Is Paint Job Graffiti or Decoration?

Times Staff Writers

It looked like the scene of a drive-by paint-ball massacre.

Amid the clean-lined furniture boutiques and high-fashion houses of trendy Melrose Avenue, residents Tuesday were alternately cursing and praising the aftermath of an apparent graffiti strike on one of Los Angeles’ hippest restaurants and celebrity hangouts.

Dolce, a paparazzi-favored eatery whose investors include the actor and practical joker Ashton Kutcher, was covered in layers of spray paint during a noisy birthday bash Sunday night, much to the surprise of residents and merchants along the immaculate boulevard.

Where the restaurant’s facade once stood as plain and gray as a battleship bulkhead, the front of Dolce is now covered in brilliant green, pink and blue paint and bears such messages as “Happy Birthday Boogie,” “Killer” and “We work here and never even got a lousy t-shirt.”


Valet Martin Munive said residents and passersby have been asking him whether the restaurant had been hit by taggers. He just tells them there was a party.

Although Munive works at Dolce, which sits at the intersection of Melrose and Sweetzer avenues, he said he’s not a big fan of the new decor.

“No I don’t like it, because it looks like ... downtown, East L.A.,” Munive said of the building, which stands in the shadow of Fred Segal, the Pacific Design Center, Marc Jacobs Collection and other hot spots of upscale L.A.

But this being Los Angeles, others were quick to point out that the graffiti looked a little too good to be true vandalism.


“It’s so obviously and blatantly overdone ... that I know it’s not the neighborhood going to hell,” resident Jeff Burr said. But the 34-year-old actor admitted that he did a double-take as he was jogging by Monday morning: “It definitely got my attention.”

Restaurant General Manager Maurizio LaRosa said about 600 people attended Sunday’s party for the principal owners: Mike Malin, who turned 35, and Lonnie Moore, who turned 33.

During the festivities, guests were encouraged to dig into a box of spray paints and have a go at the front of the restaurant. The spectacle caused more than a few people to stop and ask what was happening, and at least one passerby pulled out his own can of spray paint and added to the work.

LaRosa said that the graffiti was meant to be temporary and that the owners had planned to paint over it Tuesday. Rain, however, prevented them from working and the job was postponed until today. LaRosa would not say what color the single-story building would be painted. “It’s gonna be a surprise,” he said.

The neighborhood, a mix of high-end stores, apartments and single-family homes between Beverly Center and West Hollywood, is one of the tidiest in the city. Though nearby areas of Hollywood are strewn with trash, power poles along Melrose warn dog owners to police their pooches: “All defecation to be removed by owner.”

In many parts of Los Angeles, the appearance of graffiti is dealt with promptly and severely.

On Tuesday, however, city officials said they had yet to receive any formal objections to Dolce’s new paint job.

“We actually haven’t gotten any complaints about the graffiti, but we did get complaints about the party they had and the noise,” said Denise Sample, chief of staff for Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss, whose district includes the restaurant. “A lot of residents said they were kept up until 2 a.m.”


Sample said it was unlikely that the city would take action against the paint job unless it began getting complaints.

“Our understanding is that it’s going to be painted over on Wednesday,” she said.

“If they want to keep it on for a longer period of time, they’re going to have to apply for a mural permit at the city’s office of cultural affairs.”