'Good Clean American Fun'
Charles Phoenix brings his special brand of whimsy to Vroman’s Sunday
By Carl Kozlowski 08/14/2014
As one of Los Angeles’ most colorful public figures, Charles Phoenix is known for lots of unique things. One is his way too occasional but perennially popular “Disneyland” tours of downtown Los Angeles. Another is his retro slide-shows in which he hilariously skewers slides of Southern California families from the 1950s before audiences of laughing strangers.
But his real passion is the “Charles Phoenix Test Kitchen,” in which the admittedly self-taught cook experiments with all manner of culinary inventions, such as “enchisagna,” which he describes as “a delightful marriage of enchiladas and lasagna.” That’s where he also invented his beloved collection of “poptails,” an array of self-made non-alcoholic beverages using the exotic selection of sodas available at Galco’s Old World Grocery in Highland Park.
His way with crafting his poptails inspired his friends Stu Sandler and Derek Yaniger to recruit him to write the foreword to their new book “Kiddie Cocktails,” which he will also endorse by appearing with the authors at 5 p.m. Sunday at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena. According to Phoenix, the idea of a book offering recipes for kid-safe versions of adult party drinks may sound odd, but is all in good fun.
“That’s exactly what I thought when I heard the title, that this is like encouraging children to drink, or might be the gateway to adult beverages,” says Phoenix with a chuckle. “But my friend has three kids and they’re just fine, so I didn’t really question it. It’s all good clean American fun.”
That’s how Phoenix classifies all of his endeavors, a tradition he believes he was born into as a boy “growing up on a used car lot” in Pomona. His father’s gig as a used car salesman infused his love of classic cars, while Phoenix’s mother’s love of Disneyland led to frequent trips to the amusement park, shaping his view of life as “themed environmental experiences.”
Originally an interior designer, Phoenix stumbled into his career as a king of kitsch when he purchased old abandoned Kodachrome slides at garage sales across Southern California and started throwing house parties during which he’d display and comment on the most ridiculous images to his friends. With word spreading like wildfire, he soon took his slides public, all the while dressed in one-of-a-kind outfits borne from thrift shops.
“I do two things with my clothes: I like having a very traditional men’s suit pattern cut out of wild patterns, or get a white suit and have an airbrushed design or white linen suit tie-dyed,” says Phoenix. “I like bold patterns and bold colors. My go-to is an old Shriner’s suit that I had copied bright yellow with red collar and, I have a very vintage aesthetic. I try to be dignified and tasteful but don’t know how to be. I came close to being sophisticated, but I don’t know how.”
Aside from his Vroman’s appearance for “Kiddie Cocktails,” Phoenix will also be making another excursion across his Disneyfied vision of Los Angeles on Sept. 14. The six-hour adventure offers the curious a ride on a school bus through an array of unique destinations ranging from Skid Row and the Bradbury Building to the lavish Victorian mansions of Carroll Street and a private show from the Bob Baker Marionettes.
One thing is guaranteed: you’ll never see Los Angeles the same way again. Bring some kiddie cocktails along for the ride.
Charles Phoenix discusses and signs “Kiddie Cocktails,” along with Stu Sandler and Derek Yaniger, at 5 p.m. Sunday at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Call (626) 449-5320 or visit vromans.com.
The Disneyland Tour of Downtown Los Angeles takes place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 14. Admission is $89, and early advance purchases are highly recommended. Visit charlesphoenix.com.