Chevy truck!” howls Bartender Grant, over the in-house PA. “Fuckin’ move it! Get outta here and move your fuckin’ car!”

I don’t remember when or how I first got the idea of spending 24 hours in the Double Down, but now that I’m actually doing it, I feel mighty good about having Grant at the helm. All the nighttime bartenders at the Double Down are absolute sweethearts – Melo, a displaced surfer with the best head of hair you’ll ever see; Lynn, a husky-voiced temptress who should be a movie star; Scotty, an affable, bearded fellow with an affinity for the Grateful Dead.

This is Grant.

This is Grant.

Grant, though – he’s my funk-soul brother. We can converse in dialogue from “Jaws,” 1975 (“Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies…”); he knows what I want to drink before I know; he is conscientious enough to serve me a glass of water (a “spacer”) between every round. That’s a good bartender.

Grant nods approval at me as I arrive this fine Friday night, and sets up a Rolling Rock, which is exactly what I wanted.

“To start you on your journey,” he says.

Moss, the proprietor of this fine establishment, stops by my table. He’s the quintessential bar-owner type – if this were 1950. He wears a neatly trimmed goatee, smokes cigars, wears bowling shirts. He’s done so for years, long before the recent swing craze rendered such things ubiquitous, and, in the man’s own words, “easier to find.”

“You all right?” he asks.


“Well, then,” he says, “I’ll see you to-morr-owwwww!”


The Double Down Saloon is the hippest bar in Las Vegas, and has been for seven years. Every flat surface is covered with darkly colorful murals and collages by local artists Magda Kearns, John Emmons, Tony Bondi and Elizabeth Blau. In one corner, a guitar-wielding Ganesha rocks out, as a pack of spindle-legged women mix it up nearby; a voluptuous nude palms a Cosmopolitan in the entryway, her nipple artfully covered by the cherry garnish; the wood paneling above the bar itself swims with oversized rubber cockroaches, swizzle sticks and surgical clamps, colliding in crazy gridlock.

And the jukebox matches the visual chaos note for note. The CD selection runs the gamut from Frank Zappa to Billie Holliday to NOFX to Elvis. Shortly after 9, I load up the juke with Clash, Dead Milkmen and Louis Jordan, and wait for the crowds to hit.

Sure, every bar has its characters, people who seem more or less conjoined to barstools, but in my humble opinion, the Double Down has perfected characterization. The surroundings demand nothing less, and inhibitions are loosened, if not tossed completely: patrons writhe on the children’s quarter-operated mechanical horse, dance erratically to garage / surf rock, bellow at each other across the pool tables, even strip naked on short-lived, glorious occasion.

The crowd begins to pour in shortly after 10, and it’s one cute bunch of psychopaths. I’d expect nothing less of a place that has hosted the late Dr. Timothy Leary, Man Or Astroman, Tim Burton, members of Pearl Jam and Sister Spit’s Traveling Roadshow. Rumor has it that even Bill Bayno used to drink here, before he became respectable.

Maybe some of them will show tonight. If Leary shows up, I will switch from Cuba Libres to Shirley Temples.


The crowd reaches critical mass. Tonight, it’s an even mix of gothic babes, suspender’d and Prada’d power yuppies, flattop rockabilly punx and true lushes. Someone is celebrating a birthday with an inflatable sex doll; she is batted around the room like a beach ball.

Finally, someone gets the perfectly rational idea of placing the doll astride the horse. Without hesitation, I wedge the doll’s nether opening onto the saddlehorn (it’s just a doll, kids), fish out a quarter and send the whole assemblage a-moseying along. What’s not right?


The crowd has thinned out, but only slightly. Most nights, the crowds don’t really come on until 11 or so, and they stay on until dawn. I’ve done it a few times; it’s too easy to do in a city bereft of clocks. On lucky nights, I get out just before sunrise, and race the light home.

Not tonight. I’ve been awake for 23-and-a-half hours, and this time—when I’d normally make my way to bed, or to Mr. Lucky’s for steak and eggs—I’m still at the bar, shooting something that barely resembles pool.

My friend taps me lightly on the shoulder as I try to line up a shot.

That’s the cue ball,” he says, pointing. “Down there.”


The dawn patrol arrives. After drinking the last bourbon Melo served me – about half an hour ago – I settled into one of two overstuffed chairs for a quick nap, only to be awakened by the invigorating smell of bleach. Two fine fellows, Grandpa and Stoney, come in every morning and mop up every inch of the joint with a mix of bleach and solvents that could strip the proverbial skin off a cat.

I run to the front door for a lungful of air that isn’t burning, and promptly return to my chair.

“You survived the morning cleaning!” says Grandpa, running a hand through his Mohawk. “You’re a true Double-Downer!”

This is the ladies' room.

This is the ladies’ room.


