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Best Pit Stop in Purgatory

Silver Lake’s Cha Cha Lounge looks like a collision between Mexico’s Day of the Dead and disco fever — could this be purgatory? The piña coladas taste like death, but the foosball tables and the photo booth make up for that — plus, we kick back with a beer, anyway. We also love the free postcards near the bathrooms that show after-dinner drinkers adorned in Mexican fighting masks with a cheery font that reads “Cha Cha Lounge.” Even better is the crowd — good-looking in that unkempt, trendy way, ageless, possibly gay, possibly straight.

Before the joint began luring hip Silver Lake neighborhoodies at the start of 2005, it used to be a Mexican tranny bar. A plaque on the exterior marks this “Former site of Le Barito, host of a cabaret-style drag show where the queer Latino literati could hang with small-town norteño vaqueros and homegrown pretty boys.” In an ode to the former ladies of the lounge, owner Kevin Willis and other local artists have painted portraits of Latina drag queens on all of the tables.

“I wanted to give respect to the artists who had performed there for years. I didn’t want the history of the building to be forgotten with the new identity,” Willis says, as elaborate sombreros, festooning the bar, poke out behind him.

Along with the heavy array of piñatas, skulls and horned icons are both old and vintage-inspired velour paintings. The red lighting shines a little brighter on my personal favorite, a brunette with playful eyes and pert bare breasts. Turns out she is actually a guy named Chuckles, who hired different artists to paint the woman they saw in him. Chuckles still comes in occasionally, drinking a blended concoction called the Night Pirate, which has become one of the Cha Cha’s signature drinks. (Also worth checking out: the Commando, Chinchilla and the Pabst on tap.)

From time to time the Cha Cha also hosts guest bartenders. “I hired the Shins one evening to man the bar. They were exemplary employees,” Willis says. “I’ve been trying to get Tommy Chong to come in and show us his mad bartending skills, but that’s yet to happen.”

2375 Glendale Blvd., L.A., (323) 660-7595 or www.chachalounge.com. ?(Check out owner Kevin Willis’ art at www.kevinwillis.biz.)

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