All posts by Alec Silverman

Two Great Downtown Wine Tastings on Tap Tonight and Friday


The legendary “rolling wine bar” at Ralph’s market downtown has been reactivated from time to time in 2010 by its superlative host Mike Berger, like a rock star dropping in unexpectedly to play a stunning set of live music unbilled.  This week Mr. Berger is announcing two winery-themed tastings: tonight, Wednesday the 14th, and Friday the 16th.  Both tastings will run from 5pm until 8pm.

Celebrated in the past numerous times in downtownster as the best happy hour wine value in Los Angeles, the ephemeral return of these events is cause to rejoice anew.  While still often stunningly great experiences for the money, Mr. Berger has lost a large share of his creative control of the tastings.  For over two years he had complete autonomy in presenting his selections of wines for themes of his choosing.  To the true wine aficionado many of these tastings could have been subtitled “Operation Shock and Awe”, such were the sensational attributes of the wines, their savory accompaniments and the seamless grace of the host — all for a price that was close to ten dollars.  The same price range is still in effect and all-inclusive: wines, food and no tip allowed.

Tonight he will be joined by his compatriot in the world of wine, Joe Montoya.  Mr. Montoya will be pouring, along with our local hero, wines from two of the most prestigious wineries he represents – Château St. Jean (of Sonoma) and Beringer (of Napa).  In the world of Northern California wine, and therefore, the world of fine wine at large, these wineries have great reputations.  St. Jean produces one of the most honored meritages in the short history of that term, Cinq Cepages.  It is a blend of five red grape varieties that has received wine-of-the-year honors from The Wine Spectator as well as copious other important awards.  Beringer’s top-rated red wine has even more impressive accolades.  For decades their Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon has been considered one of the elite Cabernets from Napa Valley, the United States’ greatest region for its most vaunted red varietal.  Along with a handful of other producers, this wine has been dubbed a premier cru – a nod to the five French Châteaux who produced unrivaled Cabernet Sauvignon-driven wines for nearly two centuries before the emergence of California and Italy as rivals.  I would not expect either of these wines to be offered tonight.  I do expect a marvelous tasting of at least five wines that will range in retail price from $16 to $60.  Both wineries are known for exceptional Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon as well as many other superb varietal wines including Merlot, Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.  The list of fine wines from current vintages to draw from numbers in the twenties and Mr. Berger will pair the selected wines with four super-premium artisanal cheeses and La Brea Bakery bread.  It should be noted that Mr. Montoya, while co-hosting these tastings in the past, was known for his generosity and, “the wine flowed like water”. Continue reading

The Extraordinary Case Of Mike Berger

FOREWORD BY STAN LERNER: downtownster does not celebrate its first birthday until February, but I still feel compelled to post the TEN BEST downtownster blogs of 2009. And while I think all of our blogs have been great, these are the ones that readers read the most and gave us the highest level of props for writing. In the case of “The Extraordinary Case Of Mike Berger” the great Alec Silverman shines a bright light on one of the best human beings I’ve had the good fortune of calling my friend. The wine tastings are not as frequent as they were when this was first posted, but Mike Berger is better than ever.

<Click Here: To Buy Books By Stan Lerner> 

Stan Lerner, editor-in-chief and creator of Downtownster is a revered cohort for whom I am indebted to Mike Berger, the subject of this entry, for making possible our acquaintance.  Mr. Lerner has been googled over 1.2 million times; his blogs (articles for Downtownster and his satirical serial Downtown Oliver Brown) have around 2 million hits; he is a screenwriter receiving residuals in seeming perpetuity; he is published in hardcover as a novelist, a long-form satirist and a children’s book author.  I am honored that he invited me to be a guest contributor to this blog and, after much consideration concerning what form to proffer (e.g., an op-ed piece, a film review, a vignette, etc.), I found it “altogether fitting and proper” to pay homage to Mr. Berger. This piece however, strictly speaking, could be classified as a restaurant review.  The restaurant is an ad hoc wine bar and it is Mr. Berger’s one-man show.

On the north side of 9th Street between Hope and Flower – as any denizen of downtown knows – is the entrance to Ralphs Market.  Its manifestation on the cityscape was like an oasis created by a meteor.  At last, under one roof, downtown had a purveyor of some of the most essential trappings of civilization.  What too many apparently do not know is, that within this architecturally unimaginative space, like gleaming crystals in a geode, lay a treasure for wine enthusiasts unparalleled anywhere in Los Angeles.  On Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays between five and eight p.m., one can get both the best value and the best wines by-the-glass downtown.  For twelve hours a week, four nights of happy hours, if you will….  Don’t blink or you’ll miss out.  This is all because the store opened with an exceptional department manager.  You see, dear reader, with the advent of this civilization, like a gift from an extraterrestrial race, came a subtle, dedicated, dyed-in-the-wool service professional – a one-off, wine and spirits manager by the name of Mike Berger. That’s right, you read correctly, in Ralphs Market.
 

