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Guadalajara Jack and the Ghosts of the Spanish Kitchen

16 February 2010 Stories and Appreciations 4,480 views One CommentPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

EDITOR’S NOTE: Once again, Mark Pahlow continues remembers life on Los Angeles’ character-rich Fairfax Avenue in the 1970s. In the first part of this series, he introduced us to some of the characters that frequented Lose The Blues Bookstore, where her worked. In this installment, we meet some of Lose The Blues’ remarkable neighbors. Read part one here.

Up the street from Lose The Blues, some Israelis opened a restaurant with the delightfully self-centered business name “Me & Me.” They introduced Los Angeles to falafel and to the wonderfulness of pita bread and garbanzo beans. The proprietors were loud and brash, with shirts unbuttoned and hairy chests puffed out. “American Woman” by The Guess Who was usually blaring out of the establishment, and the staff was singing along, loudly and off-key. Quickly, they became part of the neighborhood.

Next door to us was the Chabad House, run by the Chabad movement of Orthodox Judaism. I did my bit helping their folks keep their cookware kosher. I was the resident gentile on the street. Guys would come in with cooking pots and frying pans and offer to sell them to me for a nickel. I would buy them, and then they would repurchase them from me for the same price. The point of the exchange was that by selling the cookware to me, a non-Jew, for just a moment, a frying pan tainted by incorrectly-cooked meat or dairy could be bought back and reused. Anyway, I think that was what was happening. It was all very serious business.

One of my favorite regulars at Lose the Blues was Jack, GUADALAJARA! Jack was in his 70s, was barrel-chested and used a cane. He’d come in while smoking a big cigar and often slam that cane across the counter. He’d smack his cane across the stacks of bestsellers laid face up on the counter and scream GUADALAJARA! If you weren’t expecting it, you’d jump a foot in the air.

Sometimes, if Jack was in a particularly gregarious mood, he’d give you a bear hug and, with his face an inch from yours, he’d tell you secrets and bits of wisdom, his breath smelling of sweet whiskey at midday. This was not as repellent as it sounds; even at the time, it was quite endearing.

Jack attributed his war cry of GUADALAJARA! to his love of that Mexican town. He spent the best times of his life there, a long time ago. He had many wonderful romances there with the local ladies. He’d tell you all about it, if he really liked you. His son was a big shot movie producer, of who Jack was quick to say, “I hate him. He never calls me.”

Kenny Feldman, my boss at Lose The Blues, often “loaned” Jack money. He’d just reach into the till and hand him five bucks. Then after giving you a bone-crushing handshake and one more GUADALAJARA! for the road, Jack would head across the street to the lounge at Canter’s Deli, called the Kibitz Room, for a drink.

What was it that made Fairfax a vortex of such characters? Perhaps it was the ghosts that seemed to be so close. Just around the corner on Beverly was the mysterious, abandoned Spanish Kitchen — a lovely place, all locked up and covered with dust, with napkins and tableware all set upon the tables, frozen in time.

The story circulated of a spurned woman, the owner, who had just shut Spanish Kitchen down suddenly one day and was still living upstairs from the restaurant as a recluse. She walked out, locked it up intact, and never opened the doors again.

Hundreds of people a year tried to lease the space, year after year. They climbed the back stairs to knock on her door, which was never answered. The Spanish Kitchen had its own ghosts, and they were our neighbors.

Mark Pahlow

PHOTO BY KEVIN TIQUI

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One Comment »

  1. I was one of those who went up the back stairs asking to reinvent
    “The Spainish Kitchen”. I actually was able to speak to the owner one
    day. Her response was simple. “If I wanted to open again I would just
    call all of the staff and they would come back.” Her husband had died
    and she just lost heart.

    Bill’s iPhone——->

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