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Back To The Future

Back To The Future
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The ’80s were a time when men had to wear their sunglasses at night, along with pastel suits and three-day stubble to look like Don Johnson on “Miami Vice.” Women wore spandex leggings instead and aerobicized to Jane Fonda or Richard Simmons to tone up for a night on the town. 

 

Thank God those customs didn’t last, joining disco and bell bottoms in the dust heap of history. And Pasadena — especially its swinging Old Town district — has actually experienced a tremendous upswing in the decades since the Reagan and Rambo era. 

 

But some things are timeless. Everyone loves a great bar, whether it’s “Cheers” or this year’s reader’s poll winner for Best Bar, the Bodega Wine Bar. And as long as there are people in need of a friendly ear like Cheers bartender Sam Malone, people will appreciate great bartenders like Tim DeClerk of Matt Denny’s Ale House, who won the title for Best Bartender. 

 

While plenty of beloved movie houses have disappeared, fans can still see “Back to the Future” and other ’80s classics regularly amid the latest blockbusters at the Arclight Cinemas, where the perfectly plush seats and outstanding technical qualities are things that the Ghostbusters could only dream of. And speaking of time travel, while dozens if not hundreds of restaurants have come and gone, a few have stood the test of time.

 

Some of the beloved places that never fall out of fashion are Mijares Mexican Restaurant for Best Margaritas and Huntington Gardens as one of the Best Options for a First Date. But just as we lovingly look back at the decade of parachute pants and synth-driven New Wave music today, below find the new places and players that will be the source of nostalgia in 2044. 

 

BEST BAR 

Bodega Wine Bar

260 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena 

(626) 793-4300 | bodegawinebar.com

With 23 kinds of wine (11 white, a dozen red), nine specialty drinks, 19 types of beer, five sakes, three types of bubbly and a Soju, the Bodega has everything you need to enjoy some imbibing. Add in its fun and unpretentious living room vibe and an affordable and somewhat eclectic food menu, and it’s easy to see why this bar takes the crown as Crown City’s most beloved watering hole.


Reader Recommended 

Lucky Baldwin’s Pub

17 S. Raymond Ave. 

(626) 795-0652 | luckybaldwins.com

Lucky Baldwin’s Trappiste

1770 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 844-0447  

Lucky Baldwin’s Delirium Café

21 Kersting Court, Sierra Madre 

(626) 355-1440


The Speakeasy

25 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena

(626) 578-9156 | speakeasypasadena.com


The Blind Donkey

53 E. Union St., Pasadena

(626) 792-1833 | theblinddonkey.com

 

BEST BARTENDER

Tim DeClerk

Matt Denny’s Ale House

145 E. Huntington Drive, Arcadia

(626) 462-0250 | mattdennys.com

A great bartender is one who knows how to listen, but also knows when to crack the right joke or express the right amount of sympathy. According to Matt McSweeny, owner of Matt Denny’s Ale House, Tim DeClerk has developed a devoted following for those skills. “A lot of people know him. People are comfortable with him as bartender and get to know him,” says McSweeny. “He has a rapport with all our patrons here. He’s a smiley, happy guy and people just feel comfortable with him.” 

 

BEST BEER SELECTION 

Lucky Baldwin’s Pub

17 S. Raymond Ave. 

(626) 795-0652 | luckybaldwins.com

Lucky Baldwin’s Trappiste

1770 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 844-0447  

Lucky Baldwin’s Delirium Café

21 Kersting Court, Sierra Madre 

(626) 355-1440

There’s almost no chance you’re going to be thirsty if you walk into any of the Lucky Baldwin’s locations. There are 63 beers to choose from on tap alone in the Pasadena Old Town location and 46 on tap in Sierra Madre. That incredible eclecticism is why Lucky Baldwin’s celebrates an array of European drinking festivals and is considered one of the top five Belgian beer bars in the US. 


Reader Recommended

Yard House 

330 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 577-9273 | yardhouse.com


Congregation Ale House

300 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena

(626) 403-2337│congregationalehouse.com


BEST COCKTAILS

1886 Bar at the Raymond

1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave., South Pasadena

(626) 441-3136 | theraymond.com

The perennially popular 1886 wins this vote more often and more easily than a Soviet-era dictator, but make no mistake; its passionate fans are casting heartfelt votes. They keep coming back for more because this is one bar that keeps offering more, with a regularly updated menu filled with new concoctions for each season of the year. Add in the cache of being associated with The Raymond, one of the city’s prime dining destinations, and it’s a combination that even a coup d’etat couldn’t beat. 


