Oct 2, 2016

Escape Hotel Hollywood: Review

Escape rooms have taken over Los Angeles, and they're a little sadistic, aren't they? Locked in a room, forced to look for clues and hints in order to escape the impending doom that will result if you don't get the hell out. You're forced to work with other people, which can result in one of two horrible things: you realize you're a complete idiot, or you realize your friends or loved ones are complete idiots. (It's a great work activity: you can weed out the weak and learn who is the best leader, analyst, etc.)

All kidding aside, escape rooms are a great activity for those that hate scary Halloween haunts because they're, at most, stressful. Unlike haunted houses, there is nothing too terrifying about an escape room. Nobody is jumping out and making you wonder why you paid someone to do this to you (usually). If you like games and puzzles, this might even be an exciting hour for you! But not all escape rooms are made equal.

I've been to a few rooms before, but I was blown away by Escape Hotel Hollywood. Located right on Hollywood Boulevard, the hotel could be mistaken as a legitimate place to stay. (In the case of my makeup artist, Kasia, she did!)

Hotel Cortez from AHS: Season 5
Inside the haunted Stanley Hotel
The lobby is reminiscent of a few different haunted hotels, like The Hotel Cortez (American Horror Story) and The Hollywood Tower Hotel (The Disneyland Ride — RIP), with red accents and a wooden concierge desk, along with old school chandeliers and lighting. The hallway that leads to different escape experiences, include doors that are painted red, a la haunted The Stanley Hotel in Colorado. (Although the hotel doors appear more of a mahogany red wood finish). 

When you enter, Motown hits are playing. For some, this is comforting. "They're playing happy music! It can't be scary!" But I couldn't help but feel like the juxtaposition of the happy, upbeat music with the eerie hotel setting could result in something terrifying. Spoiler: it wasn't that scary.

Escape Hotel Hollywood offers 5 experiences that are currently open to the public (as of 9/10):

There are 5 more rooms opening soon:
Plus a FOX-sponsored Exorcist room

And they vary in their difficulty. Our group of 11 chose Witchcraft and Daycare since we were forced to split into two. I had to escape from the Witchcraft Room, and we had a great time figuring out each clue bestowed upon us. Going into the room is the most terrifying aspect of it all, because you don't know what to expect. Like most escape experiences, you have one our to "get out," and in our case, that meant getting into a second room, and then finding out way out of there.

The production value for Escape Hotel Hollywood is better than any other experience I've been a part of. While trying to decipher each clue and figure out what each element meant, I was also curious how certain clues were able to unfold for us — the execution was perfect. I don't want to give too much away, but, for instance, at one point we had to use a Ouija board to unlock a particular clue, and whenever we ran the planchette over the correct letter, it would light up. There was also an awesome effect involving a blacklight that impressed me as well.

Sadly, we did not make it out in time! As we were unlocking the last clue, our time was up. Overall, I think we could have done it if we had a smaller group — less than 5 people. 

The other group told us Daycare was actually terrifying, and mentioned something about dead babies hanging in a closet, so if you're into grotesque action like that, perhaps that's the room for you. 

One cool aspect is that EHH gives you a passport that gets stamped after you complete each room, kind of like a badge of honor for getting through each experience. If you get a minute this Halloween season, check it out and let them know I sent you! 

6633 Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood, CA 90028

Grumpy because we didn't finish in time

Jul 4, 2016

BBQ in Los Angeles: Holy Cow BBQ on 26th

As southern folk would say, I had a hankering for BBQ the day before the 4th of July. I missed home (Austin, Texas) and memories of gallivanting around my parents' home with family and then running off to watch fireworks in an open field with friends were flooding my brain. So when I saw Holy Cow BBQ after an appointment at Queen Bee in Brentwood,  I knew gorging myself was imminent.

Patrick (the boy) is from Pittsburgh, and I don't normally associate country music or BBQ with that area of the country, but the man loves country culture, so he was just as excited (if not more) than I was.

Holy Cow BBQ
11:30AM - 9PM SUN - THURS
11:30AM - 10PM FRI - SAT
264 26TH ST, SANTA MONICA, CA 90402

Brentwood Country Mart (where we dined), Culver City
Down-home BBQ. Casual attire. Country music. Indoor and outdoor seating. Walkable area in Brentwood, off San Vicente and 26th, near Intermix and Sweet Rose Creamery
You seat yourself and order at the cashier when you're ready. They'll bring you your food as it's ready

The Menu
Now to the meat of the matter! (Puns!)

