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Where They Still Ham It Up on Sundays

June 18, 1988|RHONDA BRIGHT

Impressionist Fred Crawford affects a Lou Costello voice and confides: "I may ask that ugly girl to dance. She may turn me down, but then I wouldn't care as much." Then he stretches his rubber-band face into the familiar golf-club-jawed bemusement of comic Jay Leno as Rhett Butler in "Gone With the Wind."

Crawford is just one of Sunday's open-mike regulars who performs at the weekend paying variety shows at Seymour Hamm's, a homey restaurant/nightclub nestled in Lomita. Though Italian cuisine is served up, the main offering is ham, the performing kind. This vaudeville-like bonanza features every kind of talent--music, comedy, magic, mime, even a fellow who plays tunes on his teeth with a spoon. In fact, the restaurant takes its name from the motto "see more hams."

The restaurant's five owners are all self-described hams in South Bay community theater. They started their club four years ago after kicking around the question, "Wouldn't it be great for community theater actors to have a place to go to after the show?" Theater hams did indeed hang out there, and would get up to sing a bar or shuffle a few steps whenever struck by the need to entertain. But as manager George Tasker discovered, "Actors supported us, but they generally have no money."

Widening the Appeal

So the management redesigned the format to appeal to the entertainment-sparse South Bay community. Rehearsed shows are presented every night except Sundays, which remain audition and open-mike nights. Now, Seymour Hamm's has begun to attract a somewhat nostalgic '30s to '50s crowd of locals who just want to sit back and be entertained.

Variety is certainly endorsed here. Monday nights feature country music, Tuesdays showcase jazz, Wednesdays bring in a 17-piece big band, Thursdays offer comedy, magic and hypnotism. Weekends are usually packed for the themed Broadway-style shows.

The help are likely to be hams, and talented ones, at that. Waiter Bob Schneider, 29, is an aspiring singer-songwriter from Lomita who scat-sings on jazz nights with his band, "Hip Pocket." "It's very comfortable here. This place is like my home," said the Indiana-born Schneider, who had just finished an original song for open-mike night. "The audience is very encouraging, which makes it great for aspiring artists to work out their craft."

Cocktail waitress Shelley Wilson, 27, of San Pedro is also a hopeful singer who has honed her voice at the club for four years. "It's a homey, hammy kind of atmosphere."

Living-Room Atmosphere

The homeyness also extends to the cozy decor of the main room that doubles as the restaurant and nightclub. Red-brick walls, hardwood floors, widely spaced tables, a high wood-beamed ceiling and warm lighting help create a living-room feel. For further encouragement, local actors' glossies and scenes from previous shows deck the walls. A large bulletin board informs the actors about auditions, show reviews and the last Seymour "ham" to get a part in Hollywood. On nice days, Tasker sometimes stages lunch shows in the tree-shaded patio that seats 80. For those who desire quiet, there's a separate nondescript bar that's insulated from both showplaces.

The food is fresh and well prepared, with dinners ranging from $7.95-$12.95. Especially recommended are the lasagna, shrimp prima vera and char-broiled New York steak. Weekend cover is $5, weekday cover is $3, no cover Sundays. Two-drink minimum or dinner. Shows at 8 and 10:30 p.m.

Seymour Hamm's, 2001 Pacific Coast Highway, Lomita. Open daily. Information: (213) 326-5650.

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