The CalArts Pool Fisheye Snapshot

Daniel Samakow (Film/Video 73)

Daniel Samakow checks in: After 27 years, my partner James Evans and I have sold our last restaurant, James’ Beach in Venice, California. I met James in the location of James’ Beach when it was the West Beach Cafe on his birthday in 1982. We opened James Beach in 1996. We had four restaurants over the last 27 years; James’ Beach, Canal Club, and Danny’s, all in Venice and a James’ Beach in LAX Bradley Terminal. I always considered the restaurants multidimensional art installations; “happenings” and “environments”, these dovetailed with our love for food, wine, and my passion for community, which started in my years at the University of Wisconsin in Madison helping to organize protests against the wars as a member of YIPPIE before I came to CalArts.

James’ Beach celebrated comfort food, local art, and community. We opened it with a wonderful lesbian chef, Shari Lynn Robins, and were all openly LGBTQ. We worked with the late Billy Al Bengston, Jimmy Ganzer, and many others artists on the interior design. We did numerous “CalArts” styled events, including the area’s biggest Halloween parties, Easter Egg Dyeing bars, political events, and numerous fantasy happenings. Our New Years events were very CalArts, where each year we built a 10’ paper mache volcano on our patio, and prior to midnight introduced to each patron a blow up sex doll dressed as the old year (man or woman). People would punch or kiss it, depending on how the year was, and then we’d sacrifice it into the volcano. At midnight the volcano would erupt and a “future-telling” baby new year would emerge. The walls featured art from many local artists. I also sometimes exhibited my paintings in the restaurant that documented my life with James and life in Venice. We became famous for fish tacos by being featured in the film I Love You, Man.

Canal Club, which we sold right before COVID, was a more eclectic project built in a Frank Gehry space with the assistance of Billy Al Bengston. For 20 years it celebrated beach life, and featured a tropical environment with dining in a tropical lagoon with a one-ton steel wave created by Bengston, a 40’ stain glass mural I did of under the sea creatures and other fun stuff. We served raw seafood and sushi from a 20’ sushi bar and wood grill items from the kitchen—fire and water, plus tiki drinks! It’s there that we helped found the Venice Art Crawl, which continues to create pop-up opportunities for local emerging artists to showcase their art in Venice.

Danny’s was a funky deli/bar hangout dedicated to Venice’s history, and served as a local museum for 10 years on Venice’s historic Windward Avenue and helped ignite the rebirth of that street. Located under a hostel in the historic Windward Hotel building, it was a meeting place for visitors from around the world seeking to discover Venice. It was built around an exhibit of the last remaining (one ton) gondola brought to the area by Abbot Kinney in 1906, located in the entrance of the restaurant. Danny’s showcased amazing historic artifacts we collected from Venice Beach residents and facilitated numerous history-centric events. It was here that we revived the annual Summer Solstice Neptune Festival. Doing Danny’s got us intimately involved in putting up the now iconic Venice Sign on Windward; after which we helped found the annual Venice Holiday Sign Lighting with the Venice Chamber of Commerce. We supported the reemergence of the local LGBTQ community after the last gay bar closed in Venice, by co-founding Venice Pride featuring annual Pride celebrations in Venice and monthly Gaywatch events.

I was also proud to do paintings for Disney during this time and to raise money for the Venice Family Clinic with my art. We are bittersweet to say goodbye to the restaurants, but we thought of them as art installations, never meant to be there forever.

11 years ago I met a wonderful man, Doug Cook, with whom I also share my life. I am now focused on painting and social activism. James and I are currently exploring life and working on a project to document and celebrate these times. I still live in Venice and occasionally Palm Springs/Palm Desert. I am eternally grateful for the way CalArts and my friends there helped me to think outside the box.”