By Andrew Ramirez
This weekend I caught myself slouching in a booth, looming over beers and a heap of food at 1739 Public House in Los Feliz. I was with a good friend, but we had had a bad afternoon. He was on a photo assignment but he didn’t get any pictures. It was his initial assignment to snap some photos of cupcakes for a writer he was working with, who was writing about cupcakes. My friend, who is talented, smart, and creative, is also equipped with a survivalist’s sense of humor, which—for all the creative types living in 2011—makes a big difference when you’re trying to be creative for a paycheck.
“She was almost going to write about immigration,” he said, “until she changed her mind and decided on cupcakes.”
The door kicked a little bell and we were greeted by two girls our age, one quiet and the other humming a song, both standing behind a light-up deli buzzing with fluorescent lights. In my mind, I started writing a story about cupcakes too:
The cupcakes were high brow. Playful but reserved. Sinful but forgivable—although rarely contradictory….If we eat to be nourished, then why oh why do we eat cupcakes? For happiness? For pleasure? Of course not, never. But instead, dear reader, because cupcakes, like Adam and Eve’s apple, are the forbidden fruit of the twenty-first century. Only worse than paradise lost, it’s our thighs that are lost, forever, dios santos! dios santos! amen and—
I lost the thread of the story when my friend lifted his camera to the clean glass. The humming girl with a purple streak in her hair went: Sir! You can’t take pictures here!
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m going to buy something.”
“We appreciate your business, but the rule remains.”
“What’s the frosting on that one, bottom row, second to the left?”
She leaned down to inspect. My friend snapped a few shots of the top row.
“Cranapple cinnamon blueberry swirl,” she said.
“Is that a top seller?” I said to her.
She jerked, her bangs jumped. “We don’t rank cupcakes here. Hey! What did I tell you about taking pictures?”
My friend was squinting through the viewfinder, twisting the lens. “I’ll take the Graham cracker marshmallow chocolate one. How much is that one?”
“The s’more?” I said.
“It’s not a s’more,” she shouted. “It’s gluten free!”
Then the second girl, as if lifted from her mysterious hypnosis, rematerialized and started punching numbers on the register. My friend snapped photos while the girl snapped back at him to stop. I went over to pay for the cupcake. The last thing I heard my friend say to the girl: “Can I get one with you and the cranapple cinnamon blueberry swirl in it?” Then the noise came, a little push of air on our backs, and a man was there looking more like a bouncer than the manager of a tiny cupcake shop. He wasn’t a girl our age. He wasn’t twenty-one years old. He didn’t have any purple in his hair, or hair on his head, but he was showing us all his bright white teeth when he took my friend’s camera and held it like a frozen beach crab, inspecting it for irregularities, pushing and prodding into its hard shell until he gave it back and asked us to get the fuck out.
But we still had too many minutes on our parking meter, so we went up the street.
The beauty of 1739 Public House is as ancient and mysterious as the beauty of an armless Roman statue, or a Native American cave drawing that’s been partially dusted away by time. It’s the act of seeing what’s been spared that makes Public House not just a good place to lick wounds, but to watch others do it too.
I ordered a beer. So did my friend. We opened a tab. A few old men sat at the bar flirting with the young waitresses all dressed in black. Some younger guys split time between watching a football game and tapping text messages on their iPhones. A little while later we ordered another beer, and then food too. I wasn’t worried. My friend had gotten some good pictures, we just happened to lose them. It was a small box of success buried under six feet of failure. The manager of the cupcake shop, after wrapping the s’more cupcake in pink tissue paper, had gone on to delete every one of the pictures my friend took. He told us it was within his rights to smash it too, but lucky for us he was a photography enthusiast. He compared the act of breaking a camera to killing a puppy just because you couldn’t stand the guy holding the leash.
Then he looked us both in the eye: I love dogs, he said. Do you?
So we’d gone to the bar because we were ninety percent hungry, two percent beat-up, and eight percent confused. We regained confidence little by little, one Peroni at a time. The French fries, brought out by a Hispanic guy with a tough face, were salty enough and the burger was basic but good. The whole scene, if you were in the kind of disoriented mood we were in, would have you thinking of a mad scientist’s cross between a Depression-era watering hole and the most tolerable Chili’s you could find. It’s where your great grandfather went to drink. It’s where thirty-something-year-olds take their dates to “get away from the city, babe.” But here and there you’ll spot someone sitting alone, smoking a cigarette on the sidewalk patio. And if they’re staring at a chicken sandwich, try asking them how it is.
If they say, “Oh, I’m splitting it with Nadine. She’s run off to the bathroom,” you’ve got yourself a hardworking business professional.
If it’s “Miserable,” maybe you’re talking with an artist.
But if it’s a beautiful woman and she says, “I don’t know….Would you like a bite?” Slap yourself awake. You’ve been licking too many wounds for one afternoon, and it’s time to go home.
1739 Public House (1739 North Vermont, Los Angeles): B+