I watch the Army/Navy game listlessly. I’ve met a few other true seekers, still lashed to the bar. “Otto,” so nicknamed for his resemblance to the “Simpsons” character, and John, a real neighborhood drunk. When he tries to stick his bankcard into the receipt slot of the ATM machine, Ian, the morning bartender, eighty-sixes him.

“You’re all fucked up,” says Ian. “Why don’t you beat it?” John nods sagely, throws a bill on the counter, and leaves without incident.

After he walks out, Ian shrugs, and tells me a story about the man who, bent and belligerent, demanded food of one of the bartenders. The bartender calmly walked to the supply cabinet, took out a urinal cake, and handed it to him.


Moss visits, accompanied by his daughter.

“You see that guy?” he tells her, pointing at the journalist hunched over a video poker machine. “He’s trouble.”


Almost zero hour. My girlfriend brings some Vietnamese food, which I share with Grandpa as we shoot pool. Grandpa has been in two major pedestrian accidents this year, fracturing his wrists and legs respectively. The fortysomething takes it all in stride – “I’ve been around the block a few times” – noting, with a smile, that a pool had been started amongst the Double Down staff, along the lines of “What will hit Grandpa next?”

“A week or so after the contest started,” he says, “a rule was added: ‘You may not hit Grandpa yourself.’”

He sinks the eight ball. He was once a tournament pool player, before the road turned.


“You made it,” Grant says.

I have. And though I’m pretty much done with the Double Down Saloon for the day, and I smell like a thousand ashtrays, I find myself reluctant to leave. So I look around at my home away from home: at the “You Puke, You Clean” sign, at the advertisement for house specialty “Ass Juice,” and at “Otto,” asleep on the couch. The night before, someone told me that he had been at the Double Down for three straight days; this would make it his fourth.

God love that wonderful lush. He should have written this piece.


Hail, Caesar, Where Art Thou Ranked?

Earlier this week I saw Joel and Ethan Coen’s new comedy Hail, Caesar! at a critic’s screening and loved it. It was funny, fleet on its feet, and composed of so many references to Hollywood’s Golden Age that I imagine Karina Longworth will need at least one entire podcast to unpack them all. (It’s also a rare Coen Brothers film, in that it directly references another of their works: The film studio of Hail, Caesar! is Capitol Pictures, where Barton Fink met his destiny.)

I haven’t written a review for Hail, Caesar! yet, and I may not, seeing as the film was screened for critics after my print deadline. (Sadly, that’s an all-too-common occurrence in the nation’s 40th-largest television market, 41st-largest radio market and 61st-largest newspaper market; there’s simply not enough media professionals in town for the studios to justify earlier, solely media-targeted screenings. Instead, critics are lumped in with radio contest winners.) But I was curious to know how the film was being received, so I did something I almost never do before the review is written: I Googled up Hail, Caesar! to get an idea of its critical consensus.

What I saw surprised me: The first few reviews weren’t reviews, but ordered critical lists of all 17 of the Coen Brothers’ films, with Hail, Caesar! ranked within. (Yahoo! ranked the film at number 15; Vulture put it at number 11;  The Wrap placed it at number 9; and The Atlantic ranked it at number 8, as did The Washington Post.)  For the life of me, I can’t think of another filmmaker who’s received such treatment so soon after they’ve released a new film—not Scorsese, not Spielberg, not even Michael Bay. I’ve seen it done for animation studios, like Pixar; critics have no problem making that call when a Cars 2 comes out, because to their minds animation isn’t true auteur filmmaking; in their heart-of-hearts, it is product, nothing more. Sometimes it’s good product, they’ll say. But if it comes down to a Beauty and the Beast vs. a JFK, there’s just no contest; JFK deserves more critical weight and respect, they’ll say, because it was made by and stars actual people.

I’d like to attribute the rash of Coen Brothers rankings to critics’ unmasked enthusiasm for their films; even their one flat-out failure (The Ladykillers) is fun to watch. But here’s the thing: Ranking a filmmaker’s latest film within their catalog three days before general release is fucking stupid. Especially so for the Coens, who have seen several of their films—The Big Lebowski and The Man Who Wasn’t There come to mind—grow in stature over the years. One of these days, amuse yourself by going back and reading the contemporaneous reviews of The Big Lebowski. (Roger Ebert gave Lebowski three stars in 1998, calling it “genial, shambling comedy.” In 2010, he named it one of his “Great Movies,” and bumped it up to four stars. Such critical reappraisals have been fairly common with Lebowski.)

But here’s the thing: I don’t blame the critics, who at this point are blessedly lucky to still have jobs. Nor do I blame websites like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb, which reduce a movie’s worth to crowdsourced numbers. I blame us, because the first question we’re inclined to ask about an auteur’s new work is how it rates in comparison to their other shit. Such comparisons used to be exclusive to our conversations with friends, but we have been encouraged, via websites like Rotten Tomatoes—wow, I guess I do blame them!—to seek out these comparisons at the media level. That’s fine for something like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which most of you probably would have seen even if I told you the film ended with a real-life punch to the kidneys.

