Friday, February 27, 2009

A cool 'pad' for vintage clothing

The Lemon Frog Shop in Los Angeles really caught my attention because I love frogs and I love anything vintage.

I first heard about the vintage store a few years ago and I did not have a chance to visit it until about a year ago. I was intrigued by its location, but mostly by its name and the fact that it sold strictly vintage clothing, shoes and accessories.

The clothes, accessories and shoes at the Lemon Frog Shop are all high quality and in excellent condition.

The vintage jewelry is probably my favorite thing there, but the clothing and the shoes are fun too. And the purses, well they do not make purses like they used to.

Micki Curtis, who has owned the shop since 2007 said she has always worked with vintage.

“My parents always shopped at garage sales,” Curtis said.

Curtis credits her childhood with helping her to appreciate things that are older, unique and of good quality.

“Just because it’s old I don’t want it in my store necessarily,” Curtis said.

Curtis handpicks everything in her store. From boots to belt buckles, glamorous dresses to fun funky purses and costume jewelry.

Curtis said boots are very popular. She has a wide selection of boots in almost every color.

The name of the store, which Curtis said she got from an old Sears catalog, is exactly what she was looking for.

“I wanted a psychedelic, fun and colorful name,” Curtis said.

Marie Shelley, who works at the Lemon Frog Shop, said the shop was her favorite store when she was just a customer.

“Micki has an amazing eye,” Shelley said. “She has really good taste.”

“We have the cutest vintage pieces specializing in ’70s with some ’60s and ’80s,” Shelley said.

Curtis is not just concerned about the type of products she sells, but also about the sizes and prices.

“My goal is to have all sizes, something for everybody and $10 and up prices,” Curtis said.

Curtis stays true to her commitment to sell items that are affordable on any budget. In the front of her store she has a sale section and a vanity on one wall that has a display of jewelry for $10.

Vintage jewelry at the Lemon Frog Shop varies in style, color and time period. There is always something new.

“It’s stuff that I always want to wear and stuff no one else has,” Tanja Laden, a customer said. “That’s the only vintage shop I shop in.”

Laden said Curtis has a “curatorial eye” when it comes to picking out the clothing that she sells in the store.

“She recognizes the clothing as art,” Laden said.

Katie Page, a customer from Hollywood said she has only been to the Lemon Frog Shop two or three times, but she likes it.

“Most L.A. places are over picked,” Page said.

Page said that vintage stores “sometimes feel too Goodwill,” and that is not the feeling she gets at the Lemon Frog Shop.

“It’s actual vintage,” Page said.

I could not agree more. Every time I have visited the store with worn wood floors and colorful displays, there is always new merchandise to look through.

One of my favorite things about the store is the wall decorations, which include a frog clock and a wooden frog with green eyes. But my favorite displays in the store are the purse displays.

Not being label-conscious, I tend to stay away from the big name brand bags and I often have a hard time finding purses that are well made and affordable. I have bought two purses from the Lemon Frog Shop and I have received two as gifts and they are by far the best purses that I own.

Curtis is also very friendly and helpful. When customers enter her store she makes sure that they know where the sale section is, and she is ready and willing to answer any questions that arise.

The Lemon Frog Shop is the best vintage store I have ever seen and it is not overly trendy and the items are not outrageously priced.

“You should come by the store and check it out,” Shelley said.

The Lemon Frog Shop is located at 1202-B N. Alvarado St. in Los Angeles. For more information, please visit

Gas: About $6
Parking: Free
Vintage purse and necklace:$41.14
Total amount spent: About $47.14

Friday, February 20, 2009

Good vibes at The Downbeat

A place in Echo Park where a customer can order a Brie and avocado sandwich and a salad with freshly made balsamic vinaigrette may sound expensive and impossible to find. But for less than $10 it is possible to find at The Downbeat Cafe, a hip and retro café/coffee house that boasts more than any mainstream excuse for a coffee house ever could.

“It’s good food and it’s a cut above the general coffee house lunch fare,” Vince Meghrouni said.

Meghrouni and his band, The Downbeats, play at The Downbeat every Wednesday night. “It’s a comfortable place,” he said.

Meghrouni said he and his fellow band members chose their group’s name while standing outside of the coffee house one night when they looked up at the awning with The Downbeat name on it. “It was direct causation,” he said.

When I walked into the retro coffee house/café I immediately felt at home. It was warm and inviting with comfortable couches, handwritten menu boards and Frank Sinatra playing in the background— a place where people come to enjoy a good cup of coffee, a good meal, and study, talk or just hang out.

The Downbeat Cafe offers more than just coffee and pastries. The menu includes a selection breakfast foods, sandwiches, salads and more.