Reader Recommended

The Blind Donkey

53 E. Union St., Pasadena

(626) 792-1833 | theblinddonkey.com


The Speakeasy

25 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena

(626) 578-9156 | pasadenaspeakeasy.com


BEST COMEDY CLUB 

The Ice House 

24 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena

(626) 577-1894 | icehousecomedy.com

The only game in town for laughs is nonetheless the best club in the country for comedy, as well as the oldest continuous comedy club in America. More comedians have recorded CDs here than any other place on the planet, and this year it proved its worth scientifically by being singled out for excellence by professor Peter McGraw and his Humor Research Lab (HURL) at the University of Colorado-Boulder in the book “The Humor Code.”


BEST DIVE BAR

The Colorado Bar

2640 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 449-3485 

The Colorado is perfectly at home on Pasadena’s east side, a world away from the touristy charms of Old Town. The focus here isn’t on fancy food and obscure breweries, but rather on the beer itself, along with the pool tables, darts and classics-packed jukebox that together give the place the feeling that something crazy could happen at any moment. But until then, this is also a great place to just kick back and wait for trouble while savoring a cold one. 


Reader Recommended

Freddie’s 35er Bar

12 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 356-9315 | 35erbar.com


Old Towne Pub

66 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena

(626) 577-6583 | theoldtownepub.com

 

BEST GENTLEMAN’S CLUB

Knockout’s Gentleman’s Club

1580 Clark St., Arcadia

(626) 303-3003 | knockoutsla.com

Knockout’s kept its charm going for the third year in a row, offering fun such as topless tailgating with barbecue on the back patio starting at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. There’s also a full liquor bar and giant screen TVs to watch the big games and pay-per-view brawls and boxing, but the focus is clearly on topless women in barely-there undergarments. If you’re looking for naughty fun, Knockout’s is the place. 


BEST HAPPY HOUR

Kabuki Japanese Restaurant

88 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 568-9310 | kabukirestaurants.com

3539 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 351-8963

In these harsh economic times, it’s not just enough to get a good deal — true satisfaction comes from seeing the deal right before your eyes. So half the fun of Kabuki’s happy hour comes in seeing the regular prices listed right next to their amazing discount deals, and they’re also generous in offering deals on everything from chardonnay and sake to salads and sushi. 


Reader Recommended

Ruth’s Chris Steak House

369 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 583-8122 | ruthchris.com


Plate 38

2361 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 793-7100 | plate38.com 


BEST LIVE MUSIC BAR/
CLUB (TIE)

Kings Row Gastropub

20 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 793-3010 | kingsrowpub.com

While the vibe at Kings Row is fun, the kitchen offers up some serious pub nosh, as well as creative reinterpretations of British classics, like Shepherd’s Stack and Cheeky Bastard Poutine. In addition, their full bar offers more than 60 beers, specializing in small-craft and local brewers and Belgian ales and styles, as well as handcrafted cocktails, and quaint, unique wine selections. On the weekends, catch live music ranging from bluegrass to down-and-dirty blues. And don’t miss the monthly pig roasts this fall and winter.


redwhite+bluezz

37 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena

(626) 792-4441 | redwhitebluezz.com

Offering fun bar food with an ample array of wines, signature cocktails and a solid selection of beers to enjoy while fun cover bands like Past Action Heroes and FM Radio crank out covers of pop classics, it’s no wonder that Kings Row is tied for tops in the Crown City. Moving from its original home in Old Town to a plum spot next door to the Playhouse has only made redwhite+bluezz an even more perfect place for a classy evening out. Nothing like seeing terrific theater followed by jumpin’ jazz on any night of the week. 


