Look outside Safari Sam’s nightclub any night of the week, and you’ll probably see owner Sam Lanni leaning against the wall, smoking an American Spirit. Soft-spoken, with glasses and twinkly eyes, he’s seemingly devoid of attitude, the kind of club owner who chats to kids about 1980s hardcore as he checks their wristbands. It’s a miracle Lanni is this mellow, considering the drama he’s endured in the last year — since opening the Sunset Boulevard club last April, he’s lost his wife (she filed for divorce), his kids (they moved to San Diego with their mother), and his home (he sold their four-bedroom Silver Lake family home and now lives in a single in East Hollywood).
“My problem is, I have two loves — my family and my club,” says Lanni. “My wife decided that she couldn’t deal with the club .?.?. so there it is.”
This is Lanni’s second foray into the nightclub business. The original Safari Sam’s, an underground punk/arts venue in Huntington Beach, held early shows by the Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Black Flag, Camper Van Beethoven, and the Jesus and Mary Chain before being closed down by the City Council in 1986. Lanni spent several years as a band manager and agent, and managed supermarkets for 12 years, before deciding to venture back into the nightclub business. In L.A.?’s highly competitive music scene, not everyone supported his decision.
“I had a guy e-mail me saying that a club called Safari Sam’s wouldn’t last more than three months in this town,” says Lanni. “Well, we made it more than a year. So he can eat his shoes.”
Along with booker Patrick Llewellyn, media director Chad Forello and general manager Marty Culbert, Lanni has turned the 410-person space, a former strip joint called Tulips, into a bona fide music destination. In 2006, Safari Sam’s was the place to see the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Camper Van Beethoven, Marky Ramone and — Lanni’s favorite show so far — the Knitters, comprising three-quarters of the band X.
“X literally changed my life in 1979,” says Lanni. “So having John Doe and Exene at the club was really something special for me.”
Franki Chan’s Check Yo Ponytail night at the club brings in an all-ages crowd every Tuesday, with bands like Justice, MSTRKRFT, Spank Rock, the Kooks, Teddybears, the Presets and Andrew W.K. Check Yo Ponytail, along with the Wednesday-night Kiss or Kill, helped establish the club, though they are scheduled to leave Safari Sam’s after a year. “I am sad about them going,” says Lanni. “Without them, we wouldn’t be here.”
Despite the constant low-level drama at Safari Sam’s (its sign went up in flames in February, and the outdoor patio has been shut down twice by the fire department), Lanni says things are finally stable — good, even — with him and with the club. He’s even throwing himself a birthday party at the end of May with performances by the New Fidelity, the Binges, Cakecutter, HDR and Killola.
“I’m a changed man for all this,” he says. “I know I did the right thing. I am back with artists, gathering and nurturing these creative energies. This is my calling.”