Larry Wilson: My own women of distinction

Recalling once when we first began naming Women of Distinction in the Pasadena area, and writing a column celebrating, almost at random, the lower-cased women of distinction in my own life and then a bunch here in town, I shy from the naming of names the way a hiker shies from a rattling in the bushes right by the single-track trail to Mount Lowe.

In that column of three years ago, various people were named; by definition, not everyone. How could you name everyone of distinction in town when, also by definition, half the people you know are of the women persuasion?

Not that they needed to respond, but I never heard a peep from those who were lauded. Nor did those who were not named themselves give a holler. But the friends and the family of the distinctives who were not named in what, as I say, was a casual rounding-up of the monikers of the good and the
great . . . well, they were vocal in the extreme.

“How on Earth could you ignore” Jean or Joan or for all I recall some boy named Sue? they asked.

I didn’t ignore them. I just didn’t claim that my list was all-inclusive.

I even remember how I created the casual compendium. In my mind, I pictured Pasadena, and went in a great circle around the town, starting in Hastings Ranch, sweeping like a second hand down toward Chapman Woods, through the central business districts, Madison Heights, San Rafael, Linda Vista, the East Arroyo, the heart of the Northwest, the historical neighborhoods along Washington Boulevard and then into Bungalow Heaven.

I was sitting on Colorado Boulevard, facing south, so this was indeed a clockwise venture — if I was looking toward the bottom of the clock. I came up with 20 or so names and stopped.

Too soon, it would appear, too soon.

As in any such naming in what more and more hopes to become an egalitarian society, the question it implies is, How long? How long will we have to have a Black History Month? How long will we need to have affirmative action? When will we all be equal?

There is no real answer to those questions. We don’t know how long. All we do know is it will be at some historical point after we all are gone.

Certainly in terms of the equality of women, we have made strides in the workplace, in the groves of academe, in the division of labor in the home. But in recent years we have also gone backward in the number of women in American political office. While not just Iceland but Britain and Germany and now perhaps even Mexico have had women as top national political leaders, we have not. A recent New York Times op-ed asked, Where is the feminist leader to take the torch from Gloria Steinem? Does the Ms. magazine founder have to lead the way until she’s in her 90s?

I remember writing another column many years ago celebrating the fact that my boss and my investment adviser and my physician and my lawyer — and my wife, and my only child, if it came to that — were all women.

Now, I’m lucky — I don’t have a lawyer. But my (different) physician, and my dentist, and my (different) investment adviser — and dear wife and child — sure are. I shall not name them, to protect the brilliant. And the rest of you women of distinction in my life — you know who you are.

– Larry Wilson is public editor of the Pasadena Star-News and the San Gabriel Valley Newspapers.

Favorite spots by any other name

By Larry Wilson
In Pasadena dining, what’s in a name?
The good players of this great new game played on Facebook and elsewhere, “You know you’re old-school Pasadena (Pacoima, Poughkeepsie, wherever) when …” are particularly adept at keeping the cyber conversation going by recalling at length what businesses used to be in buildings now housing other businesses.
Since restaurants turn over more often than most, it’s almost always restaurants that are named.
I may be old-school Pasadena, but I am relatively terrible at remembering the former tenants of restaurant spaces I frequent now, even when I used to frequent its predecessors as well.
Oh, yeah, I know that Louise’s Trattoria started as the Rite Spot — well, became that at the corner of Fair Oaks and Colorado in the ‘80s — and that Kenton Nelson’s great moneybags-at-City Hall mural that graced it is presumably still behind the drywall.
I can tell you that Smitty’s on South Lake was misguided Asian fusion before the smart Smith Bros. went all-American, and even that it was Greg and Bob themselves who conceived of the Asian place and then pulled the wool over a reporter’s eyes when they told him what a wacky idea “someone” had had with that fusion thing. But what was the Asian called? Dux, maybe? And what was it after it was Monahan’s forever? You recall. I don’t.
Sure, having been here, I could show you where Blum’s was on South Lake, and the Stuft Shirt, and La Couronne, and the Chronicle, which then was Joachim’s Pinot at the Chronicle, and then J. Lo’s. But I can stand there on De Lacey in Old Pasadena and stare at that place that at one time was the Union Cattle Co. with its mechanical bull and not be able to name a single one of the half-dozen other restaurants that tried and failed in the barn-like location. Actually, it’s a gym-like location. ‘Cause I can definitely recall when it was the ritzy, bright-red Brignole’s Fitness in the ‘80s, before the popular owner Doug got arrested in the steroid thing. That was a story I covered, and I remember those.
Or the Raymond and Green joint that’s now redwhite + bluezz? Mmm, Spencer’s, with the Chronicle staff after Lud’s place closed. And Funnies. And Patrick Gruest’s Fleur de Vin, which name Patrick changed while he still ran it, for reincorporation reasons, though I can’t say to what. But I know there were others. And I just can’t recall.
I can still be shocked. I can get attached to a name that I will never forget. Driving by Rick’s Tacos on Walnut last week, looking like it has for 50 years, only the neon sign said … Bobby’s. I was flummoxed. Whither the Spuderito? Happily, the restaurant-frequenter these days has only to go to Yelp to be reassured that Bobby, the longtime manager, has taken over but won’t change the menu a whit.
Forget the nomenclature, you say. Where can a person get a good bite to eat in town these days? you ask. Unlike the King of All Hash Houses, Jonathan Gold, who even going under the knife would only tell his surgeon about one place — Sumi’s Europane — I say it ain’t so.
Eat at Noir, on Mentor, because Claude and Mike are the best fine food-and-wine combo in town (the cheese, the charcuterie, the scallops!)
Eat at Cafe Verde on Green, tiny undiscovered gem, a treat.
Sushi and sake at Japon Bistro.
Norma’s Tacos in the converted gas station down Green by PCC: barbacoa genius.
Robert Simon’s new a/k/a bistro in One Colorado for the squid, the chorizo mussels, the impeccable service and wine list.
Parkway, sure, better than ever.
But I still need to get in the Smith Bros.’ Cheval Blanc Bistro in Old Pas, if only to not remember: What were the 27 names it was known by before?
- Larry Wilson is public editor of the Pasadena Star-News and the San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group.

