Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Babe's and Ricky's Inn

If you hate the Sunset Strip (Saddle Ranch this is not), then you will love Babe's and Ricky's. If you enjoy great, expertly performed, live music (an 8 minute blues epic about a Hoochie Mama, sang by a man in a cowboy hat and very tight jeans that showed off an awful, awful lot?), you will love Babe's and Ricky's. If you adore feeling like you are out-of-town (somewhere in the South, where it's all humid and friendly and no-nonsense) when you are still in town, then you will love Babe's and Ricky's.

If you don't love Babe's and Ricky's I will think something is really wrong with you.

Babe's and Ricky's is a Blues Bar in Liemert Park, which our friends from the 90's would call South Central LA. The area seemed a little daunting at first- when Cat and I got there at 10:30pm on Saturday night it was very deserted, and this No Cruising sign did little to quell our fears(no driving by the same spot twice every SIX hours! What if you have to go to the grocery store, and then five hours later you need gas?).We entered the small bar cautiously- only a few couples sat at tables, the house band of seasoned, grizzled musicians were jamming on a little stage and the old bartender was shouting out catcalls and requests from behind the bar.

We were instantly put at ease when we were greeted warmly by said bartender and the hostess(after we paid our cover, which varies nightly), who led us to a table with a grimy plastic dollies and some um, very old fake flowers, and suddenly it was like we were in our grandmothers houses in North Carolina and Texas.

In a way we were, because the spirit of Babe's and Ricky's founder, Laura Mae Gross, who passed last October, is still very much alive in this place. She is a fascinating LA story. Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1920 she and her husband moved to LA in the 1940s. When her husband was robbed and killed in 1954, she opened a blues bar on Central Avenue to help support her family. It quickly became the place for SoCal blues, and everyone from BB King to Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Eric Clapton would come jam. In 1996 the club moved to its present location and Miss Laura could be found at the front door every night greeting guests and telling performers who weren't talented enough to get the hell off her stage- and not come back.

In recent years the bar is said to have been overrun by hipsters(particularly open mike, Monday. Oh I shudder to think of renditions of Ball and Chain sung by anorexic boys who have no business wearing tight jeans and a cowboy hats) but I saw none of that the night we were there. The bar also serves souls food, has an OK, reasonably priced drink menu and the music is just absolutely awesome. It is real music y'all, the kind where you have to listen, the kind where you don't talk while it's going on, no because it's loud(and it is loud) but because it is so truthful and unlike lots of truth, it's pretty damn enjoyable.

The only drawback is that it ends early, 'round midnight, and like my grandmother Lela(who liked to start dropping hints at around 3pm about it getting dark and how no one in their right mind wanted to drive in the dark), when they want you out, they want you out. Since the street are empty, parking is a breeze and the drive is nothing. If you don't go, you are a downright fool, and that ain't no jive.

Travel: A-
Ease: A-
Content: A+
Subjective Coolness: A+
Overall: A

Directions: Take the 101-S(around 5 miles) to the 110-S(around 4 miles) and off at Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Turn right at West MLK Jr. Blvd. Take a slight left at the Leimert Blvd. Address is 4339 Leimert Blvd. Tons of street parking
Hours: Kind of confusing- I would call ahead to find out(323-296-9112: call after five, the have no voicemail) and consult their website: for schedule.
Price:Cover plus drinks and food. Varies from night to night.

Photos courtesy of Cat Vasko. Thanks Cat!

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