The Hotel Cafe: A Musicians’ Clubhouse

hc3 Marko Shafer simply calls it “the café.” Adele, Damien Rice, Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles call it a place where they got their start. For the rest of us, it's the Hotel Café, a box of a building on the northern side of Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood, painted red and shaded by a lone palm tree whose roots have seen their share of cigarette butts. Like many of the best venues, the Hotel Café is a living, breathing organism. While some places are simply that – a place to land, a bare platform – others take on a life of their own, a personality or point of view. Sometimes, even, they spur a movement – The Gaslight in the ’60s heyday of New York City; the Crocodile in grungy Seattle; the Bluebird in country-focused Nashville. In 2000, when co-owner Shafer opened the then-coffee shop with fellow screenwriter Max Mamikunian, there were no expectations. “I think the success of the place had a lot to do with my business partner and I being so young when we opened,” he says. “We treated the Café more as a musician’s clubhouse for friends rather than a business. Nothing was forced. We didn’t pay for ads, didn’t hire outside promoters, and we moved the entrance to the back side of the building, which allowed it to grow more organically.” It had been ages since Los Angeles had a foothold in the singer-songwriter scene – beyond maybe Jonathan Wilson’s mythical homestead, but that was limited to those lucky enough, like Jenny Lewis and Conor Oberst, to be invited in. Silverlake hadn’t yet reached its peak as a thriving artistic pulse, and other venues like the Troubadour were sonically appropriate but too big for smaller, burgeoning artists armed with little more than a guitar or a voice. Locals like Bareilles took notice, using the stage to exercise new... Sign In to Keep Reading

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