I was standing on the southeast corner of Los Angeles’ Cahuenga and Hollywood Boulevards – teeming with pedestrians and traffic – one bright October evening. As I waited patiently for the light to change so I could cross the street, I glanced across the heavily trafficked Hollywood Blvd. to see if I could figure out which of the nearby storefronts was my destination. Nondescript and set between two gargantuan [by comparison] storefronts I espied that which I sought – the home of LA’s new establishment: the Scum & Villainy Cantina. The walk sign illuminated, and I hurried across the street. As passersby clicked photos of the stars lining Hollywood Blvd., I stopped to snap a couple of pictures of the blackened storefront, a simple sign painted in a simple design of black, yellow and orange the only indication that I was about to pass through a portal that would, hopefully, transport me to a galaxy far, far away.
I was not disappointed.Crossing the threshold, it is not hard to imagine yourself walking into a cantina on Tatooine just like Ben Kenobi and Luke Skywalker did when they were in search of a pilot and ship to take them to the Alderaan System. Just as the prop and set designers set the stage for that iconic 1977 film, co-owners J.C. Reifenberg and Jen Smith used their imaginations and ingenuity to create a cantina with a very Star Wars feel to it [the Scum & Villainy Cantina is not a replica of the cantina from A New Hope]. As 33-year-old Jen puts it, “It’s amazing what paint can do!” The interior designer who specializes in bars and restaurants noted when designing the Scum & Villainy Cantina, the duo gave up a great deal of square footage to build out the booths so patrons would feel like they were inside a cantina much like the one on Tatooine. “It was a lot of fun – and a lot more work than we originally thought it would be,” J.C. chimes in. The way in which I first heard of the Scum & Villainy Cantina was when my daughter sent me a photo of friends and her enjoying the [then] fourth and last pop-up Cantina event. When J.C. and Jen closed the doors on the property for the last time – to the chorus of patrons’ collective wish the Cantina could be permanent – the couple decided to see if it would indeed be possible to make the Scum & Villainy Cantina an on-going place where people could hang out on a regular basis. “People who came to the pop-up events left saying they wished they didn’t have to buy tickets for [the pop-ups], that it was here [permanently] so they could come and be comfortable, not get made fun of,” J.C. explains. “The problem is that there is no venue for geeks. What we have now is a sports bar for geeks.” For J.C., opening the Scum & Villainy Cantina, first as the pop-up and then making it a permanent fixture, was a dream come true – and came quite naturally. Says the 36-year-old Star Wars fan: “I wanted to create an environment where you’re in another place. It’s a subconscious thing. We are not a Star Wars bar. We essentially tried to take the essence of the cantina, and see how we could make a play set for people to dress up … basically like action figures.”
Patrons won’t find any action figures in the Scum & Villainy Cantina, nor any movie posters on any of the walls. There aren’t any exact replicas of what one might find in the cantina on film, but it’s evident upon stepping into this other-worldly establishment that one can be transported anywhere one wants
to be. And the Cantina is not only for fans of Star Wars, both J.C. and Jen are quick to point out. Fans of other science fiction and fantasy films/television shows visit – including in costume. “Everyone is welcome,” J.C. states. Jen adds: “We don’t put up with people putting other people down. This is a sci-fi safe house. Anyone can come in and have a conversation with someone sitting next to them.” One of the great surprises about the Cantina, especially since it became a regular fixture, is that young ladies, oftentimes all dressed up, will come into the Cantina, sit down, and not have to worry about being “man-handled” – which J.C. and Jen do not allow – J.C. stresses. “People like it because it’s comfortable, it’s safe,” he points out. “There are no fights, no aggressions. We don’t stand for that kind of behavior. I don’t know of any other place where you can sit down next to someone, and start a conversation with what’s your favorite movie?” Even though his love of Star Wars was the impetus for staging the Scum & Villainy Cantina as a pop-up and seguéing it into a permanent establishment, now that it is permanent, J.C. and Jen intend to widen the Cantina’s scope. “When we decided to go forward with this, it was clear that everybody is nostalgic about their childhood – more so than ever before,” J.C. recalls. “[The Cantina] gives people an opportunity to live their nostalgia. And that means more than the Star Wars feel to it. [Going forward], we’re going to keep the décor the same, but we’ll have different themes going on from one month to the next.”
Since it is October, which naturally brings Halloween to mind, the Scum & Villainy Cantina co-owners wanted to have some fun with General Mills’ goulish-themed cereals, Count Chocula, Franken Berry and Boo Berry, and this month’s theme revolves around the silly cereals. By the way, patrons are encouraged to visit the Cantina in costume, or at the very least in a shirt depicting a favorite film [I was no different when I visited to conduct my interview with J.C. and Jen 🙂 ]. “Where else can you go in total costume, and not be made fun of?” J.C. asks. “We love it when cosplayers come in!” Themes on the horizon include Transformers, Goonies, The Lost Boys, Ready Player One, and, of
course, The Last Jedi.
“Star Wars speaks a universal language,” J.C. says matter-of-factly. “It doesn’t matter what language you speak, what your culture is, where you live, what your religion is. To me, that is something special. It gets to the root of what it means to be human.” The filmmaker-turned-entrepreneur continues: “I wasn’t afraid to follow my passions. This bar is an extension of that. If you’re not afraid to go after your dreams, your passions, you can accomplish anything. There is no such thing as luck. You have to make your choices, and put them into action.”
The Scum & Villainy Cantina, located at 6377 Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles, is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Have you visited the Cantina? If so, please share your impressions in a comment box below. 🙂 I’m sure everyone would be interested. If you haven’t, by all means – the next time you’re in LA, stop in. Jen and J.C. would love to meet you. Everyone is welcome – even droids. 😉
Until next time,
p.s. This month celebrates my fourth year writing for Coffee with Kenobi. To commemorate this momentous occasion, and to do something special for you, I have tucked a number of surprises into a Star Wars-themed book bag, which one of our lucky readers will win. If you would like a chance at winning it, please send your email address to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The winner will be announced when I post my next blog – on October 30. Everyone is eligible! May the Force be with you. 🙂
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