The people who know La Jolla's main thoroughfare best aren't the rich and wealthy lounging in four-story mansions on the hill. Those who really know Prospect Street are the ones who clock in every day to serve the purse-string-holding patrons and tourists who frequent this ostentatious stretch of cement-they're the baristas frothing up nonfat lattés with extra foam, the bored store clerks selling kitschy dolphin statuettes and the toned valet guys hustling to park Ferraris and Audis all day.
Guys like Johnny Simonian, owner of Picasso, a custom tailoring and alterations shop tucked into a charming alleyway off Prospect, know what to do and where to go.
"What do you want to know," barks Simonian, guarded and certain he's being solicited. He walks through the tiny store-pointing out framed newspaper clippings of him and his shop-and quickly explains the nature of the biz.
"I work alone; everything I do is alone," he says, "Brioni, Armani, Versace; it's what I do, you know, all high-end and custom-made suits. We're talking, like, $1,800 suits and up."
Simonian sits down in front of his 1955 Singer and continues hand-sewing a button onto a Brioni sleeve. He acknowledges that La Jolla is expensive, but he says the restaurants around these parts are worth it-for dinner that is, not lunch. He packs his own lunches every day.
"Go to Bull and Bear [1271 Prospect St.]," Simonian says. "Right now, it's pretty popular-everyone is going there."
"For dancing, everybody goes to Jack's [7863 Girard Ave.]," he continues, pushing his wire glasses back up the bridge of his nose.
"Take breakfast or brunch at Brockton Villa [1235 Coast Blvd.]," he says. "I go there for breakfast, and nighttime we hang out around here, you know, Crab Catchers [1298 Prospect St.], Azul [1250 Prospect St.], and Pasquale [1250 Prospect St.] is a nice place to hang around."
Simonian lets down his guard, finally realizing he's not being hit-up for anything aside from his opinions. He says he's from Beirut, Lebanon. He moved to Detroit in his 20s and knew he'd end up in La Jolla after his first visit to the West Coast. The middle-aged tailor says he's earned himself a little house on the hilltop here, which he shares with his mom. He says La Jolla and his customers have been good to him-he loves the place and hardly ever leaves.
"George's at the Cove [1250 Prospect St.]," Simonian adds as an afterthought, his Lebanese accent creeping in as he gets more and more comfortable. "You know, everybody familiar with the George's. It's pretty nice. When you live around here, you don't want to go downtown-you hang around here, then you go home."
Why listen to Simonian, the tailor?
"I used to be a rock star," Simonian says, glancing toward the back wall of his shop where framed, yellowed photographs of him in his younger, days screaming into a microphone in front of a raging Detroit crowd, hang next to $1,500 suits waiting to be sewn.