Photos by Kevin Scanlon

The entrance to Thai Town — the six blocks of Hollywood Boulevard between
Western and Normandie, according to a 1999 City Council decision — is unofficially
marked by an enormous, supine hot dog the size of a submarine resting atop a bright
red Thai takeout window. That’s next door to an adult bookstore, which is next
to a Peruvian restaurant that is down the street from the eerily empty Gershwin
Hotel. Which all somehow makes sense. While much of the Thai cultural and nightlife
scenes are concentrated in North Hollywood, Thai Town, which is known around
the world, maintains a solid identity while seamlessly melting into the rest of
Hollywood. Restless Kruang Tedd partiers bump up against bikinied strippers from
Jumbo’s Clown Room; the beautifully garish, second-story Thailand Plaza stage
overlooks screaming, fudge-faced children across the street at Sizzler’s. It’s
a heavily commercial, walkable, subway-adjacent stretch dense with doughnut shops
and Mexican markets and more chile-slicked noodles than any other neighborhood
in L.A. And there’s live music of some sort — karaoke, lone singers, entire bands
— in nearly every Thai restaurant-bar, on tiny stages dressed with white lights
and disco balls. It could very well be the ideal neighborhood for a pub crawl.

Palms Thai. The number of regulars at Palms Thai — and their unbridled
devotion to the place — seems to swell every year; and it’s hard to say whether
the restaurant’s popularity is due to the dependable food or the kitsch-rich Thai
Elvis who has performed on its stage, night after night for five years now, belting
out melodious Elvis classics in rhinestone-studded bell-bottoms and long, styled
sideburns. Regardless, Palms Thai could be considered ground zero for the growing
nightlife scene in Thai Town, a festive restaurant that specializes in bar snacks
and the more exotic meats (frog, boar, venison), where parties of eight and 10
and 12 are comprised as often of spirited Thai families as they are of sweaty
Hollywood club-goers unwinding over steaming pots of spicy seafood soup. After
15 years in the same location, Palms Thai is scheduled to move up the street on
June 1, where there will finally be a full bar and delivery service; and the Thai
Elvis — he’ll have a much bigger stage to twist on. 5273 Hollywood Blvd.,
Hollywood. (323) 462-5073. New location: 5900
Hollywood Blvd., Suite B, Hollywood.

Thailand Plaza. Dinner and cocktails at Thailand Plaza feels a little
like attending an ’80s-era prom at a high school with an outlandish decorations
budget. The restaurant has the most elaborate sound system of any in Thai Town,
which is significant because the waiters, in dark suits, who take turns performing
cheesy American pop songs, are actually quite good. Full bands back them up on
a stage dripping with twinkling lights and fake palms. If, by chance, a table
of 13 rowdy Cal State guys should be blocking your view, the stage can be seen
on a number of hanging TV monitors throughout the restaurant. Go all-out when
ordering from the cocktail menu: the Thailand Delight — a frothy, pink, rum and
pineapple-juice-based concoction, complete with tiny umbrella and fruit garnish
— will conjure that Phuket island honeymoon you never had. Order a second and
it won’t matter. 5321 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323)

The Stone. The sapphire-blue neon haze around the entrance to The
Stone has undoubtedly caught the attentions of countless cars passing by late
at night. Inside, the narrow, low-lit bar, which has an almost Manhattan-like
vibe, is no less intriguing. As one regular put it, The Stone enjoys multiple
personalities: Wednesday evenings are karaoke nights. Thursdays are “open-mic
jam-session nights.” Friday evenings, The Stone caters to a gay clientele. On
the last Friday of every month the bar hosts a Thai Drag show and, after 11 p.m.,
the Go Go Boys perform a live striptease. Stake out a prime spot on the roomy,
second-story loft and relax with a key-lime or lychee martini. As The Stone’s
Web site explains: “It’s not gay or straight, it’s a fun bar for all & everyone!”
5221 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 466-6061.

Jumbo’s Clown Room. The legendary Hollywood strip bar, where
Courtney Love worked long before hooking up with Kurt Cobain, is now a “bikini
bar” (rather than the skimpier pasties) thanks to a January 2004 amendment to
a citywide ordinance. Which means, basically, it is a crowded but lively Thai
Town dive bar with a very athletic dance show going on in the background. Wander
in with your 81-year-old great-aunt, a firecracker, as we did. Have a Heineken
or two. The next day, she might show you the new moves she learned. Jumbo’s has
almost as much history as she does. 5153 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.
(323) 666-1187.

Forever: Palms Thai’s
rhinestoned crooner

Blu Monkey. Every once in a while, you can enter a local establishment and find a roomful of people you not only haven’t seen before, but people who don’t look, dress or talk like anyone you’ve ever seen before. At the Blu Monkey, one door east of the bleakly enigmatic Gershwin Hotel and across from the Red Line station at Hollywood and Western, a drunk power-shagged rocker blocked our path until we agreed to sing some Fun Lovin’ Criminals, a young brunette transplanted from the Midwest mixed us fruity martinis in glasses with beer-mug handles and a DJ spun trip-hop too loud to shout over. Talking remained possible, however, in the bar’s spacious back patio, where the rocker had found a new audience (“C’mon,” he insisted, “Couldn’t get it ri-ah-ah-ight, couldn’t get it right!”). 5521 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 957-9000. (Judith Lewis)

Kruang Tedd. The real scene at Kruang Tedd, which attracts a slightly younger, rowdier crowd than its neighboring Thai watering holes, takes place in the parking lot, which “KT” shares with Jumbo’s Clown Room and where band members and customers converge for cigarettes and heated late-night gossip between sets. The bands that play here — two a night on Friday and Saturdays — are mostly Thai students from the Musicians Institute up the street; and the place prides itself on playing “80 percent Thai-only pop songs,” says the manager. The bands encourage requests — “Hotel California” and “Don’t Know Why” are big favorites — and the sound system isn’t half bad. Kruang Tedd, 5151 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 667-9800.

Hollywood Thai Restaurant. Should you be on a Thai Town pub
crawl, Hollywood Thai would be an ideal spot to end the night. Though it advertises
itself as a “sports bar,” the restaurant-bar is actually quite mellow, a cozy,
more traditional-looking restaurant cloaked in light wood — the bar, the floors,
the Thai pagodas — that specializes in food from the Northeastern region of Isaan.
A trio of young Thai women in frilly, white Stevie Nicks–like tops, tambourines
at their hips, perform impressive renditions of American pop songs from the likes
of Madonna, Britney, et al. Settle in by the gurgling fish tank giving off a soothing
greenish glow and zone out to Thai music videos between band sets. If nothing
else, enjoy a strong Thai iced tea before hitting the road. Hollywood Thai
Restaurant, 5241 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.
(323) 467-0926.

LA Weekly