Reader Recommended

T. Boyles Tavern 

37 N. Catalina Ave., Pasadena

(626) 578-0957 | tboylestavern.com

 

BEST LIVE MUSIC VENUE 

Levitt Pavilion

85 E. Holly St., Pasadena

(626) 683-3230 | levittpavilionpasadena.org

It’s no surprise that this would be a favorite with area music fans, as it provides the chance to see an eclectic array of family-friendly bands five nights a week under gorgeous summer skies. While popular acts can draw a crowd, it still always feels intimate as the unadorned yet acoustically stellar stage keeps the tunes front and center. 


Reader Recommended 

Coffee Gallery Backstage 

2029 N. Lake Ave., Altadena

(626) 398-7917 | coffeegallery.com


Ambassador Auditorium

131 S. St. John Ave., Pasadena

(626)354-6407 | theambassadorauditorium.org


BEST LIVE THEATER VENUE 

Pasadena Playhouse

39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena

(626) 356-7529 | pasadenaplayhouse.org

Every business in these troubled times should learn a lesson from the Playhouse, which overcame rough waters a few years back to emerge stronger than ever, mixing classic plays with star-studded casts together with all sorts of innovative fun to fill the gaps between productions. Whether you’re in the mood for an epic drama like “12 Angry Men” and “Fences,” a rock n roll powerhouse like their Janis Joplin tribute or an old-fashioned musical like “Kiss Me Kate,” you will never go wrong here. 


Reader Recommended

A Noise Within

3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 356-3100 | anoisewithin.org


Boston Court Performing Arts Center

70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena 

(626) 683-6883 | bostoncourt.org


BEST LOCAL MUSICIAN

Victor Vener

California Philharmonic

1120 Huntington Drive, San Marino

(626) 300-8200 | calphil.org

It takes a lot to be a great conductor, and Vener has the rare combination of having both a command of the classics and a vibrant personality that ensures a place among the masters. He’s been at the helm of CalPhil for 16 years now, and has guided the orchestra through an epic transition to Santa Anita Park that has made them more popular than ever. 


Reader Recommended

Quetzal 

Quetzalband.com


Zach and Bridget Galanis

Zachandbridget.com


BEST MARGARITAS

Mijares Mexican Restaurant

145 Palmetto Drive, Pasadena

(626) 792-2763 | mijaresrestaurant.com

There’s nothing as good as getting a margarita made by someone with a true passion for the drinks, rather than someone who just learned how to water ‘em down in bartending school. Locals know that you get nothing but the real thing at these dining institutions that are Pasadena’s oldest and finest locations for Mexican meals, both lovingly supervised by members of founder Jesucita Mijares’ family even decades after their founding. 


Reader Recommended

El Portal

695 E. Green St., Pasadena

(626) 795-8553 | elportalrestaurant.com


Amigo’s 

1076 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 577-1307 

 


BEST MOVIE THEATER

Arclight Cinemas

336 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 568-8888 | arclightcinemas.com

What’s not to love about Arclight Cinemas? They allow patrons to pick their own seats, they don’t show ads and only show five minutes of previews, and they feature a mix of both smash hits and adventurous art films all under one roof. Add in the lobby’s in-house bar that provides viewers with the liquor they need for their special 21-plus screenings, and it’s the perfect playground for movie buffs. 


Reader Recommended

Laemmle Playhouse 7

673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 844-6500 | Laemmle.com


iPic Theaters

42 Miller Alley, Pasadena

One Colorado

(626) 639-2260 | Ipictheaters.com

 

BEST PLACE TO DANCE

Ix Tapa

119 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena 

(626) 304-1000 | cantinaixtapa.com

Located on the edge of Old Town’s bustling nightlife, Ix Tapa is still the center of action due to its hot mix of Latin dances on Tuesdays through prime deejay spinning on Fridays. And all types can fit in here, since they have both Filthy Broke Wednesdays featuring $3 beers and $5 shots, and $299 bottle service on the weekends. Drink up and then dance like you don’t know what you’re doing, kids. 


Reader Recommended

Club 54

54 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 793-0608 | clubmenage.net

 


BEST PLACE TO GO ON
A FIRST DATE 

Bodega Wine Bar

260 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena 

(626) 793-4300 | bodegawinebar.com

A great first date happens when you set the mood with lots of choices, leaving both parties feeling in control of their destinies while inspiring conversations through their selections. Bodega is all about choices, with endless options of drinks mixing with a fun living-room vibe and an array of enjoyable munchies to be had as well. This could be the start of something beautiful. 


