I’ve often been asked if I was to choose between stirring imagination or stirring curiosity. Why just choose one?
This is a story of discovering oceanic peacocks with culinary unicorns, in the heart of one of the most artistic of towns on this undiscovered planet Earth: Venice Beach.
As I drifted into my large suite at the artistic Hotel Erwin, I was greeted by a flock of peacock feathers that immediately tickled my curiosity. For peacocks on a beach were as much a juxtaposition as a city named after Venice, Italy, owing merely to its canals, but predominantly popular for a muscle beach culture from the days of Schwarzenegger or the skater boys subculture of the 70s. And as such, it stirred by imagination too. For if bohemian eclectic arts could co-exist with theatrical peacock style sensibilities, I was in the right place.
As I absorbed the hospitality of the hotel and inhaled the history of the vibrant city, there was far more than just peacock feathers in my gigantic suite, matched with a zone above the couches to perch like a peacock with them. Views of the ocean literally feet away meant I could wake up and smell the salty ocean air, and fall asleep gazing at the palm trees gently swaying in the night sky.
Venice Beach draws on its eclectic past of Morrison in the 60s to an industrial history, when it was founded in the early 20th century by a tobacco millionaire and real estate developer from New Jersey who wanted to recreate Venice, Italy in a seaside resort style setting. His name was Abbott Kinney, also the namesake of the coolest strip filled with bustling stores and imaginative food haunts. The more grungy artsy vibe that the city draws from is owing to its demise after his death in 1920, followed by technological innovation, The Automobile Age and the Great Depression. With the latter, so much crude oil was drawn from the shoreline that it turned the city into a more industrial feel. Combined with restoration from artists, Venice now reflects itself as a beach town with free spirited energy. Buildings are covered in mural art with a story to tell, and the ocean boardwalk has a plethora of characters with many Los Angelians frolicking in tight bathing suits to flaunt at the ocean, already brimming with surfers. Adjacent to tattoo shops and vintage fashion shops are the culinary and vegan hotspots where many wealthy, famous or insta-popular notables gather, defining the many iterations of cool of SoCal.
Hotel Erwin itself has a charming history of its own. Opened by Erwin Sokol in 1975, when Venice was considered dangerous but sexy, which is why artists would buy oil filled backyards of otherwise architecturally solid homes for cheap, just to be by the salty sea air. Larry Bell took in onto himself to redesign the interiors with unusual but city-appropriate art, even christening the hotel as an homage to its founder. Art plays a big part in its interiors, from the images and photographs by the late Douglas Kent Hall, to graffiti images from Tom Vinetz.
A fully stacked kitchenette and study area notwithstanding, it was the decor of the room and bathroom that was most precious. Real people’s hands decked the wallpaper behind the king sized bed, signed with stories of so many loves and heartbreaks and cheerful days spent dreaming of a merman’s life… and finally even living it. Bright orange wardrobe curtains and contemporary neon yellow lighting glinted off of what seemed like modern coffee tables perched on holiday ornament fixtures. Every little crevice had a tale to tell.
With coffee, tea, and even wine served on the daily by the highly hospitable and local-centric staff, it was a rare day that I felt the need to leave the hotel, let alone leave Venice Beach. From shopping to culinary to wandering to even the funkiest of ice creams, everything was within a geotaggable location of the hotel, giving its location a proud prime thumbs up, and leaving me usually clad in minimalistic clothing as I lazed around and gazed at my oceanic dreams in the ocean.
I did visit the High Rooftop Lounge, acclaimed for its views of the sun swimming into the ocean and a particular peanut butter whiskey which merits its chapter. As do the views of a sunset that was distinctly colored each day, like a new lover’s imagination scattered across a curious sky.
The beach area itself was a stone’s throw away from the hotel, bubbling with golden sand, warm sunshine, sailboats, and views of the Santa Monica Mountains. Surfers gathered magnetically to Venice Breakwater, and closer to the pier I saw a host of characters peeping from oceanfront condos and Muscle Beach where Schwarzenegger pumped iron at 21 with Joe Weider, the original daddy of bodybuilding world. The Venice Skate park was still pumping and alive, an homage to Dogtown days when the Z-Boys used to break in the hood in drained swimming pools. These had been recreated with curious, swooping curves that were equally terrifying and alluring all at once. The former for non skaters like me, and the latter for seasoned breakers and dancers who’s talent was heavily underrated in a world of filtering and retouching.
While much has been said about the illustrious Gjelina, the rosey Rose Venice and Abbot Kinney, I found myself cozy enough in my hotel suite to even order in, a rarity in pre-pandemic days. Supporting local, I once tried Dagwood’s Pizza for lunch, the only place in the world with “Unicorn AF” pizza, with cauliflower crust and edible glitter cheese swirled into a rainbow.
There’s no place like home, said the Wizard of Oz to Dorothy. And no place that makes you feel like home, if I may add too.