PBR cans sit on the empty patio like shiny little tombstones. They’re all that’s left of Bar+Bistro, the old logo obscured by a Union Jack marking Crown & Anchor’s dibs on the Arts Factory’s anchor space. It has been vital to the wonderland behind these walls, funneling business to the patchwork of shops and galleries. (Trifecta was another significant loss to the complex and art scene in January, but at least then we had somewhere to cry in our beers.) A local institution in its own right, the coming pub may change the energy of this creative tornado, so I wander in to take stock before the construction dust settles.
Skaters lounge inside Let It Roll, slick decks and sneakers displayed in neat lines. Next door, a new wall’s skeleton leaves a glimpse of Bar+Bistro’s back entrance and a sign thanking customers for their faithfulness under a sticker that reads “irony tax.”
Origami cranes and yarn-bombed pipes lead to print shop/steampunk boutique Hiptazmic Studio. Shaping a shirt stencil with an X-Acto knife, Matt Esposito chats about the tides of the Arts Factory and the impact Crown & Anchor might have if it opens as planned in mid-September. For him and his wife Christine, tourists have been key, buying feathered top hats, goggles and octopus rings for festivals, though a new incense rainbow (Sizzlin’ Bacon?!) is meant to give locals more reason to return.
That’s not a problem at HellPop!, where comics and graphic novels ranging from Spider-Woman to Saga have their own followings. I bought the latter on another day after an awesome conversation with green-haired store manager Darin Cox, who matched it to my interests and told me to bring it back if I wasn’t into it. (I’m into it.)
Awesome conversation seems to be a theme. At Happy Panda Toys, co-owner Ilanit Moskal doesn’t just ring up my Tokidoki Unicorno and grinning Kidrobot pistachio nut—she gives tips on ordering noodles in Japan. Artist James Henninger doesn’t just show me pieces, he gets into the layers of Johnny Cash’s brilliantly cut and painted metal face, and the process of distilling Red Rock Canyon or a beautiful woman into a million lines of ink or swirls of wax. And when Alex Huerta sees me staring at his richly saturated paintings that both jar and uplift, we swing from the Basquiat influence to his hard-won understanding of the meaning of life. He even tells me what it is.
The more than 20 indie joints in this Factory are not just selling something. There’s wild love in here. Crown & Anchor might make that energy build, but it better not change it.
The Arts Factory 107 E. Charleston Blvd., theartsfactory.com.