The Atomic Cafe Shuts Down Tomorrow Night With an Epic Party

Nancy Sekizawa
Nancy Sekizawa
Photo courtesy of Nancy Sekizawa

We reported in December that the building which once housed the Atomic Café  - a bastion of Los Angeles' '70s-era punk scene - was slated to be razed in order to make way for a new Little Tokyo Metro stop.

As former Café patron David Byrne (order: milk, egg foo yong) would say, the days go by and the red-brick building on the corner is set to meet the wrecking ball this spring. That leaves just enough time for one last jam session with the Atomic Mistress herself. Former Café proprietress Nancy Sekizawa (aka Atomic Nancy) will be back at 422 E First Street on Saturday night spinning from her personal collection of 45s straight out of the original Atomic Café jukebox.

Sekizawa was born Nancy Matoba, the daughter of Japanese immigrants. Her father Ito opened the café in 1946, just two years after being released from an internment camp in Northern California, and for three decades it served up dollar noodles and relatively quiet conversation. Then Nancy - with her caked eyeliner, fishnet stockings and teased devil-horn hair - took over.

"I broke my arm one time when I was in kindergarten and everybody [at the Café] signed it," recalls Zen Sekizawa, Nancy's daughter, who will be shooting video on Saturday. "It was like, the Screamers logo, anarchy signs - people writing 'fuck you' and putting out their cigarettes on it. Then of course I went to school and my teacher was horrified. That's when I realized, 'Oh wow, we have a different lifestyle than other people.'"

The Atomic Café quickly became a haven for Los Angeles' blossoming punk scene, a waypoint between the East and West sides where young players could enjoy a bowl of go-go noodles with a side of the Weirdos. The jukebox became famous for blasting underground singles 24-7, and most of the patrons came for the soundtrack.

"My grandfather - her father - would bring home some of the older girl groups and old Japanese 45s," says Zen Sekizawa. "She started riffling through his collection and adding to her own."

The boxes of LPs quickly ballooned. Nancy and Rodney Bingenheimer (of KROQ's "Rodney on the Roq") trolled record stores together, hunting for finds. And once the 45s were installed in the Café's jukebox, bands from the Dickies to the Plugs would push their early demos on Nancy, hoping for some play. The collection ranged from Mori Shinichi and Kyu Sakamoto to Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra to the Screamers and the Cramps. All of whom will be heard during Saturday's spin session.

Doors are at 8 pm, and the music goes from 9 pm until midnight. Suggested donations of $15 will go to fund a public art piece en memorandum of the Café - to be installed at the future Metro station. (And if that gets you down, just keep in mind: Love - > Building on Fire).

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