By Ian Dean
There once was a little street near the ocean that was strung with little shops, and houses. It was not a fancy area, fairly modest and far from perfect, but it had a very strong sense of community, and was an affordable place to live for families and free spirits alike. This street was known as West Washington Blvd. Today it is known as Abbot Kinney.
Noted as “The Coolest Block in America” by GQ, it was not long ago this “Hip” area lacked the chic boutiques, the high end organic cafes and the chi exploring yoga center. It was a street where people actually lived both in terms of residence and commerce. It was a place to see people, not a place for people to “be seen”. And it is due to magazines like GQ that have been killing Venice bit by bit for over a decade, and the most recent victim is a small, family diner formally known as Glencrest BBQ.
By the time you read this, Glencrest will have closed. No more will it deliver its crispy fried chicken or delicious pulled pork sandwiches. The collard greens and cole slaw will no longer be served as a side and the menu on the wall, full of deliciously fattening and high carb dishes that would make any vegan run for the hills, will simply cease to be. That is a damn shame.
Glencrest, for those of you who never had the fortune of stopping by for a bite to eat, was much more than just a restaurant. It was a true local family establishment. It was was not a place people went to tap away on their Ipads or make tweets about, or brag to their friends about. It was a place you walked in to and were always were given a big hello, and had an actual conversation about your day, especially if Little Chris (who is NOT little at all) was working behind the counter. It was a place to stop and munch on some corn bread and ribs, while everyone outside bustled around with their high end shopping bags and jabbered away on their cell phones about who knows what. It was a place to read the newspaper and sip on a crisp orange Shasta. It was a place to watch the busy world everyone else was trapped in just zip by as you sat and lazily laughed at how they all should slow down, come inside, and order themselves a burger. And actually enjoy it.
In contrast to the other “hip” shops on Abbot Kinney, one might have walked right past it and not even have known it was there, but the building is far from indistinguishable. The front is emblazoned with the words “GLENCREST BAR.B.QUE” in big bold, almost western like letters. There is a painted barber pole on the side, and along the wall that stretches back to the alley of Aragon Court, there is a giant graffiti style mural with such images as a great white shark, a sexy looking Chicano woman, the word “VENICE” clearly defining the pride of the town, and a pig in a cook’s toque and shades.
This little hole in the wall has a fairly rich history as well. It was owned and operated by Christopher “Stone” Featherstone. If the name sounds familiar it ought to. Residents who use the facilities over at Oakwood Park have seen it many times on the marquee over the Baseball Field: “Glen Featherstone Field”, who is Stone’s grandfather.
The building in which Glencrest originally was located was owned by James Cooper, who also was Stone’s uncle. Originally, the space was a barber shop from the 1960’s through the mid 80’s, serving the community, and was also a place for gossip and local interaction. But as most people do, Mr. Cooper eventually wanted to retire, and Mr.Cooper’s young nephew, Christopher Featherstone, had been dabbling in cooking for a while, and had wanted to open up a small eatery. His uncle agreed to rent the space to him, and in December of 1985, Glencrest BBQ was born, and up until recently cooked some of the best damn chicken and ribs I have ever had.
I sat down with Stone over a lunch of fried chicken, mac and cheese, and potato salad. I asked him how the closing of Glencrest came to be. Stone told me when his uncle had passed, his cousins inherited it. With the rising popularity of Venice (specifically on Abbot Kinney, which is prime real estate), his cousins wanted to capitalize on such an opportunity. I asked Stone if he was bitter towards his cousins for this. He said was not not bitter, so much as disappointed. “It’s their building, and they could do what they want with it.” That does not mean, however, that it didn’t sadden him that his family put money before the hard work and time and heart that went into making that place what it was. He also fondly recalled all the former businesses that are no longer around, that were practical rather then pricey. A pet store, a shoe repair shop, and The Brig, back when it was a REAL bar and opened at 6am every day, and the bartender knew what you drank.
