Gilles Knafo (right) and his partner bring Leucadia funk to Baja.
Only the Belly Up has a greater tradition of bringing live music to North County than Gilles Knafo. He opened the Calypso Cafe in 1995 as a Mediterranean-style restaurant and dinner club. His seven-night-a-week blues, jazz, Latin, and acoustic format attracted performers such as the Paladins, Candye Kane, Semisi, Ike Turner, the Mar Dels, Shoreline Roots, and skater/musicians Danny Way and Bob Burnquist. Singer/songwriter Jack Tempchin played every Tuesday night.
The Calypso was housed in a residence built in 1908. “We were keeping Leucadia funky,” Knafo tells the Reader. “Now Leucadia looks like fucking La Jolla. I think we represented the last years of funky Leucadia.”
Then came a 2009 kitchen fire. Knafo says red tape from the City of Encinitas kept him from re-opening for a year-and-a-half. “The City of Encinitas pretty much put me out of business. It cost me a fortune to reopen. By the time I finally reopened [in 2011] the momentum was gone.”
He admits that fatigue was also a factor. “I threw a party for 100 people every single night for 17 years. I was beat up.” He closed the Calypso in 2012.
Knafo, 49, says he is revitalized by his new venture, at a place with significantly more bliss, less government regulation, and one hell of a surf break. Baja Calypso opens this week near Rosarito Beach and the famed K-38 surf spot.
“My family and I love it there. I have a beautiful patio overlooking the ocean. Every surfer knows where it is.”
While it is expensive and sometimes difficult to get a liquor license in Alta California, Knafo says its a piece of cake in Baja. “It is very easy down there.”
He says he will eventually host some of his former longtime musicians to come play for him again in Baja Calypso, as long as they play acoustic.
“I want to get the kitchen up and running and then we will bring in the music.”
Knafo says his partner, who has a successful midwife business, will come down with their young daughter when they can. Likewise, Knafo says he will make it back home when he can. “Encinitas is only an hour away.”