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A Good Day to Dine: Zelda's is a fine place to enjoy a laid-back lunch with a great view, but it's at night that the party begins.

Rockin' the Esplanade

With signature seafood, drinks, music and unusual events, Zelda's always promises a beach party

By Jessica Neuman Beck

If you're walking along the Esplanade in Capitola Village and you notice a party going on, chances are it's at Zelda's.

"I do a lot of theme parties," says Ed Leipelt, Zelda's manager since 1989. "We do a luau, we do Western themes ... we do a lot of gangster- type stuff, Roaring '20s and stuff like that."

The flapper era suits Zelda's, which took its name from Jazz Age poster girl Zelda Fitzgerald. Owner John Ealy also used to have another '20s-themed restaurant as well, the Gatsby in downtown Santa Cruz, but that one was destroyed in the '89 earthquake. Still, in homage to the Jazz Age greats, Zelda's New Year's party theme is always Roaring '20s.

Prohibition, however, is in no way in effect. Metro Santa Cruz readers regularly nominate it for the highly coveted Goldie award in the "Best Bar" category, and it was voted such by capitola.com, as well. Two drinks stand out from the others at Zelda's bar: the $1.99 Happy Hour Margarita, and Zelda's Famous Bloody Mary. "We make our own ingredients for that," Ed says, and laughs. "It's a secret recipe, I guess."

The food at Zelda's is very Californian, with a lot of fish and pasta dishes on the menu. "Our signature dish probably would be our mushroom garlic steak or mushroom garlic chicken," says Ed. "We do a little bit of everything, actually." They also have specials almost every day of the week, and a decadent dessert menu which includes the Chocolate Lava Cake with a molten chocolate core.

Always looking for an excuse to have a party, Zelda's does a monthly Birthday Bash. "We pick a date, usually the third Wednesday of every month," says Ed. Everyone with a birthday in that month can make a reservation, and once they've flashed their ID at the server they get a prime rib dinner--on the house. Zelda's Birthday Bashes also feature live music, balloon animals and a fun, festive atmosphere. "The birthday parties are growing to be quite an event," Ed says.

Though the restaurant is small, its location beachside makes it an ideal spot for music on the deck when warm weather puts Capitola-by-the-Sea back in season. This summer, Zelda's plans to have live music every night of the week. "That's something we haven't really done before," Ed tells us. "We've done it on the weekends but we're going to do it every day."

On that front, Zelda's has been home to some uniquely Santa Cruz events. This year, for the second time, they hosted the MARS Recording Studios' Songwriters' Showcase, a forum for local musical talent co-sponsored by Metro Santa Cruz. Over a period of 13 weeks, Zelda's opened its doors to nearly 100 musicians--mostly local, but some from as far away as Los Angeles. Each week saw the event increasingly packed, and by the final night on Feb. 10--in which the eight top musicians, each of whom had won in two previous rounds, faced off for the grand prize of a recording contract with MARS--the entire, packed-to-the-gills place was electric. In the end, the showcase was won by Santa Cruz singer/songwriter Sherry Austin, and Zelda's had made its mark as a premier spot for up-and-coming musical talent.

"I think it's great. It's great for the local talent to get out and show their wares," says Ed. "We had a great one this year."

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From the March 3-10, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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