Adaptive reuse of historic buildings in Los Angeles, both officially sanctioned and ad hoc, often results in odd juxtapositions, with none odder than the nutty provenance of Dan Bernier and Amy Finn Bernier’s loft in Chinatown. In 1939, their building was born as the Rice Bowl restaurant, a politically incorrect "palace in the sky" that served a stiff Mai Tai and was home to the only Asian cabaret in town. Later, it became Madame Wong’s—which, to any cool kid raised in the post-punk 1980s, occupies a place as seminal as CBGB but as obscure as Machu Picchu: Once, the Berniers’ 1,200-square-foot living/dining room held a stage graced by then-junior-varsity bands like Blondie, the Go-Go’s, Oingo Boingo, and the Police. Dan Bernier tells his favorite story about "Madame" Esther Wong (1917–2005), who was nothing if not adaptable: A failing restaurateur who got into music for the beer sales, she roamed the club’s audience to sniff out marijuana smokers. In her most infamous Chinese-grandma moment, "Madame Wong stopped the Ramones in the middle of their set, because someone had written graffiti in the girls’ bathroom, and she made them go clean it up," Dan says with a laugh, sprawling on a sun-drenched couch in the former West Coast temple of New Wave.
Dave has contributed to Dwell since its inception. He's a CalArts dropout, a former art critic for The New Yorker, and a producer of comedies on TV. He lives in, and writes from, Los Angeles.