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STAYING IN | A NIGHT AT EL CID

Mainstays now with upgrades

Flamenco helps keep old-world charm among diverse offerings.

June 17, 2004|Lina Lecaro | Special to The Times

The tiny wooden stage at El Cid in Silver Lake has been trembling with the melodic beauty of flamenco music and dance since the early '60s, and its dinner shows continue to be a mainstay for events ranging from birthday gatherings to intimate date nights.

But the passion-charged stomp of the restaurant's famed entertainment isn't the only thing that makes the room shake these days. Recently El Cid has melded its old-world charm with a hip new musical palette, one that brims with loud 'n' lewd rock nights, groovin' hip-hop happenings and even sultry burlesque spectacles.

Wisely, owner Steve Edelson (the man who invigorated nightspots including Zen, Forbidden City and the Larchmont) hasn't done too much remodeling on this space since he took over almost two years ago.

Other than the outdoor patio, which now has its own bar and clusters of comfy booths tailor-made for warm summer nights, El Cid still looks like the same old El Cid. It may be a suddenly hot-again spot in the Sunset Junction area, but it's the untouched things -- the well-worn, winding staircase entrance, the wrought-iron fixtures and the long-running Sunday jazz brunches -- that give it a simultaneously kitschy and classy charm.

"The neighborhood is very diverse, and we wanted to accommodate all walks of life here," says general manager Tobin Shea, who also used to run the Garage, one of Edelson's previous endeavors. "There's the DJ community, the gay community, the art community.... This place already had a reputation for flamenco, so we just brought in some heavy hitters with a following for the clubs to reintroduce the place to a new group of people."

The clubby makeover might have created a clash with El Cid's neighborhood die-hards, but the unpretentious vibe of the new nights has helped energize the club.

The fiery yet refreshingly unfettered flamenco show (moving feet, a single guitar and plenty of sweat) unfolds in front of you at dinner, and then, just as that second -- or third -- extremely potent margarita kicks in, the atmosphere transforms, with DJs bringing a more updated movement to the place.

That's how it went on a recent Saturday when Soundlessons, one of El Cid's liveliest nights (every fourth Saturday of the month) filled up with its arty yet casual crowd sprinkled with dreadheads and quirky fashionistas. The dance floor ebbed and flowed throughout the night as different wax masters switched off, most notably the gathering's host J-Logic, who spun a seductive mix of underground hip-hop and '80s old school.

Outside, the sounds were decidedly more low-key. Acid jazz and soul provided a smooth backdrop to conversation and organic inspiration for a live artist, who was creating a cosmic scene with oil paints, and another who set up a booth to sell his homemade books of poetry and drawings.

"This place is not jiggy," said Richard Elagaza, a 32-year-old regular kicking back in a booth with his wife and two brothers. "All respect to the guys who are in it for the cash, but this spot is more chill than those Hollywood clubs."

In addition to Soundlessons, the venue attracts a similarly sociable scene at Dubplate, a dance hall night on the first Friday of the month, and at Support, which features hip-hop turntablists on the second and fourth Fridays.

Decidedly different nightcrawlers are beginning to flock to the club's Tuesday night rock band residencies (with bands such as the Shocker and Mother Tongue) run by former Al's Bar/Garage booker Toast. Other nights include an acoustic music Monday, a glam-rock affair called Trash (second and fourth Thursday), a gay dance party called High Five (first Saturday) and burlesque performers in "The Super-Sexy Show" (first and third Thursday). There's a limited tapas menu available most nights too.

The only drawback is that it can be difficult to remember what's happening when, so call first to make sure you're going to the right night. Or, come to soak up the Spanish ambience of the place -- built in 1900 as a soundstage before becoming a supper club in 1961 -- and let the crowd, music and evening take you to regions unknown.

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Lina Lecaro can be reached at weekend@latimes.com.

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El Cid

Where: 4212 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake

When: Flamenco dinner shows, Thursdays through Sundays. Club nights usually begin at 10 p.m.

Price: Flamenco shows, $27 (includes a three-course meal). Cover for club nights varies.

Info: (323) 668-0318.

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