Behind the Copper Door: Adventures at Santa Ana’s Pacific Building, Part One
Sometimes I can be a European-elitist, chiming into many political debates about health care, homelessness, college tuition costs, or funding for the arts with sentences that start with “Well, in Europe…” Truth is there are plenty of things that the United States can learn from Europe. My excuse for saying so is that I am actually European. I am first generation Irish to be raised in the US, and I spent much of my childhood and young-adulthood in Europe gaining my delightfully elitist perspective. Don’t let Europe know, but when I am there I miss certain things about the US and the opposite is true when I am here. For example, from the other side of the Atlantic, I have often more deeply appreciated the whole history of great American music and some of the ways that Americans can be more open-minded and accepting of certain cultural issues than Europeans.
What I specifically miss about Europe when I am here is the more leisurely way Europeans on the whole spend their time. More people go out after work, eat dinner with friends and watch live local music, while Americans are often so overworked that they just go home and watch TV. So while Americans have made some of the most influential music that has inspired countless European bands, Americans do not tend to support their local music scenes as much as Europeans would. There are innumerable socio-economic reasons for this sad fact in the US. But still I ask why, when there are such inviting local music venues like Santa Ana’s The Copper Door, housed in the Pacific Building at Broadway and 3rd.
The Copper Door has a decidedly European feel- from it being in the basement, like the basement restaurants and bars of cities like Prague, to the warm wood interior decor and its currently all-beer menu which makes it like a chicly modernized Scandinavian beer hall. From the moment you descend through the “Behind the Green Door”-esque entrance, the Copper Door is seductive and intriguing, yet also warm and inviting. Never has a venue simultaneously made me get flashbacks of the 1972 porn classic Behind the Green Door while also making me reminisce about drinking in the 14th century monastery of St. Agnes in Prague. Perhaps, though, that is a perfectly fitting way to describe the feel of the Copper Door- imagine if a devoted, beer-making St. Agnes came back reincarnated now as a svelte Marilyn Chambers to enjoy the finer things in life.
This venue is so beautiful that the attitude there could be pretentious, but instead it’s relaxed and friendly. The beer selection is extensive and the music is always good. The ambience often makes me forget what country I am in, which is a feeling I love when I am longing for my European home. I only wish there was also a roaring fire, but that makes me remember that this is Southern California.
Every live show I have caught at the Copper Door has been just good music- whatever the style. The artists who perform here aren’t big name acts, most are local and doing what they love for free. I love that so far this venue has maintained a strong bias towards giving local bands a place to perform, while also having a good quality sound system. In my firsthand experience on the Copper Door’s romantic Weimar cabaret-esque stage, my band has enjoyed our shows there immensely because the good sound quality allows us to have more freedom of expression in our performances. Most shows here are free, which makes their consistent quality all the more incredible.
Behind the Copper Door
Recently I sat down with Davin Gumm who owns the Copper Door and entire the Pacific Building, which also houses the restaurant Chapter One and various arts-oriented businesses upstairs. Gumm has invested in real estate and business ventures in Palm Springs, Echo Park, Long Beach and Santa Ana. Rather than tearing down old buildings and establishing corporate chain retail, he has focused on establishing local businesses and refurbishing stylish urban buildings. Gumm has a passion for real estate development, interior design and architecture, which was vastly apparent when we spoke.
Gumm said he fell into real estate development, getting his start restoring mid-century homes in Palm Springs by the famous architects Albert Frey and Donald Wexler. He then invested in a jazz café called the Downbeat Café in Echo Park and moved onto properties in Long Beach that included the restaurant Number Nine and the Vintage Collective on the ”Vintage Row” on 4th Street. After selling his business interests in Long Beach, Gumm began his latest project of refurbishing the Pacific Building at Broadway and 3rd Street in the Artist’s Village in Santa Ana. The 1925 Renaissance-revival building was just what Gumm loves to invest in: what he called a “diamond in the raw.” The building had been designated a “key” building for the cultural heritage of the city, so Gumm worked closely with the Santa Ana Planning and Building Agency while refurbishing the building to maintain and enhance the historic architecture of the building.
With all of these business ventures, Gumm has focused on creating and preserving the “mom and pop” style-businesses in the historic cultural centers of the Southern California cities he has invested in. This focus on preservation also comes across in the interior design of the Copper Door. The pièce de résistance of the bar’s decor is the enormous wooden table in the center of the room which spans the length of the bar. The table, benches and counters throughout the bar, were cut from one impressive 400 year-old ponderosa pine tree that fell naturally in Idllywild. Gumm said he would have had “ethical issues” cutting down such a huge tree just for the interior decoration of his bar, but making use of one that fell naturally (due to an infestation of bark beetles) was something he could feel good about.
Gumm’s goal was to design and build the interior “with high integrity” and create a “warm sort of monastery feel.” The bar’s center table, in both its origin and its design, perfectly achieves this goal. Gumm elaborated that the table was fashioned in a manner “not much different from how you would build a medieval table,” with a solid piece of wood atop welded metal baskets filled with rocks. Drinking at this table makes one want to declare “hail the victorious dead!” surrounded by Viking-esque comrades. Additionally, Gumm shares my love for drinking at monasteries, with several monastery-made Belgian-style beers on his menu. Gumm concluded that “nuns make the best beer.”
The Copper Door has a plan to become a full liquor bar, but Gumm has said it’s a “long road” to get city approval for being a liquor-only bar, rather than a restaurant. In the mean time, the Copper Door still has much to offer as a beer bar and music venue. It’s like a little piece of Europe in the heart of Santa Ana’s Artist Village. It’s a place where you can take inspiration from the Europeans and take the time to enjoy good beer, good music, and a beautiful atmosphere in a stylishly restored historic building.
The Pacific Building: Part Two
When refurbishing the Pacific Building, real estate developer Davin Gumm hoped to attract arts-oriented tenants to the upstairs offices. What I discovered when I climbed the stairs was a colony of intriguing artists creating some interesting work…
Coming Soon… in Part Two.