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Going Above Ground

In the true heart of Silver Lake, the Garage has turned upscale, and to some that's a downer.

March 13, 1997|HEIDI SIEGMUND CUDA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It has been Silver Lake's worst nightmare. For months, the musicians, filmmakers, artists and the like brought together by a collective necessity for low rent have worried that their sanctuary would be corrupted by outsiders eager to exploit its underground hipness. Well, they're heeeere.

The Garage has gone Hollywood. All that's left of the once-integral club is Sucker on Sundays--Frank Rodriguez and Vaginal Creme Davis' afternoon punk rock club. The rest, as they say, is history.

It's not like the new backers aren't trying to bring on a scene. They're booking tons of live music, offering a hip-hop club on Saturdays, inviting in the fetish crowd on Fridays, sniffing around at the rock en espan~ol scene and even planning to start a college night for USC students on Mondays. But those who call the underground home have already exited the building.

Ironically, the space has seen many improvements since the takeover, which began a few months back. Now offering valet parking, the small, one-room club has been expanded to three rooms, with a new raised stage and a much better sound system (we're not sure if you could call the previous one a "system"). A storage area was gutted and divided into a small dance room and a spacious fancy lounge.

Now, here's where it gets weird. "Fancy" isn't really in the underground lexicon of this low-key, largely Latino area. All things showy are associated with a Westside attitude and this definitely has an Eastside spirit. Think about it, the center of the live music scene here is Spaceland, which takes place in a generic tacky discotheque--albeit a much beloved tacky discotheque.

In true Silver Lake fashion, there was nothing particularly dazzling about the original Garage, which opened two years back with little more than some hubcaps and a pool table for flash. Basically, the Garage was developed out of the ashes of a gay cowboy bar called the Bunkhouse, and it became a casual hangout with live music and dancing, which celebrated gay culture as well as the multi-ethnic environment in which it was located.

Then, the Garage was a discreet affair but perfectly in sync with the area's down-to-earth feel. Now it's fancy, but in a superficial "look at me, I'm arty" way that simply doesn't ring true. Flames are painted throughout the exterior and interior of the club, and chandeliers attempt that funky but chic elegance, while a zebra pattern carpets the lounge and folk art hangs on the walls.

There's no sincerity to it, just as there's no sincerity to the music vision of the club. All the best bands currently playing here come from clubs that took chances booking and cultivating them when they were neophyte acts, so there's no risk involved. (Rumor has it the brilliant acid jazz performer Toledo may begin a stint here on Fridays.)

In an attempt to help newcomers, the Garage now sports big red signs in the neighborhood made in the shape of arrows pointing toward the venue. At least now it's easy to find.

BE THERE

Garage, 4519 Santa Monica Blvd., Silver Lake, (213) 662-6802. 21 & over, cover varies.

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