At the corner of Mohawk Street and Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park sits the once-empty vaudeville and movie theater turned gastropub, Mohawk Bend. Where top hats once soared and accordions sang now sit a variety of hip Eastsiders thirsty for a California-crafted beer. Mohawk Bend has a menu of 75 draft beers, all from California, inside a 10,000 square foot space that fits plenty of Angelenos. Owner Tony Yanow divided the place into four distinct parts to give such a big spot the right amount of intimacy: the romantic back patio with a fireplace; the pub with bar stools and frothy pints; the diner with mirrors for superb people watching; and the patio right on Sunset's sidewalk.
Mohawk Bend is Michael Rousselet's favorite spot. I find him in the back by the glowing fire. Rousselet is a filmmaker at 5-Second Films, a daily staple in the lives of many film fans. He is one of a team of ten to write, shoot, edit, and release one five-second film per day, garnering millions of page views for the site. I tried to convince him to tell me all about it, but the night had a strange way of dictating the conversation.
Laurenne: I'm guessing you are Michael Rousselet since you are wearing a 5-Second Films sweatshirt?
Michael: Yep. Sure am.
Laurenne: Pretty smart marketing, my friend.
Michael: No. I swear this is the only shirt I have.
Laurenne: Thanks for bringing me out to this fancy place on a Thursday night.
Michael: Oh, I hope you like it. It's one of my favorite places. It's only been open since August, so it's pretty obscure. Real hipster. I don't know if you've heard about it.
Laurenne: Yeah. I liked it way before it was cool.
Michael: I love the atmosphere, and I love the beer selection -- all from California. You can feel good because when you're getting drunk, you're getting drunk for California.
Our waiter breezes by. He claims he's an actor, but his knowledge of beer is so impressive that we agree he might be more successful opening a brewery.
Laurenne: What is the most popular beer here?
Waiter: The beers are always rotating. We feature one out of state brewery per month. This month's is Allagash from Portland, Maine. I also like Lagunitas, which is hoppy and sweet.
He also explains IPA and a ton of stuff I will never need to know. I am a beer virgin (besides that one time during Cancun spring break, which totally doesn't count), so I go with the Thai Town Mule, a blend of Hangar One Kaffir Lime Vodka, fresh limes, lime juice, St.Clair ginger beer & a stalk of lemongrass. Rousselet grabs a Liberty from Anchor brewery in San Francisco. We order Spanish stuffed dates wrapped in bacon, and Brussels sprouts.
Waiter: Would you like the sprouts 'a la Zach,' with blue cheese and bacon?
Laurenne: I don't like blue cheese.
Michael: Yeah, that cheese is depressed.
Laurenne: My eye is drawn to your logo again. You must be Michael Rousselet of 5-Second Films?
Michael: Yes. And of The Room. Have you seen that movie?
Michael: It is the WORST movie ever made. I saw it in 2003 with a couple friends, and we became obsessed over it. We told everyone we knew about it and dragged hundreds of people to see it.
Laurenne: One guy made it, right?
Michael: Yes, Tommy Wiseau made it. He wrote it, directed it, starred in it, financed it. It's so bad, but for some reason it's so endearing. And now it plays monthly in LA and internationally. It's been turned into a Rocky Horror Picture Show! My friends and I started that!
Michael: Yeah, I apologize.
A delicate female approaches, blonde, thin, and excited to see Rousselet.
Michael: You have to meet my friend, Rebekah. She stars in "Bellflower," the darling of Sundance last year. It's up for a Spirit Award this Saturday.
We exchange pleasantries. Just as she leaves, another girl prances up, batting her eyelashes.
Girl: Hi Michael.
Michael: This is my friend Brittany.
Laurenne: I'm from KCET, and I'm interviewing Michael here. What's he like?
Brittany: He's so absolutely pleasant. I just moved to Echo Park, and he's really helped me assimilate.
Laurenne: From where did you move?
Brittany: Silver Lake.
After an awkward silence, Brittany leaves, and Michael gets a wave from some folks at another table.
Michael: That is some of our 5-Second Films crew. That's Jill. She's done makeup for us. And that guy is an editor.
Laurenne: Did you pay these people to come say hi during this interview?
Michael: No! I'm telling you. This is my favorite place. It's our hang out.
It dawns on me that Michael Rousselet is the don of Mohawk Bend. His suave don feathers ruffle, however, as the owner, Tony, approaches, Taps Cream Ale in hand.
Michael: Are you the owner? Please, sit down. This is my favorite place. I love it so much. Seriously, I'm a huge admirer. You guys have an amazing beer selection. And it's also very romantic by this fireplace, if you know what I mean. And you guys have a perfect blend of vegetarian and meat dishes.
Tony: That was intentional. I'm a vegan. I actually haven't tasted half of our menu. But I trust our chef.
Tony, wearing a T-shirt and the most relaxed demeanor I've ever seen in an owner, orders us cauliflower disguised as wings. A vegetable smothered in buffalo sauce, it's served with vegan "blue cheese" dressing and celery sticks. It's the best thing I've tasted in 2012 so far. We all break the conversation to "mmmmm" for a good while.
Michael: I cannot believe this is cauliflower. It even looks like wings.
Laurenne: The Brussels sprouts are crisp and garlicky with a nice sweet twist of apple at the bottom.
Michael: These dates are like a caramel bacon explosion of enjoyment.
Usually, we'd feel pressure to say nice things to the owner, but we didn't even have to exaggerate.
Michael: I love that all your beers are from California.
Tony: Actually, everything is from California. All the food and the spirits as well. People come here and get confused because they don't see any brands they know. But everything is premium. It doesn't make sense to make anything sub-premium in California because it costs so much to make things here.
Laurenne: What's the weirdest thing that's ever happened here?
Tony: One experience that I deal with all the time that I think is weird is that we're trying to do lots of things differently. The whole California thing. And I guess I take it personally when people come in and get mad when they can't get a Jack and Coke. It's weird that they don't get it, and it hurts every time!
Michael (pointing to the logo on his shirt): You should show some 5-Second Films here one night.
Tony: You have five-second films?
Michael: Yep, We have over a thousand films shot and ready to go.
Tony: They're all five seconds? Do you have any seven-second films?
Michael: What? That sounds crazy.
Tony sends us a salad that's not on the menu. With five types of citrus, fingerling potatoes, lentils, and some very fancy lettuce, it is refreshing and light after the spicy "wings." It was conceived by Tony's chef to pair with the Allagash. It arrives with tiny bubbly shots, and I try my first beer since Cancun '98. It's light and subtly sweet. It really does pair well with the citrus.
We sip beer with our pinkies out. Tony spends a generous amount of time at our table, his chill vibe and ordering skills forcing us to forget any to-do list for the morning. When the last crumb has been graciously devoured, our server, Kevin, invites us to the bar for a tasting of ginger shots. Then, the friendly mixologists shake our hands and concoct secret California potions just for us. It's a midnight party on a school night, and Michael is the star. If he wasn't the don of Mohawk Bend before, he is now.
2141 Sunset Blvd., 213-483-2337
[Photos by Hagop Kalaidjian]
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