BLACKBOOK Bar owner Dean Lavine puts acceptance at the top of the menu

Posted By: Friday, April 19, 2019

By Kevin Perry

As you cross the threshold of Blackbook, you can almost hear the Cheers theme song echoing through the establishment’s joyous soul. But the proprietors of this gleeful gathering spot don’t merely know your name; they embrace who you truly are.

“I like to say we’re an inclusion bar,” invites owner Dean Lavine. “We work really hard to have a staff that really wants to be there and likes people. Not saccharinely greet people, but genuinely greet people. That’s who we are.”

For such a sunny bar, it certainly has a dark moniker. “It was named after the Blackbook of investigations of people not allowed in the casinos of Las Vegas,” explains Lavine. “It literally was a blacklist, and the blacklist reads on the cover, ‘List of excluded persons.’ At some point, everybody in their lives has felt like they’ve been blacklisted. Gay, bullied, racially excluded, Oakland Raider fans – y’know, misfits.”

Always Open sign

Tempering the serious topic with a dash of humor, Dean is the ultimate mixologist. Pivoting back to the gravity of his story, he continues, “At Blackbook, everyone is welcome. On our logo, ‘Black’ is backwards. The idea is taking a blacklist and flipping it on its head.”

Lavine also upended the traditions of bar food when he concocted his delectable Blackbook kitchen offerings. “I love talking about the menu!” Dean digs in as he dishes on his gastro-philosophy. “This is our mantra: if we’re going to do food, then it will be the best bar food that we can do.”

Berger

His aspirations aren’t just a flash in the frying pan; Lavine has been savoring this opportunity ever since he left his job as an executive at Disney. “I always wanted to own a restaurant, so I went to grad school at UNLV and got a masters in hospitality. Blackbook is one of hopefully many restaurants that I will eventually open. But this is my baby right now.”

From infancy to maturity, raising Blackbook has been a labor of luscious love. “I had a consultant chef from a 4-star hotel in the valley come to my house every week, and we would literally work on each recipe for weeks at a time, months at a time. Our Nashville Hot Chicken took us three to four months to perfect.”

Simmering in his gourmet recollections, Dean narrates, “We tried 50 different recipes. We tried a billion different things so we could get to the final product. The idea was: could this chicken stand on its own? If I opened Blackbook Fried Chicken, could I just sell fried chicken? That was the goal.”

sandwitch

Mission yumcomplished! Lavine is proud to offer his community a proverbial cheat day (or night) when they visit. “Living in LA and spending time in West Hollywood, I got yelled at all the time for eating carbs. Who would have thought that I would put on Arenas a restaurant that caters to really good comfort eating? That’s what we did and people love it.”

Relishing the opportunity to fuel patrons before their inevitable migration to the next destination, Dean assesses, “People never stay in one place – you’ll go from Chill to Hunters to Blackbook to Streetbar.” Eschewing competition in favor of camaraderie, he declares, “We have formed the Arenas District. All of the owners on Arenas and the buildings surrounding Arenas on Indian are part of this district. We regularly meet. It’s an organization to help promote the Arenas District as kind of like the Castro or Hillcrest of the Coachella Valley.”

Lavine was named President of this relatively young consortium, but his dedication is firmly rooted in the most storied legacies of the LGBTQ pantheon. “It’s quite a community and we want to be that place where people can gather for events. Y’know, Stonewall’s 50th anniversary is in June and we’re all looking towards doing something for it.”

nachos

Passionate about giving back, Dean feels fortunate to be among like-minded philanthropists in our hometown. “Palm Springs is a very charitable community, a very hospitable community.” Drilling down further, Lavine elaborates, “There are a few organizations that are close to me; that I’ve invested time and energy in. One is AIDS Assistance Project and one is Desert AIDS Project.”

Sidestepping the spotlight, Dean showers recognition on his contemporaries instead. “When you see all of the people who actually volunteer, and actually do things, the ones you don’t see on the news, that points out a lot. If you go on an AIDS walk, there are thousands of people out there. Now, that happens in every town, but Palm Springs is different. Maybe it’s because they’re happier here.”

What’s not to love, Lavine muses rhetorically. “We have sun 90% of the time, the pace of life is wonderful, it’s a beautiful environment, you’ve got this gorgeous mountain… When you live where people vacation, how bad could it be?”

Blackbook is a reflection and amplification of Dean Lavine’s quest for Zen. “I wanted our place to be a place that people visited not to escape, but to aspire to,” he asserts. “I didn’t want to be in the business where you went to drown your sorrows… That really means something to me. The bar business isn’t the easiest business and there are moments when I ask my staff not to overserve people, because that can happen. I don’t want people to leave my place and get hurt. Those are the things that scare me about my business, but I want people to leave my place and think ‘life’s pretty good.’”

For your daily dose of affirmation, belly up to Blackbook soon. Smiles are on the house.

Blackbook Bar |315 E. Arenas Rd. | 760.832.8497