The Creatives Defining Post-Pandemic Life In Los Angeles

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The Creatives Defining Post-Pandemic Life In Los Angeles

Words by Mr Max Berlinger | Photography by Mr Jack Bool | Styling by Mr Olie Arnold

19 October 2022

Los Angeles has always attracted dreamers and free spirits. Maybe because of its position along the quixotic California coastline and its connection to the magnetic lure of the film industry. That feeling of endless potential, and even a hint of lawlessness, still pervades its streets, from the Pacific Coast Highway that runs along Malibu’s beaches to the twisty-turny roads that run through the rolling hills of Hollywood and Silverlake.

As such, the city has always welcomed eccentrics and originals – those unwilling to go along with the status quo. It’s what gives the city its unexpected, surprising character, one that never fails to seduce. Perhaps The New Yorker writer Ms Susan Orlean describes the city’s limitless appeal best: “In Los Angeles,” she wrote, “your eye keeps reaching for an end point and never finds it, because it doesn’t exist.”

We brought together a quartet of men who are shaping the scene there, from the buzzy restaurant industry to the exploding art scene to the once-humble, now-fashionable craft of ceramics – all styled in a mix of their own clothes and the local fashion designers.


Mr Jan Gatewood, artist

Mr Jan Gatewood remembers the moment he became an artist. “I was working in my kitchen, because I didn’t have a car and it was hard to get to my studio, so sometimes I’d just work in my kitchen,” he says. “And I was making a collage one night, and I was like, This is it. I’m an artist.”

So, what shifted? “Have you ever had an idea and then you see someone who you view at a higher stature than yourself doing the same thing?” he asks. “And you’re validated? I felt that – I was like, well, I don’t know anything about art. And I’m just doing what feels right. And this person who studied it for a long time is doing the same thing, and it made me feel valid and confident in my decision making.”

Gatewood’s journey has its origins in his childhood in Aurora, Colorado. “I think skateboarding actually exposed me to a lot of art,” he says. “People always ask if there’s a relationship between skating and art making. And for me there’s no relation. But it does teach you to look at the world differently, in a more object-oriented way.”

After a short stint in college, Gatewood moved to Los Angeles, based on a gut feeling that that’s where the action is. He made his way in those early years working in retail and skating during in his time off. But it was a trip to New York, his first, that would change the trajectory of his life. “I just happened to meet some artists and I just felt really strongly about being in the presence of these people,” he says. “And I was like, This is what I want to do.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, I said, I want to come out of this, I want to have a career in the arts. And all that happened. I got what I asked for”

He returned to Los Angeles and got a job at the rising indie gallery Morán Morán to help immerse himself in the logistics of a life in the arts – to “demystify” the vocation – working with everyone from the gallerists and the artists to the patrons. At the same time, he began experimenting with his own art, trying painting and collage. His practice, he says, is often led by materials and comes from an intuitive place.

He slowly worked his way through a few smaller group gallery shows, before receiving his big break. In the early days of the pandemic, right after being laid off from his day job, he made his first sale, to a collector, which put him on the radar of other gallerists. Since then, he’s had his first solo show at the gallery Smart Objects, a collection of oil pastels featuring slightly menacing animals against a gritty, urban background.

“I want to say this is all surreal, but it’s not,” he says. “At the beginning of the pandemic, I said, I want to come out of this, I want to have a career in the arts, I want to be in a better place than I was then. And all that happened. I got what I asked for.”

So much of Gatewood’s career feels preordained, like kismet. He’s come to accept that there are outside forces leading him to where he needs to go.

“I actually just came to this realisation like a month ago that I have these guides that I discovered in my first studio,” he says, pausing. “It sounds insane, I know. But around October every year, they just, really make sure I’m oriented in the correct direction.”

The day we meet is late September. “I’m already feeling them,” he says with a smile.



Mr Ari Kolender, restaurateur

Shortly after Mr Ari Kolender opened the intimate seafood spot Found Oyster with his two business partners in late 2019, a miraculous thing happened: the Los Angeles Times gave it a rave review. Business at the vibey Hollywood joint immediately picked up and then March 2020 happened – and, well, you know the rest.

With its tiny footprint and menu of seafood – much of it raw – the restaurant was not primed to be a pandemic success story. Three years later, Found Oyster is not only surviving, it’s one of the hottest spots in town. “We knew that we could make it through because we had all the things you need to succeed,” Kolender says. “We had passion. We had a great lease. We knew that we could pull up our bootstraps and give it a shot.”

“Found Oyster could do very well in another place, but I want to be in LA, I want to be in this scene. I love the people here. I love the community that we’re building”

Kolender hails from Charleston, South Carolina, and grew up working in restaurants before attending Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Los Angeles. The city, and its diverse mix of cuisines, helped open up his eyes to the possibilities at play. “Everything blew my mind: asparagus blew my mind; butchering fish blew my mind. And I found a group of people willing to go out and experience what LA was.”

With Found Oyster coasting along, Kolender and his partners Mr Adam Weisblatt and Ms Holly Fox are now expanding their imprint on the city, opening a string of charming boîtes that provide thoughtful food and drinks amid stylish, jovial ambiance. Their stable includes the Brazilian bar Nossa Caipirinha in Los Feliz, the watering holes Red Dog Saloon and The Copper Room in the desert enclave of Pioneertown, and the forthcoming Queen Street, a wood-fired seafood eatery that Kolender sees as the “big sister” of Found Oyster.

