Mad Monk Center to rise on Telegraph

An architectural rendering of what the Mad Monk Center on Telegraph could look like. Image: Avila Design

An architectural rendering of what the Mad Monk Center on Telegraph could look like. Image: Avila Design

The iconic Telegraph Avenue building that formerly housed Cody’s Bookstore could have a new identity before year’s end due to an ambitious project underway by local property owner Ken Sarachan.

Sarachan — who also owns Rasputin Music and Blondie’s Pizza, as well as the vacant lot north of Amoeba Music — describes his “Mad Monk Center for Anachronistic Media” as a two-story complex with a full-service restaurant, performance space, small flower kiosk, take-out coffee counter and analogue media shop that will bring together “the best assembly of records anywhere in California.”

“I’ve been hoarding these things for about six or seven years,” he told a panel of Berkeley zoning commissioners late last week, shortly before they voted to approve a range of permits for his project. Sarachan said he’ll bring vinyl records to the 9,529-square-foot space, at 2454 Telegraph, from all 12 of his Rasputin Music store locations. “I’m trying to bring Cody’s back as best as I can. But a business exactly like Cody’s doesn’t work economically anymore,” he said.

Sarachan said he also aims to create the “Berkeley version of City Lights,” with a focused collection of books and author talks on topics such as poetry, ecology, politics, urban farming and sustainability.

Cody's, as it looks today, closed on Telegraph in 2006. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The corner building that housed Cody’s, as it looks today, closed on Telegraph in 2006. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The second floor of the Mad Monk Center will include a 50-seat restaurant and full bar, as well as a performance space where Sarachan said he plans to hold events five nights a week. Poetry readings, comedy, reggae, indie rock and folk rock will be on his event calendar.

“We’re not gonna have gangster rappers,” he told the panel. “We might have rappers more like Tupac, who have poetry, who speak to educate people, but … it’s not gonna be a dance club with DJs and bou bou bou bou stuff. That gives me a headache.”

The restaurant will be called Commissar, Sarachan noted in part of his permit application packet: “This will consist of upscale peasant’s and worker’s food as was prepared in a book that I located several years ago. The recipes are primarily vegetarian/ world vegetarian prepared in a manner that would suit a discriminating Soviet Official’s culinary tastes.”

In response to board member concerns about crowds, minors and alcohol sales — to include hard liquor — Sarachan said he plans to have large events just two to three times a year, with much smaller events on the schedule otherwise.

“Some places are managed wrong and badly. Certain nightclubs on Telegraph are managed irresponsibly,” he told the board, which can lead to overcrowding, drunkenness and violence. “It really comes down to the management. If you’re managing things responsibly, there will be less problems.”

Ken Sarachan, in plaid, waits to address Berkeley's Zoning Adjustments Board on Thursday, May 9, 2013. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Ken Sarachan, in plaid, waits to address Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board on Thursday, May 9, 2013. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Cody’s has been closed since 2006, and much of Thursday night’s discussion before Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board revolved around people’s hopes to see a revival of the avenue, and an influx of cultural activities.

Craig Becker, owner of Caffe Mediterraneum and president of the Telegraph Avenue Business Improvement District, said — during the public comment period — that the Mad Monk Center would provide a much-needed entertainment anchor at Telegraph and Haste Street. And the proposed businesses’ broad mix of offerings, he said, would be important to neighborhood rejuvenation.

“We need nightlife on Telegraph. It’s not enough to depend on books and music,” sales of which have been pummeled by cheap availability on the internet, he said. Becker said Sarachan has asked him to help manage the bar at night, and that he’s tentatively agreed to do so.

Roland Peterson, executive director of the Telegraph Avenue Business Improvement District, agreed, and said the new business could bring “major change” and “major anchor revitalization” to the avenue.

“Telegraph used to have a major nightlife element to it, and there’s been a long, steady decline,” he told the board.

Sarachan’s management team for the Mad Monk includes Scott Cameron, who launched Guest Chef on College Avenue in Rockridge, and turned an old bar in Temescal into successful tapas spot Barlata. Cameron told the zoning board that Sarachan had been drawn to his “innovative nature,” and has asked him to work as the on-site manager for Mad Monk.

According to the staff report on Sarachan’s application, “The building would retain a two-level configuration with an interior staircase (and an elevator) although portions of the second floor would be open to create a mezzanine-like space for retail display areas, but with full-height ceilings above the entrance and performance areas. The second level would also provide access to a deck above the greenhouse structure along the Telegraph Avenue frontage that would be open in warm weather. The only addition to the building would be the construction of a small kiosk for a flower shop facing Haste Street adjacent to the building’s entrance. Other exterior changes would include re-finished wall surfaces, new lighting and signs and the existing greenhouse structure along Telegraph Avenue would be replaced. The trees adjacent to the greenhouse would be removed and replaced with new street trees closer to the curb.”

