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What Do Fish Tacos and David Bowie Have in Common?

December 9, 2013

What Do Fish Tacos and David Bowie Have in Common? A special piece of Little Tokyo real estate.

On the future site of the new Regional Connector’s 1st/Central (this is the current designation, however the official name is yet to be adopted by the Board) station, sits the Sen͂or Fish restaurant, a popular Mexican eatery frequented by fish taco lovers and praised by famous food critics.

Established in July of 1988 by two siblings, Enrique and Alicia Ramirez, Señ͂or Fish’s first home was located in the northeast neighborhood of Highland Park and found its new home in the Little Tokyo neighborhood ten years later. It’s one of the only restaurants where you can find a scallop taco!

Before the brick building was Señor Fish, it was Café Troy coffeehouse. In 1990, Sean Carillo and Bibbe Hansen opened Troy Café, soon nationally renowned for showcasing the best in multi-cultural music, art and performance, with a special emphasis on the Latino arts community.

Troy Café was a home to the Chicana feminist folk group, Las Tres, and other performers, such as Aztlan, Los Guys, Boca de Sandia and the comedy troupe Culture Clash, one of the main reasons Carillo and his wife, Hansen, opened the venue was to support the community and help emerging Latino artists. The café sold cappuccinos for $2 and large slices of cheesecake and apple pie. Besides live musical performances, many locals would come to enjoy the café and its ambience. A couple might play chess at one table near the front window and students may be reading textbooks at another table. The customers who frequented the café have fond memories and remember the excitement of the numerous young performing artists. One remembers Cholita, which included a 7-foot-tall female impersonator. Las Tres was occasionally accompanied by a belly dancer.

- Atomic Café’s front entrance: many of the popular musicians and artists of the 1970s and 1980s have passed through this entrance. (Photo courtesy of Little Tokyo Service Center)

Before Troy Café arrived, the Atomic Café noodle house occupied the space and first opened its doors in 1946, during the post-war Atomic Age , reflecting a pop culture obsession with all things atomic. Owned and founded by Ito and Minoru Matoba, the club was later operated by their daughter, "Atomic Nancy” and eventually grew to be a legendary punk joint in the 70s and 80s.

When she was a child, Nancy asked her father why he had named his business the Atomic Café, Mr. Matoba replied, “No one forgot about the atomic bomb, so no one should forget about our food!”

Nancy loved punk rock and was very successful in bringing that crowd. She was the brains behind the transformation of the quiet neighborhood bar/café into one of L.A.’s most popular hang outs for the local punk rock scene, politicians, and some unsavory locals.

"On any given night you could see the likes of Blondie, The Go-Go’s, Devo, X, Warhol, David Byrne, Bowie sitting down having a bowl of noodles in the company of old Japanese men with full body tattoos,” according to the blog, Depth of Sense. “The legendary jukebox played everything from The Germs to Mori Shinichi until 4 in the morning as waitresses would be jumping on top of tables trying to serve food."

The Atomic Café closed its doors on November 23, 1989.

- This corner, currently the home of Señor Fish, will soon be transformed into an underground rail station as part of Metro’s Regional Connector project. Removal of the existing building and construction of the station are scheduled to begin in 2014. (Photo courtesy of Little Tokyo Service Center)

The building that housed the Atomic Café, Troy Café and Señor Fish will be demolished to create a new subway station; however, the history and memories of the neighborhood-transforming Atomic Café will be commemorated.

Metro plans to incorporate select materials from the building into the new 1st/Central Station as a memorial marker and provide “interpretive panels” on the plaza to celebrate the cultural significance of the building at this location. Metro is working with the local community stakeholders and the station project team to make this happen.

--Yonah Hong