Hippies in Paradise

As my artist pal Daniel used to say, affecting his best Southern cop twang, “We got a hippy problem.”

Topanga Canyon was ground zero for hippies in the 1960s, and it never quite shed the mantle. Back then, the Manson family was camped out in their psychedelic bus down at the Rodeo Grounds, Neil Young was couch surfing and Gram Parsons and Bernie Leadon twanged out new songs while Jim Morrison “let it roll, baby, roll” up at The Corral roadhouse (yes, that roadhouse).

Hippies having fun

Hippies having fun

Today, the canyon much like Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco is more of a destination attraction for young hippies, the way affluent yoga students travel to Mysore, India, to pretend they like being ogled by old gurus. You see them walking barefoot and braless along the boulevard, guitars slung over the shoulders, sipping their chai teas and smiling a lot. Sometimes they even still hitchhike and carry signs like “Make love, not war.”

There are a few of the original hippies here. But they’re not smiling — they’re angry hippies. There’s still war, life didn’t just take care of itself like they thought it would, the rich got richer and the world moved on without them.

My kids are terrified of hippies. My son Flynn will crouch down in the back seat of the car with one of his friends when we’re driving somewhere, holding imaginary guns and scanning the road behind us.

“Hippies!” he’ll say, ducking down and firing over the headrest. I imagine in his mind he sees some sort of unkempt cross between Wavy Gravy and a ninja.

“Dad,” his little sister Willa will say, looking alarmed, “are hippies real!?”

Now this is all quite humorous, you may be saying to yourself, but how is it relevant to a food blog? Well it is relevant, because if you’ve got a hippy problem, you’ve got a food problem.

It’s mostly problematic to me when I’m considering enhancing the dining options in the canyon by opening a restaurant here. Take the example of a recent vacancy. An old joint in the north canyon was available — when I was a kid it was a biker bar called The Bent Oak, and had also been a pizza place among other things. My friend Seamus told me about it and said we should look into it for a restaurant. Yes, I thought, it might make a nice tavern — fancy burgers, bone marrow, IPAs on tap, you know the kinda place. But we never checked it out.

Here’s what opened instead:

IMG_3442

I haven’t summonsed the courage to go inside. But I heard they sell wheat grass juice.

Wheat grass juice. The juice of grass. I mowed a lot of lawns in my day, and never thought of juicing.

In addition to Topanga Fresh, the other dining options in town include: Inn of the Seventh Ray, a creekside fantasy popular with weddings and kids on prom night, famous for mediocre shakra-conscious food but now boasting a bandwagon-hopping chef failing to put the place on the culinary map through a ham-handed, late-to-the-game use of sous vide, ash, gels and foams; Mimosa Café, serving nothing even resembling a mimosa; and Abuelita’s, the worst Mexican restaurant in a city where it’s nearly impossible to screw up Mexican food.

When I contemplate opening a restaurant here, I wonder if I would have to serve quinoa and expeller-pressed-oil butter substitutes? The town is growing ever more affluent and sophisticated, and is adjacent to the restaurant dead zone that is Malibu — it seems the perfect locale for an upscale, wine country-style restaurant. But when I let my imagination put forth my ultimate dream — converting the old Fernwood Market into something new: the Fernwood Pacific Market Café & Grill, with wine & tapas bar and small open-kitchen/patio restaurant in the back serving an exquisite chef’s tasting menu — I wonder if the town’s Old Guard would rise up and drive me away for displacing the old hippies who like to sit on a bench in front of the store.

Friends and strangers alike encourage me in my dream. “Oh!” they exclaim, “Pleassse do that!! We need it!!!” and “You’ll need a shovel for all the money you’ll bring in.” But no decision in life is easy. Each is filled with perils and unforeseen consequences. All the more so when hippies are involved.

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32 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Gaskin
    May 17, 2013 @ 02:04:10

    I was there in the canyon in the day…I have stories…lotsa stories…might be fun at a barbecue to share them ;)In junior high and high school, the kids were the “canyon kids”…definitely a different protocol than the “valley” kids…although we were on the cusp

    Reply

  2. April
    May 17, 2013 @ 02:09:59

    Great post Sean. And YES, Topanga needs you!! Isabel & I stopped into “Topanga Fresh” one day before the finished signs & wheatgrass was entirely evident. They were selling avocados & honey sticks then. We walked in to find a line for the juice cleanses and a load of hippies dancing around a juke box. It was absolutely hysterical! I can’t quite imagine what it’s like right now… since it’s become a hippie haven. Dare I poke my head in?

