Remember The Union


Like most Bobcats I was saddened to learn about the fire on Union Street. Two of Athens’ favorite public establishments, Jackie O’s and The Union, were hit hard. It sounds like Jackie O’s will remain open in some limited capacity while it rebuilds. The Union as we know it “is no more,” according to its proprietors.

Here’s hoping the owners rebuild.

It’s hard to imagine Uptown without The Union.

When I was at Ohio University in the 1990s The Union was the alternative, grunge, dive, $1-for-a-Schlitz, indie music bar. Downstairs was for townies and regulars. Upstairs was literally for everyone.

For some students The Union was a stop on a shuffle. But for others it was the central organizing principle of their social lives. It was a place accepting of various fashions, scenes and lifestyles. It was smokey and dark, rough around the edges, yet tolerant. More so than a lot of places Uptown, it was a true melting pot.

The pretty people were at The Crystal and Pawpurr’s. The people who had tattoos and piercings and tattoos of piercings or didn’t care to judge the tattooed and pierced were at The Union. The Union gave the “goddamn independents” who exist outside of OU’s self-organizing social classes of greeks and jocks and bros and basics a place to drink and socialize and dance and sing. It was the definition of a proper dive bar as well as a place to see The Black Keys for-crying-out-loud.

Obviously I have fond memories of the place, and of all of them the most recent stands out.

Two years ago when my wife and I returned to Athens for a semester we attended a live performance of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” on the second floor. The room was packed. Everyone was dressed in drag and lingerie, the audience and cast blending together, singing and dancing in a buckshot blast of freak humanity.

It was loud. It was fun. It was weird.

It was The Union.

Joe Donatelli is a journalist in Los Angeles. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Photo via The Post

I Think Playboy Wins Sexiest Halloween Costumes of 2014


Playmate Scarlett Keeegan as Weird Al

This is the most fun thing we’ve done at the new yet. For Halloween we turned the old “sexy” costumes cliche on its head and had the Playmates dress as pop culture heroes who, for the most part, are not known for being sexy. This photo shoot was intended to be humorous, not hot, and I’m thankful it was received that way.

So if you’ve ever wanted to see Sexy John Oliver, Sexy Neil deGrasse Tyson, Sexy Alex Trebek, Sexy George R.R. Martin, Sexy Louis C.K., Sexy Joe Biden, Sexy Questlove, Sexy Craig Sager, Sexy George Takei and Sexy Weird Al all in one place, click here. (The photos and videos are all non-nude.)

How did it go over?

John Oliver led with it on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:


Is it Good? Saint Martha

Saint Martha Restaurant in Los Angeles's Koreatown I never get excited about brisket. It is a source of perpetual disappointment. Sometimes I order it at restaurants. And sometimes it gets trotted out during a press dinner. I bite in hopeful. I swallow disappointed. Not enough flavor. Too dry. It just tastes like generic meat to me. Perhaps I’m not sophisticated enough to enjoy the subtlety of a well-cooked brisket, but my palate does not do subtlety. I like rich, bold flavor.

The brisket at Saint Martha (740 S. Western, Los Angeles) is the best I’ve ever had. I told the sommelier those exact words while I was eating it. The sommelier’s job is to suggest wine, but I felt like I had to tell someone. “I’ve never seen Joe this excited about brisket before,” my wife told sommelier Mary Thompson, who had only come by to fill my wine glass, thereby giving Thompson a complete and totally unnecessary appreciation of my history with the dish.

Chef Nick Erven’s brisket was unlike any other I’ve had. It was soft and a little fatty, and it was covered in a sweet and tangy sauce and topped with veggies a la Korean street taco. It paired wonderfully with the pinot noir Thompson selected. On the way out I wanted to tell people coming in, “Get the brisket or you won’t have lived a complete life.”