Reader Recommended

The Huntington Library, Art Collection and Gardens

1151 Oxford Road, San Marino

(626) 405-2100 | huntington.org


The Raymond

1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave., South Pasadena

(626) 441-3136 | theraymond.com


BEST PUB GRUB

Lucky Baldwin’s Pub

17 S. Raymond Ave. 

(626) 795-0652 | luckybaldwins.com

Lucky Baldwin’s Trappiste

1770 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 844-0447  

Lucky Baldwin’s Delirium Café

21 Kersting Court, Sierra Madre 

(626) 355-1440

Anyone can cook a burger or make a salad that will slide down your throat just fine while wetting your whistle with a cold brew. But Lucky Baldwin’s goes the extra mile by bringing patrons tasty fare from way over yonder, including fish and chips cottage pies, meat pies, bangers and mash and curry in addition to the usual burgers. That extra effort has clearly paid off in the hearts and bellies of area pub fans.


Reader Recommended

Kings Row  Gastropub

 20 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 793-3010 | kingsrowpub.com

Barney’s Beanery

99 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 405-9777 | barneysbeanery.com


BEST RADIO STATION

KPCC

89.3 KPCC

474 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena

(626) 583-5100 | scpr.org

One of America’s best NPR stations is based right here in Pasadena, offering a brilliant mix of news analysis programs, impressive interviews with major newsmakers and a bevy of interesting themed shows in between. If you’re looking for a way to bolster your mind rather than lose your sanity while driving on LA’s impossible roadways, just tune the FM dial to 89.3. 


Reader Recommended

KROQ 

106.7 FM | kroq.com


KCRW

89.3 FM | kcrw.com


BEST SPORTS BAR

Barneys Beanery 

99 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 405-9777 | barneysbeanery.com

You’d better not complain about being unable to see the game of your choice if you’re at Barney’s Beanery. That’s because there are 75 TVs available to watch all the action on. Add in a tasty menu packed with chili, burgers, Mexican food and salad options, as well as tons of beers to choose from, and you’ve got a place that will keep you cheering all day or night long. 


Reader Recommended 

Buffalo Wild Wings

1000 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena

(626) 993-6400 | buffalowildwings.com


Yard House

330 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 577-9273 | yardhouse.com


BEST THEATER PRODUCTION (TIE)

“Pericles” 

A Noise Within

3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 356-3100 | anoisewithin.org

Packed with pirates, goddesses, jousting knights, and a lost princess, “Pericles” was one of the most ambitious and exciting productions to hit LA theater in ages. But aside from the action, the Shakespearean standard had a hero’s quest that spanned decades and continents, leading to a joyous finale that sent audiences home soaring. It’s refreshing to see a longtime theater like A Noise Within still raising the bar after all these years. 


“Stupid Fucking Bird” 

Theatre @ Boston Court

70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena

(626) 683-6883 | anoisewithin.org

This irreverent take on Chekhov’s “The Seagull” followed an aspiring young director who rails against art created by his mother’s generation, a nubile young actress wrestling with an aging Hollywood star for the affections of a renowned novelist, and everyone discovers just how disappointing life, art, and growing up can be. The play’s classic themes were turned upside down with lots of modern snark, and audiences and critics alike raved. 


BEST WEDDING/
BANQUET HALL

Noor Ballroom

260 E. Colorado Blvd., A209, Pasadena

(626) 793-4518 | noorevents.com

Noor just scooped up its fourth award in a row with this win, and it’s likely to stay popular due to its two gorgeous ballrooms and two outdoor patios overlooking all the action on Colorado Boulevard. The Sofia Ballroom seats 330 guests for banquets, while the 130-seat Ella Ballroom offers elegance to up to 130 attendees. Add in the option of using the Promenade outside the hall if you have an event that needs to seat up to 1,500 people, and every event under the sun or moon can be memorably held here. 


Reader Recommended

Castle Green

99 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena

(626) 793-0359 | castlegreen.com


The Athenaeum

551 S. Hill Ave., Pasadena

(626) 395-8200 | athenaeumcaltech.com


BEST WINE SELECTION (TIE)

Bodega Wine Bar 

260 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena 

(626) 793-4300 | bodegawinebar.com

With nearly two dozen kinds of wine, the Bodega takes the top prize again among oenophiles. Mix the classy selection with the relaxed yet charming vibe of the place, and it won’t matter if you’re sipping zinfandel or sauvignon blanc because either way you’re winning. 


