About David Allen

A journalist since 1987, David Allen has been writing a column for the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin since 1997 and blogging since 2007. His first book, "Pomona A to Z," was published in 2014. E-mail David here. Read recent columns here

Restaurant of the Week: Stein Haus

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Stein Haus Brau and Brats, 540 E. Foothill Blvd. (at Towne), Pomona; food service from 2 to 9 p.m. daily

One of the valley’s few examples of roadside architecture, this business built to resemble a castle lies on Route 66 just over the border from Claremont’s restaurant shaped like a tugboat, both of them ’60s holdovers. Pomona’s began life in 1968 as Magic Towers, a King Arthur-themed burger palace for the kiddies, and later became Friar Tuck’s, a dive bar that might appeal to the dissolute grownups those kiddies became.

I never ventured inside. But now it’s been repainted, remodeled and rebranded as Stein Haus, a German-themed bar and restaurant with the aid of the reality-TV show “Bar Rescue.” German? Hey, there’s only so many things you can do with a castle. So for the first time, I went inside one recent afternoon. The dark brown paint outside may be an improvement over the faded gray from the English days.

Inside there’s more brown and dim lighting, with a full bar, a counter and a few tables, plus a small stage, pool tables in the back and a smoker’s patio. The bartender told me the place had been cleaned up considerably, with new carpet replacing “three kinds of tile.”

The menu is small and focused. They still have burgers, jalapeno poppers and other bar food, but they now have a handful of German items: pork schnitzel and bratwurst sandwiches, crispy spaetzle and pretzel bites, as well as a few specialty cocktails. I sat at the bar, ordered a bratwurst ($10, pictured below) — after all, it’s in the restaurant’s sub-name — and hoped for the best.

It took a while, but my brat arrived on a chewy pretzel bun, with spicy mustard (brown, I think, to match the prevailing color scheme) and grilled onions. A side of slaw was vinegary, with cabbage, green pepper and carrots. The whole thing was a pleasant surprise.

Another day, I returned for dinner. It was early and the bar was quiet. I got the other sandwich, the pork schnitzel (also $10; pictured at bottom), which came with crispy spaetzle. I liked the sandwich, which came on rye bread; the spaetzle was like doughy fries, without much taste. That said, I found myself eating it anyway.

I wonder how long the reinvention will last or if the place will backslide, but the adventurous, and people who remember the old days, might get a kick out of stepping inside.

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Studio Art Hall, Pomona College

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Pomona College has an ambitious new building, the Studio Art Hall, deemed important enough to be visited and considered by the LA Times’ architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne, who called it “absolutely worth visiting, despite the imperfect results. He further says:

“It’s hard to think of another recent project in Southern California where the forms are so forward and the material and color palette so muted. Imagine a piece of writing in all-caps but small type, or the Sex Pistols played at extremely low volume.” Ha ha!

I’m no architecture critic, nor do I have the time for a tour of the finer points, but I checked out the exterior the other morning; the building is southeast of Bridges Auditorium and replaces our old friend, the Replica House, the home built in 1937 as a replica of Pomona College’s 1888 founding building.

The outdoor stairs are, to employ architectural jargon, pretty cool.

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Restaurant of the Week: El Fortin No. 3

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El Fortin No. 3, 5368 Riverside Drive (at Ninth), Chino

A specialist in food from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, El Fortin occupies an unassuming aqua-and-white building a little east of busy Central Avenue below the 60 Freeway. I’d been meaning to go for some time. When an interview took me to that part of Chino, I went in afterward for a late lunch. (The first El Fortin (“The Fort”) is in Fullerton, the second in Stanton, according to its website. Yelp commenters appear to prefer Chino’s.)

It’s not fancy inside, with worn booths, tables, Oaxaca posters on the walls and TVs at either end of the dining room showing soccer. But it was comfortable and clean. The server brought me some very good chips with salsa and cheese.

I pored over the menu and ordered the plato especial: marinated pork and beef, plantains, guacamole, refried beans, fried cheese and, substituting for a chile relleno, a cactus salad ($8.50). I upgraded to handmade tortillas for $1 more and ordered a Jarritos soda.

The food took a little while but was well worth the wait. Delicioso! I cleaned my plate. Also, the handmade tortillas, crisped in a pan, were excellent, and they were served in a basket wrapped in a kind of doily.

The table service was friendly and the place had a nice vibe to it. And with my bill came four tiny pieces of gum, in various flavors. Back at the office, I showed them to a Latina colleague who lit up, saying she hadn’t seen Canel’s gum since she was a girl. I shared them.

Thank you, El Fortin No. 3.

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Up, up and away, in our beautiful balloon

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My Saturday morning flight in a hot air balloon from Upland’s Cable Airport to the best landing spot we could find in Claremont is the subject of Wednesday’s column. Here are some additional photos. And you can watch a short video from near the end of our flight. Above, I’m hanging on for dear life and we haven’t even left the ground.

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And we’re off! This photo and the one at top are by Christine Canepa.

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Here’s my view of essentially the same scene: a former (?) homeless encampment southwest of Cable.

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Here’s pilot Paul Cheatham with (I think) Pitzer College in the background.

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That’s the Arco station below at Foothill and Claremont Boulevard. We were drifting northwest and hoping for a decent patch on which to land, which we found at Chaparral Park.

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Above, the Eagle has landed. Actually, it’s not the Eagle, it’s the Hummingbird, Cheatham’s name for his smallest balloon. The balloon was deflated and packed away. Thus ends Dave and Paul’s Excellent Adventure.

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Al Martinez, 1929-2015

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The longtime LA Times columnist died Monday at age 85 of congestive heart failure.

I met him in Pomona in 2009. He was at Pilgrim Congregational Church as part of the Big Read for Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild” to talk about his career, which included a book about his dog, Barkley. I had him sign my copy of “Dancing Under the Moon.”

I was, darn it, too shy and awed to really engage him in conversation, what with so many people around, but I did write a few paragraphs about what I observed at the dinner afterward. Martinez and his wife, Joanne, whom he called in print Cinelli, her previous name, had a conversation about his speech that was much like the exchanges that enlivened his columns.

Martinez: Could you hear me all right?

Cinelli: I could hear you pretty well.

Martinez: What does that mean? Could you hear me or couldn’t you?

Cinelli: I could hear you fine.

Martinez: Then why did you say ‘pretty well’?

Cinelli: You don’t project.

LA Observed, the site where he continued to write after the Times retired him, has a tribute.

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