Backstage Cafe at the Forefront


For the last couple of years, I've been going to Backstage Cafe in Beverly Hills to howl at the moon, but I put off writing about my secret place. The likes of Herbie Hancock, Slash, Sting, Elizabeth Hurley, Dr. Dre and Tom Hanks have done some howling there themselves--and we all liked the fact that Beverly Hills was the last place anyone would catch us.

How quickly things change. Beverly Hills, a community where venerable newsman Jerry Dunphy once ruled the somnambulistic club scene, is suddenly very hot. Now, those of us who managed to live through the hedonistic '80s feel right at home at Ian Copeland's Backstage Cafe. L.A.'s top musicians not only show up here, but they frequently jam on their off nights.

It's impossible to discuss Backstage Cafe without talking about owner Ian Copeland, one of the talented brothers who shaped rock music for the last 20 years. Stewart Copeland is a popular film composer and former drummer for the Police, Miles is the former CEO of IRS Records, and Ian is a booker-agent-promoter who booked Police tours and at one time had the Go-Go's, the Bangles, Squeeze, R.E.M. and other early MTV bands on his roster. Ian owns most of the club (other owners being his brothers, Tony Broccoli and Jerry Moss), and to say he's hands-on would be an understatement. Ian actually hangs out behind the bar and shouts salutations from his perch.

One night, a rare police car chase ripped down usually quiet Brighton Way. A knife was thrown out of the fleeing car's window and Ian leaped into the street screaming, "Crime scene! Crime scene! Don't touch the evidence!" much to the squealing delight of the William Morris girls at the sidewalk tables. Without a doubt, Ian's antics keep the place jumpin'.

He has decorated his club like a hip New York City hangout, with deep red walls, comfortable modern seating and huge black-and-white prints from his photographer pals. Gold records also line the walls, adding a recording studio air to the place. In an upstairs loft crash pad, Copeland keeps instruments for impromptu jams. Tuesdays are a good night for music, especially when promoter Pumpkin Pie calls her musician pals to show up to gig and gawk.

Ian's daughter, Barbara, is Backstage Cafe's resident chef, and she does a killer job of mixing it up, menu-wise. The main menu is a reasonably priced offering of California cuisine with French, Italian and Middle Eastern dishes thrown in for good measure. On Wednesdays, the kitchen prepares a selection from The Times' Food section. (A disclaimer on the menu states, "not to imply any endorsement from the Los Angeles Times.") Starting at 7 p.m. on Sundays, the club features a "Backstage Barbecue" with a picnic-style menu.

General Manager Joules is as omnipresent as you'd expect a young blond god to be. He makes sure the mix of musicians, celebs, model-esque tummy-baring babes (and the older men who chase them) are having a good time, along with the rest of us.

Ian expanded the club last year and added a gift shop that sells everything from Betty Page mugs to autographed copies of his autobiography, "Wild Thing," a rough-and-tumble examination of a childhood in Beirut, his Vietnam duty and the arrival of punk in America (with his assistance, of course). The book also includes plenty of pictures of his ex-girlfriend, Courteney Cox. Yup, Ian knew her when she was a mere extra in a Bruce Springsteen video. Now, she's just a Friend who drops in from time to time.

There are now Backstage Cafes in Virginia and Australia, but Ian's pet project has a much more intimate and in-the-know feel than the touristy Planet Hollywood franchise. Be advised, though, that intimacy with someone besides your mate is not a good idea. Backstage features a Web cam that is available on the club Web site. You may lie, but the camera doesn't.


* Backstage Cafe, 9433 Brighton Way, Beverly Hills. Open 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily. No cover. (310) 777-0252.

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