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Photo by Jack GouldI don't want Jack Flynn to be too rich and happy. I want him to be moderately successful, but maybe not so successful that he can afford to put a shower into the bitchen Costa Mesa warehouse where he lives. (He does shower, but at the Y.)
You see, if Jack Flynn were showering in his own shower, that might mean that Kitsch Bar—his small, ebony jewel in a Costa Mesa strip mall—had been overrun with grunting fools packed together in their finest Structure ensembles, leering at the pretty, slim blondes before slipping in their own puke in the parking lot. And we don't want that, or at least, not often.
No, we like Kitsch Bar just the way it is—with just enough low, comfortable chairs for everyone. It's not a pickup joint or a place for knuckleheads. It's the kind of bar to which one goes to catch up with a friend one hasn't seen in some time or to ramp up to or wind down from an evening out. It's upscale without being Newport Beach oppressive, nor is it a particularly Mercedes kind of place. Mellow. Good. Nice.
Of course, the other way Flynn could get disgustingly rich off his new venture would be to jack up the martini prices, and since I don't pay for drinks when Flynn is in the bar—and he usually is—well, that would be just fine. Jack away, Jack.
Jack Flynn is six-foot-one and handsome. His light-brown hair is skillfully tousled, and there's gray in his sideburns; his eyes slide from gray to green. He seems immune to flirting. I've watched women try to insinuate themselves into his notice; he either truly doesn't notice or just doesn't care. He tells a story that suggests an answer: young, attractive women floating on Ecstasy try to take him home one night, natch, and double-team him. He drives them home, and despite their machinations—the eternal conundrum of who will get dropped off first—he makes them actually go home, where (it should be added) their mothers are waiting. I am howling; Jack is matter-of-fact and doesn't seem to realize how funny the story is.
Flynn was born and raised in Hawaii. Back then, his name was Don, and his last name was something Hawaiian; he changes it with each new venture. He moved to OC in '84 at 17 and attended OCC. He had lined up a job at a TV station back home, but he got sponsored by Victory Wetsuits instead. In '88, he was recruited to work in Billabong's design department, when they were starting to do some real numbers. He was the second designer there, behind the legendary Bob Hurley. Inevitable creative differences with the sales manager led to his departure, and he went down to San Diego's Gaslight District to open a coffeehouse. It was supposed to happen up here, but while he was having lunch, someone else signed a lease for the space that would become Rock 'n' Java.
Flynn recounts this tragic tale often. He was sad.
He was about to take off into the ether with his motorcycle and a tent when he got a call to do interiors in LA, which he did for two years before getting completely over it. "I didn't want to deal with the drama queen designers who're freaking out because the powder room chair for their billionaire client didn't get there from Italy," he says with distaste. Well, who would?
He wanted to do something here—the kind of thing one could get in LA but not here at home. A late-night coffeehouse was the first option—but has he told you the story of how he lost out on that lease? A boutique hotel would be a blast, but he was a couple of million short. He did a short-lived clothing line but was insufficiently funded—it's nine months from the time one begins until one sees Dollar One, and at the same time, you're pouring cash into fabrics and, oh, I don't know, sewing machines and a sweatshop to put it all together.
But a bar? A bar is a cash business. Within minutes of opening, the till is filling. And there are no Accounts Receivable. "The only way to lose a bar," Flynn says, "is if you lose your lease because the landlord wants to build a skyscraper." (This is true only for bars with "48" licenses, which means you can serve all the hard liquor you want. As Linda Jemison of Linda's Doll Hut will tell you, a beer-and-wine license is virtually useless when it comes to printing money.)
Flynn, who's the kind of guy who keeps a journal filled with pressed leaves from his 12-week motorcycle trips, made a list of concepts for his LA-style concept bar. One idea was "Vodka," with floor-to ceiling Russian Industrial vodka posters. But Voda in LA is already a vodka bar. Another viable theme was "Shao Lin," which would have had candles, pebbles and Bruce Lee movies. A third was "Ole," a Spanish—but not Mexican—bullfighting-themed lounge.
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