Inside, Sarachan has plans for “a full kitchen on the ground floor, a full service bar, a coffee counter with a take out window near the building entrance, a performance stage and related lighting and sound systems, and seating for the restaurant and performance area. Display areas for the retail goods would be created in the retail areas and a retail check-out counter would be added. The existing restrooms (both floors) would be updated and an office area would be added on the second floor.”

Proposed hours of operation are Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sarachan said he hopes to open Mad Monk, which will have frontage on both Haste and Telegraph, by the fall.

The name of the new business was inspired by the same Russian mystic Sarachan used to brand his record store chain; Rasputin was also known as the “mad monk,” said Sarachan after Thursday night’s meeting.

Dusan Motolik, of Avila Design in Berkeley, said his architectural firm has been hired to help Sarachan through the permit process and other documentation. The building is currently undergoing seismic upgrades and improvements that will bring it into compliance with accessibility requirements.

“Ken really decided to come up with a building or program that would allow him and the people of his age to come back to Telegraph Avenue,” he told the board. “The goal was to not create another student environment.… This is a location where people of all ages could come in and enjoy culture, entertainment and food, as well as buy anachronistic media.”

New building proposed for Sequoia site on Telegraph Ave. [02.27.13]
New Sproul design ideas provide optimism for Telegraph [11.29.12]
Can Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue get it mojo back? [04.18.12]
Imagining a future for Telegraph Avenue without blinders [04.11.12]
Telegraph fire site owner plans for temporary resurrection [02.06.12]
Berkeley’s 95-year-old Sequoia Building is brought down [11.29.11]
‘Largest fire since 1991’ leaves many locals homeless [11.19.11]
Urban think tank: Student visions for blighted Telegraph lot [10.03.11]
City hands ultimatum to Sarachan on vacant Telegraph lot [09.07.11]
The rats of Telegraph Avenue (video) [01.28.11]

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  • guest

    “Not sure I follow your point.”

    The point, as most mammals can see, is you’ll use whatever is convient to justify your highly logical…opinion,

  • guest

    You should check out his old proposal to build a pagoda. This will probably just sit around for years and never get developed.

  • guest

    Sharkey says: “I know enough to have an opinion, as do you. If you think my opinion is wrong for some reason, why not just explain your thinking instead of flailing around with personal attacks?”

    OK…read your post his way:

    “Sarachan knows enough to have an opinion about how to use his property. If you think his opinion is wrong for some reason, why not just explain your thinking instead of flailing around with personal attacks?…comparing him to Wal-Mart…asking the authorities to discriminate against him. etc.. Sheesh!”
    Sharkey says: “Complaining about the quality of comments on Berkeleyside while making the kinds of posts you’re complaining about seems sort of pointless.”

    An adolescent rage against a man and his proposed project is pointless. There are big differences between a kid’s bitching and grown up reality. Number one is money. Sarachan made his and he uses the power it gives him. Bitching kids don’t have money, little or no power which is why they bitch: Hoping the public will take notice and support their cause. This time the public has sided with the money.

    Kids like to have a boogie man, some one they can boo and then run around the corner. It makes the feel brave. I’m sure Sarachan takes it all in stride.

  • guest

    I remember when Sarachan originally proposed to the city council to open a night club in the Cody’s building and they turned him down. His next proposal was to open a strip club there catering to the large population of Asian students in Berkeley by using only strippers with small breasts and call it “Bee-stings.” Suffice to say the city council quickly changed their minds and preferred his original idea…

  • Charles_Siegel

    By the same reasoning, is his project for the Cody’s building also not serious, just a bluff to keep the city off his back?

    If he is actually moving to develop one site (Cody’s), then why not also the other (Berkeley Inn)?

  • Bill Bartell

    just like when he told the city he’s install a “homeless people’s” park, complete with built in grills for cooking, in the lot where he tore down the green tile art deco building over a weekend & without a permit, at Durant and Telegraph over 20 years ago. . . .same tactic…

  • F Scott Thizzgerald

    Good news! This will be a good start to reversing the blight along Telegraph. Next we’ll have to do something about the scary kids living on the sidewalk with their dogs.

  • The_Sharkey

    Except that I have explained why I think his choices are bad for the community, and why what he’s doing is similar to what Wal-Mart does only on a smaller scale.

    So now in your ongoing quest to get comments on Berkeleyside shut down you’re complaining that I’m not doing things I’ve already done, and then resorting back to flailing around with childish personal attacks.


  • guest

    Sharkey says: “You’re right that a music venue on Telegraph could be great for business in the area, and the Cody’s space could be good for that.”

