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A Hip Space Is Sandwiched In

Wrasslemania, with dueling turntablists, livens up Tuesdays in Kibbitz Room at Canter's deli.

March 07, 2002|LINA LECARO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Canter's on Fairfax is as well-known for attracting gussied-up hipsters, who swarm in after a night of Hollywood cavorting, as it is for the seasoned contingent of neighborhood regulars who gobble matzo ball soup and deli sandwiches.

This collision of old school charm and new school cool is equally evident at the 24-hour restaurant's adjoining bar, the Kibbitz Room. And while most evenings the dimly lighted, dive-ish space hosts fittingly low-key jazz and folk, Tuesday nights here burst with youthful, upbeat sounds.

In the early '90s the Kibbitz Room was home to a Tuesday night jam, where everyone from the Black Crowes to the Wallflowers--whose members helped organized the impromptu sessions--would take the mike. The metal scene was waning, grunge had yet to break, and the unfettered vibe and famous regulars made the Kibbitz Room L.A.'s place to see and be seen.

But the novelty wore off, the core group of musicians became busy with record deals and touring, and the clubbers dispersed. The only promoter to stick it out at Canter's was emcee-singer Morty Coyle of the band the Imposters and cover group Men Without Sex. Coyle was honing his own DJ skills and knew others around town were doing the same. He transformed Tuesdays at the Kibbitz Room into a dance night with competing turntablists. Wrasslemania was born.

"There were five of us in the beginning, and the idea was that we would tag-team or trade off, playing everything from rock to new wave to funk," Coyle says. "One guy would play two songs, then the next, then the next. It made for a very eclectic mix."

Four years later, you still never know what you're gonna hear or who you're gonna run into at this lively hangout. After squeezing by the tiny, packed dance floor, Coyle and Zach Rosencrantz--the only deck dynamos left from the original lineup--can be seen in a corner at the turntables, going back and forth, beat matching and melding together cuts that you'd never expect to hear in the same set. Obscure '60s and '70s ditties melt away into raging metal anthems and spanking new indie singles. They all wind their way back to familiar '80s pop from Prince, Madonna and Michael Jackson.

"When you go to dance clubs on the weekends, everybody's going through the mating ritual or trying to make deals," says Eric Thatcher, a Kibbitz bartender for eight years. "On Tuesdays it's not as much about that as it about busting out and having fun."

Indeed, the trendy-looking, 20-something crowd may be filled with actors, models, tourists and scenesters sporting dyed hair and designer vintage wear, but there's never any pretense here. A great song comes on and people flock to the floor. It may become nearly impossible to get to the bar, but everybody's got a smile on their face as they squeeze through. Inevitably, bodies spill into the bigger, brighter adjoining room--the northern dining room of Canter's Deli--to drink and socialize, but you won't see anybody ordering pastrami on rye.

It used to be you could get a bite to eat and then easily saunter into the watering hole unnoticed. Some sneaky underagers took advantage of the laid-back environment, and last year a couple of fake-ID-toting kiddies got busted. Now a metal fence is erected every Tuesday, separating the main restaurant from its adjacent room and bar. IDs are meticulously examined and wristbands issued before entrance.

Luckily, the changes haven't dampened the convivial atmosphere. The club is still full and fashionable as ever. And why not? The drinks are cheap, it's always free to get in, and because there's matzo ball soup 40 feet away, it'll never adopt the pretensions of other Hollywood hangs. "The emphasis here is on the relaxed, positive vibe," Coyle says. "It's like a little bit of Silver Lake without having to go all the way east."

Wrasslemania, Tuesdays at Canter's Kibbitz Room, 419 Fairfax Ave., L.A. 10 p.m.-2 a.m. 21 and older. Free. (323) 651-2030.

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