Catalina Bar and Grill, one of the few jazz clubs left in LA, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Longevity isn’t something associated with jazz clubs; there were many of them in the 70s and 80s: Donte’s, Carmelos, Concerts By The Sea, Hop Singh’s, Chadney’s, Marla’s Memory Lane, to name just a few. They’re all gone now, which makes the continuing existence of Catalina’s even more valuable.
Catalina Bar and Grill is named after Catalina Popescu, who came here from Rumania 35 years ago. Perhaps it’s because she survived the brutal Ceaucescu regime that she is persistant, stubborn, and steely, and it is these traits that have helped her establishment survive.
I have many wonderful memories of Catalina’s. Once I sat in a suicide seat (1st row from the stage) and ate a steak while Cecil Taylor and Tony Oxley churned out very powerful music just three feet away. Then there was a rare performance by Abdullah Ibrahim: the tall, South African black-belt karate holder pianist did not want to come to Morning Becomes Eclectic because he wanted to stay in bed at the hotel. Catalina dragged him out of bed and brought him to KCRW. In the end, he was friendly and grateful she did.
On another occasion, there were two couples who came in and sat down at the table next to me, talking loudly and seemingly oblivious to the fact that people like me were trying to listen to live music. I asked them to be quiet. When they persisted, I angrily told them to shut up or leave. They left. After that, one of the Rumanian waiters came up to me and said “We have job for you. You be good bouncer!”.
Congratulations to Catalina Popescu. It takes a lot to keep a jazz club running in LA, let alone keep going for 25 years. She deserves admiration and praise, not only from us but for the jazz musicians who would have to bypass LA on their tours if it weren’t for enterprising people like her.