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UP ALL NIGHT

SOCIAL CLIMES : Impulse Power

May 08, 1994|HILLARY JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If Martians landed in Griffith Park and demanded to know what the point of a city like Los Angeles could possibly be, we'd do well to guide them immediately to the Troy Cafe in Downtown's Little Tokyo.

The Troy is at once a neighborhood hangout and a hot spot, a place that manages to feed the Angeleno soul without a trace of the stylish pessimism that plagues other with-it L.A. hangouts.

An unpretentious little storefront across the street from MOCA's Temporary Contemporary, the Troy has eight tables, brick walls, an espresso bar and a corner stage. The service is living-room friendly, and the coffee is cheap and strong. (Even the infamous "Turbo Coke" comes spiked with a shot of espresso.)

A rack of magazines inside the door offers everything from dog-eared copies of the New Yorker and Vanity Fair to Coagula, a bi-coastal art journal. But why read when good conversation abounds?

Everyone who walked through the door on a recent Saturday night seemed to know Sean Carillo, who started the Troy in 1990, giving in to a rash impulse that turned out to be dead on.

"I was driving down the street and I saw the For Rent sign," he says. "A week later, we opened for business. I'd never done anything like this before. I was a film editor. But I had never felt particularly welcome in other places, so I needed to open my own."

Carillo, who grew up in East L.A., co-founded the Troy with his wife, Bibbe Hansen, who was reared in New York's Greenwich Village in the 1950s, the daughter of an artist. The menu features a picture of Hansen and the late Andy Warhol superstar, Edie Sedgwick, dancing at a loft party.

The Troy is home to scores of Downtown and Eastside artists, students and ex-New Yorkers.

Last weekend's performance by Angela Vogel, followed by the Lost Soul Rebels, brought in a diverse crowd of regulars.

The weekend performances also draw a steady stream of newcomers who come for the music and stay for the inexpensive cappuccino and priceless atmosphere.

"The booking policy is based entirely on my subjective opinion," Carillo says. "That keeps me sane because I'm here every night. I book everything but poetry. I really can't stand poetry and I hate spoken word even more."

Other than the prohibition on "public kvetching," as Carillo calls readings, anything goes.

"I try to be as diverse and eclectic as the space warrants. We have a guy coming up who's going to play some pre-Columbian instruments. I've had all-percussion bands. Then there's the usual rock, jazz and acoustic."

Carillo sighs. "But you have to be careful with singer-songwriters with guitars, because they're often people who used to do spoken word."

Joking aside, Troy is a place where the process of self-examination is as important as self-expression. The rotating art exhibits have included a policeman-painter's personal view of the 1992 events at Florence and Normandie.

Other talents Troy has fostered include the comedy group Culture Clash, the Illegal Interns--four teen-agers who run a popular cable TV show in East L.A.--and the singer Beck, who is Hansen's and Carillo's son.

Even while institutions on the Downtown scene fold or move, succumbing to riots, earthquakes or recession, Troy quietly persists, a necessary place. In a city so riven by prejudice and profit, there is more to Troy's appeal than the mingling of races and ZIP codes under one roof.

This is a place where the sense of L.A.'s potential as a renaissance town is very much alive.

*

Where: Troy Cafe, 418 E. 1st St.; (213) 617-0790.

When: Live music and performances Friday and Saturday nights at 10 p.m. Open until 3 a.m.

Cost: Espresso, $1.50; cappuccino, $2; burgers and sandwiches, $3-$5.75; apple pie, $3.25.

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