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MUSIC: Ventura County | LOCAL ANGLE

Intimately Musical

Cafe Voltaire in Ventura is small enough for audience to cozy up to artists.

July 09, 1998|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Once the city of Ventura's bus barn, but now named for a famous French guy, Cafe Voltaire is a center for acoustic music, blues, booze and food. The front of the Voltaire's T-shirts has a likeness of the man himself and the back reads "ecrasez l'infame," which means "crush the infamous." So why not Cafe Schopenhauer or Plato's Place? Simple, according to owner Todd Winokur:

"That was the name when I took over, so I just ran with it."

The indoor portion of the venue is rather small, especially the night the dozen belly-dancers showed up.

But it makes for an intimate setting to see a band and attempt to survive a 35-oz. Bass Ale. When it's warm, the large, plant-filled patio fills up, and sometimes there are shows outside in addition to Acadiana's monthly Cajun dance fest.

Musically, some of the best talent in the area can be heard at Voltaire most any night of the week, except the last Thursday of the month, which is Poetry Night.

The Legendary Jimmy Adams, the Rincon Ramblers, Copperline, Randy Rich & the Ravens, the Guy Martin Group, Euphoria as well as Grammy-winning Ojai local Chris Hillman are all recurring visitors.

Winokur has also brought up some cool talent from L.A. such as Catfish Hodge, the bluesy husband and wife duo Janiva Magness and Jeff Thurmes, and acoustic wizards Dogwood Moon.

But it wasn't always Rock 'N' Roll Central.

"First of all, I applied for a beer and wine license," said Winokur. "There was only sporadic music when I got here, so I started having open-mike nights, and eventually, all the people that were good enough got their own nights and we didn't need to have open-mike night anymore. Now we have a six-piece blues band on Monday night.

"Some of the best bands I've had here are Teresa James & the Rhythm Tramps, Danny Timms & Jodi Siegel, Doug MacLeod and Nicole Falzone. Southern Cross began and ended here. Now I get CDs from all over the U.S.--New York, Seattle--stuff from a lot of touring musicians."

And the Voltaire serves an eclectic menu, from Killer Nachos and chicken tacos to pastrami sandwiches and shepherd's pie. And it still has industrial strength coffee that could jangle a statue.

"I'd been working in restaurants as a cook, a waiter or a bartender since I got out of high school in Santa Monica," Winokur said. "I do all the recipes. It's continental cuisine."

And since the Cafe Voltaire is an all-ages venue, you can bring along the whole brood. "It's a family-style place," he said. "Mom and dad don't have to get a baby-sitter; just bring 'em on down."

The kid can have a milkshake while dad has a beer, said Winokur.

"We only have four beers on tap--Bass, Guinness, Sierra Nevada and Firestone," he said. "All of them have a high turnover, so they're always fresh."

Winokur is also a man with a plan. He was to blame for the "Live at Cafe Voltaire" CD, which was recorded last winter and will be out this summer, featuring 15 of the best local artists. His next big thing is the Strummin' & Struttin' Festival slated for several downtown Ventura venues (including the Voltaire) this month.

"Cafe Voltaire is an intimate, happening place with lots of atmosphere and lots of great music," Winokur said.

"We are pretty much the acoustic music scene in Ventura, and there's an amazing number of great local musicians."

BE THERE

Cafe Voltaire, 34 N. Palm St., Ventura. Aspen plays original rock tonight; Guy Martin Group plays blues Friday; Jennifer Terran and Nicole Falzone play original rock Saturday; Acadiana plays Cajun music and J. Peter Boles is a folk singer Sunday; Little Jonny & the Giants play blues Monday; Rincon Ramblers play bluegrass and folk music Tuesday; Total Strangers play acoustic music Wednesday. (805) 641-1743.

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