You can buy a plate with your choice of 1, 2, 3 or 4 meat options. It comes with one included side, like kettle beans or collard greens. (There are four to choose from.) Patrick and I ordered the #4 with pulled pork, pulled chicken, tri tip and baby backs to share, and in addition to our side of kettle beans, we picked up the mac & cheese and Texas Toast because OBVIOUSLY.

The BBQ Sauce
There are four options to choose from, all conveniently located at your table.

Original Q: The best of the four. A little sweet and reminiscent of the sauce you'd get in a traditional Texas joint
Carolina Mustard: Tangy and creamy
Texas Red: Spicy, with a kick and a little smokiness
Kentucky Vinegar: This reminded me of Italian Dressing for some reason

The Food

Our spread at Holy Cow BBQ

Pulled Pork: Patrick's favorite. I enjoyed this too, but I didn't appreciate it as much without the Original Q sauce. I drenched my portion in it.
Pulled Chicken: Patrick and I both agreed there was something left to be desired here. It was a little dry despite being prepared with sauce on it; I love my pulled chicken to be super moist (don't worry, I hate that word too, but sometimes we have to do things we don't like to prove a point), with juice that essentially makes the chicken melt in your mouth. This preparation did not have that effect.
Tri Tip: Pretty good, but nothing to write home about
Baby Backs: These were my favorite and probably on par with how most southern joints prepare their ribs. I didn't need to add anything to this item because it was perfect the way it was. They weren't fall-off-the-bone ribs, but they were still damn delicious.

Mac & Cheese: Get this. You will not be disappointed! They bake the shells with a mix of five different cheeses including two cheddars and aged Vermont, so you get a nice creaminess in addition to a melted consistency on top. NOM.
Kettle Beans: I love kettle beans and these reminded me of home. They're sweet and tangy and come in a little boat.
Texas Toast: You can't screw up Texas Toast, but I did think the bread was a little dry and almost too crunchy to be considered authentic.

Elvis in a Jar: I might get dragged for this, but I am not a huge banana pudding fan. Puddings gross me out in general, so I was thrilled that they offered a banana option without the pudding. Elvis in a Jar includes a banana, peanut butter chunks and hot fudge with vanilla bean ice cream, topped with whipped cream, toasted almonds and candied bacon. It was bigger than I thought — when I think of jars, I think they're single servings, but this was definitely big enough to share; it's small by any means.

It was delicious, but my biggest complaint is that you can't really taste the peanut butter or the banana! I was searching for the banana and I can't figure out if they mix it into the ice cream or what is going on there. I enjoy sticking a spoon down into a jar and getting the perfect spoonful of banana chunk, peanut butter and ice cream, and I didn't get that. The ration of ice cream to banana could have been better.

The Review
If you're in the mood for traditional BBQ, you will be overly satisfied here. Upon looking at the menu, there was an internal struggle of what I would actually order — I wanted to try everything. I wish they had a giant sampler platter you could order, but by ordering the #4 and a few extra sides, we got the job done. They do have a BBQ Combo, but it's not a comprehensive sampling.

I wouldn't have done anything differently! If you go and want to try a bunch of items, definitely grab the #4 and then order a few extra sides. It is more than enough for two people — just enough for a 6'4 giant and a 5'4 person like myself.

Also, they should definitely look into sweet tea. I asked if they had any and they said no, and mentioned that people here don't drink it. If you advertise that you have sweet tea, the people will drink it. It's a no-brainer!

Next Time
I totally plan on going back. Duh. And there are a few things I had my eye one that I'll plan on getting, like:

Collard greens
Smokey corn chowder
Peach crumb
Chocolate bread pudding

Rating: 4 out of 5 

Jun 5, 2016

The Little Mermaid Live at The Hollywood Bowl

Celebratory fireworks
Under the sea at the Hollywood Records Party, probably trying to find John Stamos

I attended the first night of The Little Mermaid Live at The Hollywood Bowl, and in short, it was full of Disney magic. (I didn’t expect anything less, though.)

The iconic amphitheater had hoards of Disney fans in attendance: families with young children – who, surprisingly, loved Ariel just as much as Elsa and Anna —  and 20-somethings; an eclectic mix of older and younger generations that you’d see gallivanting around Disneyland.