But for artists like the Coens, whose films are so different from each other that a Lebowski fan could conceivably have despised No Country For Old Men, a numbered list is dangerous. Their commercial clout isn’t such that they can open whatever the hell they want and expect to work with the same studio twice. The Coens still need the help of their critics. They still need people at the door saying, “No, seriously, come in. If you liked that other one, you’ll like this one.” The last thing they need is for their every moved to be measured against their changing selves, and our ever-changing perception of who they are. Who does need anything like that, come to think of it?


The Jim Henson Company Rises from the Oubliette

Look, you shouldn’t hate on The Jim Henson Company too much for its ill-timed decision to reboot/remake Labyrinth. Not that I blame you if you do; judging by the timing of this announcement, Sony/Henson have obviously misunderstood the enduring appeal of the original 1986 film. It wasn’t the late Jim Henson’s direction, Terry Jones’ story or the breakout performance of Jennifer Connolly, though all those things deserve recognition.

No, what keeps Labyrinth alive is that bulge in David Bowie’s tights. Pow. Millions of preteens discovered their sexuality in that particular topographical feature. It was Generation X’s leaning-over-the-washing-machine-on-spin-cycle moment. And oh yeah, Bowie’s songs were pretty good, too.

The announcement hasn’t gone over well.

The timing truly is awful. But the idea might not be so bad, if you’re  interested in the Henson Company existing as a creative force.  Of the properties Henson still owns outright—which include LabyrinthFraggle Rock, Mirrormask, The Dark Crystal and Farscape, near as I can determine—Labyrinth has the greatest potential to put Henson back in the game alongside Blue Sky, Laika and Pixar. Even though puppeteering is an entirely different medium than animation, it’s obvious that those studios have the audience that Henson wants, meaning everybody, beginning with those parents who were raised on Labyrinth but didn’t bother taking their kids to a single Muppet movie after Toy Story reset the horizon.

I had the good fortune of visiting Henson’s Los Angeles studio earlier this month to preview Henson Alternative’s new stage show Puppet Up: Uncensored in advance of its Las Vegas debut. (I’ll write about the show itself in Vegas Seven next month.) I wish you could have been there, not just because the studio is charming and historic—it used to belong to Charlie Chaplin—but so you could see how much pent-up creative energy is flat-out languishing behind those gates. By Brian Henson’s own admission, the Henson Company is kind of limited in its scope these days; all they do are puppets for preschool shows and adult productions like Puppet Up. They can’t even call their characters Muppets anymore; Disney owns that name, and all its associated characters. (The Sesame Street characters are wholly owned by Sesame Workshop, though Henson continues to build and maintain their characters, which can be called “Muppets” through a licensing agreement with Disney.)

So what you’ve got is a studio that still has stories to tell, still has brilliant young talents flocking to its banner. But they’ve no good way to get a toehold in a marketplace that views puppeteering as quaint, obsolete. (J.J. Abrams talked a good game about the practical effects of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but when it came time to make a new Yoda-like character, he used CGI.) They can’t use the Muppet name to reinforce what they do, which leaves them to go with what is arguably the second-best known propert in their possession.

The Labyrinth reboot has been in the making for some time. Brian Henson spoke about it at the Puppet Up media summit, weeks before David Bowie’s death. Even then, I thought that the chances of Bowie reprising his role were virtually nil, but the idea didn’t seem like a horrible one. A well-made Labyrinth film, one with ties to the original story but with a new, engaging story of its own, could lead new viewers to the original film, just as the Star Wars prequels primed a new generation for The Force Awakens. And any kind of Labyrinth film Henson makes now could be so elegiac in tone that older viewers would be churlish to find fault with it.

I can’t imagine what form a new Labyrinth might take, and that’s kind of exciting. If it’s got a good story to tell (and with Guardians of the Galaxy co-writer Nicole Perlman writing the script, it could well have), and if the Henson crew innovates as they did in  1986, the new Labyrinth could restore the Henson Company’s name as a creator of unique visual storytelling. Then they’ll be free to create even more new stories to fill out their portfolio, and the next thing you know, Disney could sell back the original Muppets to the only people who fully understand what makes them work.

But holy shit, is the timing ever bad. No denying it. I know that Sony needs to announce the deal while Bowie and Labyrinth is fresh in everyone’s mind, to leverage this outpouring of passion and sentimentality. Still, ugh. The world only just fell down.

UPDATE, JANUARY 25: It’s not happening, says screenwriter Nicole Perlman on Twitter: “No one is remaking Labyrinth. That movie is perfect as-is.”  Although, as AV Club points out, the door is open for a sequel to Labyrinth, and I still think that might not be the worst idea. And that begs the question: What is Perlman writing for Henson?

