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Zen on a California Roll

The evolving Silver Lake club, its decor and music updated, now serves sushi.


Sushi is the perfect club food: bite-size, not too messy and great with beer. Though a few spots-Sky Sushi and Amagi, most notably-have tried to mesh night-life environments with the tasty Japanese nibbles, nobody, to my mind, had the right atmosphere and music to go with them.

Then I rediscovered Silver Lake's Zen, where club impresario Steve Edelson is practicing the art of reinvention. Edelson, owner of the Martini Lounge, the Garage, the Joint and Lush in Santa Monica and Glendale, bought the 28-year-old restaurant a little more than a year ago.

In addition to remodeling the place with a waterfall and fountain, intimate private rooms and a whole new upstairs live entertainment room, he's brought in some major league music experts, including former Al's Bar booker Toast and DJs from Los Feliz's Vida and Chinatown's Firecracker.

Edelson may be a club connoisseur, but he also knows a thing or two about food. He owned Home on Hillhurst Avenue until recently, and he had much success early in his career with the downtown restaurant/mega-club Vertigo (which later became Glam Slam when he partnered with the artist once again known as Prince).

Former Zen diners might remember that the grub wasn't exactly exemplary. But Edelson is out to change its not-so-hot rep with new chefs and an expanded but not expensive menu.

Still, it's the music that's been giving the cozy establishment the most flavor lately.

After the demise of downtown punk haven Al's Bar a few months ago, its longtime booker started serving up eclectic performers at Zen--everyone from bluesy songstress Eleni Mandell to garage-y rockers Flash Express--on Friday and Saturday nights.

Of course, Zen's sleek Asian vibe is nothing like Al's grungy pit feel, and you won't see the kind of raucous acts that played the downtown joint.

"I guess the bands I'm bringing here are a little better dressed," jokes Toast, who places the noisier performers at Edelson's Garage, where she's also taken over Thursdays and Sundays. "I keep in mind that it is a restaurant and not a dive bar." Still, she maintains two familiar touches at all her promotions: Al's old doorman and sound guy.

Actually, the loft-dwelling rebels of Al's neighborhood aren't too much different from the bohemian types who populate Silver Lake and Los Feliz. Artists, clothing designers, musicians and actors have made the area one of the coolest communities in Los Angeles, and Zen's Thursday night happening, called Doowuchalike, attracts a fierce cross-section of the 'hood's hipsters.

On a recent evening, an MTV VJ chomped on rolls at the sushi bar, while over in the karaoke room a posse of familiar female rock musicians and their pals were attempting versions of "Bette Davis Eyes" and "Hit Me With Your Best Shot."

"It's been a word-of-mouth thing," says Brandon Schoolhouse, who became a regular when Edelson started providing karaoke.

Schoolhouse eventually took over the night, bringing in DJs from underground dance night Firecracker and attracting a crowd as diverse as the music. "You'll hear everything from hip-hop to punk to dub here."

Other nights at Zen offer poetry (Sunday), acid jazz DJs (Monday) and special events such as lesbian country-western gatherings.

In the future, Edelson even wants to bring in bingo and magic shows. "There's such a great energy here," he says about his latest night-life acquisition, where there's never a cover.

Agreed. Now that the place has been transformed with fresh Japanese fare, fashionable surroundings and free entertainment, it's a sanctuary that should live up to its name.

Zen, 2609 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake. Open nightly, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.; kitchen open until 11 p.m. No cover. (323) 665-2929.

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