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Intersections: 'Speakeasy' offers a glimpse into the past

Deep down below a bustling street in Glendale, there exists a cellar beyond the wildest dreams of any oenophiliac, or for those of you not versed in Greek root words, lover of wine.

Part I: Booze goes underground in Glendale

Calling it a storage facility is doing it a disservice and, frankly, insulting. Its utterly charming, dark and cold quarters are where a select group of Angelenos store the finest of wines, escaping their busy lives up above, retreating underground and transporting themselves to a long-forgotten era with just a knock on a wooden door.

This is not the 1920s or '40s, but it very well might be. And technically, this is not a speakeasy, but it very well might be, too. In fact, it probably once was.

The rows of lockers in this chilly cellar perfumed with the intoxicating essence of oak sit on top of original wooden floors of what used to be the dining room and ballroom of Glendale's premiere hotel, where the beds were soft and the opportunity to make a killing in the hospitality industry was ripe.

This subterranean space with concrete walls and potential passageways has more enigmatic and peculiar tales to tell, however. It is rumored to have been a favorite watering hole of Clark Gable and the like, who might have frequented it during those Prohibition years any liquor lover would like to forget.

For over 25 years, it has functioned as a modern speakeasy honoring its historic roots and oozing with so much character, it has developed a fiercely loyal customer base who come from all over L.A. to store their collections there.

They belong to a subculture of intoxicating proportions, one that demands a certain kind of person, a person who delights at the thought of storing his or her stash in what looks like Ernst Hemingway's secret hideaway. And in keeping with tradition, it shall remain a secret, at least in this column anyway.

David Gibbs, a musician, came to Glendale's speakeasy in desperation after realizing his valuable wine collection might begin cooking during one of L.A.'s super-hot summers. Within an hour of discovering the place, he went home, packed his goods in two old suitcases and made his way underground.

I need this place, he thought. It's such a nice quiet break from L.A — and it's just so cool. Sometimes, Gibbs likes to drive from Sherman Oaks, where he lives, to Glendale just to look at his collection stored in what he says is a neat environment, with so much historical draw.

One thing he has learned is that it's unbearably cold down there.

"This last August, it was super hot and you'd just be sweating ... and you'd go over there and walk in and it would be like an ice bath," he says. But that doesn't keep him away from continuing to grow his collection.

"I love the fact that it's something you can take from the past and consume it now, like a liquid time capsule from another year," he says about wine.

G. Richard Green, a lawyer and longtime wine aficionado who has stored his wine in Glendale's underbelly for a while, says it feels like a special secret society — reminiscent of a 1940s closed club.

"I'd rather go out of my way and store my bottles there than go someplace closer," Green, a Beverly Hills resident says. "I like the romance of it."

It's a sentiment that most customers I spoke to agree with — including Israel Arrieta, who became enamored with it from the moment he walked in.

"If you walk around, you could get lost in there, there's something mystical about the place," he says. "I love the way it smells."

A large part of the aesthetic charm of this space is owed to our very own speakeasy's self-confessed resident troglodyte, or cave dweller, who presides over the lockers filled with every rare, strange as well as ordinary wine you can think of with such care and kindness, that it keeps those who store wine there coming back year after year.

"You go down this weird hall to meet this person who is just brilliant," says Arrieta of the first time he visited the space. "She is the lifeline of the subculture."

Incredibly generous with her time and patience, she's chosen to remain nameless — as troglodytes tend to do, but if you do indeed discover Glendale's lush lair, you will be lucky enough to meet her.

"You want to add more chapters," she told me one afternoon when I asked about maintaining the unique space to look like a vortex to another time instead of doing any aesthetic updates. "You don't want to destroy this story."

Indeed. It's a sentiment that couldn't be more needed in a city so easily glossed over and dismissed, and often referred to as so many things other than hip or stylish. However, if you dig deep enough, you might just find that "cool" was oozing underground Glendale all along. Remember to bring that jacket, though.

LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a Los Angeles-based journalist whose work has appeared in L.A. Weekly, Eurasianet and The Atlantic. She may be reached at liana.agh@gmail.com.

 

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