The Hollywood (Fish) Bowl
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this performance – was this the Broadway musical? Was the cast going to sit on stage and take turns reading lines and singing songs? Would they be dressed in character?

It was the perfect culmination of the classic Disney movie that tapped into the musical prowess of its performers. Alan Menken, the man behind all of our favorite animated classics, kicked off the show by performing a medley of all his songs. He introduced the “Hot Crustacean Band” — the orchestra — and welcomed us to The Hollywood (Fish) Bowl.

He explained that there would be four additional songs added to the performance from the Broadway musical. At this point, we weren’t aware of exactly what was going to transpire. Then the lights when down at sunset, and the giant screens it up with Disney’s trademark logo and jingle.

They played the entire movie! Here’s how the show was performed:

As the movie played, the orchestra performed the score live.
All speaking parts were kept from the original movie.
During a musical number, a small pause would occur so introduce the performer(s) and then the orchestra would start back up, with the movie perfectly synced to the live music.
During songs that weren’t featured in the movie, they showcased sketches from the film.

For lack of better words? IT WAS AWESOME. I had chills when the movie started. Being in a city with so much history, watching my favorite Disney movie in an iconic setting? It was truly a once in a lifetime experience. They had a small fireworks display go off during the scene where Prince Eric’s ship catches fire, along with a full-blown show to finish off the movie.

A video posted by Ursula the Seawitch 🔱 (@ursula_seawitch_) on

For those wondering, the cast did come out in costume! And in terms of the performances, I was most impressed with Rebel Wilson. Admittedly, I wasn't that excited about her in the role, and I’m not sure why, because I enjoy her in movies. But she knocked Ursula out of the park — she perfectly captures the fulsomeness of the villain and her accent was spectacular, too. She added humor to the role, which, thinking about it, Ursula was always funny character, but you don’t realize it until you’re adult watching the movie. People were in stitches during "Pour Unfortunate Souls." Her outfit was spectacular too — a long, sequined gown that looked purple as she moved, and a kickass wig that I absolutely need in my life. (I have been trying to master Ursula's look for Halloween for years and it’s really, really hard to make the look attractive! Bravo to all the artists online that pull it off.)

Sara Bareilles was a great Ariel. Fantastic voice, but nobody is surprised by that. She wore a glittery teal gown and red extensions in her brunette hair to pay homage to the character.

Two original cast members from the OG version of the musical took the stage: Norm Lewis as King Triton and Tituss Burgess as the leader of the hot crustacean band, Sebastian. It goes without saying that Tituss crushed "Under the Sea" and "Kiss the Girl."

Darren Criss was an adorable Prince Eric, who performed a song on guitar, and John Stamos made insane French Chef Louis particularly sexy. (But when isn’t he?)

The four songs they included from the musical were:
"She’s in Love" — Ariel’s sisters and Flounder (the precious 13-year-old Joshua Colley, who has been in Les Mis and Newsies on Broadway)
"If Only" — Ariel, Sebastian, Prince Eric and King Triton
"The World Above" — King Triton
"Her Voice" — Prince Eric (which Darren sang on guitar with the orchestra)

At the end of the show, Sara brought out the original voice of Ariel, Jodi Benson, to perform an encore of "Part of Your World." You could have heard a pin drop. As a Disney fan, it’s hard to describe seeing a voice from your childhood performing a song you sang while pretending to be Ariel on a regular basis — again, it was magical.

We ended the night at the Hollywood Records after party, which was setup to look like we were under the sea. And the cast showed up! I met Jodi Benson, Rebel Wilson, Darren Criss and Tituss Burgess — who, for whatever reason, thought we knew each other? I told him we were just kindred spirits and then made him take a selfie. He didn’t disappoint. I also ran into Patrick Starrr and Manny Gutierrez (Manny MUA) at the party — they're so warm and fun, and really good people, too. 

Darren holding his breath (under the sea) while we're getting our drank on
Darren was charming — he engaged one of my friends who went to the University of Michigan (his alma mater) in the fight song, and then had his friend take a picture of all of us together so we could all be in the photo. I asked him about his favorite Disney movie, too.  (Only stipulation was he couldn't say The Little Mermaid.)

“My favorite? Or the best of all time?”
“Let’s go with your favorite.”
“Aladdin, because I’m a boy. But of all time? Beauty and the Beast, obviously.”

