Best of Long Beach 2015 Winners: Arts, Culture and Entertainment

Long Beach’s thriving arts and culture scene is not just healthy; it’s the pulse that keeps the city alive. We asked you to tell us about your favorite things that bring life and color to your life, from karaoke and open mics to up-and-coming artists and galleries off the beaten path. You voted, we counted, and here they are: your Best of Long Beach 2016: Arts, Culture and Entertainment winners.

Viento y Agua Coffee House

Best Open Mic in Long Beach
By Stephanie Rivera


Want to make your voice heard? Long Beach Post readers say Viento y Agua Coffee House is the place to go. With a weekly open mic night open to all to show their talent, voters named this place—among many worthy contenders—as the best to hit up when you’ve got something to say.

Musicians can perform a three-minute song and poets or spoken word artists can recite their literature for three minutes, or an equivalent of two poems. There is one caveat though—no comedy and no vulgarity. Also, every performer is required to purchase a drink from the coffee place (not a bad requirement, considering the menu’s wide selection, including Mexican mocha and Chai tea lattes).

The family-friendly show starts at 6:30PM every Thursday, while sign ups begin at 6:00PM. At the end of each night, the audience gets to vote for a winner, who receives a gift certificate and the chance to take part in the venue’s Open Mic Champ Showcase.

For event booking contact Dana at [email protected] Viento y Agua is located at 4007 East Fourth Street, in Long Beach’s Belmont Heights neighborhood.

Photo courtesy of Viento y Agua Coffee House.

Alex’s Bar
Best Karaoke in Long Beach / Best Place to Hear Live Music 
By Jason Ruiz


File photos.

There’s only one place in Long Beach where you can circle pit during an Agnostic Front set on one weekend, and then take to the mic the next for your own interpretation of a Roger Miret classic during Punk Rock Karaoke.

Whether you’re a punk at heart, enjoy the somber swooning of a Morrissey tribute band, or prefer to indulge in their craft beer and full bar services to lubricate your tired vocal chords, Alex’s Bar has you covered.

revolutionmotherThe bar, located on Anaheim Street in the Zaferia District already proved itself cool enough for HBO bloodsuckers to frequent, so, it’s no surprise that a place that has served as a hub for local and touring acts from the punk-hardcore circuit for the past 15 years was voted best place for live music, and that its insistence that its patrons walk the same stage and belt out their favorite ballads garnered it the title of best place for karaoke.

Alex’s has been “turning down the suck” since 2000, but has also been turning out some of the best live bills in a city that has multiple options for live music. If you’ve been to Alex’s—which at this point probably stands as a right of passage for any self-respecting Long Beacher—you already know the allure of its red glow, full bar and the iconic strips dispensed from its photo booth. If you haven’t, grab a few friends and head to the real life Fangtasia bar where you can fight the power of “the man” with punk rock acts of yesteryear and the present, and give into the urge to fulfill your lead singer fantasies on the karaoke mic.

Alex’s Bar is located at 2913 East Anaheim Street. For more information, visit the website, here.

4th Street Vine
Best First Date Spot
By Keeley Smith


File photo.

4th Street Vine will bring the curated art, cozy lounge seating, delectable appetizers and unbeatable selection of wine and beer, but you’ve got to bring the wit and sparkling personality.

Readers are in agreement that this is the best place to impress the next potential Mr. or Mrs. Right, offering an array of fine drinks and small food plates to ease the potential awkwardness of that first date situation.

Open since 2008, the little craft brew and wine bar was founded by Jim Ritson and Sophia Sandoval, with a focus on helping local musicians and artists showcase their talent. Originally the bar was Sandoval’s idea. She was sick of working as an accountant in the corporate world and used the Colorado Wine Company—a wine bar in Eagle Rock—as an inspiration for becoming her own small-business owner. As the bar neared opening, Ritson decided to leave behind his desk job as well. With his ardent enthusiasm for the business, it feels impossible to imagine the bar without him.

Love of the neighborhood and community along Retro Row, where 4th Street Vine is located, resonates in Ritson.

