I am a rock-n-roll girl. I had no choice in this matter- it was bestowed upon me in utero by my music obsessed parents. My mother says I danced before I walked and that only certain rock songs would calm me from crying as a baby. My world, from then on, has had music as a central theme- the friends I made, the boys I dated, how I dressed and the things I liked to do.
So it was with equal parts of excitement and skepticism that I decided to cover the opening of Rock & Brews, the new restaurant at LAX from Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS. On one hand, anything having to do with KISS intrigues me- I’m kind of a geek like that. Their crazy make-up and loud rock-n-roll lodged a firm place in my childhood heart and there it stuck. But on the other hand, Gene and Paul’s rampant merchandising has become somewhat of a question mark that often has me rolling my eyes. A KISS franchised rock-n-roll brew pub? Hmmm… And located at the airport? Honestly, LAX is a place I hold as near and dear to my heart as the DMV, the dentist’s office or the Trader Joe’s parking lot on a Saturday.
So, lured by the idea of meeting Gene and Paul themselves and seeing exactly what their newest business venture entailed, I decided to check it out. Arriving to Rock & Brews at the most un-rock-n-roll hour of 9:30am for a 10:30am ribbon cutting ceremony, I really didn’t know what to expect. Theme restaurants really aren’t my thing, even if they center around my lifetime love of rock-n-roll. This is the fourth Rock & Brews location, with a plan in the works for many more nationwide. The other existing locations are in El Segundo, Redondo Beach and Los Cabos, Mexico. I wondered whether this place was going to be in my comfort zone or if this franchise was aimed strictly at the middle American mall minded set. My answer, it turned out, was that this franchise itself is a lot like the rock band KISS- targeting many demographics, including mine.
Upon first entering, I noticed larger than life photographs of several rock-n-roll icons- Eddie Van Halen, Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles and of course KISS. The tables are laminated with iconic album covers by the likes of the Who and the Clash. The ambience is friendly and lively, with rows of TVs above the bar playing vintage video footage of classic music I actually liked. No Beyonce or Rihanna (thank goodness!), it was Elton John, old Bowie, Aretha Franklin, Blondie and of course KISS.
“The authenticity is very important. The videos, the wall art, the point of view. Our point of view is really about great concerts and great concert performances,” said Dell Furano, one of the founding partners of Rock & Brews, who has spent a lifetime in concert merchandising, going back to the 1970’s when he worked with the legendary Bill Graham. “We’ve seen some great wall art, great posters and images. So we decided, let’s theme something. This is the feeling of rock. Let’s pay homage to great performances. That’s why we have the videos. And you know what? Everybody likes great rock. A lot of our audience are baby boomers, their kids and their grandkids. It’s all about feel good rock- not too loud, not too obtrusive, not too heavy. We won’t go too deep with cuts of Led Zeppelin or AC/DC.”
The friendly wait staff passed trays full of miniature samplings from the Rock-n-Brews menu, including tiny versions of their cocktails- Creole Bloody Marys, Margaritas and Mimosas. It was 10am on a weekday and I was at the event solo, so drinks were the furthest thing from my mind. With a nudging from a waitress I consented to try a mini-Bloody Mary and I was glad that I did. With the traditional stick of celery and an added slice of bacon, the rim of the glass came dipped in a spicy Creole salt that made it truly interesting.
As far as the menu went, it was pretty much as you might expect- enjoyable brew pub fare with a fresh slant and several vegetarian options. I tried the black bean veggie burger which had an aioli sauce, a vegetarian frittata, (this place serves breakfast too!) a standard soft baked pretzel slathered with mustard and a deep fried ball of dough filled with oozing molten chocolate. The traditional burgers looked tasty as well and so did the chicken pizza that was going around.
And at exactly 10:30am, prompt as their business-like reputation that proceeds them, the KISS boys showed up. Both Paul and Gene mingled freely, chatted with guests and posed for photos. I was also fortunate to meet some of the other head honchos involved in the creation of the Rock & Brews franchise. I met designer Larry Drasin and Michael Zislis, a well-known restauranteur mogul and partner in this venture, along with the aforementioned Dell Furano. Said Furano, “I’ve done Gene and Paul’s merchandising for 25 years, but I’ve worked with the Beatles, U2, Springsteen, Madonna, Led Zeppelin, Rod Stewart, Ozzy Osbourne and many major stars over the years. Here all of us come from the concert industry, except Michael Zislis. And when we met him all he wanted to do was talk about Rush! Now we’ve gone to a lot of concerts together.”
Michael Zislis commented on the commitment of Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley to the project, “They are tireless workers. They don’t just let their names go to a project, they dive in feet first. They get up, they beat me to the 5am CNN interviews. They come to the restaurants. Every time they fly through LAX they come to this place or to El Segundo.”
So, if you are stuck at LAX for any extended period of time, find your way to Terminal 5 (Delta Airlines) and eat a meal while watching some classic rock. If, like me, spending extra time in the airport is not your scene, then head to El Segundo or Redondo Beach and check out one of those Rock & Brews locations. It’s one of those type of places that can please families, picky eaters and those friends of yours who refuse to eat International food. And if you run into Gene or Paul: You know your man is workin’ hard. He’s worth a deuce.
Rock & Brews: 143 Main Street, El Segundo, CA 90245, (310) 615-9890; 6300 Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach, CA 90277, (310) 378-4970; LAX, Terminal 5, (424) 702-1619. http://rockandbrews.com