The Gypsy Den and O.C. Center for Contemporary Art all in Santa Ana

The Gypsy Den is known for having the best cup of chai tea in town. Additionally, every Monday and Thursday night, Santa Ana’s acoustic artists and a few electric solo acts gather at the Gypsy Den for open mic night: a few hours where locals get up on a low wooden stage, and are allowed eight uninterrupted minutes. The house favorites are two songs from regular James Freeman, Smokey Robinson’s ‘Oh Baby, Baby’ and Eddie Holman’s ‘Hey There, Lonely Girl.’
With guitars moving in and out under the heavy glass and tassel lighting, and prayer rugs hanging on the walls, the vibe is that of Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds.’ Weekly horoscopes are taped to the tip jar, and the restaurant’s first dollar is framed over the door. Above the chilled pecan bars and brownies, a bumper sticker says, ‘Friends don’t let friends go to Starbucks.’
The Gypsy Den is nestled in the corner of the first floor of the California State University Fullerton Grand Central Art Center. The three-story building is a mixed residential, commercial and educational complex in the heart of the Santa Ana art district. The bohemian set up is designed for students to sell art in order to help pay the overhead of the gallery and their own housing at the same time.
‘It actually feels like a village,’ says Johnnie Descena. ‘Any time during the day or night, knowing the people are artists, you can find common ground with a perfect stranger.’
The city is home to Saint Joseph Ballet, Claudia de la Cruz Flamenco Institute (recently voted Orange County’s Best Flamenco by The OC Weekly and Tu Ciudad Magazine) and Bowers Museum, Orange County’s largest museum. But with virtually no communication between the city and restaurants, artists and students, the art district is far from being recognized as Orange County’s cultural center.
The neighboring Orange County Center for Contemporary Art is free and accessible, to be an area ‘conducive to discussion without censorship.’ This credo accounts for the large diversity of talents found in the Artists Village. The common mission is not cutting edge or even colloquial art, its reciprocation: creation and appreciation. Most galleries encourage some form of participation, and occupy the spectrum of messages and contents.
Unlike the affluent artists’ strip of Laguna Beach and Newport Beach boutiques, Santa Ana’s art district is still on the cusp of its youth. It is bringing in the likes of L.A.-based American Apparel and even a nearby Starbucks (smack dab in the middle of the wedding district, two city blocks of handsewn ostrich and manta ray skin boots and opulent Quincea