Part of what makes him seem like he dropped in from another planet is Continue reading

Scenes From The DFFLA

Foreword by Stan Lerner: before I embarked on the “Road To Nowhere” I left the trusty Alec Silverman to record for all of us the last half of the Downtown Los Angeles Film Festival. Upon my recent return to Los Angeles he proffered the following account.

Well, I got in on the tail-end at the periphery of the Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles, when Stan told me to go see Sarah Maxwell, who was taking care of Rock N’ Fish’s commitment to the festival as a sponsor… I’m glad to say I did.  What I experienced was two screenings in The Grammy Museum theater.  For the first time in its two-year history, the DFFLA had this venue for a series of music documentaries curated by a nice lady named Carolyn Shroeder.  What would you expect to be good in the theater at The Grammy Museum? Continue reading

More Short Short Fiction of Catherine Coan

One thing I found surprising about Catherine Coan’s short short stories was the variety of voices and writing styles therein.  I, on the other hand, seem to write “…all one, ever the same and keep invention in a noted weed…”, if I may quote the English language’s most famous sonneteer.  The next surprise came in the form of her fine wit which renders more meaning with each reading.  Again, I have written short intros, (in italics), to these pieces which I hope will not detract from them.

Ah, to be a schoolboy again.  And drawing pictures with schoolgirls.  And learning so many new things, with visual aids in the classroom to enhance the rich imagination of childhood. ─AS
 
Drawing On Eyelashes

Remember, when you were a kid, doing drawings, and in those drawings drawing eyelashes on some animals to show that those animals were female (lizards, mice, fish, birds)? Another question, this one for bats: Bats, why must you swoop about, swooping for blood, when you could just do you know what with your lashes and almost surely get better results, like maybe even a little ceramic bowl of blood with your name on it (and yes, I know that your name is difficult to spell, Empress of Moldovia, but try to be positive, please)?

I forgot to tell you earlier that I have made a time machine which shows all of time up until now on an overhead projector from 1980. You are going to have to decide who gets to operate the rollers, and if there is any bickering, we’ll just wait until tomorrow to do this. Good. Continue reading

Poets on the Corner of 5th and Main

On Thursday, August 27th, at eight- o’clock, The Third Area presents the last poetry reading of the summer at Pharmaka gallery on the corner of 5th and Main.  This is an extraordinary opportunity for readers to get a dose of vital and utterly current poetry read by the top notch poets themselves, in a setting surrounded by the visual arts in one of downtown’s most appealing galleries.  For a cherry on top, wine, beer, bottled water and hors d’oeuvres are provided free of charge, (a five dollar donation is suggested).  Of course, that should be no surprise.  Writers are always talking about the importance of the mantra “know your audience.”  The doors open at seven, when mingling and noshing and perusing books and visual art begins.  We hope to see many downtownsters there.       

 There are always four poets featured.  They are introduced, often beautifully, by other poets.  One fine example of the art of language to be found at these readings at Pharmaka follows below.  Tony Barnstorm, whose résumé of literary awards is so extensive that we can’t list it here, read this poem, along with many others, among his amazingly divergent repertoire.

The 167th Psalm of Elvis
This poem comes from Tony Barnstone’s book, The Golem of Los Angeles, published by Red Hen Press

Blessed are the marble breasts of Venus,
those ancient miracles, for they are upright and milk white
and they point above the heads of the crowd in the casino.
Blessed are the crowds that play, and whose reflections
sway in the polish of her eggshell eyes,
for they circle like birds around the games,
and they are beautiful and helpless. Continue reading

Goodbye, Wine Lovers

The last days of great wine tasting are this week at Ralphs downtown.  Don’t miss it or you’ll never be able to say to your grandchildren that you were there.  That you had Mike Berger personally pour your wine; that you met the “whole sick crew” of regulars who later became legendary for their association with the greatest wine tasting series in turn of the century Los Angeles.