“To me this is the nucleus of the culture in Long Beach,” he said in an interview a few years ago. “Long Beach has always kind of been a collective of art and music lovers, or artists and musicians, and what 4th Street represents to me is the heart of that.”

With the casual-yet-artsy ambiance and romantic lighting, it may be an inviting enough atmosphere to make anyone feel as if they are potential soul mates.

Located in the heart of Retro Row on Fourth Street, 4th Street Vine has a loyal clientele that is not limited to the crowd living nearby. The high stools, eclectic tables and array of comfy couches on the patio out back serve to lighten the mood of passersby and invite people of all backgrounds to the mix.

“The bar has customers and friends who are not just a part of any specific genre. It kind of runs the whole gamut,” said Ritson.

Casual. Arty. Tasty. Good booze. That’s the mix you need for a solid first date, and 4th Street Vine will gladly serve that idealism to you on a plate. 

4th Street Vine is located at 2142 East Fourth Street. For more information, visit their website.

Kari Barba
Best Tattoo Artist in Long Beach
By Stephanie Rivera


Photo courtesy of Kari Barba.

Kari Barba is not only the owner and operator of the oldest continuously-operatng tattoo shop in America, but also a highly respected tattoo artist, known for her style, her reputation for excellence and her high standards.

The Minnesota-­born fiery redhead officially started tattooing at 19 years of age, and hasn’t stopped since.

Barba has won over 500 awards during her more than 30­-year career, including best tattooist three times, and a lifetime achievement award. Her favorite styles include colorful Asian styles, portraits, realism and black and gray. She will not do, however, lettering, tribal, traditional or cover ups—so don’t even ask.

Whether you’re considering getting a tattoo or not, it’s worth checking out Barba’s Outer Limits Tattoo shop, which in addition to being a working tattoo shop, also serves as a tattoo museum, and an homage to Long Beach’s old Pike. The place is full of memorabilia and amazing local history worth a visit.

Outer Limits Tattoo is located at at 22 South Chestnut Place. Check out Kari Barba’s portfolio of work on the shop’s website.

The Liberty Art Gallery and Event Space
Best Non-Traditional Art Gallery in Long Beach
By Asia Morris

The Liberty

Photo courtesy of The Liberty’s Facebook page

The Liberty Art Gallery and Event Space celebrated its four­-year anniversary on November 1, and has cemented its place in the community as a space for not only showing visual art, but a space for fashion shows, comedy shows, pop­up shops, fundraisers and more.

According to owner Paige Bauer, The Liberty got its start by featuring gay men and women group art shows, which focused on a variety of mediums and live music. The first gay women’s group art show took place in June 2010—next month they’ll feature show number 18.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have the support of the Long Beach community and being honored as best non­traditional art gallery just reaffirms that,” said Bauer. “It’s the best feeling knowing people support and appreciate the work you do…it’s kinda like a virtual pat on the back!”

Bauer says that some may not realize The Liberty also serves as an event rental space. Large-scale companies such as Levis, Anvil, KR3W and Converse have held events at the “blank slate,” as Bauer calls it, able to accommodate much more than a traditional art gallery.

Looking toward the future, new exhibits and a variety of art classes will be introduced, while the gallery will also be partnering with local interior design firm, Aligned Design, to give local furniture artists a place to display and sell their work.

“This space has endless possibilities,” said Bauer. “I’m excited about some of the new ideas taking root and look forward to sharing those with the Long Beach community. I feel so lucky to live in a city that supports the arts and to have a mayor with a passion for the creative. So, overall, we all win just by being a part of this community. Each of us have our own way of approaching the arts and support one another for the love of art.”

The Liberty Art Gallery and Event Space is located at 435 Alamitos Ave. For updates and happenings, follow the gallery on Facebook, here.

Image courtesy of The Liberty Art Gallery and Event Space.

Tiffany Dawn Hasse
Best Up-and-Coming Artist in Long Beach — Music & Performing Arts
By Matt Cohn

12592551 1028531393875499 8930851590612866608 n

Photo courtesy of Tiffany Dawn Hasse’s Facebook page. 

