Celebrating 61 Years of Neon, Bowling, Booze & (now) Booza in Anaheim’s Little Arabia

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We were cruising across the vast flat lands of Orange County, the GPS app set to avoid toll roads and freeways, as the setting sun tinted every surface with that magical liquid gilding that can’t be painted or bottled, but is best captured in passenger window cellphone snaps.

Our destination: Le Mirage, a French bakery in Anaheim’s Little Arabia district, which we learned from Gustavo Arellano’s 2018 article also does an off-menu trade in booza, an ancient, taffy-like Syrian ice cream and pistachio confection textured with orchid root and tree resin.

We arrived at the mini-mall at dusk, just as the intersection of Brookhurst and Lincoln lit up with dancing incandescents and the warm buzz of neon. For just across the road, delightfully, was a perfect time capsule of mid-century suburbia: Linbrook Bowl, a bowling alley, coffee shop, bar and gaming center, open 24/7 (except on Christmas Eve) since 1958.

In fact, we learned upon stepping in, this weekend is the 61st Anniversary of the family-owned establishment, and guests are encouraged to doll up in 1950s attire to enjoy such Customer Appreciation specials as $2 beers and $1.50 hot dogs from 11:30am-3:30pm.

We resisted the urge to settle in on a bar stool and trade tall tales with the regulars, even though our new friends in the bar urged us to stay and toast the loss of other Southland bowling centers and Linbrook’s remarkable survival.

We explained our culinary mission across the road. “Ice cream, by Granny’s Do-Nuts? No way!” It all seemed most unlikely there beneath the mica-flecked sunken ceiling of The Kopa Room, and mention of an article in The New Yorker did nothing to convince them. Besides, one insisted, it couldn’t possibly be as good as Thrifty drug store ice cream. Well, we’d be the ones to go find out about that.

And after promising to return some day with the answer, we trundled back across six lanes of traffic, crossing from the old Orange County to the new in the length of a green walk signal.

A little small talk at the register was followed by some mysterious banging sounds in the back of the bakery, and the booza bowl was delivered, pale greenish petals studded with nuts and glistening with a splash of syrup.

And what a strange and lovely treat it proved to be! We’ve never had fresher tasting pistachios, or anything cold with such a texture. It wasn’t too sweet, and didn’t melt to a liquid like churned ice cream does, but was quite creamy and refreshing.  The ladies waiting for their cake started laughing, because Richard just kept saying “Wow… wow” and smiling at everyone.

To Anaheim’s Syrian community, booza is the taste of the diaspora, its sweetness tinged with sorrow and loss. While the flavors didn’t conjure up such feelings for we two native Angelenos, it did remind us of our dear grandma Cutie the foodie, and make us wonder if she would have recalled this treat from her early girlhood in Cairo.

A detour to visit Le Mirage is highly recommended, along with spending a little time talking with the friendly folks to be found on both sides of the street. It’s evenings like this one that make us grateful to live in Southern California, where so many different worlds and delicious flavors exist side by side, even if they don’t always mix. But when you’re ready to explore something new to you, all you have to do is look both ways and cross with care.

As grandma Cutie always said, quoting a beer billboard of her youth: “Lucky when you live in California.” And we are!

 

It’s no Angels Flight, but the Dana Point funicular has a beachy charm all its own

With just two more days (!!!) until Downtown L.A.’s restored Angels Flight Railway returns to service, we found ourselves consumed with the urge to ride a funicular.

Since Angels Flight isn’t available, we set a course for points south and the nearest best thing: Dana Point’s funicular service which plies the steep grade between the cliffside parking lot at the Dana Headlands and Strand Beach below. We hiked down to the beach from the conservation area to the south, then rode the funicular up and down and up again, until the urge abated.

As charter members of the Angels Flight Friends and Neighbors Society, we naturally compared Dana Point’s convenient conveyance with our beloved Angels Flight.