And there you have it.

Jun 2, 2016

What I Want to Say About Taylor Swift's Breakup

Taylor Swift and Calvin Harris broke up.

My initial reaction?
I liked them together! And I was happy for Taylor.

But then I started thinking about her. As in her well-being. I know, I will probably never meet Taylor Swift. I enjoy her music, I like her personality, and frankly I'm inspired by her. I like that she's inclusive of others and that some of her best friends initially didn't like her. (I'm sure some of you would like to argue both of those points, but give it a rest, please?)

Maybe I am juvenile for going to this place, but all I could think about after I heard the news was if she was okay, emotionally. (And you know what? I don't know why I'm defending myself for being empathetic of another human being. Good lord.) I work in online publishing, an industry that I love, but that often conflicts with this mentality. I spend a lot of my day crafting the perfect angle for videos and posts, hoping to get clicks. Granted, I'm not reporting on celebrity news. (Yet.) But I start thinking about myself in these headline situations, and I have to admit that I take breakups really hard. Even if I'm the person doing the breaking up, it tears me to pieces. (Even if it's for the better!) She's 26. This was her first real relationship. Not say her other relationships weren't real, but we all know that hitting the other side of 25 brings more maturity to a relationship.

These aren't the people you're taking to mixers just for fun anymore, or people you have summer flings with, that will inevitably pick back up the next summer. These are the relationships that are meaningful. For her, this isn't the high-profile boy band relationship. This isn't the infant relationship that elicits an angry response in the studio. This person could end up being your "happily ever after," your spouse, your life partner. Or they might not. When those relationships end, it hurts on a deeper level. Because you can handle it, and you'll be okay, but it still doesn't stop the sting of the dead relationship.

That's why I've been a bit disappointed (disgusted?) with the coverage of the end of this particular relationship. She is Taylor Swift, pop superstar. Her life is carried out in the headlines, yes. But regardless of the excuses given, she is a human being. I can't help but feel hurt for her when I scroll through my Instagram feed and there are six photos in a row of the couple holding hands, a relationship trivialized by a caption regarding the end of a "15 month" relationship with a broken heart emoji. I'm sure she is at the point where she has stopped reading anything online and that fodder like this means nothing to her, but if it were me, I'd be miserable.

I am an emotional being. Before my current relationship, I was single for six years! The last real relationship I had was the end of college, that lasted about a year and a half. Before, when you broke up, it just ended. People who you wanted to tell would be the ones to know; at school, it could spread through gossip. But you didn't have the additional hurt of dealing with social media. (Unless it was your ex logging on to AIM, not messaging you and putting a love quote about their new beau in their profile.) And even without Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, breaking up was hard to do!

Breaking up on Facebook is messy and horrifying: having to remember sweet moments of an otherwise terrible relationship, or watching a person you weren't quite over move on like they're happier without you isn't exactly helpful in the transition to single life. So that's why I can't imagine having people, who didn't know anything about my relationship, pick apart "what went wrong," and say things about my ex that aren't true — or worse, are true. It feels viscous, unwarranted and inconsiderate, doesn't it?

I know a lot of people have been excited about the prospect of new music due to this breakup. Yes, I love Taylor Swift for her ability to perfectly encapsulate the feelings I had during, before or after a breakup. But why should a time for her to heal and find happiness turn into a celebration of a stereotype people have about her? Only 3 of the 16 tracks on 1989 were about a breakup or toxic relationship; the rest were about friendships, new life adventures and falling in love. On the other hand, why use her talent against her during time where she probably feels heartbroken? It's like telling your best friend, "Sorry you broke up, but now you can party with the girls!"

Something one of my best friends told me when my very first relationship ended? "I won't shove sunshine up your ass. Come here." She handed me a Java Chip Frappacino (ah, teenage metabolism) and gave me a hug while I cried on her shoulder. And that's what I needed. I didn't need her lifting me up and telling me I was better off without him. (That would come later.) I didn't need her to talk about all the awesome things that lie ahead. I just needed her to be there for me, and she was.

And at the very least, that's what we should be doing for Taylor. Don't shove sunshine up her ass, don't remind her of all the special moments that are now gone, don't tell her it's going to be fine because she's going to make an album out of it. Don't pick apart her relationship. She's going to have to deal with the reminders because of her public status, but we don't have to rub it in. We might not know her, we might not be her friends, but we can see her as she is: another person, with feelings, whose relationship ended.