Vertical Wine Bar

70 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena

(626) 795-3999 | verticalwinebistro.com

Located up a mysterious metal staircase a couple stories above Raymond Avenue, the Vertical Wine Bar serves up plenty of amorous ambience to go with 40 types of wines and champagnes it offers. Enjoy with someone special and make plenty of memories. 

 

Reader Recommended 

Madport Wine Bar

696 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 806-8270 | madportwinelounge.com n


Back to the future

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Hot Club of Cowtown … Hot Club of Detroit …. Hot Club of Las Vegas … Hot Club of Norway … Hot Club of New Orleans … Hot Club of San Diego … Hot Club of San Francisco … Back when their Hot Club of France quintet was cooking in Parisian bistros in the 1930s, could guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli have envisioned that their humble combo would spawn so many flattering imitations?
 
This year is the 100th anniversary of Reinhardt’s birth, an event that’s been commemorated with splashy celebrations and performances by Reinhardt-inspired ensembles. Born in Belgium, Reinhardt started earning his reputation as a master of the frets while still a child, growing up in a community of Roma, or gypsies. At age 18 he nearly lost his ability to play when he was horrifically burned in a caravan fire. It took him more than a year to recover, and during that time he evolved a new approach to guitar that compensated for the loss of mobility in his fourth and fifth fingers. When he and Grappelli commenced their Hot Club gigs and classic recordings in the mid-1930s, he became renowned on both sides of the Atlantic for his unique style, finesse and feel for jazz, at that time still a young American art form. Not unlike bluegrass father Bill Monroe, who pressed beyond string-band boundaries to form his own genre, Reinhardt pushed and molded his string jazz band and ultimately developed the deftly swinging sound now known as gypsy jazz.  
 
Hot Club of Detroit, performing at Café Metropol downtown Saturday night, is one of umpteen ensembles named in honor of Reinhardt and Grappelli’s legendary group. Unlike many of their contemporaries, however, they move the gypsy jazz sound forward. 
 
HCD’s album “It’s About Time,” released in April on the Mack Avenue label, takes its title from a Joe Zawinul composition that’s fused with Reinhardt’s “Heavy Artillerie.” Bandleader/guitarist Evan Perri, accordionist Julien Labro, bassist Andrew Kratzat, clarinetist/saxophonist Carl Cafagna and rhythm guitarist Paul Brady skip lightly through Charles Mingus’ “Nostalgia in Times Square” and gracefully limn the melancholy in Chopin’s “‘Tristesse’ E Major Etude,” while Labro’s “On the Steps” tips its chapeau to Pat Martino’s “On the Stairs.” They stretch out and do right by Reinhardt’s relentless “Noto Swing” and “Duke and Dukie,” and Perri’s “For Stéphane” and sultry “Patio Swing” suggest the inventive spirit and elegance of Grappelli and Reinhardt’s collaboration. But in this rhythmically elastic quintet’s hands, gypsy jazz is a springboard for exploration, not a creative straitjacket.

Hot Club of Detroit play Cafe Metropol, 923 E. Third St., downtown LA, Saturday. Call (213) 613-1537 for details. hotclubofdetroit.com.

Back to the Future

Back to the Future
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We’d never give up our smartphones, apps or any of the other stuff that connects us instantly with everyone and everything we need to know. But if we could steer parts of the universe back to the way it was –– before tainted oceans and eco-systems, before economic chaos and global unrest –– would we even want to try?
 
Most people would probably say, “Yes, but it can’t be done.” Others would ask, “Why not?” And they’d all be right. The planet’s biggest problems (like its biggest advances) have been caused by human action. And for each of those actions, there’s a reaction that could make even the wrongest path traveled turn in the right direction.
 
That’s the optimistic message of the fourth California Design Biennial exhibition, aptly themed “Action/Reaction.” It opens July 18 at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, and it’s a groundbreaker for the institution: the first biennial to have a theme, the first to include architecture and the first to enlist outside curators for the show’s five categories –– fashion, graphic design, transportation and industrial design as well as architecture. 
 