Describing herself as a “spoken-wordsmith/performance artist,” Tiffany Dawn Hasse’s striking presentations have turned heads in Long Beach venues such as the Second Saturdays Art Walk, the Art Exchange and the Viento y Agua coffeehouse.  

“My blood, sweat and tears are in these verses,” said Hasse, who started writing 10 years ago and began performing in 2012.  

Her rapid-fire, kinetic delivery reflects her two biggest influences; spoken-word artist,writer and teacher Rachel Kann, and Eminem, who Hasse considers “a genius.”  

Hasse, who just performed on Wednesday in the Feminist Open Mic at Rainbow Juices and yesterday at the Brass Lamp, is working on a book of poetry. Performing live is her deepest passion, though:  “Seeing me live is going to be your best experience,” Hasse said. “I’d like to lift it off of the paper, bring it to life and connect with the audience.”

Check out Tiffany Dawn Hasse’s website, here.

Jason Keam
Best Up-and-Coming Artist in Long Beach — Visual Arts
By Asia Morris

If anything, Jason Keam is an artist for the people and Long Beach is lucky to have him. He’s a man of many talents, and a wearer of many hats.

From simple paintings and illustrations to animated, multi­faceted characters, Keam has approached concepts from overcoming depression to sports commentary using the moniker Mono y Mono. Most recently, the artist created a PSA to encourage residents to sign up for the city’s new alert system, AlertLongBeach. If you have yet to witness the kooky, cat­-crazy animation, you’re in for at least a little smile.

“I want to keep people connected with their city and each other to raise moral, inform the public—while still entertaining them with my light-hearted, warm, and whimsical cartoons,” Keam told the Post.

The artist is currently working on a body of paintings for a gallery show, as well as a “quirky” animated short film about overcoming depression. He’s also working on building a client list for a future project, opening a Long Beach­-based creative studio where fine arts, advertising and the Long Beach community will be the three major focal points of the business.

“I aim to help local businesses with their visual development and promotional strategies through social media,” he said. “I also want to work for the City of Long Beach and LB Post to produce comics or cartoons, for social commentary, PSA reports and notifying the public of certain events. Plus, I would like to have workshops and guide future creatives of Long Beach.”

On winning 2015’s Best Up­-and­-Coming Artist in Long Beach, Keam was surprised and appreciative.

“I didn’t know I had so many supporters who had my back,” he said. “It’s nice to be recognized for my passion and efforts.”

You can check out some of Keam’s work via his website here and follow the artist on Instagram.

Bixby Knolls’ First Fridays
Best Family-Friendly Activity or Event in Long Beach
By Keeley Smith

12366114 10153682749887534 7274626666635916774 o

Photo courtesy of Bixby Knolls’ First Fridays Facebook page

Bixby Knolls’ very own First Fridays was the pick of 2015 for Post readers, when it came to choosing family-friendly activities or events. The time-honored tradition, alive since the fall of 2006, has gained a following throughout Long Beach and beyond, bringing people into shops and restaurants open late and providing music and entertainment fit for parents and kids.

“It is a consistent family friend art centered event that stimulates the business district and neighborhood,” said Tokotah Ashcraft of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association. “We pride ourselves on making it fresh each month. It is a major economic driver for our district and the city.”

Ashcraft said her favorite part of the First Fridays concept was the community’s embrace of the unique concept brought by the improvement association each month.

“The music is amazing, community is huge, shops and restaurants are open late,” said Ashcraft. “On any given First Fridays you can find anything from break dancers to stilt walkers to politicians. It’s a total mixed bag.”

The event has grown to well beyond the 40 people who first turned out to celebrate the first First Friday at Chroma Glass Designs. It now includes more than 15 businesses, from yoga studios to restaurants, and uses a double-decker bus to shuttle people up and down the block on that first Friday of each month, complete with new artists and music acts lighting up the night.

“We encourage everyone to come out each month and see what the event has to offer,” said Ashcraft. “February 5 is our annual Mardi Gras celebration complete with a parade lead by local musicians, Sea Funk Brass Band.”