MUSIC WORTH THE DRIVE

By Larry Wilson

I’m always railing in this space against the dearth of real, live music for adults who aren’t dead between the ears (or in the musical taste buds) in Old Pasadena, which in theory is a perfect place for live music.
It should in fact be rocking the way Memphis’ Beale Street bleats the blues – a walkable Southern California entertainment neighborhood where a music fan could easily tromp from club to club, unlike the Sunset Strip, upon whose sidewalks no boots of Spanish leather have stomped since the Buffalo Springfield chronicled the hipster-vs-cops riot there.
You drive, dog, between the House of Blues and the Roxy, though they’re six blocks apart.
Oh, there’s some quiet jazz here. And you can find a club with a DJ spinning house, or dub, or acid dub house, or whatever electronic music mixed on turntables is being called this week. And I’m not even really a fuddy-dud about that; it’s just I’d rather see and hear a band.
And there’s fantastic and highly eclectic music at each one of Monica Lee Copeland’s Indelible Ink shows, which just moved from the champagne bar Pop on Union Street to Robert Simon’s new AKA Bistro in One Colorado, 7 p.m., the last Tuesday of every month barring December. The shows, which also include dancers and performance artists, achieve a modern vaudeville vibe, but they are mostly dedicated to the spoken word — slam poetry and regular poetry — with the musical guest as a sweet melodic tonic programmed in between.
That’s why the one night when I walked all of Old Pas in search of a rock tune, I ended back where I started — with the teen Led Zeppelin tribute band in the Old Towne Pub, the classic stinky dive bar that was always a little bit hidden and now is mightily so — enter from various alleys off of Holly.
At least they had a sense of humor, and tossed the pretty girl at the bar the mike so she could show off her Merseyside accent tribute.
If you know of live music you like in Old Pas that I’m missing, drop a line — would love to check it out.
But the other night I found a local joint that is booking the kind of bands that would be great in Old Pas. And it was very much worth the drive up to Sierra Madre to check it out.
I’d been to Cafe 322 on Sierra Madre Boulevard for lunch before, but had no idea the Italian place served up tunes as well as bowls of pasta with red sauce until my friends in the Human Hands, a great post-punk L.A. band that considers itself as “closely associated with what is loosely known as the Pasadena scene, bands with more of an art influence,” a scene I’d wager you didn’t even know existed. What it means, along with being smart as opposed to dumb, is a sprightly, ironic sound akin to XTC and Television. You might remember “Trains vs. Planes,” original member Juan Gomez’ funny transit number, or how they opened for Magazine back in the day, or headlined Perkins Palace — Old Pas’s Raymond, that is. Or more likely the bands that came out of HH, including The Dream Syndicate and Wall of Voodoo and The Romans.
But I walked into the joint alone halfway through the set the other night and, 35 years on, the Hands were hot. And the sound was just excellent — loud, yeah, but not so much that I lamented forgetting ear plugs. Loud like the Dictators: Young (well, young-sounding), fast and scientific. Insightfully funny real-person songs like “Emily Watson” that would do slice-of-lifers Fountains of Wayne proud.
Juan, the highly intellectual kind of guitarist who works in rare books at the Huntington Library, said the bookers and the club were great to work with. Featuring the kind of rock music that would do great in Old Pasadena. And if a fellow has to head to Sierra Madre to hear it, well, more power to the 322.
– Larry Wilson is public editor of the Pasadena Star-News and the San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group.