When Jumbo’s Clown Room opened on June 27, 1970, it was a neighborhood bar. Jumbo had a vision that it would be special in that he would plan multiple fun activities.
There were theme parties and food and dancing. Jumbo wrote a monthly newsletter chronicling all the fun things for the month. There were luaus with roasted pig, pillow parties and pajama parties. There was a Jumbo's drinking team and a clown of the month. Fast-forward and as the years past, Jumbo's became a disco before disco was hip. Then it was country and then in 1982 it became a strip club.
In 1990 I took over and in the past 28 years JCR has changed but at a slow pace. The most amazing is the talent. All the performers are incredible. The pole work and costumes and themes and parties make it exciting. We have been in numerous films, TV, photo shoots and music videos.
But we still are quite simple.
Drinks are reasonable.
No cover charge.
Owner, Jumbo’s Clown Room
Karen Taylor, daughter of Jack "Jumbo" Taylor, provided L.A. Weekly with the above comments in a hand-typed letter when asked for perspective on the legendary bar's 48th anniversary today. Getting them this way was kind of perfect, too, because Jumbo's is old-school cool in the purest sense. Jumbo's has always been a punk-rock alternative to full-on strip clubs but not just because of the alternative beauties who take the stage. It's a female- and family-owned business, with female bartenders (disclosure: One of 'em is a bestie to this writer) and women who evoke individuality and power onstage and off. The red-swathed, big top–themed drinking hole also has one of L.A.'s best jukeboxes, which is 100 percent controlled by the dancers who take the stage. They have great taste in music, too.
When city ordinances forced them to become a bikini bar (there's never been full nudity) in 2004, it didn't change a thing in terms of crowd flow. The girls just got more creative. And while it may never live down its most famous ex-employee — Courtney Love herself told the Weekly that her time at Jumbo's was just a small part of her life as a stripper (she also worked at Century Lounge near the airport and Seventh Veil on Sunset) — it's really only older locals who haven't been to the bar in a long time who hold misconceptions about the place. Jumbo's has a warm, familial vibe that's anything but skeezy or sleazy. And believe it or not, many come for the bar itself as much the entertainment.
Everybody in L.A. knows that Jumbo's is the place to see the city's sexist and most unique dancers (many of whom also perform on the burlesque circuit and have top-notch pole skills), drink cheap cocktails and hear rockin' music. And for the hip millennial fan base who pack the place on weekends, that's all they know.
There are too many famous Jumbo's fans to list, but two significant ones include Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister before he died (if the Rainbow was home, then Jumbo's was his home away from home), and Anthony Bourdain, who was such a fan he ended his first show, Travel Channel's The Layover, inside Jumbo's (and not many have filmed inside — they don't allow patrons to film or photograph). "It's a magical castle that exists nowhere else but in L.A.," Bourdain boasted a few years ago.
These days, you can walk into any strip club and see tattoos, piercings, dyed hair onstage, but a few decades ago that wasn't the case. There was a "stripper look" and it was usually blonde, tan and doctor-enhanced. The Playboy/Hef's girlfriend look. That type of performer can definitely be hot, but so can other types, and Jumbo's almost always attracted edgier women, though they've had their share of traditional stunners too.
When Suicide Girls became a thing and burlesque started to meld with fetish in L.A. clubs, Jumbo's had long been showcasing the aesthetic and breaking down the barriers. It goes beyond style, too: The clichés about strippers with druggie/daddy issues were replaced with an image of sexual empowerment, athleticism and badass rocker chicks.
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"Jumbo's is the van with the wizard airbrushed on the side and illegal tint," says the sassy brunette dancer who goes by the name Violet (all of Jumbo's girls use fun fake names and you can see which of your favorites are on the schedule via a light-up board just outside the dressing room, or online via Jumbo's Instagram. "And the van is always a-rockin!"
Another dark-haired vixen, Lola Pop, who's been at Jumbo's longer than most (and remains one of the bar's most popular), got her start go-go dancing in clubs, adding Jumbo's to her repertoire several years ago. You'd usually see her late weekend nights, but these days she's one to see on earlier shifts. "I obviously love it here," she says. "They'll never get rid of me. I'll die on that stage."
Thankfully no one has ever done that, but the ladies here do kill nightly, and hopefully will continue to do so for many years to come.
Jumbo's Clown Room celebrates its 48th anniversary with an open-to-the-public party tonight, 4 p.m.-2 a.m. As always it's free, but bring those dollar bills for tips! 5153 Hollywood Blvd. Hollywood; http://jumbos.com.