“Atomic Nancy Spins the Sounds of Atomic Café” will be held on Saturday, Feb. 22, from 8 p.m. (DJ set at 9 p.m.) at Señor Fish on First and Alameda in Little Tokyo.
The story of the Atomic Cafe (1946-1989) is also the story of Little Tokyo, forced to move twice due to Civic Center expansion and redevelopment. The building, now occupied by Señor Fish, will be demolished this year to make way for the Metro Regional Connector station.
Little Tokyo folks are working hard to commemorate the story of both the Atomic Café and its successor, the Troy Café, which enlivened the building for some 20 years with down-home Japanese American food, a hangout for punk rockers, and an incubator for the then-burgeoning Chicano/Latino arts movement.
The Atomic Café was established by Minoru and Ito Matoba and moved to Third and Alameda in 1961. In the mid-1970s, Mr. Matoba suffered a stroke and his daughter, Nancy Sekizawa, started running the café, bringing her own taste in music and fashion.
In the early 1980s, musicians from across the nation and even overseas could be found hanging out at the Atomic Café after hours. Blondie, The Go-Go’s, X, David Byrne, Linda Ronstadt and David Bowie were just a few of the café’s patrons. Sid Vicious once started a food fight there.
After Sekizawa’s departure in the mid-1980s, her parents retired and closed the business. The Troy Café — another locally owned small business exuding artistic energy — opened in the same building. Attracting many young Chicano artists from neighboring East L.A., including Las Tres and Yeska, the Troy showcased local music, spoken word, and visual arts. Grammy-winning artists such as Beck and Quetzal performed there.
The Little Tokyo Community Council’s Transit Committee, Planning Committee and Cultural Preservation Committee have been in discussion with Metro about a public art piece to commemorate the two cafés once the building — which dates back to 1913 — is demolished and the Regional Connector station is built.
Award-winning filmmaker Tadashi Nakamura (“Life on Four Strings,” “A Song for Ourselves,” “Pilgrimage,” “Yellow Brotherhood”) is working with the Little Tokyo Service Center and fellow filmmaker Akira Boch on a short documentary about the two cafes and their legendary impact on L.A.’s music scene.
“The interview for the project have been fun so far,” Nakamura said on his blog (www.tadashinakamura.com). “Listening to stories about L.A.’s punk scene in the ’80s and the Chicano arts scene of the ’90s have expanded my appreciation for Little Tokyo as a cultural hub for the arts.”