Opened in 1946 in the heart of Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, the Atomic Cafe was owned and operated by the Japanese American Matoba family. For decades, the cafe served Japanese mainstay dishes like chashu ramen, fried rice and other dishes to locals until founders Ito and Minoru Matoba handed the business over to their daughter, Nancy Sekizawa, in the late 1970s.
Under “Atomic” Nancy’s ownership, the cafe transformed into a new wave and punk haven frequented by the likes of Devo, Blondie, Sid Vicious, X and David Bowie. Yep, you read that right. This little Japanese greasy spoon was a punk haven frequented by big rock stars who rubbed shoulders with Japanese bar maids and yakuza gangsters.
The business closed in 1989 and the building was razed last year. The space is now a literal hole in the ground, the site of a future Metro station, but the stories of its past remain.
“It was like a place for us: the misfits, the rebels, the undesirables,” said Nancy Sekizawa.
The Atomic Cafe, like other venues in nearby Chinatown, were bastions for the most influential punk rockers and artists of a generation. Both “Atomic” Nancy and her daughter Zen put their recollections and stories of running this greasy dive and its influence in the LA scene for KPCC’s Off-Ramp. Listen below.