The Dana Point Funicular is free (a condition of permitting the development of an adjacent gated community containing some remarkably ugly multimillion dollar homes), was established in 2009, is unmanned and entirely enclosed, is accessed through elevator-style doors set in a plain cinderblock station with all the charm of a public restroom, and has three reviews on Yelp.

The restored Angels Flight will cost $1, opened in 1901, has a human operator, is open to the elements and boasts a handsome Edwardian station house, hoop arches and lower gate all in vibrant orange with black trim, and has appeared in dozens of films and television programs.

But while it lacks the vintage movie star allure of Angels Flight, the Dana Point Funicular does a swell job carting families and their beach gear down to the shore and back, and we recommend the ride should you find yourself in the O.C.

Or, as with Angels Flight, enjoy a virtual ride, with our compliments.

“Hang on a minute–I think that’s a real Von Dutch!”

We were nearly ready to head back to Los Angeles, after a full day exploring Helena Modjeska’s country house and other interesting Orange County canyon sites, when Richard suggested we pay a visit to historic Cook’s Corner.

There’s been a building on this site at the mouth of Trabuco Canyon since the boom days of the 1880s; it became a restaurant in 1926, and eased over the line to tavern when Prohibition ended. In the 1970s, the establishment was purchased by the chopper-crafting owners of Cheat’ah Engineering and became a social club for the motorcycling community.

When we stopped in on a weekday afternoon, we found a mix of bikers and families enjoying the sunny patio. Inside, one burly gent was intently watching Ellen on the big screen TV, as Bobbie Gentry crooned from the CD jukebox. Signed firefighters’ jerseys covered the ceiling, relics from the 2007 Santiago Fire, and a cement stage the width of the room looked like it had seen a lot of good use.

The bartender was friendly, and nobody gave us the fish eye. Richard said it had mellowed a lot since he’d stopped in a decade ago on his way to the Vedanta ashram down the road, so that his companion, a Hindu woman dressed in a bright sari, could use the ladies room.

On the way into the bar, across a wooden bridge, I’d taken note of a primitive Ed Roth-style painting of a surfing rat next to a script sign reading Bridge Rats. As Richard battened down the hatches and topped up our tea cups, I looked around for more art.

Well, if had teeth, it would have bit me. Because right there by the bar room door was an enormous freestanding ATM machine, a bit weatherworn and paint-spattered, but rather beautifully pin-striped with loops and swirls and one elegant, bloodshot flying eyeball. And as I leaned in to admire the crucifix in the iris, I saw the wee inscription, and gasped.

VON DUTCH.

I’ll leave it to the gearheads and kustom kulture mavens to determine if this is really is a late work by Kenny “Von Dutch” Howard (1929-1992), the king of the pin-stripers, or a posthumous tribute by a skilled fan. But it sure was a kick to roll out of Trabuco Canyon buzzing with the possibility.

Have a look: what do you think? (For Richard’s photos inside the bar, click here.)

An Esotouric Day Trip to Helena Modjeska’s Canyon Retreat

On a cool, spring day we left Los Angeles early, bound for the Orange County canyon home of Helena Modjeska, the great 19th century Polish actress who learned English in mid-life and tirelessly toured America, bringing culture and emotional honesty to the people.

Our journey felt a bit like time travel, as the busy freeway traffic thinned and gave way to rolling hills covered with grass. Then up a narrow canyon, past olive groves and giggling turkeys running free, we found Arden, the house and garden where Modjeska went to recharge her soul after giving everything to her audiences. Today it is a National Register landmark with a devoted interpretive docent staff. We were the only people on the tour, and our guide Jan graciously shared the secrets of the house and indulged our many questions.

We hope you enjoy Kim’s photos from Mme. Modjeska’s wonderful house, a rare example of Stanford White’s architecture in California. You can see Richard’s photos of the grounds here. To plan your own visit, visit the OC Parks website. Recommended reading: Starring Madame Modjeska: On Tour in Poland and America.