“We’re a community,” Dan Drozdenko, the newest owner of The Downbeat said.

Drozdenko who cheerfully helped customers said that they do not cater to the big business demand of the corporate-chain-style coffee house.

“We actually attract the clientele that would rather not go to Starbucks,” Drozdenko said.

Dakota Bertrand, chef and manager of The Downbeat, said he really enjoys talking to each customer to find out exactly how they want their drinks.

“We try to make what people like,” Bertrand said. “It’s how you get to know people. It gives me an excuse to talk to them.”

Bertrand really likes his customers, but he loves how creative his job allows him to be. He said the peanut butter cookies and the avocado and Brie sandwich are two of the most popular menu items.

The Downbeat has a lot to offer from a half of a grapefruit for breakfast to a mozzarella and pesto sandwich or homemade soup for lunch to a variety of coffee, tea and other beverages. There is something for everyone and in every price range.

Not only does The Downbeat offer great food, but a unique and fun atmosphere. The café/ coffee house is filled with retro furniture and lamps and is more welcoming than the standard manufactured look found in most chain coffee shops and cafes.

Almost all of the walls are covered with art created by local artists such as the current artwork by noted muralist Ernesto de la Loza, who has a studio in a church next door and who frequents The Downbeat.

“It has a ‘50’s beat sensibility,” de la Loza said. “It’s local, where artists meet and we visit.”

de la Loza said he has frequented The Downbeat for about six years since its first owner opened it.

Meghrouni said little has changed at The Downbeat, now on its third owner. One of Meghrouni’s favorite things about The Downbeat is the framed issue covers of “The Downbeat” jazz magazine that hang on one of the walls of the coffee house.

“It’s like severe eye candy,” Meghrouni said. “It’s better than just some poster on that wall that says ‘jazz.’”

Meghrouni who plays the tenor and alto saxophone, the flute, the harmonica and who sings for The Downbeats, said the employees at the coffee house take a lot of pride in what they do, especially Bertrand.

“He’s taken such extreme pride in their food and the preparation,” Meghrouni said. “Pride permeates in the place.”

“The people that work there are part of the community vibe,” Meghrouni said.

Meghrouni along with Mike Sessa who plays the drums, Matt Lake who plays the guitar and Michael Alvidrez who plays the bass, performs every Wednesday night from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The group plays primarily Jazz and some Chicago Blues.

The Downbeat is by far one of my favorite coffee houses and it is where I had one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten. After Bertrand’s description of the sandwich I had to try the Brie and avocado melt that comes with melted Brie and sliced avocado on a fresh baguette and a side salad with fresh balsamic vinaigrette. Delicious. And at $8.99, it did not break the bank.

Visiting The Downbeat in Echo Park, which is located in an early 1900s brick building on Alvarado Street just north of Sunset Boulevard is definitely a must of things to do in the Los Angeles area.

The Downbeat is located about 10 minutes north of Downtown Los Angeles.

The Downbeat Cafe is located at 1202 N. Alvarado St. in Echo Park. For more information, please visit

Gas: About $2
Parking: Free
Public transportation: $5
(Metro Gold Line, Red Line Subway and bus)
Food at The Downbeat: $8.99
Total amount spent: About $16

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fun, food and culture

Living in the Los Angeles area offers great advantages. There are cultural landmarks and activities available throughout the city and the surrounding areas.

One of the most culturally and historically rich places to visit in Los Angeles is Olvera Street. It is filled with vendors selling everything from candied limes to brightly colored child-sized guitars and it is just a small part of what a larger monument has to offer.

"We are not just Olvera Street," said Marianna Gatto, curator for the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument Authority.

Olvera Street, one of the oldest streets in Los Angeles, is part of the 44-acre stretch surrounded by Alameda Street on the east, Cesar Chavez Street on the north, Arcadia Street on the south and Main Street on the west. El Pueblo was also the site of such places as the original China Town, Little Italy and the French Quarter.

On a cold and intermittently rainy Friday afternoon, I headed for Olvera Street anticipating the warm hand-pressed tortillas, unique vendors and experiences that I have always encountered during my trips there.

In an effort to be more green and to avoid traffic, I opted to take the Gold Line in Pasadena part of the way.

I drove from La Verne to Pasadena, which took about 45 minutes. I parked for free at the Sierra Madre Villa Station, the last station at the east end of the light rail route, and made my way to the fourth floor of the parking structure.

The Gold Line pulling in to the Sierra Madre Villa Station.

The fourth floor, which has a bridge connecting the parking garage to the light rail platform, also has a row of machines that dispense rider passes. The least expensive pass available at the machine is a one-way pass that costs $1.25. An all-day pass costs $5 and it allows riders to use any Metro transportation the rest of the day.

