Wandering Billy

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

A Love-ly yuletide tradition and post-holiday watering holes

By Billy Eye

“I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was 6. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.” — Shirley Temple

Increasingly one of my fave places to lunch is Freeman’s Grub & Pub at Spring Garden and Chapman, named for the grocery store that operated out of this cozy spot from 1916 until around 1940 (and under several other names after that). This two-story 1911 storefront designed in the shotgun style, with living quarters upstairs, has been lavishly restored to provide a dreamy atmosphere for fine food served in sensible portions, important for someone like myself who eats light and forgets to take the packaged-up leftovers with him. The bahn mi is one of the most delicious you’ll find anywhere; the spinach-stuffed salmon, braised collards and Brussels sprouts — heavenly. They even create infused liquors in-house, such as strawberry and jalapeño tequila, rosemary garlic vodka and cranberry lemongrass Beefeater Gin. There are bound to be some holiday-inspired flavors, as well.

Ever heard of singer Darlene Love? Unless you were a rabid fan of early 1960s girl groups, that name is familiar because of something I got tricked into doing. Darlene became best-known for her yearly appearances beginning in 1986 on David Letterman’s show, where she performed his (and my) favorite holiday song “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” a single recorded back in 1963 when her dynamic voice was enveloped in a volcanic Wall of Sound by that crazy murderous musical genius Phil Spector.

Back in late-1980, my former co-worker Jay Lamey tracked down Ms. Love to see if she would perform a nightclub gig, one night only, to be professionally videotaped. He had a backup band lined up that could pull it together quickly and a cozy club in Santa Monica booked . . . if she would agree. Jay had been negotiating for some time with Ms. Love, who was then working as a maid in Beverly Hills, but she was hesitant to commit. I was a smooth talker then, fluent in the language of show business, and without my knowing, he told Darlene Love I was some big-time music producer and implored her to call me so I could assuage her fears. Except I wasn’t any kind of music producer at all, I was writing a punk rock column for an L.A. entertainment magazine. Close enough to showbiz, right?

We had a cheerful conversation but Ms. Love remained leery throughout, disillusioned with all the many so-called comebacks she’d suffered through. At the same time she’d had it with touring as a backup singer for Dionne Warwick, despised it so much, she said she’d rather clean toilets for a living. Utterly charming, Darlene expressed a strong desire for some mechanism that would lead to a renewed career, one she could finally control. I must have spoken the right words; a few days later Jay told me with great excitement that she had agreed to do the showcase. This may have been her first performance since the 1960s. It was an electrifying night that led to a gig at the Roxy on Sunset a few weeks later. As a result, musician/actor/producer Steven Van Zandt lured her to New York, which led to Darlene starring on Broadway in Hairspray, the Lethal Weapon movies, Letterman, being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. You’re welcome, Darlene Love, for the late-career save. . .

I imagine many of you are picking up O.Henry magazine for the first time, bored while visiting relatives for the holidays. I was once one of you and my nagging question was always: Where could I go Christmas night after everyone is passed out under the tree, especially since it falls on a Sunday night this year? Wonder no more, my exasperated expats! On the corner of Walker and Elam you’ll (re)discover Wahoo’s where, augmenting their funky atmosphere, every Sunday night they feature a cool jazz combo that is a real audience pleaser. Great place to relax with some friendly folks. I’ll be there, just look for age-inappropriately dressed aging hipster. (Oh that’s right, the bar’s full of ’em.) Other funked up places open until 2 a.m. on the 25th where you’ll be sure to find a solace of sorts: Jake’s Billiards, Boo Radley’s, Westerwood (always a pot-luck on Sundays), and College Hill. That is, assuming there isn’t a foot of snow on the ground (fond fair wishes!), in which case trundle over to my place for cheap bourbon and government cheese.  OH

Billy Eye hopes to party with the Ghost of Christmas Future this year, it’s just that the Ghost of Christmas Past usually shows up first and he’s so darn much fun!

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