A VENERABLE Los Angeles institution has joined the ’90s, as Chasen’s this week kicked off a Monday nightclub series designed to update its client list.

Known for patrons that need to be helped to their seats, the posh Beverly Hills restaurant was taken over Monday night by such celebs as Billy Idol, Christina Applegate, Rob Lowe, Charlie Sheen and Jason Priestley. As the invitation noted, “First came the Berlin Wall, next came Desert Storm, then the fall of the Soviet Union … now, the final frontier.”

Leo Fenn, director of operations for Late Nite Prods. and a partner in the presentation with club entrepreneurs Steve Edelson and Art Davis, said the series aims at “bringing in a new clientele, the 21- to 45-year-old, industry-based clientele that will come back for the next 20 years. It’s the most distinguished restaurant in the entire city, but it hasn’t been the type of place they can go and have fun. We’ll change that.”

Dance music will be featured in the California room, while magicians, performance artists and other entertainers will hold court in the Garden Room’s VIP lounge. Upstairs, in the New Yorker room, a private club is offered for very-VIPs. Chasen’s will also offer its regular dinner menu, served by its regular staff.

A NOVEL DEAL: Atlantic Records has inked a recording pact with Robert James Waller, author of the bestselling romance “The Bridges of Madison County.”

The 53-year-old writer from Ceder Falls, Iowa, spent last week at a Manhattan studio cutting his debut album, “The Ballads of Madison County,” with veteran producer Arif Mardin. The project is scheduled for July release and Atlantic is looking to capitalize on the runaway success of the book, which has topped the New York Times bestseller list since late January.

“I don’t think there’s been a project quite like this,” said Doug Morris, Atlantic Group co-chairman and co-CEO, who personally signed Waller. “I read the book, which I loved, and then listened to him sing. The book almost lends itself to an odd musical connection. When the idea of doing an album snapped in my head , I really jumped to it.”

Waller first touted the idea of a musical tie-in some six months earlier. He sent a tape featuring his original composition “The Madison County Waltz” to a Time Warner book editor. The author notes that response was lukewarm until Atlantic “jumped like a dog on a bone.”

Morris immediately called Waller’s agent, Aaron Priest. “Within 20 minutes, the deal was done,” the label topper said. He then brought Mardin aboard to helm recording sessions, confident that the studio-shy Waller would benefit from the Grammy-winning producer’s experience.

Waller is not a complete musical novice. During the 1970s, he “sold a few songs in Nashville,” and he has performed in bars over the years. “I stopped playing bars in ’86 because I figured I was getting too old to be carrying p.a.’s around,” he said. “But I started up again last year when I went out to do the book tours.”

The Bridges of Madison County”– a tale of a four-day love affair between a wandering photographer and a lonely Iowa farm wife — was published by Warner Hardcover Books in April 1992. The initial print run was a respectable 29,000 copies.

By fall, after a word-of-mouth buzz among bookstore owners and early readers, the book was a national bestseller. Sales have topped the 1.6 million mark. Faced with a barrage of media promotion and in-store appearances, Waller was forced to take extended leave from his full-time post as a dean at the University of Northern Iowa.

As for the music on his upcoming Atlantic debut, Waller describes the material as “kind of contemporary folk with a country swing to it.” In addition to the “Madison County Waltz” and three other self-penned compositions, the novelist cut an assortment of covers, including Jimmy Buffet’s “Steamer” and Bob Dylan’s “The Girl From the North Country.”

The label is working to tap directly into the book-buying market to launch “The Ballads of Madison County,” said Morris. “We’ve met with Warner Books to discuss the project and we’ll try to cross (the album) with the book as much as possible — getting into bookstores and record stores. We’ll also be using very similar artwork.”

A screen version of “The Bridges of Madison County” is also in the works, with Sydney Pollack slated to direct. Film rights were snapped up last year by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. Meanwhile, Warner is looking at a November release for Waller’s next romantic novel, “Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend.” The author has already penned another book, “Puerto Vallarta Squeeze.”

“IT’S TOO LATE to turn back, here we go,” Paul Westerberg sang in “Talent Show” on the Replacements’ seventh album, “Don’t Tell a Soul.” But back then he had his bandmates with him, widely acknowledged as one of the best alternative rock bands of the ’80s.

Now the Replacements’ chief songwriter faces the judges alone with “14 Songs, ” his first solo album, which arrived Tuesday courtesy Sire/Reprise. The disc joins solo records by former Replacements Tommy Stinson, Slim Dunlap and Chris Mars, all released within months of each other.

“I was ready for something dangerous,” Westerberg said of his solo outing. “No safety net, no one to blame it on, no one to catch me if I fell. And it forced me to do my best stuff, I think.”

An arrestingly talented songwriter, Westerberg first tested his solo touch on the “Singles” movie soundtrack, for which he wrote not only two pop songs, “Dyslexic Heart” and “Waiting for Somebody,” but also all the incidental music.

“The ‘Singles’ thing gave me the opportunity to make music, not just write songs per se, which was what I needed to reaffirm that, hey, I’m a musician. I spent 11 years in a rock ‘n’ roll band that I’m not in anymore, but it made me think no matter what happens, I still have a gift for melody.”

He added, “I didn’t feel like I had to do a big turn of style or turn a new trick this time to reintroduce myself. There are still millions of people who don’t have a clue as to who I am, so I felt quite confident in doing what I’ve always done.”

A tour with guitarist David Minnehan, bassist Darrin Hill (neither of whom played on the record) and a TBA drummer hits the U.S. in July after a brief European jaunt.

L.A. SEEN: Restless Records recently threw a do for three of its bands at Small’s K.O. bar in Hollywood. The place usually doesn’t feature bands, but an exception was made, and the sound wasn’t bad. The Restless groups — the Buck Pets, Giant Sand and Mind Over Four — each played three-song mini-sets. Restless was also celebrating the inauguration of WEA’s new ADA (Alternative Distribution Alliance) system … Cafe Mondrian, in the posh Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood, has been hosting a series of nights known as “Industry Unplugged.” Patterned after the popular MTV show, the series features signed (and unsigned) talent, playing acoustically or nearly so, with a sparkling view of L.A.-by-night as a backdrop. Victory Music’s New York-based combo Tonto Tonto dropped by and did a set as a warm-up for their scheduled “Tonight Show” appearance. Balancing between Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young-type harmonies and melodic rock-pop a la Extreme, their set was tight, and in some places downright loud. Barry Williams, better known as Greg from the “Brady Bunch,” seemed to enjoy them immensely.