There’s a reason they call it the Elite

Photograph by Zabrina Tipton

By Chris Barnett

In my 35 years of libational research, I’ve found few saloons where women consistently outnumber guys at the bar. One is the Elite Cafe, the eating and drinking den at 2049 Fillmore, busy since the day it debuted in 1981.

The spot opened in 1928 as the Lincoln Grill. In 1932, with Prohibition drying up thirst parlors, it became a chop suey house called the Asia Cafe — and supposedly a front for a bookie joint in the basement.

As the story goes, the phone company couldn’t understand why there were 50 trunk lines into a cafe that didn’t even do takeout. Some say the Asia Cafe ran a full gambling operation in the cellar, but I can’t prove that.

It became the Elite in ’81, launched by the notorious serial bar and restaurant owner Sam DuVall, who these days owns Izzy’s in the Marina and Larkspur, with a Cajun theme that remains today. In the Elite’s most recent incarnation under owner Peter Snyderman, the food has become more authentic.

Much of the interior and exterior has hardly been touched. The wooden booths remain, with the scars to prove they’re vintage. From the high ceilings hang wooden fans lazily whirling above sculpted Deco lights. It looks very New Orleans.
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A masterpiece, created on Fillmore

The Rose by Jay DeFeo

By Jerome Tarshis

Youthful aspiration, ambivalence toward conventional art world success and a pitifully low budget came together for Bruce Conner and Jay DeFeo in the history of her masterpiece, The Rose.

DeFeo worked on it for eight years in her Fillmore apartment, building up layer upon layer of paint to a thickness of eight inches. By the time she stopped working on it, in 1965, it weighed a ton and its future was compromised by the fact that its paint was so heavy that the painting was pulling itself apart.

Looking back, Conner said that DeFeo’s potentially endless reworking of The Rose needed “an uncontrolled event to make it stop.” The Pasadena Art Museum had asked to exhibit the painting, but DeFeo put off letting it go. The eviction of Hedrick and DeFeo from 2322 Fillmore provided the nudge; it was necessary to move The Rose somewhere, and circumstances dictated Pasadena.
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