Best of Long Beach 2014 Winners: Arts, Culture and Entertainment

Video by Sarynelli Valerin.

Ah, these three pillars of our city—arts, culture and entertainment—truly make this city what it is. They help us think, laugh, dance, relax, or just straight-up plaster a smile on our face. They are the cultural fabric that connects the human beings who inhabit Long Beach, who might otherwise never meet each other or know of one another.

We asked you, the reader, to tell us what's great about Long Beach, and you delivered; well over 60,000 of you joined in to root for your favorites in each category. Some of your top picks won by a landslide, while others were hotly contested, but the one thing they all have in common is that they all make Long Beach a unique, special, and beloved place to live. 


Wild Pack of Canaries - Agua Amarga
Best New Long Beach Album
by Asia Morris

Wild Pack of Canaries’ latest album Agua Amarga, released by Lolipop Records on August 2, 2013, sits on an especially sentimental pedestal this year with its win for Best New Album. Co-produced by Ikey Owens, the 38-year-old Long Beach native, keyboardist and renowned musical collaborator who passed away the morning of Tuesday, October 14, Agua Amarga is a testament to his creative and nurturing spirit.

Rudy De Anda, who plays guitar and sings lead for the band, said, “It’s one more thing to notch on for Ikey. That was the first record we worked on with him and we had a really great time recording with him and spent a lot of time in the studio.” Owens also played keyboard for the track “Vazio.”

De Anda continued, “What I feel good about is, honestly, I think it’s just that a bunch of people that really liked the record voted.”  

While the band had chosen to take a breather from performing to work on new songs, the quintet plans to open for Joel Jerome at Fingerprints in mid-January. “We were trying not to take offers,” said De Anda, “but since we love the guy so much we’re going to do it.”  

You can listen to Agua Amarga in its entirety here.



Photo courtesy of Oh Snaps! I Was There.

Bump 'N Grind at Que Sera
Best Dance Party in Long Beach
by Brittany Woolsey

What started off as a backyard bash has turned into Long Beach's best dance party.

Bump 'N Grind was picked up by Que Sera after promoter Stella Lee hosted an apartment party that grew too large in September 2011.

"It just got too big for my apartment at the time, and we wanted to take it to a venue where everyone could dance, drink and be safe," Lee said. "We wanted to have alcohol, music and good vibes. Being in the backyard, it was fun but it also caused a problem for the neighbors."

Que Sera owner Ilse Benz saw potential in Lee's party, and decided to bring the party to her venue, where it started off as a monthly event, eventually turning into a bi-monthly event, bringing nostalgic '90s hip-hop to the 7th Street bar.

"A lot of the credit goes to Stella," Benz said. "I think the music and selection of the music is really reflective of the club. It may remind people of their high school days. It's a very high-energy evening, and everyone's on the dance floor."

Lee said the next Bump 'N Grind event, slated for this Saturday at 9:00PM, will have some kind of Christmas theme. Bump 'N Grind takes place every first and third Saturday of the month at Que Sera, located at 1923 E. 7th Street. Admission is $5.

For more information about Bump 'N Grind and Que Sera, click here.



The late Markus Manley, at the original WE Labs location on Pine Ave. Photo by Sarah Bennett.

WE Labs
Best Place to get Inspired in Long Beach
by Jason Ruiz

Work Evolutions Laboratory (WE Labs) was the first of its kind when it opened in 2012 in Long Beach. The brainchild of the late Markus Manley, WE Labs was intended to be an incubator of creativity and community.

“Winning this category is really a testament to [Manley's] original vision and goal," Robbie Brown, CEO of WE Labs, said. “That was to be a place where people can go and be in an environment that is inspiring.”

It operates as a second home—if not the only home—to start-ups, freelancers and entrepreneurs looking for a place to surround themselves with like-minded people. DW Ferrel, the Long Beach entrepreneur who opened and operates the new MADE in Long Beach store on Pine Ave. is an alumni of WE Labs. WE Labs also served as the temporary home base for the Long Beach Post at one point.

Now located on 8th floor of the Pacific Building at the intersection of Broadway and Long Beach Boulevard, it’s a think tank for creators, writers and designers. It was a no brainer for WE Labs to be voted Best Place to Get Inspired, with so many inspirational people working in a tight-knit community high above a revitalized Downtown that is trending toward a fully-realized rebirth. In addition to office space, conference rooms and communal work stations, WE Labs provides a human network of innovators and professionals to act as a sounding board.

“When you’re around people who are trying to do cool, interesting things that stuff’s contagious. That’s what were trying to do. We’re trying to create a place where ideas thrive," said Brown. "Great things happen when you put a bunch of creative people together.”




Best Long Beach Instagrammer
by Asia Morris

Ron Woolhether, or @Ron_Woolhether on Instagram, is the freelance photographer behind Awe F'shore Photography, known for its rad and pristine captures of surf competitions, environmental landscapes and portraits. Woolhether grew up in Long Beach, and it shows through his lens.

