Seeking Asylum

In one of his novels, Kurt Vonnegut invented a character obsessed with the concept of a Hollywood nightclub.

His dream in life, his goal, his sole reason for existence, is to one day find himself seated at that supremely glamorous creation he imagines such a nightspot to be.

Vonnegut's character would be satisfied with the back room at Asylum.

It's in Beverly Hills (where, of course, a Hollywood nightclub should be.) It has an attentive, uniformed staff accustomed to pampering the wealthy.

It offers a dramatic and tasteful setting of copper-toned walls, comfortable seats, and a steel-plate ceiling (yes, steel plate). Plus the band plays melodic jazz for the patrons to crane their necks to as they watch for the next patron who enters.

"I describe this as a neighborhood jazz club in the best neighborhood in the world," says the room's music consultant, Steve Gold.

The opening of the lounge (whimsically called the Beverly Hills Jazz and Acoustic Society) is part of Asylum's new positioning.

The restaurant, which opened a year ago, is in transition. It was once hot, now it's hoping to reheat at a more consistent temperature.

"It had been very trendy," says John Kopatsis, the new manager, "and it lost its appeal. What we're looking to do is make it an institution."

The idea is to open the jazz club as an adjunct to the restaurant. It gives a businessman the option of taking a client to dinner, then moving to the back room for drinks, music and deal closing. The lounge also has its own lower-priced grill menu to attract customers of its own.

Though it's called a jazz room, by no means is this a place where the jazz comes first. The idea is the room is the star. The music is played so discreetly that the details of business can be discussed without distraction. If there was such a thing as "expense-account jazz," this would be it.

"This isn't a showroom," says Gold. "The music is not so pervasive that the customers have to concentrate. It doesn't force you to focus. But when you do focus, what's there is really fine."

What's there on Wednesday and Saturday is saxophonist Walter Davis and his backup, and on Thursday and Friday, pianist John Mayer and his trio.

Considering how much effort is made to make the music non-intrusive, it sounds very good. Both groups have a warm sound that works well in the confines of a room that accommodates only 120 patrons.

They play to a crowd that might be described as Beverly Hills eclectic. On a recent night some looked like they shopped at Bijan, a couple even looked like Bijan himself and a few might have been the valets at Bijan out on a first date.

It was a demographically democratic mix that ranged in age from the young 20s to the mid-70s.

And though it was close to full, there was no line to get in. Considering this is a club with no cover, good music and reasonably priced drinks, this won't be the case for long.

Name: The Beverly Hills Jazz and Acoustic Society at Asylum.

Location: 182 N. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills. Jazz room is open at 8:30 p.m.; band plays 9:30 until 1:45 a.m., Wednesday through Saturday.

Cost: No cover. Beer is $3, wine $3.50 and well drinks are $4.50. Dinner entrees in the lounge are from $8 to 15.

Door Policy: No age limit, no dress code. Being famous probably wouldn't hurt.

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