    Reply

  3. April
    May 17, 2013 @ 03:17:37

    This actually reminds me of another experience I had when we first moved to Topanga, 8 years ago – I was 8 months prego w/ twins then and whilst in the Woodland Hills Whole Foods a distressed young hippie in the produce section stood stunned and remarked to me about all the “dead things” (seafood & meat counter) she had the horrific misfortune of viewing from the produce isle. This was my first hippie encounter…

    Reply

  4. Mom
    May 17, 2013 @ 03:30:07

    So interesting. I too remember that time well, Laura insisting I see a band at Crazy Horse in Malibu which is now an omelet parlor or something. I fell in love at first note with that band and have never fallen out.
    Restaurants are tricky. I think the big winners have marketing teams who do all the research on who your audience is etc.
    A startling example is a restaurant which opened next door to our impending tasting room. A chef with credentials and clearly a lot of money. Everyone was excited about it. But as the word of mouth reviews started coming in there were 8 ‘awfuls’, 1 pretty bad and 1 so/so, I can’t imagine he will make it through the winter.
    High prices, very small plates, Morton type pricing on side veggies, potatoes etc.
    A local said, ‘an Italian restaurant with small portions? What’s that about?
    The point is why didn’t he do his homework. Go to Underwood, 3 miles away and see what works.

    Reply

  5. Leo
    May 17, 2013 @ 03:40:50

    Me thingst my hippie wife, who grows her own kale, and likes to drink juiced veggies when I make them for her (she refuses to use the machine I bought for her) dost protest too much…
    I can’t believe that you left out Rocco’s, home of the worlds most expensive pizza, from your culinary review. If they can charge $27 for a pizza, then think how much you could charge for your tasting menu. Plus you could probably charge at least $10 extra for the tasting menu WITH quinoa.

    Reply

  6. medrat
    May 17, 2013 @ 04:51:56

    Hilarious. What a great post. What a out Rocco’s and canyon grill? Hopefully u will serve them up in a future post. Abuelitas does have pretty good margaritas. At least they are strong. And their molé is solid. Damn hippies.

    Reply

    • scolgin
      May 17, 2013 @ 13:10:09

      The minute I hit the “post” button, we left for Rocco’s. LOL Sure, it’s overpriced and not that great. But it’s sort of an institution, so I’m kind of fond of it. And you’re right about Abuelita’s margies — pretty decent, I’ll give them that.

      Reply

  7. Ant Patty
    May 17, 2013 @ 05:00:21

    OK – you need to Willa that not only is my eye upside down, but I was a bra-less, pot-smoking hippie, living in a converted tool shed on Grandview in the early 70’s. And yes, we do need an original culinary destination in Topanga. You see, some might might say I’ve become bourgeois for wanting a good food and wine destination locally, but then I was a hippie in the 70’s and spent 2 yrs. traveling in a Volkswagen camper across Europe and North Africa tasting and sipping a whole ‘nother world. Good food opens your eyes, even if one of them is upside down.
    Please carry on with your dream of opening an option to “the Bistro”.

    Reply

  8. Marie -Michelle Hewett
    May 17, 2013 @ 05:49:37

    Ditto, what a great post! Topanga seems somewhat stuck up in its own “hippiness” which often sounds and looks very nouveau riche and as much as I want to support a restaurant such as the one you would create, I am not sure the “earthy” holier than thou crowd would follow with your wonderful ingredients, you might have to rely on the Valleyites or even the Palisades crowd…Love your oh so accurate and sad description of all the restaurants. These days marketing and hype seem more important than the food being served.

    Reply

  9. Benjamin J Thompson (@ThompsonBenjami)
    May 17, 2013 @ 15:22:08

    Don’t open a restaurant as a professional. It will take the joy out of your home cooking. I know you worked in restaurants for a long time, and I did too, 15 years. I’ve had a million people ask me to open a restaurant. Most chefs I know go home and eat corn flakes. Just my thoughts on your temptation.

