Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

L.A.'S Hotel Cafes Favored Haunt for Singer-Songwriters

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

L.A.'S Hotel Cafes Favored Haunt for Singer-Songwriters

Article excerpt

The first time people encounter The Hotel Cafe, a Hollywood venue that's gaining renown for breaking new singer-songwriters, there's usually confusion over the name. "People say to me, 'Is it a hotel or a cafe?' " chuckles Lenka, a Hotel Cafe performer who recently made her television debut on Conan O'Brien's show. "It's neither! It doesn't really matter about the name - once it's out there and becomes a brand, it just gets known."

When two would-be screenwriters opened the Hotel Cafe as a modest coffee shop, they had no idea it would become a music venue, much less a brand name. Today, the venue serves stronger drinks than it did back in 2000. And the owners, Max Mamikunian and Marko Shafer, have yet to finish a script. But the intimate space has a reputation for a particular musical style, namely acoustic-based female songwriters such as Sara Bareilles, Ingrid Michaelson, Priscilla Ahn, and Meiko.

"[The Hotel Cafe] could capitalize on this sound for a couple of years," says Shirley Halperin, senior music writer at Entertainment Weekly.

Indeed, Mr. Mamikunian and Mr. Shafer are branding their venue's reputation with Richard Branson-like diversity. The Hotel Cafe Tour, now in its fourth year, will dispatch its first all-female lineup to over 30 cities this month. On the home front, the Hotel Cafe's record label is about to follow up a recent Starbucks compilation with a female-star Christmas album. The venue's roster of artists will receive additional exposure once iTunes launches "Live From the Hotel Cafe" downloads.

The Hotel Cafe's influence is way out of proportion to its actual size. The dimly lit venue, hidden behind an alleyway, resembles a Parisian tavern and only holds 200 people. The stage, lavishly swathed in the sort of red curtain usually only reserved for Baz Luhrmann movies, is barely higher than the half-dozen tables. "It's a very comfortable place to play," marvels Lenka, who will be on the Hotel Cafe Tour. "It's a little bit like someone's lounge room, particularly if it's not full. …

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