In 1978, Jeff Lockheed purchased a house in the neighborhood of Benton Park. After letting friends hang around for nearly a decade, he formalized his hospitality and converted his home into a café. He applied for a liquor license shortly thereafter (his patrons were already practicing the BYOB model), and, according to the bar’s Facebook, “then took on the business model it follows today: Booze and beauty for cash.”
The beauty that Venice Café alludes to—concentrated, vivid, and frenetic—swarms the property, both inside and out. The patio is filled with cement statues covered in tiles, and a collection of artwork created by Lockheed himself is visible through the window. Inside, mosaics and quirky assemblages blanket every visible surface. Venice achieves the kind of glow patrons expect from a barroom by blending the soft emanations of more than 20 different light fixtures in yellow, red, green, and blue. These collections are the result of decades of collection and curation, and Lockheed welcomes donations. Simply drop your gift off by the alley door and it will either be added to the gallery or disposed of.
Downstairs, you’ll find an ATM (the bar is cash-only), along with a fish tank, turtles, and a continued expanse of mosaics that flows into two bathrooms and surrounds the toilets. To find them, just follow the stairs beneath the neon sign that reads “Shitters.”
The Explorer’s Lounge, which occupies the upstairs level, opens on Friday and Saturday nights. Mr. Waylon Slithers—a king snake known for napping in a vacant turtle shell—greets guests from his tank behind the bar. Taxidermy and artwork dot the room. Attached to the lounge is a bathroom that goes by The Blue Hole and is filled with curios, from ceramic lions to ancient chests to monkey statues that hold toilet paper to more mosaics.
Outside, the walls are covered in ashtrays, lighters, action figures, and more bric-a-brac. During the city’s warmer months, “The Garden” opens up, complete with spring foliage. There’s also a functioning “boat bar”—made from the front end of a boat. Patrons saddle up to the outside while a bartender mixes cocktails from behind the steering wheel. For those who don’t like liquor, the bar also serves up beer and wine.
Two resident turtles, Myrtle and Shemmy, occupy the adjacent pond. On Lockheed’s request, “Please don’t throw pennies in the pond. You’ll hurt the shell babies and your dumb wish will never come true.”
Know Before You Go
With all the art surrounding you, it's easy to miss the "Cash Only" signs. There's an ATM downstairs.