The Man Who Souled the World (Extended Dub)

David Bowie flier, summer 1987I wrote an obituary for David Bowie in Vegas Seven last Monday, while the shock of his death was fresh. Truth be told, I’m still dumbfounded by the loss, and I expect I will be for years to come. (I’m not over the 1991 death of Freddie Mercury, either. And I get angry about it every time Queen goes on tour with some has-been or game show contestant in Mercury’s rightful place.)

There are some losses that never seem real because the lives never seemed real, either. I know David Bowie was human; know it all too well this sad, shocking week. But I was never able to imagine being in the same room with him.  I shared a roof with him once, but it was the roof of the Thomas & Mack Center, an intimate setting only for college basketball. There were 19,000 other people there, and the half of them who weren’t there only to see Nine Inch Nails were probably thinking the same thing I was: Is that really him? Is he really here? Is David Bowie really a thing, or did we imagine him?

In any case, my Seven obituary is reprinted below. If I’d had the time and the space to do so, I might have expanded on a few things I touch on in passing, in particular Bowie’s unfairly maligned 1980s output (I’ve been listening to Never Let Me Down and the Tin Machine albums all week, and dated production aside, they hold up), and the shabby treatment Bowie received on the Outside tour, in Las Vegas and, I suspect, nationwide. Mosh-pit jackasses threw their beer cups and plastic water bottles at him. You might not have seen it from your perspective on the floor, but I had a clear view of it from my elevated place at stage right and mentioned it in my October 1995 review . (It’s in the old, Patrick Gaffey-run Las Vegas Weekly, and I’ll reprint it here just as soon as I can dig it up.)

In your defense, Las Vegas, Bowie didn’t seem that bothered by the garbage. And it was the 1990s; back then, audiences were more frisky, because rock ‘n’ roll was still around in a way that counted.  Believe me, as one of Las Vegas most enduring cheerleaders, I’d rather say that it didn’t happen: I’d love to say that David Bowie came to town and everyone was pie-eyed and reverent and kept their fucking beer cups to themselves. But it did happen. I saw it. I’m just not sure I actually saw Bowie himself, feel me?

(Funny how trolling travels. When I snagged the link for the video below—Bowie’s 1993 cover of Morrissey’s “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday,” done in the style of Pin-Ups—I made the mistake of reading through the comments. Don’t do it. It’s like watching the man get pelted with trash all over again.)

David Bowie is gone. He left Earth on January 10, after some 50 years of making music, film and art for a world that embraced him even when it didn’t quite understand him. His discography is, on the whole, unmatched in its quality—yes, even when you factor in Tin Machine and Never Let Me Down. And today, like many of you, I’m listening to that music. There is no better way to pay homage to David Bowie than to listen to his records.

Bowie was more than a supernaturally gifted songwriter and musician. He was, as my girlfriend said this morning, “a beacon for freaks.” So many of our friends felt validated by him; no matter what your struggle was, Bowie had a soundtrack for it. As we read our way through our Facebook feeds, we realized that every single person we knew—the goths, the jocks, the poets, the rockers, the ravers—every one of them had been drawn to Bowie at an early age, and every one of them knew a different man, from Goblin King to Thin White Duke to Ziggy Stardust.

I saw Bowie perform only once. It was October 19, 1995, at the Thomas & Mack—the Outside tour, which he conducted in partnership with Nine Inch Nails. The two bands actually shared the stage for five songs, including Bowie’s “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)” and Trent Reznor’s “Hurt.” The rest of Bowie’s set was heavy with songs relating to death, either directly (“Look Back in Anger,” “A Small Plot of Land”) or obliquely (“Andy Warhol,” “Under Pressure”).

And yet, I have rarely seen a performer with more life in him, more commitment to the moment at hand. Some assholes in the audience threw their water bottles at Bowie, but he didn’t let it faze him. He just danced around the projectiles and unwrapped gift after gift: “Breaking Glass,” “I’m Deranged,” and “The Man Who Sold the World.” And at the end of his set, at the end of a splendid version of “Teenage Wildlife,” he mimed stabbing himself in the gut and fell over, “dead.” That night, 20-plus years ago, Bowie bluntly told us that he would have to go someday, and he predicted the way he would go out: singing.

Today, every Bowie song is a sacred thing. Yes, even the pop stuff he made in the 1980s and early 1990s, the music that Pitchfork would like to pretend doesn’t exist. I can hear Bowie’s alpha and omega in every single note. He was always, always telling us that this was too good to last, and always exhorting us to live fully in the moment: This is our last dance/this is our last dance/this is ourselves. I couldn’t state David Bowie’s central message more clearly than that. Live your life as whoever you want to be. Enjoy every second doing it. And, when you can, throw Aladdin Sane or Black Tie White Noise on the stereo, and remember the man who souled the world.

Into the Wild with Craig Thornton of Wolvesmouth

Craig Thornton

Craig Thornton (center) supervises a Wolvesmouth dinner.