Apr 20, 2016

If Spin Classes Were Kardashians

I get asked about spin class a lot. Perhaps it’s an LA/NY thing, but everyone wants to know my preferred studio. Frankly, spin drives me nuts because I don’t think I set up my bike very well and I always end up effing up my knees. 

A few weeks ago, I went to a spin class, and I got irrationally mad during it. I was so pissed off that I considered walking out. It was SO HOT. And not like, "I FEEL THE BURN!" It was more, “why am I suffocating after two songs?” Granted, I am not the beacon of physical fitness that I used to be, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the type of person who is on the verge of passing out after 6 minutes of double tapbacks, either.

This got me thinking about individual studios in the area and which Kardashian they remind me of. (During my rage, I apparently do a great job ideating content.) So I took off my shirt, removed all the resistance off my bike and began to compare.

SoulCycle is Kim
SoulCycle is what put spinning on the map. Oh, you thought it was the Tour de France? Yeah right. If SoulCycle is Kim, Tour de France is Paris Hilton. Sure, it was the first, technically – since spin is meant to mimic cycling. Sure, it’s an institution. But SoulCycle is trendy. The studio is sexy. It’s a luxury studio that people want to be apart of. It’s not necessarily better than other studios, but it costs more, so people associate it with being better.
But it’s vain as hell. Sometimes I go into a class and I’m like… what are these instructors on? (Side note: why is it that every spin instructor sounds like they have nose plugs in? Same with flight attendants. Never ceases to amaze me that I cannot understand a word anyone is saying in spin class or on flights.) The spin instructors are supposed to be motivating, but sometimes their chants and mantras are so ridiculous, you wonder if they even believe themselves. Like when Kim went on a tangent about her own pregnancy when Kendall, her 20-year-old sister called to confess she was with child. (It was a prank.)
There’s also the religious component associated with SoulCycle: to some, it’s a spiritual experience to be apart of. I’ll let you make all the Yeezus comparisons for yourself.
And finally? it’s pretty. It doesn’t smell at SoulCycle. The music is (usually) legit. You feel good knowing you went to a $40 spin class and didn’t break both of your kneecaps. And you want to keep going back, even if it’s shameless.

FlyWheel is Khloé
I love Khloé, but that’s not why I picked her as FlyWheel. FlyWheel keeps you accountable. I believe in Flywheel. When I go to a class, the instructors are relatable — smoking hot, but relatable. When they push me, I feel compelled to work harder; not tell them to piss off. They look out for you: with your power pack and class standings, you are able keep yourself in check; a little healthy competition never hurt anyone. And we know how much KoKo loves a good reality check. Also, you’re not working out blindly! If you’re falling behind, Flywheel lets you know with the help of those power packs. And the music is similar to SoulCycle in that the playlists a curated to help you stay the path. You walk away feeling invigorated, not like you're getting duped into some hokey workout.

CycleHouse is Kylie
I like Kylie, so it kind of pains me to associate her with CycleHouse. Some of my friends have gotten amazing results by going to CH five days a week (lord help me), but I’ve never been able to get into it. I have tried rather hard to make it happen for me, and it just hasn’t. CycleHouse is a unique concept because they donate two meals to those in need for each class you attend, and I love the charitable approach to their business. But why is their studio always hotter than three hells? 
Once, an instructor read my mind and said, “Yes, the AC is on, y'all are just working so hard!” Lady, I wasn’t born yesterday. We’re two-and-a-half songs in. I shouldn’t feel like I’m in a chokehold at this point. (This was the class that pissed me off.) TURN THE AC ON — I didn't sign up for hot yoga. People are going to sweat regardless. Don’t cut the air circulation in order to make people feel like they’re getting a better workout. That drives me mad. 
I know this was the case because towards the end of the class, the AC actually did kick on, and while I was sweating my ass off, I could feel air circulating through the studio. Probably the hardest 3 ½ minutes I worked the entire class.

That said, CycleHouse is the new kid on the block. It goes hard – it’s definitely the most gangster studio. Nichelle and Aaron are great motivators, and I’ve spun to hardcore rap every time I booked a class there, so if that’s your jam, you’ll love this place. It got a little overexposed with the debut of a reality show last year, but overall it’s just a studio that wants to make you feel (and look) good. It could end up being the most profitable studio of all, thanks to the charity component. 

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