Remembering the Bla-Bla Café

Sandy Ross looks back at a legend

Studio City Sun

June 2-8, 2006

Reviewer: Mary Larkin

Although it's been gone for more than 24 years, the Bla-Bla Café - a unique Studio City restaurant and entertainment nightclub which served as the "Cheers" of its time from 1971 through 1982 - remains a legend.

Sandy Ross, one of the club's regular performers and its entertainment coordinator for eight years, has captured the café's history and memories in her new book, A Place called the Bla-Bla Café, published by SLR Productions. To Ross, the café was ". . .where I learned about friendship, where I learned about love, and where I learned about loving."

"I'm used to telling stories, but I didn't have to write this story. . .it was just my work." Ross said.

Bla-Bla Café was originally located on Ventura Boulevard at the corner of Fruitland Drive, but moved farther down the boulevard near the corner of Whitsett in 1978. The cafe was owned and managed by brothers Sebastian and Eddie Massa, originally from New York City. They envisioned the Bla-Bla as "a training ground for young entertainers. . .to encourage an openly mixed clientele."

As the music and comedy industries moved from New York City to Los Angeles in the late 60s and early 70s, new venues sprung up to showcase emerging talent. At that time, "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" moved from New York to Burbank. The Comedy Store opened on Sunset and The Improvisation came to Melrose.

Smaller venues such as the Bla-Bla Café were also born. During the early 1970s, the Bla-Bla Café was the only venue to boast an ongoing stage - seven days per week, every day of the year - featuring full 45 minute to one-hour sets for new comedy and music.

"It is rare when one gets to do what they had wished for in their earlier years - and when it happens it is a blessing. And so it was." Recalled former co-owner Edward Massa.

Throughout its history, the Bla Bla Café saw many young writers and performers who went on to attain success, including Jay Leno, David Letterman and Robin Williams. Well-known mausicians such as The Police, Al Jarreau, Vonda Shepard and Huey Lewis and the News made early appearances as well.

But the Bla-Bla was more than just a performing venue. Along with being a spirited entertainment club with nightly performances of music and comedy, its was also a restaurant serving cottage fires, fritattas, and a guacamole called "guac and pappas." It served as an after-hours breakfast spot open until 4 a.m. every morning.

Maybe most importantly for its clientele, the venue was also a virtual family to staff, entertainers, and their families and friends - the "Blabettes." The term Blabette was coined by Al Jarreau to describe the extended Bla-Bla "family" members who followed performers no matter where they might be performing, enthusiastically employing bells, horns, rattles and tambourines to show support.

Although the Bla-Bla Café hasn't been around since 1982, Ross' A Place Called the Bla-Bla Café captures its atmosphere in such detail that time melts away.