Originally published as part of’s “Fresh Perspectives” series, April 2011

Craig Thornton is passionate about many things. He loves traveling; he loves wild nature; he loves Tom Waits and Joy Division. But all of these things are subservient to his first love: cooking. More precisely, the 29-year-old loves cooking for others—and at his Los Angeles loft, which he calls the Wolvesden, Thornton does just that. Other great chefs may dream of opening restaurants, but through a series of Wolvesden events whose attendance is limited to a dozen people who have signed up online, Craig Thornton hopes to bring back the old-school dinner party.

“I really enjoy having people walk up and talk to me while I’m cooking,” says the chef, whose previous jobs included cooking for Nicolas Cage and at one of Thomas Keller’s prestigious restaurants. “They’re talking about a dish or about somewhere that I need to go try, and I like that exchange more than I enjoy feeding 200 people.  … The whole idea is that you come in, you eat, you leave, and you’re like, ‘What the hell just happened?’”

That question is difficult to answer if one perceives iconic chefs as being lofty restaurateurs or reality show contestants. Thornton approaches a new dish as a painter approaches a fresh canvas; he considers what he wants to say with it, what mood he’d like to infuse it with, what materials he needs to make it perfect, and how it might work in context with the art surrounding it. And if it comes out looking a bit weird, that’s fine.

“When I make a plate, it’s very aggressive-looking,” says Thornton. “I don’t like the idea of everything being perfectly square and symmetrical. My stuff looks more raw, more organic, and more aggressive. … I’m trying to get across a feeling of movement, of energy. When I see perfectly-cut lines on a plate, it makes me think of type.”

Thornton created two dishes for Fresh Perspectives, on the themes of Empowerment and Escape. The Escape dish, which Thornton calls “Rabbit in the Forest,” hints at his love of sitting around a campfire in the woods – “that’s my escape from reality,” he says. But for Empowerment, he played a bit of a trick.

“It looked sweet, but it was savory,” he says. “When I think of the word empower, I think of liberating yourself. Looks can be deceiving; you look at something, and you assume that it is what it is. You assume that it’s going to be yogurt and berries and granola, and then you bite into it and it’s a pickled beet in the shape of a blackberry. Feta cheese was the yogurt; it had more the texture of a whipped yogurt. And the granola was a sweet and salty granola that I made. Underneath that was a beet salad that you couldn’t see at first. The idea behind the dish was that of liberating yourself by actually looking and tasting and really thinking about what’s actually going on before passing judgment. Once you do, that’s when you can empower yourself to move forward.

Moving forward is Craig Thornton’s central preoccupation. He wants to bring Wolvesden dinners to other cities and towns, provided he can maintain the quality of the experience. And more than anything, the chef wants to continue blurring the lines between art, music and cooking – creative mediums that, to his mind, come from the same place and fill the same human need.

“Food is very much how you would view art in a gallery,” says Thornton. “Cooking is a craft, but you can use it to create art as you would anything else, like painting. Everything starts out as a craft. Once you have the idea and express it, that’s when it becomes art.”


What’s the first thing you remember cooking?

Oh man, I mean I started cooking when I was extremely young, literally when I was 9 or 10. I was asking for cast-iron pans and mixing bowls for Christmas. The first thing I remember cooking was a turkey, pickle and cheese quesadilla that I made for my grandma.

That sounds really good.

At the time, all I knew was I liked the flavors together. But as I got older, now I understand why the flavors would actually work together. But this had to be when I was probably 7 or 8 years old.

How do you perceive flavor? As color? As music? Or something else entirely?

That’s the thing; it really depends on what mindframe I’m in. if I’m out with some friends in a restaurant I’m not necessarily tasting, but more concentrating on having a great time. But when I’m really thinking about what I want to do flavorwise… I went to a Godspeed You Black Emperor show the other night, and as I watched the show I was literally creating a whole dinner concept in my head. I look at literally everything and find to try to find its  connection to food. As far as actual taste goes, I like to think that I perceive taste a little more intensely. I grew up literally on canned government food, so I pick up on off flavors extremely easily. So if I’m making something or I go to a restaurant and there’s an off flavor, I pick it up really easy, because it brings me back to growing up with it.

Like, dehydrated, reconstituted whatever?

Yeah. You’d open up a silver can that has a picture of a pig on it and that’s all that would be on it. But the flavors, you know government cheese, government fruit loops, stuff like that … there’s off flavors with them. Growing up with that, I think I’m perceptive to off flavors immediately. When you’re a kid, that’s when you develop your taste buds as far as things that you like and that you don’t like, and I don’t like off flavors. I can go into a place and I can tell how many times a meat’s been reheated because I can taste it

Why do you do these speakeasy-style dinners? Why not just open a restaurant?

