To celebrate his art club’s recent third anniversary and its first public exhibition, Nick Zegel wouldn’t have dreamed of going anywhere other than Taco Bell.
In early 2020, Zegel, a graphic designer and Long Beach resident, launched a local Taco Bell Drawing Club in tribute to New York artist Jason Polan, the late founder of the original club.
Then, after just a few meetings (only two people came to the first one, but things were picking up), the pandemic happened. Zegel took the fledgling club online and ended up attracting people from New Mexico, Illinois, Florida and Ann Arbor, Michigan (Jason Polan’s birthplace), to its Zoom drawing sessions.
The Long Beach club is free and open to anyone who feels like drawing, whether it’s Sharpie stick figures or intricate pen-and-ink portraits. Members gather every couple weeks on the large patio of the Taco Bell on Broadway to make art, and maybe eat some tacos.
“I was a fan of Jason’s work and I learned of his untimely passing a few years back, and I was compelled to host a club of my own in his honor,” Zegel said.
“The first meeting inspired me to continue this as I started to realize that there was a need or, like, an opportunity to build community amongst artists here in Long Beach.”
Anywhere from half a dozen to 20 people usually show up for the club’s meetings, which Zegel announces on social media, and he estimates more than 100 people have drawn with them since the club was formed.
Daniel Stafford, new to Long Beach and a newcomer to the drawing club, said ever since he stumbled upon the club’s Instagram, “I was always planning on coming and trying it – and it was really fun, really welcoming.”
He’s been drawing on and off his whole life, has taken a few art classes and even sold some of his work, but Stafford doesn’t consider himself a professional.
The casual friendliness of the Taco Bell club is right up his alley. “I feel like everybody here, there’s no ego, no pretentious vibe,” he said.
At the club’s first-ever public exhibition on Wednesday, dozens of sketches – done in crayon, marker, pen and pencil – were fixed to black posterboards that hung on the restaurant patio’s windows, with art on each side so guests had something to look at both inside and out.
There were drawings of flowers, portraits of people, doodles including a pineapple with a mustache and a finely detailed taco, and several decorative tributes to the club.
Nick’s mom, Gina Zegel, visiting from New Jersey, was helping set out some tacos and other snacks for the club and any art appreciators who stopped by.
Joining her son’s Zoom art sessions gave Gina Zegel the chance to flex her portrait-drawing skills.
“I haven’t drawn for a long time, although I went to art school,” she said, “so he really kind of stirred it up again for me.”
The online meetings helped keep the club alive and grow it, Nick Zegel said, but members were eager to meet in person once it was safe. While they waited for Taco Bell to reopen its patio, they brought their pads and pens to the bluff and sat on the lawn to draw.
Now they’re firmly planted back at the Broadway restaurant, an unassuming location that’s an integral part of the club’s aesthetic.
“The barrier to entry is very low,” he said.
“It’s not pretentious, and in fact, I love when friends come by who may not draw, and they make a drawing – and all of a sudden on that given night, like, they are an artist and a member of our drawing club.”
Find art created by club members and announcement of upcoming meetings at the Taco Bell Drawing Club’s Instagram.