Liquor is legal, but when it comes to after-dark revelry, things sure seemed a lot more fun when it was forbidden fruit, didn't they? From roaring rags and spiffy suits to the underground secrecy and sexiness of the soirees, there's much to romanticize about the Prohibition era, and we're noting references to these covertly debauched times more and more lately when we go out. Is it HBO's Boardwalk Empireor the buzz about another illicit substance soon becoming legal? Who knows, but right now, “speakeasies” are the new not-so-underground lounge trend.
At La Descarga, the bar on Western Avenue that replaced grimy gay dive The Blacklite in February, reservations are recommended to get in and you'll need to be attired in somewhat appropriate clothing (no baseball hats, shorts or flip-flops). Upon our virgin visit there last week, we walked up a dingy stairway into what looked like a dilapidated hotel room. A pretty gal sitting at a desk checked us off, then got up and opened the doors to an armoire filled with Ricky Ricardo garb. We walked through and — voila! — we were inside a dark Cuban-style oasis boasting a fat roster of rum drinks and a separate, semiventilated room for puffing on cigars.
The Havana sultriness really heated up when a scantily clad burlesque babe (backed by live Latin musicians) writhed about the room. If you're lucky, she'll pick you out in the crowd for some special spotlight time.
Other L.A. nightspots to note in this old-timey theme context: downtown's dim-lit The Varnish (the site of an HBO Empire premiere bash) and The Mezz Bar inside the Alexandria Hotel downtown, which hosts era-appropriate jazz and burlesque, and recently was the setting for Velvet Hammer creator Michelle Carr's Berber Show. Carr's multimedia dance production was based on the life and times of German expressionist modern dancer Anita Berber, the muse of Weimar-era Berlin.
Then there's American Speakeasy, a monthly event billed as a “cultural revival fueled by artists, authors, performers, thinkers and doers” taking place at various bars around town (check their Facebook for the latest). Even the Weekly's own Jonathan Gold was on trend a couple weeks ago with his annual Speakeasy Cocktail Party at Union Station benefiting Zocalo Public Square.
Of course, today's real 'easies are entirely more sleazy than the above. We're talking underground parties and after-hours like those going off at Dinner House M and Sneaky Nietzsche, the fantastical fall fete downtown requiring masks and open minds for entry. Of course, the whole point of these kinds of bacchanals is that we don't speak too much about them, at least not in print. We don't want them to lose their magic or — as happened to organic music hubs like Echo Curio and Hyperion Tavern — get busted.
THIS IS HAPPENING
It's not exactly underground, but The Sex warehouse downtown has always brought on debauched flashbacks for this former L.A. raver. However, it wasn't until last Friday's Rhondavous (the official after party for LCD Soundsystem's Hollywood Bowl show) that we saw the space in full-on fog-machine, light-and-sweat-drenched, throb-athon mode.
Rhondavous — which takes the polysexual party usually at El Cid and pumps it bigger and bolder, both space- and guestwise — had members of Hot Chip and LCD rock the house, not surprisingly, at a very late hour. James Murphy (dressed in the same white suit he wore at the Bowl) didn't even get onstage till after 2 a.m. Gotta give him credit, too: One would think a headlining artist would want to chill out after playing a major gig like the Bowl, but there he was, burning up the turntables into the wee hours, inside a warehouse that felt like a crowded, colossal steam room.
Not so good for flamboyant hairdos, though we must note this event had the least of those we've seen. It was the straightest Rhonda we've ever been to. The crowd was still wonderfully diverse and the vibes were blissfully positive. To quote Murphy's “All My Friends,” “If it's crowded, all the better, because we know we're gonna be up late/but if you're worried about the weather, then you picked the wrong place to stay.”
Yep, it's all about after-concert shindigs for Nightranger lately. They've become a frequently more-fun alternative to sitting through an entire arena spectacle. Instead of seeing M.I.A. and Rye Rye at the Mayan, we did the official after party at Rock the Shocker at the Ecco on Cahuenga. We're digging the Baltimore rapper's new stuff more than that of her mentor right now, so why wouldn't we catch her in the more intimate venue? We weren't disappointed.
Dressed in a Day-Glo-fringed minidress, Rye Rye was a rhythmic, rump-shaking, mad-rapping dynamo, offering not only a near-full set complete with synchronized backup dancers but a good hour of dancing with fans and freaks on the floor before that.
Rock the Shocker is the meeting of two very different clubber minds: BoJesse Christopher (known for getting hotties to horde at velvet-roped venues such as My House and Hyde) and Bruce Perdew (of the Evil Club Empire's goth/industrial faves such as Perversion, Blue Mondays and Clockwork Orange). The crowd was the hodgepodge we expected: purple-haired, pierced punkettes, shutter-shade-sporting hipster b-boys, bootie-bumpin' hip-hop video vamps and random Hollywood clubster riffraff. The kind of mix you can't calculate, but just happens with promoters like these two at the helm.
MUGGING FOR THE CAMERA
Finally, it was Fashion Week once again in L.A. and, although somewhat wilted, we did manage to attend a few shows. Read our reviews on the Weekly's Style Council blog and check out our slide show this week for some timeless fashion — that of tiki enthusiasts. Tiki Farm's 10th Anniversary Bash and mug exhibit at La Luz de Jesus on Saturday night brought out the leopard and Hawaiian prints in droves, and apparently we were a thirsty lot: 30 gallons of Mai Tais cleared out in a little over an hour. Cowabunga!