Woolhether's Instagram is chock-full of iconic Long Beach landmarks, like the refurbished Dunkin' Donuts sign, First Congregational Church's bell tower and the newly landscaped Bluff Park. He clearly has a love for Long Beach sunsets, and captures each one as an artist might cherish the shape of a snowflake before it melts, highlighting the uniqueness of the colors, cloud shapes and the silhouettes before the sun goes down.

Follow @Ron_Woolhether on Instagram, and your feed will soon be filled with yoga, squirrels, squash, surfing and a love for that laid-back Southern California lifestyle.




Bixby Knolls First Fridays
Best Free Entertainment in Long Beach
by Brittany Woolsey

Once a month, the streets of Bixby Knolls are taken over by vendors, musicians and artists at the neighborhood's free First Fridays event.

Bixby Knolls First Fridays started eight years ago with the intent of supporting local artists and musicians by providing them with an outlet to showcase their work, while also promoting local business, said Tokotah Ashcraft, First Fridays coordinator.

"It was important to create more foot traffic and using the arts as a catalyst was a natural choice," she said.

It started out in one shop, Chroma Glass, and has since expanded over the years to more than 20 businesses from San Antonio Drive to Bixby Road, with 15 bands and countless artists showing off their talents each month.

"It feels really special to be recognized as the Best Free Entertainment in Long Beach because the votes came from the community, and that's who this event is for," Ashcraft said. "Every month there is so much thought and effort put into the event. It's nice to know the hard work is paying off."

First Fridays will take a break during January because the event is so close to New Year's Day, Ashcraft said. It will return on February 6.



Best Drag Performer in Long Beach
by Jason Ruiz

Long a fixture at The Falcon and Hamburger Mary’s, the fabulous entertainer, personality and drag queen known as Jewels is just as much a staple of Long Beach as wigs, heels and makeup are to the drag scene. She is fully entrenched in the city and hosts multiple fundraisers and charity events like the annual Pink Party, which raised funds for the Long Beach Gay & Lesbian Center.

“That’ s my way of giving back,” Jewels said. “I can’t write a million dollar check but I can lend my name to a cause that I believe in.”

Despite being pitted against some of her best friends in the polling process, it was only natural that she was voted best drag performer for 2014. With over a decade and a half in the game, she has received numerous awards, including being named one of the Post’s 40 Under 40 in 2013, and hosting the live telecast of this year’s Long Beach Pride Parade.

Jewels said her heart belongs to this city, so to be recognized by it outweighs other awards. “An honor from Long Beach means more because it’s my community and I love this city. I’m here day in and day out and I’m honored to get this award."

Catch the Best Drag Queen in Long Beach at Hamburger Mary’s every Wednesday night, or at Drag Brunch Saturday and Sunday mornings. She’ll be there waiting (with bottomless mimosas).



villarivieraThe Villa Riviera
Best Piece of Architecture in Long Beach
by Asia Morris

A true Long Beach architectural landmark, no part of the city's skyline is quite so iconic as The Villa Riviera's oxidized copper roof, standing tall above Ocean Blvd., bathing in the Long Beach sun in all its Gothic glory. Winner of this year's Best Architecture category, this historic building was constructed in 1929 in French Gothic style and has since remained one of Long Beach's most prized pieces of architecture.

Located at 800 E. Ocean Blvd., the Villa Riviera was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1996 by the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places. The building currently holds some 134 units—including 2 penthouse units on the 16th floor—and the author's hopeful dreams of living there, too, one day.




Photo courtesy of Kyle Flavin.

Geeks Who Drink at the Blind Donkey
Best Pub Trivia in Long Beach
by Brittany Woolsey

The force is strong with Geeks Who Drink at the Blind Donkey.

The weekly Tuesday night event brings out Long Beach's finest nerds and geeks to test their knowledge, from Star Wars to Doctor Who to Firefly.

"Andrew, the quizmaster, is great at what he does and brings people out of their shell," said Blind Donkey manager Kyle Flavin. "He create an open environment for everybody to drink and be merry, as well as expand their brains and challenge each other."

Although the Blind Donkey in Long Beach has only been open since April this year, the bar has already become a staple for those who want to test their geek trivia while indulging in a variety of libations.

Geeks Who Drink started in Summer 2014, following success at the Blind Donkey's Pasadena location, said quizmaster Andrew H. Carroll.

"It feels really great to win," he said. "I think the space itself is an amazing bar with a great selection of alcohol, and just the format of Geeks Who Drink is the best around."

Geeks Who Drink takes place at the Blind Donkey every Tuesday night from 8:00PM to 10:00PM. Entry is free, and prizes are awarded to the top teams.

For more information about Geeks Who Drink, click here.




Photo by Jason Ruiz.