“Since the museum opened in 2002, our world has changed radically,” says PMCA Executive Director Jenkins Shannon. “Our economy suffered collapse, an election reshaped presidential politics and campaigns, our social connectedness exploded as many trusted institutions melted away.”
 
Shannon says being “green” became essential to good citizenship as environmental issues heated up; remaining solvent became a problem; finding products made in America became an almost hopeless quest. “Emerging architects and designers have responded to these challenges in ways that may influence the future and what happens next,” she says. The biennial focuses on a number of California talents, places their work in the context of everyday life and points toward solutions for all of us in the years ahead.
 
The exhibition’s guest curator of architecture is Frances Anderton, Los Angeles editor of Dwell magazine and host of KCRW’s “DnA: Design & Architecture.” Anderton’s section focuses on recently built public and private spaces chosen for their “beneficial environmental and cultural effects. There are so many different forms of innovative design,” she says. But in this case, the spotlight will be on inspirational ideas selected for function more than form –– ideas that react to current economic and social needs.
The EcoCenter at Heron’s Head Park in southeast San Francisco is one of them. “It’s a beacon of idealism in a sort of toxic environment, a building devoted to environmental justice,” Anderton says. The facility, used for educating the public on environmental issues, is the first in its region to be 100 percent off-grid, with solar power, alternative wastewater technology, a green living roof, wind turbines and native landscaping.
 
Architect Lorcan O’Herlihy’s 11-unit West Hollywood condo complex is another highlight of the show. The project was honored by the American Institute of Architects for its “airy and uplifting design,” its bold use of color (red) and, especially, the pocket park the architect designed alongside the complex. The condo dwellers all face this verdant splash of open space, which is also open to other residents of this densely packed neighborhood.  
 
If you’ve ever visited a fashion museum (or a wealthy dowager’s closet), you’re likely to see vintage Chanels, Norells and Balenciagas with fabric, workmanship and style as exquisite now as when they were new, treasures that will last a lifetime or more. Fast forward to today and Rose Apodaca, the biennial’s guest fashion curator. She has focused on a new generation of young designers attempting to achieve those same goals of fashion sustainability –– not because of the elitism that existed in the 1900s, but because of environmental, economic and social imperatives facing us today.
 
Apodaca is a pop culture critic, journalist and former West Coast bureau chief of Women’s Wear Daily. “What I find exciting, provocative –– even maverick –– is the new mood of designers who create in response to today’s challenges, not with trendy or superficial ideas, but in more deeply meaningful ways,” she says. Use of organic textiles, for example, may be new, but it leaves major problems unsolved, she continues. “If you want to be really green, how about designers who make clothes that won’t fall apart in a few weeks, clothes crafted with integrity and workmanship that will endure?” 
 
Clothing, shoe and handbag designers she chose for the biennial represent only a small segment of a larger group concerned with fashion sustainability, she says. Many are employing older artisans to teach younger workers their skills. “Of course these products are higher priced, but they’ll live long, useful lives and consumers can factor that in.  “The issue of where to produce is often a matter of conscience for these entrepreneurs. Their profit margins would be higher if they made their goods in China or Mexico rather than here in California, but they’re willing to sacrifice greater profit to enhance the greater good.”
 
Will the message spread? Apodaca hasn’t a clue. “I’m hopeful it’s the start of a shift in consumers’ consciousness,” she says. 
Alissa Walker, guest curator for industrial design, writes on the subject for Dwell, Fast Company and Good, among other publications. She says there has been a shift in product design from its longtime focus on trendy, futuristic and eye-catching retail “objects” to categories that offer experience and interactivity. “I chose for the show only designs that have meaningful impact, that transform a category, solve a problem or provide tremendous benefit to the user and society,” she says.
 
Google Maps, for example, has added bicycle routes to its webpages. “Cyclists can now input starting and ending addresses and find nearby routes for pleasure cycling or to get them where they want to go,” she says. Better yet, the mapping tool offers turn-by-turn directions, estimated travel time, estimates of exertion needed for hills and advisories about dangerous crossings.
 
