For many of us in Southern California, it can prove difficult to get away from the office and go on vacation. This sparked my investigation into enjoyable outings that can be done locally, having the veneer of a vacation without actually having to take any days from the office to enjoy it.
Long Beach had long seemed to me a place unworthy of a stop over...just another place to drive by, through, or around on a grumbling, slogging trek through traffic to get to Los Angeles for the airport or concert. However, once introduced to the LBC I eagerly sought better acquaintance, yesterday being one such occasion. One of the great things about Long Beach is that it has many of the great aspects of Los Angeles without actually being Los Angeles. It’s big enough but not too big, and small enough to still have an echo of an embrace for visitors.
I had heard from a friend of mine that there was this unique restaurant on Broadway that was decked out in Catholic-themed particulars. Always intrigued by history and religion, this restaurant sounded like one to check out, and my peeked interest was not disappointed. There is a parking garage just across the way, but be thee warned: if you plan to make an evening of it, you should know that it charges $1.50 for every 30 minutes. I was in a rush, late in meeting a friend, and didn’t “shop around” for a better deal. Come to find out, if one has patience [the fruit of the Spirit I threw aside last night] you can get parking for free instead of paying the exuberant amount I ended up shoveling over before my drive home. I felt that piping frustration of being duped, misled, wronged, but had only myself to blame. Let me recover for a moment from the blow to my thrifty-deal-finding-ego, rest assured I shall not be shamed so twice…I must seek confession for the sin of pride, and what luck!
Congregation Ale House is an Irish pub meets Catholic cathedral. The atmosphere is inviting and bright, conversations of the parties along the bar and seated at small tables create a buzzing river of sound that draws you downstream, right to the alter [cash register] to place your order.
As you peruse the menu items above your head, as if petitioning to Heaven to help you select among the enticing [sinful?] items offered, you cannot help but be distracted by the décor. Above you are iron chandeliers and stained glass windows, dripping in Gothic perfection.
The men wear a patch of some sort of coat of arms on a sweater, with the logo embedded within, and the girls wear Catholic school uniforms, similar to something I wore in elementary school myself, although the length of skirt and number of buttons buttoned on the blouse were somewhat altered from what I remembered…In lieu in giving a tip to a jar you can tithe to an offering box right in front of the register, and if all you want is some H2O, you obtain it from a tabbed barrel labeled “Holy Water.” I lost myself in the whimsy of it instantly.
And then there is the menu. If you are a beer drinker, you may wrestle with your beverage selection for quite a while since Congregation offers dozens of different ales and beer. As for the food, there is something to please all palettes: burgers, sausages, flat breads, salads, pretzels, sweet potato fries [not complete without a dipping sauce like curry ketchup], and a selection of desserts. If you go for Monday Mass, your piety will be rewarded with Happy Hour prices all day which offers $6 burgers and sausages and $1 off all draft beers and wines.
Once you pick your sinful edible & beverage, grab your order number and find yourself a seat if you can: the place was full of pilgrims last night when I visited. As any congregation should be, you can’t avoid meeting a new person while dining. The quarters are tight and you will likely end up sharing elbow space with a stranger-turned-friend by the end of the meal as you catch bits of each other’s conversation and emit common pleasantries to one another.
A solid recipe for an evening out is dinner and a movie, which is a taste of the vacation mentality without as great time commitment. If you dine at Congregation after work you have plenty of time to catch a late showing of the film of your choice at the local Art Theater of Long Beach, but you may have some time to kill. And good thing too.
After departing Congregation hop in your car [escaping further parking fees if you made the same mistake as I by parking in the closest garage] and head make a stop at Finger Prints Music on your way to the movie theater. Its an one-stop-shop for those into music, art, or literature. The store features art work, designer toys, screen printed t-shirts, along with new and used CDs, books, DVDs, and records. The best part about this place for me is that it was something my friend and I just happened to stumble upon. This brightly-lit-warehouse-styled store caught our eye on our drive and we pulled over to take a look inside. So often the “let’s just check this out for a second” decisions prove to be the most rewarding.
Since you’re catching a late show, and will have to return to work tomorrow because, remember, you aren’t actually on a vacation although it feels a bit like you are, it might be best to grab a cup of joe and some dessert before your flick. We stopped into the Portfolio Coffee House, walkable from the Art Theater of Long Beach. When you walk inside, you are no longer in Long Beach. You have been transported to 1940s New York City. The beverages are of the usual selection, the desserts to pretty to eat. But if you are to try one, may I recommend the crème brulee cheese cake. You heard me right…and such decadence may convict you so that you feel you must return to Congregation thereafter to be absolved of your sins once more.
The Art Theater of Long Beach stands like a beacon in the night with its neon sign beckoning you towards it. There is a charming wine & gelato café next door, which you might as well indulge in after the crème brulee cheese cake you just partook of [go big or go home, right?] The theater itself is spacious and seats many, but if you play your cards right by going to a week night show and choose a film that has been out for a while [as we did] you will find the theater rather empty. There is one significant positives to a poor turn out at this theater for the viewer [besides not having to battle your anonymous neighbor for the arm rest]: the theater experience ends up feeling like a movie night in a friend’s living room...albeit a group of friends you have never met before, but a movie night none-the less. We found ourselves conversing with our unknown neighbors via laughter and chuckles, the only type of movie conversation that can occur across rows. It was a strange sensation, feeling as though we were sharing in the experience with strangers that for the two hours of semi-darkness felt like intimate friends.
There are many worthy things to explore in Long Beach and enjoyable things to do, but the LBC congregation should not be missed and is one simple way to get the flavor of vacation all in one evening after the 9 -to-5 of the office.