It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a permit to cry. As local indie-music fans know, City Councilman Eric Garcetti's office has not been kind to live-music practitioners in recent months: The Sunset Junction festival's last-minute permit denial followed the closure of all-ages art and music space Echo Curio last October. But as it enters its ninth month hosting shows, restaurant-cum-concert space Lot 1 Café is determined to stay open, and to give both rising bands and aspiring bookers a place to get their starts.
Since the beginning of the year, the Echo Park venue has offered $5 indie, folk and jazz shows on a nightly basis on its sweaty stage. At first glance, the spot's M.O. is not dissimilar to the now-defunct Echo Curio next door, in that both tiny spaces had cheap cover prices and four-bands-a-night marathons. (Echo Curio was shut down after legal run-ins over its BYOB policy and other permitting issues.)
Lot 1 owner Eileen Leslie says the similarities end there, however. "It's no problem for anyone to come in [for an inspection] because I'm always going to run it legally," she says, claiming that state officials unsuccessfully tried to shut her music down in August after months of smooth sailing. Judging by the crowds spilling out of the venue's doors onto Sunset Boulevard these days, the neighborhood has embraced it.
The Café arrived in 2008 as a high-end restaurant, before taking a hiatus not long afterward following the departure of chef Josef Centeno, who went on to co-found downtown's Lazy Ox. It returned in 2009 and now offers dinner and drinks. Before becoming the concert space, the second room was a late-night vintage shop that served idle attendees of the Curio's nightly shows. (The room holds only about 60 people.)
Leslie began booking concerts of her own in January with help from Echo Park indie fixture Ashley Jex, who is the owner of Jaxart Records as well as a band manager and blogger for Rock Insider.
Nowadays, however, Lot 1 boasts as many as seven bookers during any given month. The regular schedule includes Buzz Bands blogger Kevin Bronson's songwriter-centric Second Tuesday, a jazz night organized by Weekly contributor Drew Tewksbury and additional nights helmed by Sean Carnage, L.A. Record's Rebecca Balin and Manzan Records.
In fact, you're invited to give it a try.
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"If it feels like the right fit ... we're going to give [people] the opportunity to put on a night here and see how it does," Jex says. "It's more of a community space as opposed to a traditional venue."
"The most important thing is giving up-and-coming bands a place to play," Leslie adds. "I've seen a lot of those bands go on to play the Echo or the Echoplex."
Lot 1 alumni range from rock acts Future Ghost and So Many Wizards to the experimental jazz of Brainfeeder's Austin Peralta. In fact, Lot 1 has become an incubator for upstart locals in search of a stage, like David Shane Smith, who debuted his Shampoo EP in a three-night run there. Lot 1 has allowed him to test the waters with an intimate audience.
"The general vibe behind the place seems to be that it's supportive of local artists," he says, "a place for new things to happen."