Another Walker favorite is a new product designed to monitor health and fitness. “It’s really fabulous –– this tiny little black clip you attach to your clothes can track your vital functions, calories burned, can work as a pedometer or tell how well you sleep at night,” she says. “You can sync it with your computer, to track progress or regress. For someone with diabetes or blood pressure issues, it can help in such a dramatic way. There’s been nothing like it to monitor health and lifestyle.”
 
She offers equally ardent praise for makers of new environmentally sound cleaning solutions and laundry products. “They’ve been able to condense the product, reduce the contents of the bottle by basically eliminating the water and they’ve created these tiny, adorable bottles to package them in. The product is less costly to ship to the retailer, the consumer has a smaller bottle to carry and store –– and the environment benefits greatly from all this,” she says.
 
Walker believes emerging designers “are at their best when given terrifying, outrageous problems to solve. They want to do more than just branding for major corporations. They have the tools to make things visually understandable to a large audience, and I think they’re out to help solve a lot of big issues we face.”
 
Louise Sandhaus, guest curator for graphic design, describes her category as “words and pictures that make meaningful messages.” It’s a tool of communication that appears on posters, diagrams –– all types of informational visuals, she explains, and it plays a critical role in everyday life.
 
“Graphic design connects people with what they urgently need to know,” says Sandhaus,  who teaches at California Institute of the Arts and has her own L.A.–based design firm, LSD. One recent favorite example is a signage project titled “Where Does It Go,” created in response to general confusion over what to recycle where. “It was done by two students at California College of the Arts, and it’s essentially a little diagram –– a kind of game that led to different recycling bins. It helped people figure out which bin is for garbage, compost, plastic, paper.”
 
Another favorite is the proposed better bikeway signage designed by Joseph Prichard for Fourth Street in Santa Monica. “He worked with the community to learn their needs and came up with a great system for safer, more functional roads that includes new navigation signs, with connections to Metro stops and points of interest to bikers,” Sandhaus says. “The goal is to encourage people to use bikes as transport and also to alert drivers that bikers are on the road. Graphic design is critical in shaping lives and public perception. Designers emerging now have the skills and ability to get the message out for the time and place we live in.”  
The Pasadena Museum of California Art hosts an opening reception for the California Design Biennial: “Action/Reaction” on July 17 from 7 to 10 p.m. Event admission costs $5 (free for members). RSVP by calling (626) 568-3665, ext. 14. The exhibition continues through Nov. 1. The museum is located at 490 E. Union St., Pasadena. Hours are Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Regular admission costs $7 for adults and $5 for students with ID and seniors 65 and older (free for members and children under 12). Call (626) 568-3665 or visit pmcaonline.org.

Back to the future

Back to the future
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According to Syd Mead, the future is looking up. The legendary designer, who makes his home in Pasadena’s woodsy South Arroyo neighborhood, has enjoyed a nearly five-decade career imagining the future for a living. His visions of sleek silver cars, teeming metallic skylines and giant robotic greyhounds — all well lit and efficient — have been employed by everyone from the Ford Motor Co. to Warner Bros. Studios. And he’s gained a devoted cult of admirers too, not only for his detailed futurist scenarios but also for his astounding ability with paint and brush.

Mead’s work has long remained the secret of design professionals and Hollywood insiders, as well as art students and science fiction fans who have done their research. But with a 2006 National Design Award for his work, a new documentary film on his life and career and a rare gallery showing in downtown Los Angeles, the time is right for everyone to discover the beautiful visions of Syd Mead.

“I’m essentially a visual storyteller,” Mead says matter-of-factly.

Born in St. Paul, Minn., in 1933, Mead was drawing machinery by the time he was 3. In grade school, he drew classmates’ dogs and charged them a quarter for the pictures. After serving three years in the military, he attended Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and from there Ford snapped him up for employment. But to Mead’s restless imagination, the company’s time clock-governed environment felt like a straitjacket.

In 1970 he founded Syd Mead, Inc., the freelance venture that saw him designing hi-fi stereos for Philips, flying palaces for Saudi royalty and futurist images for Hollywood. His film work includes designs for “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” “Tron,” “2010” and “Mission: Impossible III,” as well as extensive set and vehicle designs for the 1982 sci-fi classic “Blade Runner,” the project for which he remains best known today.

This year, the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum recognized Mead’s singular career at its National Design Awards, selecting him as the recipient of its Special Jury Commendation.