I feel the world is speeding up so fast that most everything seems to be just surface connections . I’m sure you experience it every day; I experience it every day, everyone experiences it. It’s like talking to a person in text message only. The world is becoming very much like a turn ‘n’ burn—you know, where it’s “try and get as much stuff out as possible and just keep moving on” and you don’t really get strong connections with people.

Obviously, I’m working on ways of expanding (Wolvesden), but to me, expanding doesn’t necessarily mean feeding more people. I’m hoping to teach people to be able to do the kind of stuff I’m doing.  I really like the idea of having a smaller group together, where it’s more about the experience as a whole. Food is a very big part of it, but I really enjoy having people walk up and talk to me while I’m cooking. Or when I’m over hanging out after the dinner, they’re talking about a dish, or somewhere that I need to go try. I like those exchange more than I do feeding 200 people. It’s just a deeper kind of connection than just a surface “Hey, how’s it going, oh great, have a good night, see ya.” I want to find out more about people. I’m an extremely curious person. I ask people questions all the time, because I just want to know

Backtracking a bit. What are your musical influences?

I’m a huge fan of Tom Waits. Joy Division. I listen to Philip Glass quite a bit. My musical tastes go all over the place, just like my food does. My top three bands, if I had to name them, would be Tom Waits, Godspeed You Black Emperor, and Joy Division. It’s three completely different styles of music…

But they were all at their best when they went outside conventions, when they strived.

Definitely. Someone like Tom WaitsI love his music, but the thing I like the most about him is that he’s very good at telling stories, just like Bob Dylan was. He has a lot of abstract stuff going on, but at the same time, it all makes sense. But if you just glance over it, you might think, what the hell is this? I really like that kind of surrealism.


And you put it on a plate.

When I make a plate, it’s very aggressive-looking. I don’t do right angles most of the time. When I do, it’s on purpose. I don’t like the idea of everything being perfectly square and symmetrical. I don’t like that organization. My stuff looks more raw, more organic, more aggressive. That’s what I’m trying to get acrossthat feeling of movement, of energy. When I see perfectly-cut lines on a plate, it makes me think of type. That’s just how I see it; obviously, everyone’s not going to see it that way. They want a perfect, consistent portion where everything is exactly 1.5 ounces. I like the idea of everything not being exactly the same.

When people come here to eat, I want them to leave feeling they’ve had a one-of-a-kind experience, and it’s fleeting. They’re here, and then it’s gone, but that experience stays as what it is. That’s why I try not to repeat a ton of dishes. If I do repeat, it’s because I’m trying to refine the dishto find a better way of cooking and serving it. But I also like the idea that every time we do a dinner, they have that experience to share with that group. And that’s the only time they’re going to experience it. The next group has a different experience. I like that idea of going in and it’s all handmade.

I’m really just taking food back 50 years. That’s all I’m doing, regarding the experience. The food itself doesn’t date back to the 1950s, but I guess that the ideal, the connection to where people are sitting around… If you came to a dinner and were just a fly on the wall, you’d see weird stuff happen. People come in here and I can immediately tell who’s more timid and shy and feels lost and doesn’t know what to expect. What’s funny is that, by course three or four, those people are the loudest and having the best time. That’s what I strive for.

What kind of mark do you hope to leave on your profession?

Mostly, I’d like to show people that if you really want to do something—whether it’s cooking, painting, being in a band, being a journalist—you have to sacrifice your time, you have to love what you’re doing and you have to work your ass off.

I didn’t have my early 20s. I literally chose to just cook. Had I waited for someone to get what I was doing, I would still be doing nothing. I would never have progressed. Instead, I figured out what I wanted and I worked toward my goals and I saved up every penny and put it all back into cooking. That’s all I’ve done since my early 20s—I didn’t go partying, didn’t do any of that stuff. Wasn’t even interested in doing any of that stuff. I didn’t take the normal path of working a nine-to-five and partying it up on the weekends. You keep doing that, and then all of a sudden, you’re pissed off about what you’re not doing.

I just kept saving up, kept buying the equipment – and as soon as I felt like I had enough time and  enough equipment to not do it half-assed, that’s when I decided to let loose. To me, that’s a big part of it—leaving mediocrity at the doorstep. If that means that you’re not gonna sleep for 32 hours, then you’re not gonna sleep for 32 hours, and you’re not gonna bitch and cry about it. You’re just gonna do it because you love it so much.

Augustine Kofie Shapes the New

AKofie by

Originally published as part of’s “Fresh Perspectives” series, April 2011

If you must give Augustine Kofie something, give him something old. “There’s so much out there, in the past,” says the 37-year-old artist. “We live in an age where there’s so much new technology and new information, but there’s still so much old stuff that’s great, too. That’s my whole life, being a vintage futurist. I love my new stereo, but I also have a reel-to-reel player.”

