It's standard L.A. lore that starving actors are often the ones serving you at restaurants around town. But punk rockers? That's what you get at Millie's--the dinky diner in Silver Lake. That crusty-looking little guy with the dreadlocks who brings you a cup o' joe, that would be Keith Morris, lead singer of the Circle Jerks. That black-haired woman greeting customers from behind the counter with a singsong-y "Mornin' "--the Ringling Sisters' Iris Berry. And the big guy verbally abusing you while he takes your order (you: "I'd like a cup of coffee"; him, as if stunned: "No WAAAAY!") is Charlie Hutchinson from PopDefect. Millie's is a musicians' welfare program of sorts, as eight of its dozen employees trade instruments and microphones for order pads and cutting boards come sunup.
"We're like rats or something," says Hutchinson. "Once you get one, you're gonna get more."
Make no mistake that for Millie's rocker-cum-wait staff, working there is not some smirking punk statement on the futility of the market economy but a necessary adjunct to earning a living. "We've got to pay our bills," says Morris, who for 17 years has fronted one of L.A.'s seminal punk bands. "Some of the people that work here are in critically acclaimed bands, but a lot of times that doesn't equate to owning homes and big, fancy cars."
And Millie's, which also employs the Geraldine Fibbers' drummer Kevin Fitzgerald and hotshot roots guitarist Billy Pittman, provides a job compatible with the chaotic schedule of a musician. It's open for breakfast and lunch only, thus freeing evenings for gigs, and extended time off for touring or recording can be had. While there's the occasional misery of having to clock in only hours after closing Spaceland, the agony is tempered by co-worker empathy and the lax atmosphere.
"There's been many times I've gone in with a few hours' sleep," says Hutchinson. "But, as a waiter, you can be pretty obnoxious and sort of scream through your hangover."
Millie's co-owner/cook Patti Peck chalks up her musicians-heavy payroll to a weakness for hiring peers (she's a veteran of L.A.'s punk scene) and the fact that she can "tolerate their bad behavior." Of course, bad behavior is a relative term. For example, Morris, who's based his musical career on being a loose cannon, considers his beat to be a grounding experience. "We're not used to taking orders," he says. "Millie's just makes us common, everyday people." Or at least as common and everyday as a fortysomething punk rocker can be.