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 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
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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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...