    Some ideas are good ideas, no matter who has them.

  • guest

    It didn’t always make him sad. Once it gave him the time of his life, it was the center of his world. I’m certain a ‘Keystone’ on the Cody’s site would have his approval.

  • guest

    Is there a list of buildings in Berkeley which aren’t “architecturally significant”? If there is, it’s a short one.

  • guest

    Out-crazying the Berkeley city council takes talent. No wonder he’s rich.

  • guest

    The biggest threat to Bside comments is triviality of the self righteous variety. Work that into a “personal attack”.

  • aghast again

    Yes, “anacronistic media” is Vinyl, and don’t you think it’ll be for sale? Or do you think he’s inviting everyone to a perpetual “let’s play my records” soiree?

  • aghast again

    No one can make a comparison to the old Keystone(which is missed along with the Berkeley Square and the University Theater…which held live shows at times) if only by virtue of a similar name, since the Mad Monk references RASPUTIN. It’s unlikely that a space run by this particular retailer will be nice enough to draw the targeted clientele..Will the city see it fit to really do what it needs to in order to really CLEAN UP the avenue that someone here mentioned is Amoeba’s responsibility?
    Wishing the shift were visible….It HAS to happen! But this project is a little weak, especially since it seems unlikley to get up and running…

  • Johnny”HomelessMovieGuy”Shaw

    They’re closing in on People’s Park once and for all. First, a huge dorm right across the street and now this. Having been “home free” out there and stuck for several years, I have to agree that enough is enough. PP served it’s purpose and it’s time, but the mess that it’s become isn’t worth it. I lived in the middle of it sober and educated, but face down in the flypaper. Good luck to you, Ken. Here’s your chance to be a hero.

  • guest

    It took some guts to admit that. Bravo

  • Martin

    Ken Sarachan was perhaps the worst boss I ever had. He would stroll into Blondies Pizza looking like a mess at the most random times and yell at his employees, belittle his supervisors in front of their crew and then leave. That is exactly what he tried to do on the day I quit. I took the keys out of my pocket threw them at him and split.

    The guy is a piece of garbage and I am not surprised that I am not alone in my disdain for this individual. You reap what you sow Kenny boy!

  • guest

    Now you’ve done it! He’ll probably lock himself in the bathroom and cry for hours.

  • EBGuy

    I have to give him some credit for the Glass Monstrosity. This was during the heyday of the People’s Park Volleyball Court riots and the Rodney King riots. I probably would have built an underground bunker instead.

  • guest

    F*** off, dude.

  • guest

    Uh…like…I agree man…that’s totally not cool…I gotta use the bathroom too.

  • guest

    F*** off, dude.

  • guest

    “No one can make a comparison to the old Keystone…”

    Surprise! I did. Live music is anachronistic as it gets…a perfect match for vinyl. Had my first underage beer at the Keystone…watching Albert King solo supremely. Can’t wait for the Mad Monk.

  • nicholas

    I think this is great for Telegraph and Berkeley. thank you for investing in our community!

  • guest

    Surprise! It’s still a bad comparison!

  • guest

    F*** off, dude.

  • guest


  • guest

    “No one can make a comparison to the old Keystone”

    If it’s a music club that attracts the locals, and gives local talent a chance – That was the Keystone.

    If it’s close enough for alot of students to walk home from, instead of driving drunk – That was the Keystone.

    If it doesn’t tolerate drunks or bums (inside or immediately outside – That was the Keystone.

  • Dog Park

    I hope he’s not a horrible boss. The concept of the Mad Monk is inspired, considering what’s there now. This is a dream come true for the council, so don’t fcuk it up, excuse my Russian.

  • Joe Bob Burns

    :”,,,we’re not going to have ‘gangsta rappers’ but we might have rappers more like Tupac, who have poetry, who educate people…” WHAT? Tupac? Poetry? Educate? How the hell can you even put those 3 words in the same sentence? Tupac was nothing but an untalented wannabe “gansta” rapper, but was nothing near as good or influential as NWA or Public Enemy (who were actually more political than NWA & the LA gangsta rappers) – Tupac was a straight-up thug and he was not “poetic” he glorified “bitches & hos” in his lame songs and, not being very well educated himself, he sure didn’t educate anyone else!! He lived like a street thug and got shot like a dog. Yeah – great role model! What a person to aspire to! (Yeah, right). Tupac’s music was horrible and there was nothing good about his short, stupid life, The street trash that go around worshipping him are on their way in or just out of prison. His is the soundtrack to prison life.

  • Allure Nobell

    I worked for him briefly, and while he was not abusive he was pretty strange. Maybe he has calmed down a little with age.

  • Allure Nobell

    Agreed-great issue about a rich history.

  • lonepine

    That would be funny if it made sense.