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Scenesters Take the Detour to Memphis

August 31, 1995|ROSE APODACA JONES | Rose Apodaca Jones is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to the Times Orange County Edition

Just the mention of Memphis conjures up memories of his royal rock 'n' roll Highness. So it's fitting that the newest cool place to hang out, the Memphis bar and cafe, inhabits the old King's Inn in Costa Mesa.

Though it aspires to give young fashionables the feel of a stop on Route 66, the tiny joint--perched a stone's throw from the Lab anti-mall--is miles from its predecessor, which shut down nearly two years ago. There's no teriyaki mystery cuisine or regulars clinging to the edge of the bar. This here's a place with style, the kind reminiscent of Jones or Smalls in Los Angeles.

(Incidentally, the owner of those two L.A. clubs, Jon Sidel, is opening another bar/eatery du jour at the Lab on Friday night. The new venture is called Havana, and it's his first in Orange County.)

Memphis' look nods to the atomic '50s. Built in 1953, the building deserves as much. But instead of the ubiquitous pink and turquoise, the sunny space is treated to orange, mustard and nude wood tones. Its nostalgia is equally understated: mod vintage chairs and tables, minimal geometric shapes (including an odd mini-window). It doesn't scream commercialized retro rehash. It isn't a Ruby's or a Johnny Rocket's.

And it has little to do with the city it was named after, Elvis' spirit notwithstanding. Owners Andy Christenson, Dan Bradley and Diego Velasco simply liked the idea of naming their bar after an American city. If Memphis does well, the trio plans to open another bar in north Orange County, and the name of choice for that one is Detroit.

Memphis is designed to be the kind of place scenesters would want to head for a beer, maybe a bite to eat, and to check out the photos on the walls (rotating exhibits of black and white art), as an alternative to visiting a nightclub.

The three owners met while working at the Renaissance Cafe in Brea, where they hatched their plan to own a profitable piece of county cafe life. It can happen if they tap into genuine cool, rather than go the forced and trendy ways of other yuppie spots. A week into business, they seem on the right track.

Currently, a wide variety of recorded music plays on the sound system. Live, unplugged entertainment should arrive in coming weeks. (They'll christen the place officially with a "grand opening" Sept. 7.)

Memphis' menu is a truncated take on soul food by chef Velasco--it's basically comfort food, heavily seasoned. There are pork chops, meatloaf, Creole shrimp, gumbo and crabcakes. Dinner is served from 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, an hour later on Friday and Saturday nights, with dishes running from $4.25 to $11.95. Lunch is $3.95 to $6.75.

There's a full list of coffee drinks, flavored sodas and other nonalcoholic options. If you're hankering for something harder, you'll have to settle for beer and wine because Memphis doesn't serve cocktails. Fortunately, the wine list is long, at $4 to $6 a glass, and there are about 16 beers to choose from for $2.75 to $5.25. Tap selection, however, is limited to Amstel Light and Red Hook.


* 2020 Bristol St., Costa Mesa.

* (714) 432-7685.

* Open 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. till around 1 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday.

* No cover.

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