In two short years Café Nela has emerged as a premiere destination for underground and alternative music in Los Angeles. Located on a dark stretch of Cypress Avenue in Cypress Park, the gateway neighborhood from downtown to the rapidly gentrifying Northeast Los Angeles, this beer and music joint provides a club-house environment for fans and musicians. Café Nela’s red-vinyl-upholstered booths, glitter foam ceiling, wood-paneled walls adorned with strands of tinsel and holiday lights, and red and white floor tiles speak classic Americana reminiscent of a small-town American Legion or VFW lodge. The extraordinary collection of gig flyers and concert posters dating to the early 1980s that decorates the walls speak to one of Southern California’s richest musical traditions. The Los Angeles Beat recently met with Café Nela founder and owner Dave Travis to learn more.
DAVE TRAVIS: By providing a well-run venue, we’ve been successful in rebuilding an underground music scene for the bands and fans that played at and patronized classic LA punk clubs like Al’s Bar, Raji’s, Mr. T’s Bowl, and before that the Hong Kong Care and The Masque. We’ve settled well in our North East Los Angeles neighborhood and have had no problems with violence, gangs, the police or our neighbors.
LA BEAT: Based on your personal history supporting the Southern California punk rock music scene, it is not surprising that you would someday become a night club owner. What motivated you to open Café Nela?
DAVE TRAVIS: I was an LAUSD teacher for seven years. In 2009, I took a leave of absence to complete my movie A History Lesson Part I, which compiled live footage of the Meat Puppets, Redd Kross, The Minutemen and Busted Roots that I had captured in 1984 as a teenager in club and other venues around Los Angeles. It is worth noting that when I captured this footage, camcorders didn’t exist. I had a camera plugged into a VCR in my backpack that was powered by a battery belt. Anyway, toward the end of my leave from LAUSD, the district instituted a huge series of lay-offs and I was one of the teachers let go. A few years later, my wife, who is a realtor, identified a distressed property for sale in Cypress Park not far from our Mount Washington home. It was a commercial space that had been incorrectly listed as home. Over the years, the property had been a variety of beer bars and restaurants. Although it had served as a home at one point, it was clearly not suitable for a residence in its current state. As such, I was lucky to get the property, which came with a beer license, at a good price.
LA BEAT: Opening a bar or nightclub is a daunting challenge. What inspired you?
DAVE TRAVIS: I had been staging punk shows since high school in the 1980s. I always wanted to do this, but never thought that I would have the opportunity.
LA BEAT: How did you become a promoter?
DAVE TRAVIS: I was going to shows at a young age during the LA punk scene’s golden days in the early 1980s. The first punk band I saw was X when I was 14. A little later, I became a roadie for my friend’s high school band. By the time I got a truck, I started working for Red Kross. I did two national tours with Redd Kross. That experience was my entrée in to the scene. I then started hosting gigs in my parents’ backyard featuring my bands Permanent Trails and Magnolia Thunderpussy and friends’ bands. In 1985, I attended The Gila Monster Jamboree, an incredible DIY concert at the Desolation Center in the desert. (note: Vice Magazine recently published an informative article about Desolation Center) This particular show, which featured Redd Kross, Sonic Youth, the Minutemen, the Meat Puppets, and Perry Farrell’s band Psi Com, inspired me to promote my own generator shows at a place in the Santa Monica Mountains called Skull Rock that was only accessible by hiking trail. Skull Rock eventually became a bust, which led to promoting shows at other outdoor locations including Neptune’s Net on the Los Angeles County/Ventura County border and at the shuttered Nike missile site off of Mulholland between Topanga and Sepulveda.
LA BEAT: Nike missile site? Incredible! Was it a concrete bunker?
DAVE TRAVIS: It’s still there. There is a launch tower and other items scattered about. Now, it is a park that pays tribute to its status as a Cold War artifact. I had my own generator and P.A. system. My father was a television camera man, which provided me access to lighting gear. The shows got bigger and bigger. The last show I promoted had Dave Rat and Rat Sound handling the sound. (Note: Rat Sound is now a leading provider of sound systems for leading national and international touring acts)
LA BEAT: I recall seeing photos somewhere of the band SWA and Black Flag’s Greg Ginn performing in your living room. How did this come about?
DAVE TRAVIS: I had been doing a lot of work for SST records. Working with Dave Markey and Jordan Schwartz, I filmed and edited Black Flag’s Slip It In video. We did things for each other.
LA BEAT: LA music scenesters frequently romanticize the past and the clubs that supported this scene. More recently, Downtown LA’s fabulous Redwood Bar & Grill has been about the only venue supporting this scene, however since opening two years ago, Café Nela has become an important destination for punk and underground music. How does this feel?
DAVE TRAVIS: It feels great. Basically, I book the kind of bands that I like. Nela presents bands from a variety of genres, including funk, jazz and metal, but the bands I book represent a continuum from the bands that supported the original scene. I am very proud of the acts that I have been able to secure. Most recently, David Cherry, son of the late Don Cherry who was a member of Ornette Coleman’s band, performed with his band Organic Notes. Mike Watt plays regularly here. We’ve had bands from China and Korea play. Classic LA punk bands like The Controllers and The Subtitles have reformed to play at Nela and The Gears practically serve as a house band.
LA BEAT: What has been key to your success?
DAVE TRAVIS: I have great employees, who are knowledgeable. They have all been part of the scene for many years, lending credibility to what we do.
LA BEAT: The Los Angeles Beat congratulates you and wishes you continued success.
Café Nela is celebrating its two-year anniversary during the entire month of September presenting a dizzying array of LA’s top underground talent. Café Nela is located at 1906 Cypress Avenue, Cypress Park, Los Angeles 90065.
CAFÉ NELA SEPTEMBER 2 YEAR ANNIVERSARY CALENDAR
Day 1 Punk Jazz opening night.
Friday September 4
Brainchildren of Xenog
Day 2 Marea Hall Birthday Celebration
Saturday September 5
Motorcycle Black Madonnas
Biblical Proof of UFOs
Day 3 Roots Punk Blitz
Sunday September 6
Day 4 Cosmic Jazz Funk from Watts to Wilmington
Thursday September 10
David Ornette Cherry w/ Organic Notes
Day 5 American Thunder
Friday September 11
Pat Todd and the Rank Outsiders
Day 6 Rock Heavy Blast
Saturday September 12
Day 7 Double Sylvia Juncosa
Friday September 18
doors open at 8:30 $5
Davy 8 Dave Travis Birthday
Saturday September 19
Los Issues 9
Atomic Sherpas 11
Carnage Asada 12
doors open at 8:30 $5
Day 9 From Deaf to Deafening
Sunday September 20
ASL Cabaret 6
Cat Museum 7
Abactive Ramex 8
Baron Bandini 9
Underground Alliance 10
Doors open at 6.
$3 before 7, $5 after 7
Day 10 A Night of Musical Anarchy
Thursday September 24
Not Quite Free
doors open at 8:30 $5
Day 11 La Pistola y el Corazon
Saturday September 26
doors open at 8:30 $5
Day 12 Haunted Garage Grand Finaly
Sunday September 27
Tune to Me