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Is Kiss' Gene Simmons L.A.'s latest craft beer champion?

March 23, 2012 |  5:14 pm

Rock & Brews
When Gene Simmons, leader of KISS Inc., spoke to Pop & Hiss early Friday about the grand re-opening of his El Segundo bar/restaurant Rock & Brews, he bragged that the establishment would allow customers to feel just a little bit like rock stars. Yet it soon became evident that the space couldn't replicate all of the perks Simmons enjoys. 

When a local police officer pulled over to place a ticket on the illegally parked motorcycle of a Rock & Brews employee, a trade was offered. Perhaps the ticket could be skipped, bar employees inferred, if a meet-and-greet with Simmons could be arranged? Moments later, a member of the El Segundo police force was posing for photos with the rock 'n' roll veteran. Please, said the officer, don't photograph the badge, as department rules would then forbid him from placing the image on Facebook. 

Rock & Brews patrons likely won't be afforded the opportunity to park as they please without repercussions, but when the bar officially opens Friday evening, it will offer more than 50 taps dedicated to craft beer and a menu overseen by Michael Zislis of Rock'n Fish. Ultimately, Simmons has other visions.

"I'm such a blessed guy, and for the rest of the people in the world, they may not actually be able to be a rock star, but we can make them feel it," Simmons said. "This is the experience of being a rock star. You will be waited on hand and foot. If we can arrange it -- and this is not a bad idea -- we'll have the most beautiful girls peeling grapes for you, your highness. It's the idea that you're special and should be treated that way."

Rock & Brews, a partnership of Simmons, Zislis and former rock promoter Dave Furano, opened in 2010 but has undergone a massive overhaul. Its bar comes complete with the ability to pour beer at two different temperatures and is framed under track lighting to give it the feel of an arena stage. Despite Simmons' desire to have the female wait staff peeling grapes, it's a family-friendly locale. As evidence, Simmons said wife Shannon Tweed prevented him from making the waitress outfits too risque.

Expect a fast expansion. Franchises are on target for the Bay Area and Denver, and this fall a Rock & Brews will open in Terminal 5 of LAX. While Zislis has roots in the L.A. beer scene dating back to the late '80s, when he opened Manhattan Beach Brewing Company, it was lessons learned from live music rather than the recent craft beer expansion that inspired Rock & Brews.

"Dave said that money is the merchandise," he said. "The money is in the beer. If you go to Staples Center to see a game, you spend more on beer than you do on merch. If I go see a Rush concert, I'll have four of those $14 Heinekens. The money is in the beer."

Don't be scared by Zislis' mention of a certain green-bottled supermarket beer. When Rock & Brews has its grand opening on April 3, rare beers from Hangar 24, Jolly Pumpkin and Ballast Point will be among the offerings. Simmons, however, won't be pinned down on whether or not he has a favorite craft beer. His brand allegiance is to his own.

"I like big menus," he said. "I don't want you, necessarily, to order the same things that I want. If you love craft beer, you have all the choices in the world. If you're a little kid, you can have your root beer float. The idea is to have everything for the craft beer lovers and for the kids."

Although KISS has its brand on everything from coffee shops to Hello Kitty toys, Simmons said he didn't consider making Rock & Brews KISS-specific. "I am a human being outside of Kiss," he said. "There is Jekyll/Hyde and Clark Kent/Superman part of it, and both are legitimate. I didn't want to bring the KISS shadow over this. This is a bigger idea than KISS."

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-- Todd Martens

Image: Dave Furano, from left, Gene Simmons and Michael Zislis. Credit: Rock & Brews. 

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