Sully’s Empty Glass

Not empty, but gone to a happier place
Not empty, but gone to a happier place

You have to stand in line to get a beer at Macleod now, and what a beautiful inconvenience it is.

On a Monday, with the $4 pints, I get it. But Tuesday?   It’s a testimony to the eternal verities of hard work, creativity and persistence of Alastair and Jennifer.

And a new brewer. And a whole new menu of beers.

And guts. Expanding just when business seemed to be at a nadir.

In the very early going, there were discussions whether there should be television on the wall. An unknown amount of sports bar revenue was left on the table when it was decided flat screens were not the direction they were trying to go.

In retrospect, the wisest move Alistair and Jennifer made was the one which took the longest to pay off.  Macleod is nothing without talk, and television would have killed the conversation in the room. It would have led them away from the darts. And the gamers. And the knitters.  And the poets. And the artists.  When the brewery started I had fanciful ideas it would launch a reformation of Van Nuys.  It’s done more than that.  Macleod has pulled the Venn diagram of the Valley tighter. This week I encountered three separate groups of people in the dart room I’ve known from non-overlapping social circles elsewhere.  And by no overlap, I mean totally different castes and geographic zones.

I used to bitch to myself about the absence of proper muraling in Van Nuys.   Now I run into actual muralists bellying up to the bar. We bitch to each other about the indefensible absence of Nury Martinez on this issue. Progress, I say.  A glass of well-crafted beer can be democracy in liquid form. An ideal marriage of blue-collar craftsmanship, chemistry and white-collar marketing. In a toxically divided nation, it is our demilitarized zone. Our Pooh Corner. Our happy place.

The ales have come a long way.  Where once there were five, now there are twelve.  There seems to be a new offering every couple weeks. They keep getting better.

I may have found my ideal Macleod creation: the Sully.  Which is odd, for in general, I like my beer strong, with a bias toward imperial stouts. I enjoy a kick in the head.  Anyone can bitter up an IPA to the point its like chewing the bark off a pine tree, but underplaying a proper English bitter is a more delicate art.  In a market already crowded with Pineapple Sculpin and Boulevard Rye-on-Rye, its not easy to create a rich, memorable, deliciousness on a 5% malt that will call you back for an encore, but they’ve done it.

So I’m sitting there with Amy and Oscar and Andrew and Rebecca, in a state of contentment, when it occurs to me holy guacamole, my life may already be half over, but damn if this doesn’t taste good. Not that I made it myself, but I wished such a thing as Macleod to be in Van Nuys, and here it is, like a gift from Genesis. If I -sip-sip- count from the age of maturity, I might only be a third of the way to my grave. Not so bad. Now that I think about it, if I -sip-sip- if I start counting from the point when I actually got my sh*t together in life, I’m barely a teenager. Things are just getting interesting!  I may still be in debt, but I’m no longer drowning in it.  I may be stuck in Van Nuys, which is so un-cool, it’s actually cool to be here, except now that it may become hip will it become uncool to be here for this very reason?

Damn, Sully, my glass is empty.  I’ll have another.

Cask! We Have Received…

Roderick in the milky twilight
Artist and photographer between pints in the milky MacLeod twilight

Living in Van Nuys for a decade one can nearly expire of a particular cultural malady called If only…. 

If Only there was X, like they have in Echo Park…

If Only there was Y, like they have in Eagle Rock.

If Only Z would happen like it happened in NoHo then Van Nuys wouldn’t be quite so….dreary.

If Only gives way to Why Can’t We? Why Have We Not?  Fee, Fie and Woe is us!   Unfair, we say!  Behold the self-pity of the geographically disadvantaged urban hipster, wandering his Sinai, kvetching.

We can’t be alone in thinking this.  There must be others, kindred spirits stranded in our midst, leaving the neighborhood as we do to spend our money. Lord, hear our cries.

Then MacLeod begins…as a t-shirt.  A rumor of a t-shirt, really, seen at the gym.

There’s a brewery in Van Nuys now?    If only… 

You mean they’re not actually brewing beer yet?  It’s an auto repair shop?  That figures. It’ll probably never happen. At least the t-shirt was cool.

They’re doing it on Calvert Street?  Are they crazy? No one will ever find the place.  I give it a month.   Too bad.   They seem like such nice people.

Beautiful Amy and her Kindle
Beautiful Amy, her Kindle and her Spree

Then MacLeod opened its doors and beer lovers in-gathered from the neighborhoods, in singles and pairs, to find we were part of a lost tribe. We had been passing each other at the gas station for years, sharing a tertiary overlap in the Venn diagram of Los Angeles.  And now we were met.

Macleod poured the ale, and it was Good. And the place had a sleek modern retro look, as though different decades had been telescoped into a single frame. Sort of like the woman in the picture above.

A month came and went and MacLeod didn’t close its doors.  Then another, followed by another, and Macleod kept pouring, and patronizing local artists.  Somehow people kept finding the place.  The Venn diagram expanded.

Now a year has gone by.  It’s hard to believe, because it seems much longer. So embedded it is in the shifting fates of the neighborhood the timeline of Van Nuys history now has a new point of demarcation: Before and After MacLeod.

The one-year anniversary is Sunday. Cask and Ye Shall Receive.   You can buy tickets here:

There will be a caskapalooza of thirteen different local breweries, music by the Brilliant Gypsies and beer poetry by the talented Sam Wagner.   Our working-class Brigadoon has one up over everyone else.  I am Van Nuys, hear me kvell.  Thank you Jennifer and thank you Alastair for all you have done.


Diamonds and Rust

Saint Joan is calling me
When Saint Joan calls…

I awoke this morning from evocative dreams.  I was stranded in New Mexico.  I needed to get back to LA in time for work, so I started hitchhiking.

Joan Baez picked me up in her tour bus.

“I need a roadie,” she said.  “You’ll do.”

This wasn’t the silver-haired grande dame le musique folk we know today, but the sultry St. Joan of the early 70’s, Vanguard Records It Girl and Dylan muse.

I got on the bus.

She had a gig in Tucson in a massive sports arena.  Packed house. Half-way through the show, she walked away from the microphone and approached me backstage. She whispered huskily in my ear.

“My back-up player is drunk again. Help me out on this next song, will you dear?”

“But…I don’t know how to play guitar.”

“C’mon. It’s easy to play guitar. You’ll pick it up in no time.”

“Are you kidding?”

“Truth and beauty, darling.  Don’t over-analyze. I’m calling you an artist.”

A roadie directed me to the remnants of a guitar leaning against a music stand.  It was missing strings. The frets were broken in places. It looked as though Pete Townsend has just worked out his repressed homosexual rage on it.

“Here you go, maestro. They’re waiting for you.”

The show ground to a halt while Joan introduced me to a now restless audience. She smiled benevolently from the microphone and waved me onstage to a smattering of polite applause.

Then she began to trill her way through “Diamonds and Rust”.

I did the only sensible thing.

For the next five minutes I furiously played air guitar alongside her, complete with spastic head banging.

After all, I was an artist.

*                 *                   *

In an unrelated matter, there will be a retrospective of photos from this blog, an art show if you will, at the wonderful MacLeod Ale Brewing Co. in Van Nuys, starting tomorrow night.


Photographs from

Macleod Ale Brewing Co.

14741 Calvert St. Van Nuys,   5-10PM

There will be, as an inducement, excellent British ales, music, darts, lovely conversation, and probably a food truck.  Mrs. Upinthevalley will be there, as will I. If you read this blog and want to unwind a bit after your week, I would love to meet you. If you can’t make it tomorrow, they’ll up for awhile.

Come for the beer, stay for the art.

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