After making it through Covid-related business challenges, does Kolender consider himself lucky? “I think that you make your own luck,” he says. “And you make your own success. Found Oyster could do very well in another place, but I want to be in LA, I want to be in this scene. I love the people here. I love the community that we’re building. I want to be a part of this.”


Mr Kris Yenbamroong, restaurateur

To look at his boisterous Thai hotspot Night+Market and to discover that he was basically raised in a restaurant by his immigrant parents, one might assume that the path to success was always clear for Mr Kris Yenbamroong. But the road here was a windy one, filled with twists, turns and plenty of roadblocks.

Yenbamroong’s parents opened the popular Los Angeles Thai spot Talesai the year he was born and, as such, it was always part of his life. “It’s all consuming,” he says. “It’s not a job that you can go and punch out. I just remember my parents hustling all the time.”

When the time came, he did what many children of immigrants do – he hightailed it out of there. “I wanted to get as far away from it as possible,” he says. “When you grow up around something, and you do it that much, I think you kind of want to get away from it.”

“I don’t want to cater to hipsters or foodies, I want to transcend that… You could bring your parents and they’d feel welcomed. That feels transgressive to me”

So he studied film at NYU and, after graduation, assisted the photographer Mr Richard Kern, but LA eventually beckoned him back. There, he tried to reinvent his parents’ restaurant and almost put them out of business and, later, opened his own spot directly next door, which was barely eking by.

When he saw a flyer for a panel featuring the legendary Los Angeles Times food critic Mr Jonathan Gold, he took that as a sign and he rushed the stage afterward and gave Gold his card. “It was my Hail Mary,” he said.

Gold gave it an enthusiastic review and people started showing up. So much so that Night+Market is not just an Angeleno institution, it’s a mini empire, with outposts in Venice, West Hollywood, and, most recently, Las Vegas. It’s the template for a certain style of restaurant that takes traditional ethnic foods and gives them a playful, decadent spin in an unpretentious but spirited atmosphere. (Yenbamroong admits the no-frills decor wasn’t some design choice, but a money-saving tactic and the saturated paint colours, while inspired by Thailand advertising, was also due to the fact that he’s partially colourblind.)

“I want it to be a place with a sense of occasion,” he says. “But that can be a Tuesday night. Like, same thing with our wines, it’s like the expression ‘vin ordinaire’, which are, like, ordinary wines, but they’re kind of spectacular.”

A word that comes up again and again for him is how to make a space that feels transgressive. “I don’t want to cater to hipsters or foodies, I want to transcend that,” he says. “I always tell the staff to be kind and this should be a place that’s casual – you could bring your parents and they’d feel welcomed. That feels transgressive to me.”

Yenbamroong has a distinctive, swaggering style in his bootcut pants, wide-lapelled leather blazers and Gucci aviators with tinted lenses. “It’s not costume-y, and I just love old things,” he says. Take, for example, his cars, which hail from the 1970s and 1980s. Of late, though, he’s been focusing on the new. Such as the Vegas property, which will bring his distinctive flair to a broader audience.

But it’s something closer to home that may be his most special project – the recent opening of Le Maximum, an art gallery next to his Venice restaurant. With its black marble floors, he wanted it to have a “ritzy” feel and host artists who are a mix of the experimental but also masters of their craft (shows have already included Messrs Dan Colen and Max Hooper Schneider).

“I even forgot that my dad opened an art gallery in Thailand,” Yenbamroong says. “It’s sort of inevitable you become some version of your parents.”


Mr Danny Dooreck, ceramicist

Like so many others, Mr Danny Dooreck picked up pottery as a pandemic hobby. It was the summer of 2020 and he was living in Toronto, where he was a partner in a restaurant, when he joined a local ceramics studio there. “I went all in,” he says of his immediate infatuation with the practice. “I was doing four or five days a week there. I could go in at 10.00am when it opened and it would be three or four in the blink of an eye.

“The clay was just moving,” he continues, “and there’s just something so satisfying about making something with your hands. I had never done that, I had always been in academia, where there was no end product.”

As the summer turned to fall and then winter, Dooreck decided to sell his stake in the restaurant and he hopped in his truck and drove to Los Angeles to be closer to his family, who live in Santa Barbara. In LA, he continued his practice, evolving the elegant vases that he began creating – “I have so many skinny-necked vases that are unusable,” he says, “you could put, like, one flower in them” – into something a bit freer and rougher.

Crucially, he took his love of tattoos and started carving coarse yet charming riffs on the iconography from the American traditional canon – skulls, snakes, hearts, cacti and the like – into his vessels and painting over them with a certain freewheeling aplomb. Unlike some sterile styles of pottery, his has a hand-touched, artisanal feel. Through Instagram, he found an audience willing to pay for these folksy pieces. “I feel really fortunate to have stumbled upon my niche,” he says. “I’m doing this textural component which is really important to me.”

“There’s just something so satisfying about making something with your hands. I had never done that, I had always been in academia, where there was no end product”

Today he sells his wares to a select group of independent retailers and directly on his own website. Each of his pieces is thrown by hand in Los Angeles and stamped on the bottom with a ring he wears carved with a cowboy and snakes.

“I’m obsessed when someone has my piece in their kitchen, they’re drinking coffee out of it,” he says. “People tag me almost every day. It’s amazing, random people, and it’s like, ‘Wow, you’re actually drinking out of it.’”