Best Iconic Sign in Long Beach
by Jason Ruiz

Constructed in 1930 by owner and contractor George T. Gayton, the Gaytonia apartment building was originally built to house Naval officers who sought hotel-style lodgings with top-shelf amenities. The castle-like building was designed by Reginald Freemont in the Norman Revival style, much like Long Beach's Pacific Coast Club.

Situated on Quincy Avenue overlooking Belmont Shore, its iconic neon sign illuminates the night sky for 2nd Street visitors who happen to turn their focus to the North. Despite its name (and urban myth), Gaytonia has no connection to the LGBT community in Long Beach; instead, it’s a take on its owner’s name. Gayton held control of the building until the late 50s.

The three-story building includes a penthouse, public decks and below-ground parking garage for tenants and has also been featured as part of a historical walking tour put on by the Long Beach Historical Society.



Hamburger Mary's
Best Place to Have a Laugh in Long Beach
by Brittany Woolsey

At Hamburger Mary's making fun of anything, from Disney to Christmas, is fair game. And, when you're sitting in the audience, you're just as easy a target.

The restaurant/bar, which also operates locations in places like San Francisco and Hawaii, is the go-to place for live entertainment in Long Beach, for those looking for a little something different.

Drag Queens, like the ever-popular Jewels, frequent the restaurant and perform in a drag shows throughout the week and during weekend brunches.

No seat in the house is safe from Jewels' banter, as she frequently goes out into the crowd and calls out audience members, particularly men.

"We are thrilled to be honored by the Long Beach Community," said Hamburger Mary's Long Beach owner Dale Warner. "[...] we strive to provide hilarious entertainment almost every night. The response we have encountered since moving to Pine Avenue one year ago has been wonderful. If you have a chance to attend our Drag Brunches on Saturday and Sunday mornings you'll see for yourself just how much fun is to be had. They sell out fast so reservations are highly recommended."

Hamburger Mary's is located at 330 Pine Avenue. Reservations for brunch can be made by calling 562-436-7900.



Long Beach Comic Con
Best Long Beach Convention Center Event
by Brittany Woolsey

For two weekends out of the year, nerds, geeks and cosplayers swarm the streets of Downtown Long Beach as the Long Beach Comic Con (LBCC) rolls in.

Held in the Spring and Fall of each year, LBCC started in October 2009 and focuses on the creators in the comic book and animation industries.

"The success of films and television shows based on comic book characters originates with the creators," said Martha Donato, Executive Director of LBCC. "The Long Beach Comic shows are first and foremost show for comics, for readers, and we've also begun creating convention programming that will appeal to book readers. Our plan is to do more panels with novelists in 2015 and beyond."

Steve Goodling, President and CEO of Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, said LBCC is a unique and popular event.

"Comic Con is one of the unique conventions that brings together a group of people that wants to celebrate a culture and a lifestyle," he said.

Donato said in 2015, LBCC fans can expect two conventions—the Long Beach Comic Expo from February 28 to March 1 and the LBCC from September 12 to September 13. She said the Comic Expo will be expanded and will also include a "geek film festival."

For more information, click here.



The Carpenter Performing Arts Center
Best Performing Arts Venue in Long Beach
by Asia Morris

The Carpenter Performing Arts Center at California State University, Long Beach truly has something for everyone.

Whether it’s a music, dance, comedy, family entertainment or a cabaret event, the center boasts a wide array of performances by world-class artists which enrich the lives of residents from Long Beach and its neighboring cities.

This season’s 2014-2015 artists include rock legend Dave Mason, the return of Hawaiian Dance Favorite Nā Lei Hulu I ka Wēkiu and a Cabaret Series including performances by renowned vocalist Stacy Sullivan. The Carpenter Center’s versatility allows its stage to transform from a grand stage for large performances to an intimate concert venue with table seating, allowing guests to sit less than 40 feet from the artists.

Check out the calendar of events to find out about upcoming performances. 




The Queen Mary
Best Place to Go As A Visitor to Long Beach
by Jason Ruiz

The Queen Mary has been an anchor of Long Beach tourism since it docked in the city permanently in 1967. Since trading in her days of sailing the Atlantic to become a floating hotel and host to a multitude of annual events, the Queen Mary has welcomed countless visitors on board its storied (possibly haunted) decks.

The ship, which started out as a luxury cruise liner before being commissioned to carry wounded soldiers during World War II, is now home to spooky Halloween-themed Dark Harbor, tattoo, music and hot-rod culture convention Ink-N-Iron and Chill, a winter wonderland on the coast of Long Beach. There are also plans to renovate this Best of 2014 winner’s engine rooms into a 65,000 square foot world-class museum and science center that would include a 4D theater, interactive learning classrooms and a science center.

Whether you’re in town to enjoy its award-winning Sunday Champagne Brunch, staying the weekend in one of its 346 original staterooms or suites or simply trying to catch a glimpse of one of the Queen Mary’s paranormal residents, this old ship is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit during your stay in Long Beach. 

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