Saint Martha—brisket maker of my dreams—is named after the patron saint of cooks and servants. The Koreatown restaurant is run by the same people who run Tart, the Fairfax restaurant where diners can jump in the pool for half-off their brunch. Saint Martha faces a nondescript parking lot, and so its interior steals a page from restaurants like Melisse: If the view stinks, don’t give the customer a stinky view. Saint Martha has no windows, pushing the customer’s focus to the art, each other, and, of course, the food.

Seaweed Doritos from Saint Martha Restaurant in LA

My wife Jen and I enjoyed an array of creative dishes, including the seaweed sea urchin “tataki” with avocado mousse, hearts of palm and seaweed Doritos (that’s them on the right—they were great); octopus with Koshihikari rice, sauce nero, lardo and espelette; steak and oyster tartare with champagne sabayon and bone marrow beignets; and diver scallops with black trumpet mushrooms, endive, white yam puree and smoked dulse.

The brisket was the grand finale. Growing full, I forced myself to stop eating, and our server wrapped the precious remainder in a tinfoil swan, which I lovingly placed in the backseat of the car for the ride home. I wondered if I should buckle it in. I didn’t want anything to happen to it. “Drive carefully,” I told my wife.

I finished it off at lunch the next day.

And now the question…the big question…the only one that matters.

Saint Martha: Is it good?

It is.

Saint Martha is good.

Have I mentioned the brisket?

Follow Joe Donatelli on Facebook and Twitter.

All images stolen from the Saint Martha website

For more “Is It Good?” Reviews, go here.

The True Meaning of Labor Day


Labor Day. Some say it’s getting too commercial—too gaudy. Stores put out their festive Labor Day decorations months in advance. Homeowners race each other to string up their Labor Day lights first. And radio stations play the same Labor Day songs nonstop. Yes, America, it seems somewhere along the way we lost the true meaning of Labor Day.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Labor Day ain’t what it used to be. What used to be a humble observance has morphed into an orgy of crass secular celebration, an orgy whose key bowl is the first Monday of September and whose keys are the picnic hamburgers, potato salad and corn hole boards that we worship instead of the true spirit of Labor Day.

Now everyone everywhere takes advantage of this precious holiday for all the wrong reasons. Over at Fox News, the Fair and Balanced Squad runs hyped-up stories about the supposed “War on Labor Day.”

As if.

Oh, yes, there is a War on Labor Day, but it’s not the one Fox News claims it is. Just because one small town in Pennsylvania or wherever wants to honor a little thing called the Constitution and refuses to erect scenes from the first Labor Day in front of city hall does not mean Labor Day is under attack. In fact, it’s pretty hilarious that Fox News would choose to defend Labor Day from “attack” when it continually practices none of Labor Day’s most cherished values. But that’s another commentary!

A brief side note: To those who actively celebrate Labor Day, it would be nice to see some of you step away from the Labor Day shopping lines for a moment and donate your time to a local soup kitchen or give toys for children who will have no toys this Labor Day.

The Internet has only exacerbated the issue, in my opinion. What was once a quiet, dignified celebration of American workers has ballooned into a self-serving social media frenzy. Oh, how handsome your family looks on Labor Day in front of your Labor Day tree! Right there in my Facebook feed. Aren’t you all SO perfect?

And what about those Americans who do not work? To them Labor Day is nothing but an organized insult, one that brazenly touts the virtues of gainful employment and national progress to the nation’s be-couched. As a country we spit on an entire group of people with our Labor Day preening.


What is the true meaning of Labor Day? It’s not about the Labor Day gifts or the Labor Day movies or all that delicious Labor Day eggnog. Labor Day is a day in which we celebrate the virtues of working by not working. Let us never, ever forget this fact.

So Happy Labor Day, America! And to our Jewish friends, please enjoy all eight days and nights of this special Labor Day season. And to our black brothers and sisters, Happy Laboranza.

Joe Donatelli is a journalist in Los Angeles. Follow him @joedonatelli.

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker


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