And even though Kofie owns a computer and has easy access to all the sophisticated illustration tools it offers, when it comes time to draw a circle or square, he reaches for his vintage drafting tools and he uses them to produce otherworldly abstractions like none you’ve seen before. A Kofie piece can be a mass of sharp interlocking forms floating on a background of muted earth tones, with more of the more vibrant colors trapped in soft, rolling shapes … or it can be something else entirely. Kofie’s art has personality enough to change its mood, sometimes while you’re looking right at it. And it does indeed look futuristic while also seeming old, like snapshots of a forgotten World’s Fair.

“I like combining things that don’t seem like they’re supposed to be mixed,” says Kofie. “I’ve been drawing in this style for so long now that I can just kind of go off my head and build something from the ground up.”

Kofie builds his pieces in a variety of settings. More often than not he’s working in his studio, which sits on a hill above L.A. (“it’s really quiet; it’s amazing”), but sometimes you’ll find him plotting his beguiling abstractions on city walls. While not as active in the street art community as he once was, he remains committed to it.

“Street art is just a really tough art form for people to digest sometimes, and I’ve held with it and kept it and I really believe in it,” says Kofie. He’s a bit cagey about his street work – “There’s still a risk factor in doing it out there and I’m well aware of it, the illegal activity of it” – but he does confess to his love of transforming abandoned buildings and drawing the occasional freehand circle on a nice, rectangular wall.

“You have to really balance yourself and have control of your arm; it’s called can control,” says Kofie. “You have to pre-think of everything you’re going to sketch out. People can’t paint like that. I mean, I can because I’m six-foot-two, have a pretty wide arm span, and I’ve paid attention to the fact that my body can be, in essence, a compass.”

For Fresh Perspectives, Kofie was asked to use that human compass to create two pieces on the themes of Empowerment and Escape, both of which resonate through the whole of Kofie’s work and sense of being. “I understand empowerment because I’ve basically empowered myself — I started my own business, I didn’t go to art school, I didn’t go to business school. And because my work is so involved and there are so many layers and so much depth to it, I feel like when I work on the pieces I shut out reality. I’m in my studio, playing music, and I’m just letting my work do what it needs to do. It’s still in the midst of everything, but my studio is an escape for me.”

The way Kofie speaks about his studio, it’s obvious that it’s his second heart. In his studio are paintings waiting to be begun or revised, and of course, a bunch of vintage drafting tools he picked up at estate sales.

“I’m an old soul,” says Augustine Kofie. “I’m inspired by the things that people kind of forget about.”

Keep Drafting @ Flickr

Keep Drafting @ Vimeo

Official Facebook Page


From Stephen Powers, With Love

Originally published as part of’s “Fresh Perspectives” series, April 2011

Stephen Powers is an escape artist. In “A Love Letter for You,” the New York-based artist and Philadelphia native hasn’t simply created a collection of strikingly beautiful murals to enliven West Philly’s Market Street, but a soulful series of affirmations, commiserations and confessions whose intended purpose is to help you escape from a low place — to help put meaning to those times when meaning is lost. “Forever begins when you say yes,” reads one. “I’ll shape up,” promises another.

“I’ve always had a real fascination with cities, and with the way creative people interact with those spaces,” says the 42-year-old artist. “From the time I was 16, I was interested in being outside and painting in those environments. Graffiti became a way of actively making love to a city, and expressing that love in a way that you can’t do otherwise.”

Before you became a gallery artist, you were a street artist. Did you ever imagine city planners would come to see your work as beneficial?

Yes. Even at 16, 17 years old I thought what I was doing was essentially positive. I thought I was losing my mind, thinking that it would be possible to create work that would ultimately be accepted at the highest levels of at least city government.

Thankfully, it was. What inspired Philadelphia’s “A Love Letter for You?”

The fact that I love Philly. I have very complicated feelings about growing up there, leaving there and eventually coming back. Philadelphia is family to me. And when I say that word, family, I mean to imply all the closeness and distance that family can bring. So, I had the basic components of “Love Letter” in my DNA, and then it was just a matter of connecting with the Mural Arts Program, with the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, and then with the people of Philly to find the words. The people gave me the words, gave me the character. But the story arc was there.

The story arc?

I had a friend who’d fathered a baby. He was trying to maintain contact with the mother and with his child, and it wasn’t working out. As a friend, I thought I’d give him something he could work with, and to put something on the table for all these people who are in relationships where they just can’t find the words. I thought it would be an interesting public service project to make the words and put them in a place where people could find them and use them.

Your illustrative style evokes the advertisements and signage of the 1940s and 1950s—it’s really a jukebox of influences.

You’ve hit it on the head. That was the last era when every sign you saw was handmade. … I didn’t mean to be cool and pick the coolest period of American visual noise; I was just picking up where we left off. I haven’t made much progress past that, but I’m starting to.

What’s the greatest compliment “Love Letter” has received?

People telling me that they love the neighborhood again. We’ve had people tell us that they’ve made babies to “Love Letter,” and some marriage proposals have happened because of it.