    Reply

  10. pal-O
    May 17, 2013 @ 16:29:18

    Lots of different kinds of hippies in this world I reckon and I’m not clumping them all together. Maybe the Topanga strain just got left in the time warp and didn’t evolve into the grand new world . . . but I’m still proud of my freak flag flying half mast as a free range, pork fed renaissance Southern hippie from those days and proud of the hundreds of other flags flippin’ on that pole. . . You know I’d work at that restaurant (front or back) when you get it going . . . call me! 8^)

    Reply

  11. April
    May 17, 2013 @ 16:29:26

    I’m no more of a closeted hippie than you are Sean & watch out because it’s fair to say that Topanga changes you! I have a friend/jeweler in the Palisades whose mom moved to Topanga years ago. She says her mom used to shop at Saks Fifth Avenue but now her mom keeps goats and she worries that she’s is smoking too much weed! Maybe there’s an upside to getting out before we all become goat herders. Although, I fear I’ll be creating my own blog about an Angeleno trapped behind the horrors of the Orange Curtain!

    Reply

    • pal-O
      May 17, 2013 @ 17:11:27

      Is there a study out on how much is too much? Does she share with the goats? I know they are feeding hogs in Washington state with seeds & stems now . . . we’ll see the upshot of that in time with high end pork futures . . .

      Reply

      • April
        May 17, 2013 @ 17:56:03

        I’ll have to get back to you on that pal-O. I have seen handmade signs for “hire a herd” brush clearance in Topanga so I wonder if the goats are high if they get the munchies and therefore eat the brush faster??

      • pal-O
        May 17, 2013 @ 19:13:48

        Anything to make a goat work harder & Topanga prettier I say! Funny April!

      • pal-O
        May 17, 2013 @ 19:14:39

        Another subject for Sean’s blog!

  12. glennis
    May 17, 2013 @ 20:43:07

    You know I’m with you if you ever want to do the Fernwood Market scheme!

    We ate at Inn of the 7th Ray only once since we moved here. Rocco’s was a staple of our son’s gradeschool days, but instead of hippies it was creek rats. The site of Topanga Fresh was a poorly-reputed pizza joint when we moved here – we never went there.

    We want to support the Bistro, but ahh, it’s so boring! The Canyon does need a good place!

    Reply

    • scolgin
      May 17, 2013 @ 22:01:09

      A friend got mad at me for slamming Topanga Fresh before I’d ever been in there. “They have great pita sandwiches,” she said. I retorted that all I had said was that I heard they served wheat grass juice. “They do,” she said. My point exactly! Disappointing when you think they could’ve been serving beer and marrow bone.

      Reply

    • April
      May 17, 2013 @ 22:31:13

      Love it! There must be thousands of stories in Topanga about goats & weed!! LOL

      Reply

  13. coffeetablecookbook
    May 18, 2013 @ 00:31:48

    DO IT!!!! You wouldn’t be limited to the locals….it would be the cool destination for all the angelinos wanted to go to the new hip little joint up in the canyons. It would feel like a little weekend get away without having to really leave the city. Everyone can hike the bone marrow off or chill on the patio drinking microbrews in the sunset.

    Reply

  14. pedimanipause
    May 30, 2013 @ 23:23:52

    The only thing worse then a hippie is a hipster. (lthough Hipsters smell better)

    Reply

  15. debra
    May 24, 2014 @ 23:44:26

    Over on the east side rock & roll canyon that would be Laurel Canyon, I adore our Pace, even the coffee bar outside the Canyon Country Store, and the store itself that has a tiny deli offering up three-combo salad plates of greek, broccoli and marinated peppers, and imported English teas. This little complex in the middle of the canyon is, at times, a life saver for those of us who reside here.

    Reply

  16. John
    Aug 11, 2017 @ 02:54:00

    Not too far south from the Fernwood Market existed a place that was truly a hippie paradise. The spot was and still is marked by two sets of twin telephone poles along Topanga Cyn. In the early 70’s people would hitchhike up the canyon and ask the driver to stop when they saw the twin telephone poles. There was a rope tied to a guardrail at the roadside, they’d hold the rope and descend the canyon wall down to the beautiful clear water creek below. It was steep, and when you made it down and looked back up you were a world away. Some days there would be a hundred people at the bottom enjoying themselves skinny dipping in the large swimming hole, playing acoustic guitars and singing songs, there were lovely paintings (not graffiti) on the many rocks and boulders that lined the creek bed, everybody was stoned, it was beautiful down there. The name of this place was Twin Poles.

    Reply

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