For more information about First Fridays, visit their website.

Efren Luna
Long Beach Arts Advocate of the Year
By Sander Roscoe Wolff


Photo courtesy of Roger Abea.

The Post’s Long Beach Arts Advocate of the Year is Efren Luna. Luna is a graduate of Long Beach City College, earning an AA in Studio Art, and from CSULB with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Drawing and Painting.

In 2008, Luna founded Art, Music & Culture (AMC), which organized many exhibitions in galleries and alternative spaces, utilizing live painting, music, and poetry to facilitate placemaking and combat the blight often associated with empty storefronts. These efforts naturally dovetailed into him curating the AMC Gallery as part of the Phantom Galleries program, then funded by the now defunct Long Beach Redevelopment Agency.

More recently, he’s been an active participant in the Cultural Alliance of Long Beach, a creative collective that strives to support both established and emerging artists by providing them with exhibition and performance opportunities.

Through these efforts, Luna has moved into local arts advocacy. He’s helped organize an artist presence at meetings of the Long Beach City Council, has met personally with the mayor and several council representatives to talk about the concerns and needs of artists, and became engaged in discussions about the funding, operation, and transparency of the Arts Council for Long Beach.

“Long Beach has a great diverse creative community, but also has a great need to expose these artists and showcase them to the world,” Luna said. “My aspirations in Long Beach are to continue to support the arts at all levels, including emerging and established artists, by curating, promoting, mentoring, and advocating.”

One of Luna’s goals is the establishment of a municipal arts and cultural affairs department, something that will be “inclusive and open to all residents, and accountable to the Long Beach community.” He believes that, by doing so, the benefits of a well supported creative community will benefit the entire city.

“I think advocating is more than just supporting the arts, showing up at events, or organizing events,” he said. “[We need] to dive in head on and talk directly to our elected officials and tell them exactly what the issues are, and propose solutions. Plant a seed.”

Luna feels very grateful to those who voted for him, and admits that receiving this award from the people of his home town has special meaning.

“This recognition is very important to me,” Luna said. “I’ve have received many awards, but mostly outside of this city. Still, I would like to acknowledge all the other individuals nominated as advocates, as they too have worked hard to advocate in some form for the arts and culture in our great city.”

You can connect with Luna on Facebook, and also connect with the Cultural Alliance of Long Beach to find out how you can participate.

Bearcoon – El Guapo
Best Long Beach Album of 2015
By Matt Cohn

Photo by Lindsey Ingram. 

After winning Buskerfest in the late summer of 2014, Long Beach duo Bearcoon went into mission mode, teaming with producer Antoine Arvizu early in 2015 to record their first album, El Guapo.  After making the album, the duo continued gigging steadily in and around Long Beach.

Just days after a sold-out album release concert at Fingerprints Music last June, Guitarist Andrea Walker and vocalist Solange Igoa gave 30-day notice on their apartment, bought a conversion van, and headed north to parts unknown, with their instruments, a small PA system, and CD copies of El Guapo.   

The duo lived in the van with their two dogs and took their music to the people, gigging at coffeehouses, busking, and getting unexpected opportunities along the way.

“One of our favorite shows was this one we did on a 1940s decommissioned Navy tugboat up on the river in Portland,” said Walker.  “On another day, we were busking in Sebastopol and a girl bought one of our CDs.  She went home at played it for her father, who happened to be putting on a music festival the next day.  We found ourselves playing for a crowd of 600,” Walker said.

Currently back in Long Beach, Bearcoon is recharging for another stint on the road, this time staying near southern California to “get a reprieve from the dampness,” said Walker. She told the Post that the duo have “most, if not all” of the songs for their next album ready, and they’ll be working with producer Arvizu once again.

For more about Bearcoon and to sample their music, visit their website, and follow their adventures on the road on Instagram.

The Post would like to thank all of our readers who voted, and to all of our nominees for participating in Best of Long Beach 2016—and congratulations to all of our winners!

Support our journalism.

Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.