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A Rock for Lounge Lizards : The Salamander Offers Cozy Tables and Eclectic Entertainment in Silver Lake

July 18, 1993|MARK EHRMAN

When Begonya Plaza wasn't acting in Off-Broadway plays or on such TV fare as CBS' "Dark Justice," she liked to hit the piano bars and growl a few classic Kurt Weill numbers. Problem was, few clubs were amenable to her repertoire.

"Whenever I'd go to these open mikes, people wouldn't even know how to play the songs," says Plaza, a 28-year-old with a throaty alto and crystalline soprano. "One pianist even told me, 'This is too smart for this audience.' "

So Plaza, who moved to Los Angeles in December, created her own venue. "I thought, 'OK, I have to put it together, but not make it my show," Plaza says. "It'll be something where many different people come and make it creative."

Plaza mined her pool of talented friends and friends of friends--including her house band, the Randy Randolph trio, which has recorded with Chaka Khan, Dionne Warwick and the Pointer Sisters--and put the word out to other performers.

A few weeks ago, she took over an unused waiting area in her aunt's Silver Lake restaurant, Casita del Campo. Plaza's husband, Xano Arminter, a Spanish painter, gave the space the Catalonian cabaret make-over, complete with Cubist paintings depicting musical instruments with salamander-shaped parts. The Salamander Lounge was born.

In this cozy, sultry nightspot you can hunker around a small circular table, order up a full Mexican dinner or a Margarita and watch a varied entertainment lineup--say, a blues singer, a Japanese flamenco guitarist, a schmaltzy stand-up comedian emcee to keep things moving between acts, as well as Plaza herself, serving up a soulful rendition of Weill's "Alabama."

Plaza plans to expand the Salamander's eclecticism by adding poetry and "anything else anyone wants to do, if they want to get up and do it and they're good at it."

Though much of the Salamander's crowd is made up of members of the biz (the regulars here include a few faces familiar from the screen), this is no snooty industry hang.

Nor do newcomers need to feel put off by the fact that everybody seems to know everybody else. "Both my wife and I really dig this place. You can talk to anybody," says Todd Mandel, who, with his wife, Norma Provencio, works for a foundation that assists at-risk teen-agers.

Mandel has been back many times to the 2-month-old club. "If you don't have fun with the performers," he says, "you'll have fun with the rest of the audience."

* Where: The Salamander Lounge, Casita del Campo, 1920 Hyperion Ave.

* When: Thursdays. 9 p.m.-1 a.m.

* Admission: $5 or free with dinner. Beer $2.25-$2.75

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