Both options cost less than the gas it would take to drive to Los Angeles and the cost of parking. Other passes available include senior passes and student passes, which require applications that are available at

I made my way across the bridge to the Gold Line that had just arrived at the station. The light rail was clean and there were only about a dozen passengers on board. The light rail moved quickly and after about 35 minutes we were at our final destination, Union Station.

Though Union Station may seem confusing at first with a myriad of tunnels leading to trains, it is easy to figure out. After exiting the train, walk to the stairs and walk down. Turn right and walk through to the main lobby of Union Station and exit through the main doors. The main lobby is hard to miss, with high ceilings, large elaborate chandeliers and rows of art deco style wooden padded chairs for waiting passengers.

"Most people know this place as Olvera Street," Gatto said.

"For a city as important as Los Angeles, very few people are aware of its history," Gatto said. "My hope is that people take away a sense of understanding of who we are and where we have come from."

One of Gatto's focuses as a curator is preserving the city's rich history and educating the public about the El Pueblo Monument area.

Gatto said that the 44-acre monument is the site of the location of the 44 original settlers of Los Angeles in 1781. The settlers were Spanish, African and Native American.

"L.A. is one of the most diverse cities of the world," Gatto said. "Since our beginning we have been a diverse place."

Though there are many things to see and many places to visit, I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon at Olvera Street and in the immediate area. I first walked across the plaza south of Olvera Street to look at the Pico House, finished in 1869 by the last governor of California under Mexican rule, Pio Pica. The Pico House was the first three-story building in Los Angeles and it served as the first "elegant" hotel. The tall white structure is still grand with its arched windows and attention to architectural detail.

The Pico House was built in the Italianate style. The hotel had more than 80 bedrooms.

After admiring the Pico House I headed toward Olvera Street, which was once considered a "slum" before it was renovated in 1929 due to the efforts of Christine Sterling, a local woman who realized the importance of the area. It opened in April 1930.

On my way to Olvera Street I stopped to purchase some candied coconut and started at the south end of the street.

Jesus Hernandez, whose grandfather was the "Donkey Man" at Olvera Street, spent much of his childhood at Olvera Street. Hernandez now works at the family business, Hernandez & Sons Imports, which offers a selection of items including brightly painted guitars and embroidered clothing, at the south end of the street.

Jesus Hernandez writes the name of a customer's son on a small blue guitar.

"I want to keep the family legacy alive," Hernandez said.

One of his favorite memories is sitting in front of his grandparent's stand they started 47 years ago, eating lunch with his sister and his three cousins. Hernandez spent afternoons after school helping his grandparents.

Hernandez said he enjoys working at Olvera Street and he enjoys seeing all of the tourists and regular visitors.

An event that draws many visitors every year according to Hernandez is the Blessing of the Animals, a ceremony that takes place in April. People bring their pets of all varieties to be blessed by a representative of the Catholic Church.

"Someone brought a deer once," Hernandez said. "I bring my mockingbirds."

Frank Cazares, owner of La Luz Del Dia restaurant at the south end of the street is also very familiar with Olvera Street. His father and uncle started the restaurant nearly 50 years ago.

"We are on our fourth generation of customers," Cazares said. "People came with their grandparents and now they come with their grandchildren."

Though Cazares' restaurant is among several along the street, he said his restaurant has two very good specialties to offer: hand-pressed tortillas and carnitas.

The fast food restaurant offers a more welcoming atmosphere than most fast-food establishments. There are wooden tables and chairs and colorful decorations offering diners a unique non-fast food experience. Cazares said the restaurant is a traditional Mexican restaurant and that includes the decor.

As for the food, it is delicious and affordable. A taco with guacamole costs $1.10.

"The price is low and we believe we have high quality food," Cazares said.

"Without our culture we are sort of lost and soulless," Cazares said."For Mexicans it's important for there to be a cultural center which is not just music and art, but food."

Cazares said there is no such thing as authentic Mexican food because each home and region in Mexico makes food in a unique way. He said the food in his restaurant is not "Americanized" and that it is "virtually the same as Guadalajara Mexican food."

La Luz Del Dia is just one more reason to visit Olvera Street and the El Pueblo Monument.

After spending the better part of an afternoon and evening in Los Angeles, it was time to head back to La Verne. I left one of my favorite streets in Los Angeles with a better appreciation of the city and its history.

For more information about the El Pueblo Monument, visit

Gas: About $2
Parking: Free
Gold Line: $5
Candied coconut: $1
Food at La Luz Del Dia: $2.15+ tax
Total amount spent: About $10.15