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SOCIAL CLIMES / UP ALL NIGHT

You'd Think You Were in Paris

November 15, 1996|TRACY JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Thursday nights are generally reserved for getting the weekend underway, and there is no better place to spend the near-weekend night than the Backroom at Cicada.

Tucked away in this chic French-Italian restaurant, the Backroom is one of the best-kept secrets in West Hollywood. It's classy, quaint and alluring for upper-crust followers of good music and fine food.

Cicada is the brainchild of Stephanie Taupin, wife of Bernie Taupin, Elton John's lyricist. Her classy creation is at the gateway of chicdom, near the intersection of Melrose Avenue and La Cienega Boulevard. The restaurant looks like an old French home and stands out from the rest of its neighbors since its exterior is covered with white Christmas lights.

A typical Thursday night at Cicada begins in the restaurant and continues in the Backroom, where the music gets started at 9:30. The trick to getting a seat in the crowded club is by having dinner first so that a table in the back can be reserved. Late-night diners are welcome to eat in the club.

The lounge-like Backroom is reminiscent of a Parisian-style salon with top-rate New York musical taste. There are white curtained windows and French doors, which open onto the streets in warm weather. The intimate cabaret is lit by candles and soft lights.

The music menu ranges from rhythm and blues to jazz, and changes week to week featuring such performers as Miki Howard and Millie Kaiserman. Performers generally entertain for about 90 minutes and charge a $10 cover.

Howard brought a sassy set of songs to the stage with her rhythm and blues act and attracted a large following on a recent Thursday. As her five-piece band played George Benson's "Masquerade," Howard sauntered up to the mike for an audience that was waiting to hear some soulful songs. Sitting in wire-back chairs around tables scattered throughout the room, the crowd gave Howard a big round of applause when she broke into her first song, "What You Won't Do for Love."

Her second number was "What a Difference a Day Makes," a song she said reminded her of her mother's house long ago.

As Howard sang, her face was illuminated by the moonlight beaming in through the domed skylight. Each band member took time out to do a solo, and saxophonist Rodney Taylor mesmerized the crowd with a bluesy piece. Those who couldn't get a seat listened to the music while standing and leaned into the bar.

Howard concluded the eight-song set with Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child."

"This is great music," said Darryl Evans, a first-time visitor from Los Angeles. "Some of the best I've heard in a long time."

*

What: The Backroom at Cicada, 8478 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; (213) 655-5559.

When: Thursdays at 9:30 p.m.

Cost: $10 cover charge, plus two-drink minimum. Campari cocktails, $6.50; insalata cesare, $7; antipasto misto, $12; Halibut alla salvia, $22.

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