Three Parties, One Saturday Night: Scene-Hopping in Los Angeles

Lenora Claire holds Zuni at her birthday party at Bob Baker Marionette Theater
Lenora Claire holds Zuni at her birthday party at Bob Baker Marionette Theater
Liz Ohanesian

In a city where something is always happening, Saturday night party decisions boil down to logistics. Does Headliner A's set time conflict with Headliner B? If not, can I feasibly make it across town in enough time to hit up both? Nearly always, the answer is yes, the headliner sets will overlap and, no, you will not have enough time to make it to both parties. Every once in a while, though, the scheduling gods work miracles for us party people. When this happens, we must embrace it.

This particular Saturday night starts with a birthday party/puppet show. Lenora Claire has an enviably odd list of credits to her name: She curated "Golden Gals Gone Wild," a collection of sexy Golden Girls art; she helped launch a party called Mr. Black, where the waiters didn't wear pants; and, right now, she's making a documentary about fart jokes. Claire and I have gotten to know each other in the past few years, although our lives have criss-crossed since the 1990s. She's a kindred spirit, a fellow L.A. native who chooses to embrace everything that's weird and beautiful about our hometown. Of course, she would throw her birthday bash at a magical, though occasionally overlooked, spot downtown.

Situated below the First Street-Beverly Boulevard Viaduct, Bob Baker Marionette Theater is easy to miss, even if you drive around downtown frequently. But for anyone who grew up in Los Angeles, it's a childhood staple. I have fond memories of coming here for puppet shows, and got to interview founder Bob Baker for L.A. Weekly's 2009 People issue. Sadly, Baker died late last year, but his team of marionettes and puppeteers remains. Having the chance to come here for a birthday party as an adult was a can't-miss opportunity.

Someone dressed as an air dancer for Lenora Claire's birthday party at Bob Baker Marionette Theater
Someone dressed as an air dancer for Lenora Claire's birthday party at Bob Baker Marionette Theater
Liz Ohanesian

We arrive in time to catch a 9 p.m. puppet show, the first of several that will be performed on the hour until the party ends at midnight. The crowd isn't heavy at this early hour, so we comfortably grab seats and wait for the lights to dim. It's a short performance: Cleopatra and a bejeweled cat shimmy and flirt with the crowd as their strings are pulled to fit double-entendre-filled songs. The grand finale is filled with skeletons trimmed with glow-in-the-dark accessories dancing— at one point, burlesque style— to "Hernando's Hideaway." The crowd is as giddy as kids.

When the show ends, Jello Biafra steps in as DJ, playing a cross-genre mix of tunes as we socialize. The crowd grows larger. Some are dressed in sophisticated vintage evening wear. Others are decked out in futuristic club kid gear. Still more are wearing straight-up costumes. Someone came as an air dancer — those inflatable tubes that hang out on street corners advertising sales — and waved around the theater as though it were a windy day near a suburban shopping center.

This is the kind of party that could keep us through the night. The crowd ebbs and flows with all sorts of people and just watching the scene is exciting. However, we have to leave for the second stop of the night. As we step outside of the puppet theater, we see Angelyne rummaging through the trunk of her pink Corvette.

Over at Exchange, techno DJ Nicole Moudaber is spending an entire night on the decks. Since her SoundCloud mixes are a current personal favorite, I have to check out at least part of the hours-long set.

We head deeper downtown, towards a stretch of Spring Street where the Saturday night douchebaggery rivals Hollywood. Inside a nearby parking garage, the upper levels have turned into a pre-party mess. A bass-heavy tune distorts as it's blasted from a car; a group of guys stand outside the vehicle, which is topped with a bag of plastic cups. Empty bottles of Mike's Hard Lemonade peek out of a trash can near a stairwell filled with puddles of liquid that I don't want to identify. Out on Spring Street, teenagers in prom formalwear look lost amidst the rowdy weekend crowd.

Remnants of a pre-party in a downtown parking garage
Remnants of a pre-party in a downtown parking garage
Liz Ohanesian

Our wristbands get us into the balcony section of the venue. In the early hours of the club night, this comes in handy. We now have more space to dance. Moudaber plays with a beat that keeps my feet moving, even when I think one of the guys behind me just slapped my ass. I turn my head, ready to morph into Rage Liz, but quickly (and fortunately) realize that it was only the massive bag carried by a woman squeezing through the crowd.

Soon, the bottle service patrons infiltrate the balcony, looking as ordinary as mall shoppers, although they're upscale enough to splurge for champagne that comes with a mini-light show. I'm taken aback by how normal this crowd is. Moudaber digs into the darker, occasionally more dramatic, side of techno. Her sets sound closer to the warehouse party scene of the mid-'00s, where the post-rave and post-goth kids converged, but none of that scene is visible here, at least not at midnight. Every once in a while, the crowd lets out a disco-style "woo-woo," like in the old song "Let's All Chant," and a guy dressed as Waldo worms through the crowd on the floor below us. I try to take a "Where's Waldo" photo, but it's too dark inside the venue.

We flee to a place that is no sanctuary from Saturday night drama. At 1 a.m., the Hollywood Blvd. sidewalks are filled with stumbling people who think flip-flops are appropriate nighttime attire. My old lady tendencies start to kick in and I think about making PSAs about all the dance floor mishaps that could be avoided if people would only wear proper shoes. Someone who could pass for under 18 stops and asks to buy a cigarette off me for a buck. I decline and keep walking, not wanting to encourage younger people in a really terrible habit. Yes, I have hit that point in my life and it's starting to disturb me.

A guy spits as we walk up to King King, then quickly apologizies, even though he misses us by a lot. Before we enter, I run into an old party pal. She says it's been years since we've seen each other and I think she's right. In fact, the last time we hung out was probably here when some other DJ was playing. As we're walking through the hallway entrance, my husband runs into his friend from high school. Sometimes, the party is good before you actually walk into it.

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Francois K. is about an hour into his set when we arrive. As far as dance music is concerned, he is a legend, a DJ who has been around since the heyday of New York's disco era. Even if you aren't a big disco or house fan, you will recognize his work. There are decades of remixes to his credit, including songs from Yaz, The Smiths, Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk and many more.

It's almost last call, so I sip on a beer as I groove on the sidelines. This is a night for the heads and it's obvious from the screams in the crowd that people are familiar with the tracks that Francois K. drops. There is nothing in here that resembles a typical Hollywood nightclub. The crowd is dressed for dancing in hip streetwear. A few groups have formed circles, where people can do their thing one by one. Shoulders snake and feet move fast. Even though Francois K. is scheduled to play until 4 a.m., the crowd thins two hours earlier. With more space, the serious dancers pull off wild, complicated moves.

Not long after the bar closes, we call it a night and, in a personal nightclub tradition, sit in line at a Del Taco drive-thru for a quesadilla to complete a pretty good nightlife adventure. 

On Cherokee, near Hollywood Blvd. sometime after 2 a.m
On Cherokee, near Hollywood Blvd. sometime after 2 a.m
Liz Ohanesian

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