When a post on social media last week noted that Culver City’s renowned neighborhood Happy Hour was celebrating its 400th Friday, inquisition was inevitable; 400 parties? Really?
Meghan Sahli-Wells admitted it might even be 4000 or more, as the party was older than it’s current location, and there were multiple generations involved. Karim Sahli noted that it was his 400th illustration on social media, the now famous ‘magazine cover,’ “but it’s not really 400 parties, some of those graphics were announcing that it was cancelled, or that we were out of town.” So 400 Happy Hours might be the working title, but the script within has some nuanced details that can’t be overlooked.
“It really began in Florida, where my grandparents had moved with my mom – an only child – and discovered some neighbors with kids living directly behind their new house. The Friday Happy Hour was declared as a weekly get together for kids to play, and parents to eat, drink and be merry.”
While Happy Hour at a restaurant or bar generally means the menu is discounted and special items will be offered, the downtown neighborhood styles theirs as a pot-luck, BYOB that includes a box of dishes, forks and glassware for the rotating host family to keep it all waste-free and trash-minimal.
The party came to Culver City when Eleanor, Meghan’s grandmother, came to California as a widow moving in with her daughter. “The idea was that my mom would be taking care of my grandmother. Ironically, it was my mom who got ill, and my grandmother was the one taking care of her until she died.” Eleanor also brought the Friday Happy Hour for the neighbors, on a strict 5 to 7 pm schedule. The seed was planted.
When Meghan and Karim moved their family from France back the U.S. to care for a grandmother living alone, Karim’s career as an artist was stalled; “All of my clients were in Paris, I didn’t know anyone here, and even my English wasn’t that good. So I decided to do some announcements for Happy Hour. The first one was just some clip art with really simple text. Then I got a little more creative and did some original art for flyers.”
When the idea to make a mock magazine cover and post it for the group on social media came to him, Karim knew he had a flexible format that could really expand. “It just gives me a few elements to work with – how many ways can you express the idea of having a drink with friends? But bringing people in for portraits with props, celebrating holidays, commenting on politics, there is a lot of variety.” The props were a special Culver City connection, coming through local propmaster Hope Parrish. “When I did this mock up of ‘All Quiet on the Western Front,’ I got to use a real WWI helmet and a real Iraq War helmet, all because of Hope’s generosity – and of course, access to great props.”
Meghan considered that while the cast of characters occasionally changed, it was a remarkable stable group over the years. “Other than the kids who’ve grown up and gone off to college, it’s a pretty regular set. Most the families in this neighborhood have been here a long time. There are still a few [guests] who were there when my grandmother got it started.”
Like everything else, Happy Hour came to the computer last year, with zoom screens holding friends, drinks and the ritual end-of-the-week conversations. “Soon, we hope to be back to meeting in real life, but we want to wait and make sure it’s safe,” Karim said.
So, if it’s the 401st Happy Hour magazine cover, or the four thousandth Friday with the neighbors, it’s a celebration to be cherished ‘in the heart of screenland.’