So, where do you go from an urban love letter? Would you prefer your work end up on a museum wall or a city wall?

They’re great either way. I’ll take the worst neighborhood ever, or I’ll take the best museum you’ve got. They’re about the same to me.


What you’re doing … it’s practically a mental health benefit.

There’s no reason all graffiti can’t do that. I think it’s hard for some people because when they see a name, specifically—a name implies ownership, a name implies all these ego issues that people can’t really relate to. But this, just being about love and those hard-to-express feelings … And it’s not all Hallmark card. The feelings run the gamut; there’s a lot of complex highs and lows. The greatest love is the love you have to endure sometimes, the love you have to make work.

Do you begin with the language, or the look?

It’s words first. It’s how the words sound and what they’re saying, but then, it has to work visually. The language we used, “to have and to hold”—who knows how many millennia that’s been around? It’s a beautiful, eloquent and compact phrase that can be stretched to mean many different things. It implies some kind of ownership, but it’s one of the sweetest phrases at the heart of every marriage ceremony. The more you pull it out of its context and think about it, the weirder it gets.

You work really does feel like it’s of another time.

It’s not supposed to be ’50s- or ’60s-centric, but that was the last era when every sign you saw was handmade. The entire visual landscape of America was made by hand. Computers started to come around in the 1960s, and some of the bigger offices and national chains could afford to have computer lettering. I guess computer lettering showed up on a lot of levels just after the war. So when a lot of America that wasn’t operating at the highest level of the economy, everything was handmade. When people say it looks like a certain place and time, that was the last time that the landscape was dominated by that look. Really, this is me picking up the thread that’s been broken. It was cool just to start there.

How do you go about making one of these pieces?

When it’s in public, it all starts with people first, talking. This is a methodology the Pew Arts Program has developed over 25 years of engaging and talking to people. Being in public, it’s part of what you do, anyway. As long as I’ve been painting in public—it’s been 25 years for me, as well—if someone walks up and has a conversation with you… You know, the typical artist values their isolation and doesn’t want to be interrupted, but you don’t have that luxury when you’re painting in the street. You have to engage everybody. And the guy who walks up to you who you give a hard time, or you just blow him off—he could be the guy who shuts down the whole operation. So we spend a lot of time talking to and engaging with people, and when we’ve taken the temperature of what the neighbor is about—because every corner you go to, you spend a little time there, Friday morning or Sunday morning or Saturday night, you’re going to get a wildly different perception of what’s going on. Learning that, and then building a work that meets up with whatever is happening on that corner—that’s really, really good. It gets really powerful that way.

First and Fifteenth

A Love Letter for You


Two One-Eyed Fat Men

One of the great pleasures of YouTube is that it allows me to revisit scenes from my favorite movies without having to sit through the movie itself, which is a jim-dandy thing for those times when you’re trying to avoid doing the job you’re being paid to do. And sometimes, I even get to play consumer advocate and do an apples-to-apples comparison like this one: Rooster Cogburn, as played by John Wayne and Jeff Bridges some decades apart.

The Duke. Indelibly great stuff, if you can ignore the shitty acting of Glen Campbell and Kim Darby, which I can’t. Still, there’s no denying that this is one of John Wayne’s best roles.

The Dude. I much prefer the Coen Brothers version of this story, but Bridges makes some weird acting choices in it, perhaps because he doesn’t want to step on The Dukes’ toes. (He even changes the eyepatch from the left eye to the right.) The most notable of those choices is in this scene, when he all but swallows Cogburn’s best line of the film. Fill your hands, you son-of-a-bitch! Still, the Carter Burwell score is magnificent, Barry Pepper’s Lucky Ned improves on Robert Duvall’s, and there’s nary a Kim Darby to be found.

It Rained in Vegas

A couple of weeks back we had some beautiful monsoon weather in Las Vegas. I shot this video on the Strip-Downtown Express, using the slow-motion capability of the HTC EVO 4G LTE, while enroute from the Bonneville Transit Center to the Vegas Seven offices. The music is “The Trees in Juarez” by The Flashbulb, and I make no apologies for the butt-rock breakdown. I was actually listening to this song on headphones as I shot this video, and the big metal guitars kicked in at pretty much the precise moment as they do in the clip. Apologies for the wonky edits; I’ve never used iMovie before. Enjoy.

From the valley of Goodreads

Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in SpiritsBoozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits by Jason Wilson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Spirits writers are, pardon the pun, usually dry in nature; it’s all terroir this, tannins that. Jason Wilson writes about these things, but in a personable way that makes them readily understandable to laypersons. This is, for all intents and purposes, a biography and travelogue with drink recipes — and goddamn if it doesn’t make you want to stock up on absinthe and Luxardo, while taking a bat to the flavored vodka aisle. Strongly recommended, even for intermittent drinkers. Have rarely read better prose about the joys of flavor.

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