Fluffy McCloud's is a Little Piece of Heaven on Sunset Boulevard
There's more than meets the tongue at El Prado owner Nicky Fisher's brand-new ice cream shop.
Photographs by David Gurzhiev
It might seem a tad unexpected for Nicky Fisher, an artist and the owner of the east side’s most sceney watering hole, El Prado, to open an ice cream parlor. But that’s exactly what he did this summer. At the end of July, he began serving scoops of chocolate and mint chip and composing elegant hot fudge sundaes at Fluffy McCloud’s, just across the street from his Echo Park bar. However, think of the shop as dichotomous to El Prado, and it begins to make a lot of sense. “There’s this heaven and hell thing going on,” Fisher says.
It’s late morning on a Saturday, an hour and a half before Fluffy’s (for short) begins service, and he’s perched on top of the scoop shop’s immaculate stainless steel counter dressed in a bright green YSL button-down, sipping hot coffee from a glass mug. The Beatles’ Abbey Road permeates the space. Because the world is round, it turns me on. It’s one of 100 CD albums that Fisher had loaded onto a restored jukebox from the ‘90s, which he then refurbished himself with metalwork and a pair of horns. (The ice cream case, filled with a dozen mostly classic flavors ranging from Thelma’s vanilla—named after Fisher’s 100-year-old grandmother—to lemon sorbet, has horns, too.) “Finding a late-night hang that wasn’t a bar,” he’s saying, was one of the main impetuses for Fluffy’s.
Fisher grew up in Marin County in Northern California, where he frequented an ice cream shop called Double Rainbow. “It was open until midnight, and we'd go in there as teenagers and split a banana split,” he remembers, fondly. “At 18 years old, we were smoking cigarettes out front.” This nostalgia was top of mind for Fisher as the hype for El Prado was at an all-time high. He was burnt out from all of the partying, coming off a wildly successful year slinging pints of pilsner and pours of pét-nat when he started to envision a shop of his own. “If you’re on a date or out with your friends, you’re like, ‘what should we do? I guess we’ll go to a bar.’ It’s really the only thing to do,” he says. An ice cream parlor, he realized, could be a sober space, but one that was both fun and juvenile.
About a year ago, he secured Fluffy’s Sunset Boulevard lease, then dove head first into ice cream making. Fisher is primarily self-taught as an ice cream maker—he says his mom always made ice cream at home—although he did take a class at a school in Orange County that teaches prospective parlor proprietors about the business. His background as a brewer and winemaker also came in handy. “I used to brew very gesturally,” he says. ”I don’t even take gravity readings of my wine anymore. I’m just like, here’s the ballpark, and I’m going to lay in here.” His approach to ice cream is similar. He uses whole organic ingredients, starting with milk, cream, sugar, and eggs, and avoids stabilizers (except for Xanthan gum to thicken his vegan ice creams) to keep his process as natural as possible. He sources beans for his coffee ice cream from Post Era, a local roaster that sells at the Atwater Farmers’ Market, pistachio paste from Italy to make his popular pistachiyoyoyoyo flavor, and organic berries for the strawberry ice cream and the raspberry sorbet.
“I’m honestly not trying to make the world’s best ice cream, I’m just trying to use really good quality ingredients and let that do the talking,” Fisher says. And yet still, he notes, it’s been less than two months since the opening, and the ice cream at Fluffy’s is tasting great. Fisher’s style is straightforward, with a bit of playfulness layered in. His flavors don’t have big chunks or swirls, or nuts even. “I’m not trying to get super wacky or gluttonous,” he says. However, he plans to experiment with seasonal produce, such as persimmons, which are just beginning to show up at the farmers’ markets.
“I’m honestly not trying to make the world’s best ice cream, I’m just trying to use really good quality ingredients and let that do the talking.”
Scoops are served in waffle cones and classy steel cups. Sundaes, finished with candied pecans, a pretzel stick, and the requisite cherry on top, come in glass goblets. And those who don’t want ice cream can order a platter of blast-frozen grapes or a ham and cheese sandwich made with Olympia Provisions ham and gruyere on Bub & Grandma’s spelt-polenta bread. Fluffy’s also features a rotating monthly flavor made in collaboration with local creatives. The first was with the artist Ryan Preciado, a banana bread flavor that incorporated his mother’s recipe. Now, they’re scooping lemon verbena, made with the artist and gardener Mia Lindquist.
Where Fluffy’s eccentricity comes into play is in the look and feel of the physical space. Fisher was inspired by the soda jerk pharmacy era that kickstarted in the 1920s and lasted until the ‘50s, and specifically by the original Downtown L.A. location of Pig ‘n’ Whistle, which he first read about in the late food writer M. F. K. Fisher’s (no relation) collection of autobiographical essays, As They Were. She describes the “stylish ice cream parlor” as “a fairy palace” with “soft lights,” “wide shiny windows,” “thick carpeting,” and “melting scoops of ice cream in their long silver boats.”
