Red is an important color at El Cid in Silver Lake, one of the few "show restaurants" in Los Angeles.
A plush red curtain shrouds the stage. Red tablecloths on all the tables. Lipstick-red coats on the waiters. Even some of the walls are red. And let's not forget those winding, endless steps at the entrance, those dreamlike steps that lead you down, down, down past a garden, hanging plants and a tinkling fountain. They are--red.
If all this red makes you think you're in for something glamorous and exotic, you're right. After headwaiter Manuel ("At your service!") takes your order for cocktails or a four-course dinner, you hear sounds from backstage. First, tittering; then commands in Spanish. Then you hear clapping. Next, something that sounds like the thundering of a thousand hoofs--but rhythmic.
Manuel sails by with an order of Pollo Madrid for one table, a dish of Camarones Cadiz for another. And suddenly the red curtain draws to a close. The taped Spanish music drops to silence. Lights dim. You hear the twang of a Spanish guitar. And then--the curtain flutters open again.
The crowd is hushed. Couples clasp hands. Old men in suits murmur. Lovers move closer.
Onstage, the dancers--two females in florid costumes, one male, his brow arched like Valentino's--stand poised and ready for drama.
The singer speaks rapid Spanish into the microphone and then launches into a heart-wrenching ballad. In answer to his song, head dancer Angelita ventures into center stage, her heels hammering at the floor with impossible speed. She swishes the huge ruffles on her skirt. A fan springs out of her hand.
Sitting on the sidelines, the other dancers hail out in Spanish. Their hands fly together almost as fast as their feet hit the floor.
In the audience, uptilted faces--hued by the blues and greens and pinks of the stage lights--hang on every moment. They beat the tables and clap along to the staccato rhythms onstage. " Ole! " one man shouts, his boots pounding the floor.
"Oh, God, I feel so transported!" the woman next to you says. "There's just nothing else like this in L.A.!"
After each dance vignette, the red curtain closes--just long enough for Manuel to honor a few birthdays.
Oozing machismo, the male dancer now takes center stage. The two women join him and they and the singer sing and dance an intricately woven tale. But now what's this? A short, buxom woman rattles on stage, a kind of Spanish Mae West. She's singing and dancing along with the best of them, but it's obviously comic. "She's our fireball," says owner Jack Heywood of Pepita. "She puts life into the show."
Backstage, you talk to head dancer Angelita. You're floored when you hear her Southern California accent. "I'm from here," she says, "but I trained in Spain." If she gives the perfect illusion of being from another place, another time, it's fitting. El Cid was originally a movie studio, built by D. W. Griffith.
And it may still be one of the best-kept secrets in Los Angeles. "A lot of people don't even know what flamenco is ," says Heywood. "One lady called and said, 'I just can't imagine how you can get birds to dance on stage.' She thought it was flamingos!"
El Cid, 4212 W. Sunset Blvd. , Los Angeles, (213) 668-0318.