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GOING OUT | A NIGHT AT THE LITTLE TEMPLE

Enjoying an extreme makeover

This now-exotic oasis plays Latin music, hip-hop and more.

March 18, 2004|Lina Lecaro | Special to The Times

The bright red flames outside have been extinguished with black paint, and the small vertical sign that read "The Garage" now says "The Little Temple." But the changes inside the formerly grungy Silver Lake rock club, which unceremoniously shut down last year, are much more striking, not to mention inviting.

Enter the Little Temple and you'll find a dark, atmospheric oasis, adorned with exotic fabrics, intricate wood and comfy furniture. The backroom, which serves as a lounge, with couches and a private pillow-covered room for sitting cross-legged with a group, has its own DJ booth and bar, while the main room -- which showcases live entertainment -- has a more Asia-meets-Africa feel with Chinese lanterns and circular metal trays on the floor that encase candles and drinks.

Structurally, the two-roomed space is the same, but atmosphere-wise it's like another world, or two, bringing to mind an opium den, tribal hut and Middle Eastern lair all at the same time.

On a recent Saturday night, DJ Garth Trinidad helmed the decks, as casually fashionable types of every ethnicity grooved to his smooth soul sounds. Couples cuddled in low-lighted corners, sipping wine and nodding their heads to the beat. The mood was relaxed and sexy. People obviously hook up here, but not in a meat-markety way. You're just as likely to make a friend in this kind of unpretentious environment.

Some of Silver Lake's old-school contingent might miss the Garage, but few could argue that the shabby music shack needed an overhaul. It showcased some great music in its heyday, but it was starting to lose its luster, with the area's bigger, more buzzed-about shows frequently found at Spaceland and the Echo. Even a skate shop across the street was drawing more heads at its impromptu punk shows.

It was time for something different, and Louie and Netty Ryan saw a golden opportunity. The couple -- whose good-natured demeanor and eclectic music tastes established two huge Westside club successes, Temple Bar and Zanzibar -- had been itching to bring their rhythmic mix of sounds to the area, and the space's layout and culturally rich location matched their sensibilities perfectly.

The Ryans started their club career in New York as owners of the successful Scrap Bar in Greenwich Village, then moved to Los Angeles with the intention of opening a live-music venue. After discovering KCRW-FM (89.9) on the radio, they decided its brew of experimental, urban and world music would be the template.

In 1999, they took over St. Stephen's Green and opened Temple Bar, a Buddha-covered house where acts such as the hip-hop orchestra DaKAH packed 'em in on a weekly basis. Three years later, they opened the more DJ-driven Zanzibar (in the space that used to be the West End) down the street.

"We're really like a big family here," says Ryan, who, with his wife, has a staff that includes KCRW producer Cary Sullivan booking, Dublab radio co-founder Carlos Nino and a crew of notable DJs, promoters and bands. They also enjoy a loyal contingent of customers, on both the east and west sides of the city. "There's a real community that frequents all our places."

Little Temple -- which, Ryan insists, is "not another Temple Bar or a Temple Bar Jr." -- hosts weekly promoters, including Friday's Latin-percussion-flavored Yerba Buena, Saturday's soul- and reggae-infused Metisse, Sunday's funky fete Proper, Wednesday's hip-hop, electro-bumpin' Breaks of Dawn and Thursday's Dublab nights.

The idea is for bands to appear early and DJs to spin after, though in this laid-back scene, you never know what might happen when. Musicians often jam with turntablists, and surprise guests are always a possibility.

"Nobody plans this stuff; it just happens," says Sullivan, who puts on Wednesday's gathering. "I think it's because we're all promoting the same thing: musical diversity and good vibes."

But are there any reservations about opening a new club with a vastly different identity than what was there before? After all, it was a well-known rock spot, and now that's about the only genre you won't find here.

"Absolutely not," says Ryan. "I think it's an honor to take over a space that was so well established. We're carrying the torch and continuing something, but we're also reinventing the place and breathing new life into it."

*

The Little Temple

Where: 4519 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.

When: Tuesdays to Sundays,

8 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Who: 21 and older

Price: Covers vary

Info: (323) 660-4540

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