Inside, his palace was a wonderland of quiet elegance. The paneled walls were a soft grey, after one passed the long marble counters where people drank through straws from tall silver goblets, and there was lots of gold on the carved edgings and the magical little lights that glowed down onto at least a hundred pictures that had been bought in a cultural frenzy after the Exposition held in 1915 in San Francisco.
This passage, in her essay titled “Palaces, Etcetera,” influenced the grandiose Art Deco elements of Fluffy’s, from its green carpeted floor to its mirrored walls, and deep, shiny silver counter. “But I wanted to go a little more almost steampunk, Burning Man, freaky, scary,” Fisher says.
Like El Prado, he thinks of the ice cream shop as an art project. Thus, many of the parlor’s design elements are site-specific works. The most talked-about item so far is an old gumball machine Fisher repurposed to dispense Lactaid pills. The multidisciplinary artist Nick Poe made the 13-foot Saturn-shaped light fixture that hangs over the counter. Calvin Marcus, Fisher’s best friend, painted the pig lying in a patch of yellow flowers onto the storefront’s glass window, an idea he had on his own (miraculously not knowing about Fisher’s fascination with Pig ‘n’ Whistle). Nik GeIormino hand-carved a Fluffy’s plaque out of wood and cast it in metal. Nevine Mahmoud’s ceramic and marble beach ball sits behind and above the ice cream case. Ruth Kace designed all the fabric, including the curtains and other flourishes. And Matthew Gaulden, an artist Fisher found online, built the kinetic rolling ball sculpture, which looks like a marble machine out of the Wizard of Oz. “I wanted something impactful for a kid to remember,” Fisher says. “Like, what was that freaky place with the weird jukebox and the crazy marble machine and the big Saturn lamp?”
Many of Fisher’s friends are new parents who don’t spend as much time at El Prado as they did before. Fluffy’s, on the other hand, is a fitting hangout. There’s a kid-height shelf filled with toys meant to be stolen by their children and other eastside youngins. Fisher keeps it stocked with donated toys and dollar store finds. “You know when a kid gets in the minivan and the parents are like, ‘Where the hell did you get that toy?’ And they’re like, ‘I took it from the doctor’s office,’” he poses. “That’s kind of the concept.” He also wanted Fluffy’s to appeal to adults—to feel like a sexy place for two people to come on a date and share a brûléed banana split. The jukebox “is full of all this baby-making music,” Fisher says. “I have this cyclical idea that you have an ice cream, and you’re all horny, and then you go home and make the baby, and then the next day, you’re bringing the kid in.”
Maybe, in that case, you’d ask for a sprinkle of Horny Goat Weed, which Fluffy’s menu says “should help increase blood flow and improve sexual function,” on that split. It’s one of eleven supplements on offer, all of which were curated by Fisher’s stepmom, who is a doctor. Fisher's interest in health food dates back to his family history. “I grew up with hippie culture, and health food stores were big,” he says. His dad is a professional athlete, the mountain biker Gary Fisher. His great-grandfather lived in Beverly Hills in the 1910s and ‘20s—around the same time M. F. K. Fisher was patronizing Pig ‘n’ Whistle—where he kept a victory garden to feed local families. He worked in the movie studios and was a part owner in Los Feliz’s Vista Theatre, but lost it all during the Great Depression.
The jukebox “is full of all this baby-making music,” Fisher says. “I have this cyclical idea that you have an ice cream, and you’re all horny, and then you go home and make the baby, and then the next day, you’re bringing the kid in.”
Fisher’s brother, who he describes as a spiritual guy into organics, is one of the inspirations behind the name Fluffy McCloud’s. “It’s his alter ego. He’s the proprietor of the place,” he says. “There’s this whole idea of the heavens in the clouds, and they make the rain, which waters the grass, which feeds the cows, and the cows make the milk, which makes the ice cream.” (The song “Little Fluffy Clouds” by The Orbs, which you can find on the jukebox, was another influence.)
Fluffy’s is not only an art project but a social practice for Fisher, especially when considered in conjunction with El Prado. It’s also, quite simply, an ice cream shop as El Prado is a bar. “I’m viewing it as just a good way to spend my life,” he says. “I’m excited to tell my grandkids in 40 years that I used to own a bar and an ice cream shop on Sunset Boulevard.”
As for what’s next? “For now, it’s just be in the moment,” Fisher says. “Enjoy the ice cream before it melts.”
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