The real reason Glencrest will not being staying at 1146 Abbott Kinney Blvd, is because they just can’t afford the new rental price the new owners are asking for. “They want 9 to 10 grand a month,” said Stone, in a tone of disapproval and disbelief. “Just not happening.” The decision for this sale happened very fast, which just goes to show how quickly Venice is being sliced up like a pie for financial gain. According to Stone, the new owners purchased the building just before Christmas, and wanted them out within the next month. That was just not possible, between finances, not to mention all the heavy cooking equipment. They needed more time, which was begrudgingly given. As I write this, Glencrest is on its last week of operation. That is not to say that the Glencrest Crew won’t still be around. Stone has an investment in the eatery across the street called Local 1205, which neighbors The Other Room Bar. They also plan to relocate Glencrest, but sadly it more than likely will move more inland towards Los Angeles than stay in Venice. Where it truly belongs.
I decided to ask around the area to other locals about their feelings on the matter. One particular individual, “Seven”, was very heartfelt in his opinion. “I’ve spent a lot of time at that BBQ. It’s like losing a family member,” said Seven. “No matter when or why I walked through that door, I ran into wonderful people cooking or eating wonderful food, birthday parties were thrown there, it was a place to have celebrations and in itself, was a place TO celebrate. It was the last true Venice family institution where people with younguns could go and get great food for a great price, and now it’s gone. Another place so many loved, pushed away by the ever growing, bougie clientele that has systematically driven so many others out of the area just so they can have a slice of Venice. It breaks my heart.”
Another gentleman, who also happens to be a merchant at one of the Boardwalk store fronts, Rami Khoury, had a more simple and less attached, but still valid opinion. “I honestly only just found out about this place, and I wish I found out about it sooner. I work at the store 5 days a week and have been eating at Glencrest 3 days of them for the past 2 months. It’s worth the walk and the food to stroll toward Abbot Kinney. It’s a bummer it’s shutting down.”
I am going to miss this place. It’s not fair that it had to close the way it did. As stated earlier, this is a family establishment, in more ways then one. This was the place my sister ordered when she was in a bad space as comfort food. It’s the place my former roommate, Ian Tweite, (who passed away 2 years ago) and his wife would go for dinner. They survived on Social Security, and when they were short on cash, Glencrest always took care of them. It’s where customers were more than just a profit margin, but friends who were actually cared about, and it showed in the food. It’s another example of gentrification, and it’s at the expense of wonderful people and their wonderful diner.
I joked with Stone that it would be ironic if the new owner rented it to a vegan cafe. He laughed and said from what he understood, it was to be a sandwich shop, which isn’t much better, as Abbot Kinney is covered now for both the vegan and sandwich niche. I guess there is Baby Blues BBQ over on Lincoln, but it’s so expensive in comparison to the affordable menu offered at Glencrest and with none of the love that should go into it. Which takes me to Stone’s last comment before he had to go inside to take care of some customers. “This area used to be affordable, not just for living, but for eating too. Now it costs $10 for a salad. I really wish the other owners around here would understand that if you create an environment where everyone can afford to eat, things would be a lot more pleasant for everyone.”
To bring this to a close, I would like to personally address those coming to the area to set up a new shop or those who frequent these institutions. Things change, not everything can stay the same way forever. It’s a fact. But when something works, when something is enjoyed by many, when it’s fine just the way it is … why change it?
We all have a place we call home. This is my home, as it is for many others, and it pains us to see places and people we care about pushed out simply for revenue investments. I am sure many readers here, who have come to call Venice their new home, have fond memories of where they grew up. Imagine if one day you went back and everything you remembered was gone? That grocery store your Mom used to go to is now an American Apparel. That movie theater you and your friends used to sneak into is now an upscale condominium. You are lying if you say it wouldn’t crush you, and you are lying if you think it’s “progress”.
Driving the rent through the roof, making it impossible for the original storefronts to survive – that made the area so unique in the first place – is counter-productive to the very purpose of those who migrated here to become involved in the community.
So long, Glencrest… and thanks for all the catfish.
By Ian Dean