“They told me, ‘We were going to give you the lifetime achievement award, but you’re not old enough,’” Mead says. “So I thought, ‘That’s cool.’”

Next to the other award categories, such as Fashion Design and Landscape Design, the Jury Commendation serves as something of a catchall for unusual cases.

“When you look at the award recipients, most of them come from the world of practical, real-world design,” says Michael Bierut, a partner at Pentagram Design and one of this year’s jury members. “Syd Mead works at the other end of the spectrum. He renders worlds and scenarios out of his head and makes them more real than real. And really, that’s what the creative end of design is supposed to be.”

Mead explains his eligibility for the award more bluntly: “I don’t fit into a category.”

To complement the award, Mead is also enjoying attention as the subject of a new independent documentary. Pasadena filmmaker Joaquin Montalvan shot and edited 26 hours of interview footage — including more than nine with Mead himself — to compile “Visual Futurist: The Art & Life of Syd Mead.” He spoke with admirers ranging from Steven Lisberger, the director of “Tron,” to Chuck Jordan, the former design chief for General Motors.

“Syd commands a lot of respect,” Montalvan says. “It’s like you mention his name and a door opens.”

The film also provides an in-depth look at Mead’s artwork — quite literally. Montalvan’s shots plunge inside and around Mead’s paintings in slow zooms and pans. With an ambient soundtrack by Grammy-nominated composer Richard Souther, the technique produces a hypnotic and gently spiritual tone.

“Visual Futurist” premiered July 23 at the Dances With Films Festival in Los Angeles, where it won the Audience Award for Best Documentary. One rabid Syd Mead fan drove all the way from Sacramento to make the show.

Montalvan is now entertaining offers for distribution. He says the film will be available for purchase in 2007.

Originally, the director became aware of Mead through “Blade Runner,” but he soon discovered another side to his subject.

“The rest of his work is fundamentally different,” Montalvan says. “If you look at all of Syd Mead’s stuff, it’s much brighter.”

When asked about “Blade Runner,” Mead professes wonder that the movie has proved so iconic. “It’s in the Library of Congress, in the company of ‘Casablanca,’ ‘Citizen Kane’ and ‘Gone With the Wind,’” he says proudly. But he also admits, without hesitation, that his own worldview is far less bleak.

“I was hired to help [director Ridley Scott] make a noir film,” he says. “With cautions as to social evolution and the madness currently assaulting the Western frame of mind, I think things are going to get better. We have more people working for the future than ever before.”

For those who want to see Mead’s visions up close and personal, Crewest Gallery in downtown Los Angeles is currently hosting “The Hidden Futures,” a group exhibit featuring three pieces by the designer. Mead’s relationship to gallery culture has always been testy — he calls it a “business of pleasing people who might buy something they don’t understand” — and accordingly his paintings seldom show in public.

“It’s so rare to see his work in person and examine it up close,” says Man One, the Los Angeles graffiti artist who co-founded Crewest. “I can’t even fathom how he paints with small brushes and gets that super-high realism. … People come in here thinking those are computer-generated images.”

Crewest specializes in urban and underground artists, but Man One sees no problem fitting Mead into this set.

“Whether he knows it or not, he’s inspired a lot of this street culture,” he says.

Whatever legacy he’s already left, Mead, now a lively 73, is still hard at work. He mentions new jobs: an “attraction on top of a large building” in Tokyo and a potential film project he can’t discuss. It seems he’ll be working at his paint-stained drafting board for years to come, rendering the future.

Asked what he sees ahead for technology, Mead has plenty of answers.

“I think there will come a time when there will be no particular point in owning a car,” he says. “I think you’ll be able to just call a car. It’ll come to your house, and away you go. The car becomes its own entity.”

And for the human race?

“I think we’re going to be biologically evolved by our own efforts,” he says. “We’re going to take over evolution. I mean, sex choice can be done now to guarantee the sex of a child before it’s born. What’s going to happen when you can dial in more intelligence?”

But why has Mead always been so fascinated by the future? What keeps him going forward?

Sitting in his low-lying living room, with leafy trees shimmering outside, Mead stops and considers the question.

“It’s mysterious,” he says. “It gives you a clean slate.”




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