The remaining wine tastings promise to be emblematic of the excellence that has left indelible impressions on patrons over the last two years.  Tuesday, Friday and Saturday are all we have left; I promise I shall make these dates.  Meritage and Mr. Berger’s exceptional cooking is the order of the day on Tuesday.  Friday brings a sparkling wine and sushi pairing that defies any sushi bar’s best value.  Finally, Saturday will shine a light on Merlot and reprise Mike’s efforts to rectify the slandering of those wines by Miles in the movie Sideways when he said: “No!  If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving.  I am NOT drinking any f*cking Merlot!” Continue reading

Grade School Memories ─ Dogbite

For Diane Schneider McArdle
 
At Colfax Avenue Elementary School in North Hollywood I had Mrs. Grover as my fifth-grade teacher.  Mrs. Grover was the most elderly, in appearance, of anyone who taught me before college with her fully grey head of thick hair and her leathery pruned face and old fashioned eyeglasses.  She was very alert though.  From any vantage point, she could spot the slightest nuance of a ten year-old’s mischief at any desk in her classroom.  I was pretty sure I could outrun her, if I could only get to the door first.

One day, the most attractive girl in our class, Diane Schneider, came to school with terrible scabs on her face.  The story circulated among the children in the class was: Continue reading

The Flash Fiction of Catherine Coan

“This is really short short fiction”, I remarked to myself as I read the stories below by artist, poet, author and educator, Catherine Coan.  I was immediately inspired to compose short introductions à la Rod Serling.   “Imagine if you will…”

The first of the three featured stories speaks to the collapse of the real estate market, and the great bargains to be had for buyers with cash in hand.  As readers will discover, however, getting that “dream house” may be more complicated than that.

Hummingbird Nest Ranch

Sotheby’s: Was $75,000,000, Just Reduced to $5,995,000. Recession Special!

HUMMINGBIRD NEST RANCH. The finest world-class equestrian estate on approximately 123 acres, built in 2004, just 40 minutes from Beverly Hills! Beautiful Mission Revival-style mansion (approximately 17,000 square feet, designed by Richard Robertson). Approximately four of the 123 acres boast a Native American burial site!

The three-level main house has thick stucco walls, copper gutters, a courtyard succulent garden with an aggressive fifteen-foot carnivorous plant, and a Spanish-style roof.

There are five bedrooms plus attached guest quarters, an office, a cabana, two heated pools, a twelve-person Jacuzzi, and a gazebo. Luxury details include paver tile floors, decorative tile work around the windows, wood-beamed ceilings, and a state-of-the-art French kitchen in red lacquer and stainless!

Surrounding the main house are three guest houses, ten staff houses, and substantial hunter-jumper equestrian facilities including an international grand prix arena (600×300 feet); rubber-and-sand mixed ring (300×250 feet); derby grass field (650×250 feet); large main barn (approximately 20,000 square feet) with 37 stalls (14×14 feet), six grooming stalls, two wash stalls, vet office, and farrier’s workshop and quarters! In one of the stalls lives a man with a human body and horse head (Palomino) named Carl who does not wear clothes and will not leave. But, again, the stainless and red lacquer kitchen. Also, derby grass field! Continue reading

Got More Poetry

A reminder to poetry lovers, Pharmaka has “The Third Area” poetry reading featuring four poets with wine and noshes on Thursday, August 27th.  Below the info are two poems new to downtownster by famous Persian poets.

Pharmaka Gallery
101 West 5th Street (corner of 5th and main)
Los Angeles
(213) 689-7999
“The Third Area” poetry reading series at Pharmaka takes place on the last Thursday of every month at 8p.m.

We proudly present poetry by poets who have read at Pharmaka this summer.  They are both Iranian expatriates.

Butcher Shop

a poem by Sholeh Wolpé

Aisha was gunned down
in her father’s butcher shop.
She was twenty-four, a virgin,
had a cat named Hanna.
 
The boys in black bandanas
the ones with large dark eyes
that devour light
wanted her brother.
 
And what better place for blood
than a butcher shop
where it already covers
the counters, stains the white aprons,
is sold in long red sausages. Continue reading

Artwalkin’ with Stan ’n’ Al

This morning I am writing in pain.  That’s better than writhing in pain, but in this case, they are not far apart.  I was involved in a single-pedestrian accident on the sidewalk in front of Arty gallery last night.  The official report states that alcohol was not a contributing factor.  The victim had a blood-alcohol content of 0.02%.  Witnesses state that the victim, who wore a cheap hat, tripped on uneven sidewalk paving and fell face first onto the cement where, shocked, he briefly groaned in agony.  He was carrying a bag, the contents of which spilled onto the sidewalk revealing a signed copy of Stan Lerner’s Criminal.  The sole blame for the accident lay in the victim’s operation of his feet. Continue reading