A Bohemian Rhapsody for Aspiring Artists


Anastasia’s Asylum is a Bohemian coffeehouse and performance space in Santa Monica where many up-and-coming artists get their feet wet. They display their paintings, read their new poetry and belt out original lyrics while patrons sipping latte read--and write--their own poetry.

When owner Anastasia Israel set up this 98% vegetarian venue with the motto “We’re open longer than you’re awake,” she wanted an art establishment to balance against her job as a medical administrator.

Along with performance art, she presents the latest of herbal teas, and snacks such as blueberry scones and meatless lasagna are concocted daily.


The faux-stucco yellow walls downstairs are always covered with paintings. Photos are exhibited in the loft where the performers and their entourages congregate. Even the restroom is an artists’ haven with paintings on the light switches and posters hanging over a silver tray of potpourri on an antique dresser.

The Asylum’s aim is to attract the up-and-coming artist who needs a performance space as much as an audience. There are poets, singers-songwriters, painters.

Israel says this is a venue for any art as long as it’s good art.

She screens all the performers before they take the stage. There are no cover bands--this place is strictly for the original artist.

Some have attracted a following. Gar Robertson has a gig here every other Tuesday 1and is absolutely flattered when he notices a patron has stopped reading or socializing to listen to him sing.

On a recent evening, Robertson is among other performers, mostly bands. He usually plays a 45-minute set of about eight songs. He plays bass for Valentine’s Revenge, an alterna band, but here at Anastasia’s he’s experimenting as a solo artist.

In the loft overlooking the dimly lit coffeehouse where hip grungers snuggle up on Victorian-style recliners or gather at mismatched wood tables and chairs, Robertson strums out some heartfelt rock on his acoustic guitar. He dedicates his song “Lefty,” a sad tale about a man who wasted his life, to Kurt Cobain.


When he’s finished, the patrons whisper among themselves about his music.

“His words are so amazing,” says an older man, who stopped his writing project to listen to the song.

Each night there are four bands, and once a month the Asylum features an independent film and open mike night. The latest endeavor, soon to start, is a monthly talent revue with performers from the Crossroads School in Santa Monica.

Painter Thomas Slagle sold two of his works during the first two weeks of his six-week showing.

While 13 paintings, including “Cascade Mountain Scene” and “Women on Horseback” remain, Israel is confident that Slagle, like many of her artists, will sell out by the end of his exhibit.


What: Anastasia’s Asylum, 1028 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 394-7113.

When: Monday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-2 a.m.; Friday, 7 a.m.-3 a.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m.- 3 a.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m.-1 a.m.

Cost: Vegetable lasagna, $6.50; yogi tea, $1.75; cafe au lait, $2.50.