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Feeding lusty appetites

August 08, 2008|Jessica Gelt | Times Staff Writer

IN THE warm yellow light of the lounge, the waitress' bare shoulders appear as soft and smooth as the skimmed nama yuba tofu she has placed on the table. Her long legs, made longer by gold high heels, are sheathed in fishnet stockings, and a white silk garter circles her upper right thigh. She is wearing a tiny French maid uniform that cinches her waist and pushes up her chest like a bustier.

No, Halloween hasn't moved to August. A trendy Japanese-style maid cafe has moved to Little Tokyo. Located next door to Sushi Gen in the slightly ratty Honda Plaza strip mall near Alameda and 2nd streets, Tapas & Wine Bar C was opened in March by a Taiwanese woman known simply as Cha Cha, who owns two members-only clubs in the L.A. area.

The venue is inspired by the French maid cafes that rose to popularity in the Akihabara district of Tokyo. Like its Far East counterparts, Bar C employs only women, all of whom look stunning in the requisite dress and are good at the karaoke that is offered.

Manager Jazz Schleicher, who wears a tailored black pant suit with a low-cut top and oversees the lounge with a cool maternal air, says that people can be a bit shy about the bare skin around them when they first come in, but then they quickly get over it.

"I think Hooters is worse than we are," she says. "We have fun here, and my girls are really friendly." That Schleicher refers to the servers as "my girls" and to customers as "clients" only adds to the already-permeating atmosphere of sex.

The small, rectangular space looks a bit like a basement bordello. A red-walled entrance with a gilded gold mirror leads to a windowless room with a narrow walkway between a long black bar and low black lounge tables separated by wispy black curtains. The walls are covered in soft, gray faux-fur and the benches in fuzzy red felt; individual fringed table lamps line the walls; and wooden wine racks back the bar. A large brass mermaid dripping water and holding a hot-pink lamp aloft decorates the back of the room.

On a Tuesday night the crowd is thin, consisting of a few double dates and the occasional pair of businessmen in stiff shirts with unbuttoned collars and rolled-up sleeves who flirt with the servers.

Everybody comes to drink, and the specialty cocktails have lusty names such as Fornication, Red Silk Panties, Maiden's Blush and Mistress. The menu is designed to titillate as well: Bubbling pots of fondue, rare beef tataki with cherry tomatoes, firm, nut-flavored foie gras atop moist chunks of daikon and creamy seafood pasta loaded with clams are meant to be shared. The servers lay black silk napkins in your lap and bring you steaming soap-scented towels to wash your hands.

The ultimate goal of this sensual overload is to submerge you in fantasy. Whether or not you take the bait depends on your definition of sexy. For some, the lounge's brand of what can easily be called sexual kitsch is just that and nothing more, but for others it works, if only for a moment.

"I get women who get so excited that we have French maid costumes that they want to try it on themselves," says Schleicher with a sly smile. "And I've allowed it."


Tapas & Wine Bar C

Where: 428 E. 2nd. St., Los Angeles

Prices: Drinks $8 to $12, fondue $24, pasta $18

Info: (213) 628-8877

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