Like the Dresden Room in Los Feliz, the old Kelbo's was a fabulous anachronism. A Gargantuan Polynesian theme park-cum-rib joint, disco and--in the last, waning days--karaoke bar, Kelbo's featured the kind of trashy, campy glitz that so often passes for history in Los Angeles.
Unlike the Dresden, however, Kelbo's florid brand of Kon-Tiki kitsch never drew the steady crowd of loyal Hollywood hipsters that has kept the Dresden both packed and stylistically intact. Thus when the new club known as L.A. Tower opened recently in Kelbo's former space on Pico Boulevard in West L.A., a lot of people were taken by surprise.
"While we were remodeling, people used to stop by all the time and say, 'Oh, no! Don't touch it--we love Kelbo's,' " says Charles Glen, a Frenchman and one of several partners in the new venture. "At first I was sympathetic, but after a couple of months of this, I started asking them why they didn't ever go to Kelbo's, if they loved it so much."
The new club has in fact kept most of the original decor, weeding it out a bit here and there, freeing up space for some French Provincial dining chairs and tables with pink cloths. The new brocade booths and Oriental rugs blend in with the original theme to create a pleasantly absurd French Polynesian effect.
"Outrageous attire welcome," the new flyers read. Lissome cocktail waitresses are dressed in jungle-print mini-loincloths, a kind of Wilma-Flintstone-meets-early-Madonna thing that is so politically retro as to be charming in a Wayne's World kind of way. "I've heard that a couple of women customers have walked out, saying that the outfits are exploitative," says a waitress, "but I've not heard anything negative myself."
In "the Cave," the disco that features a rotating schedule of DJs, the famous Coco Bowl domed ceiling still tops a refurbished dance floor. In the game room, just beyond the new oyster bar, a blackjack table has been added to the usual pool tables and pinball, and the VIP room promises to book reggae and jazz, although a recent Thursday evening's entertainment consisted, strangely, of Driven Steel, an all-girl heavy metal band. They were not unskilled, but the lead singer's lusty call of, "Any Judas Priest fans out there?" was met with embarrassing silence.
A very VIP room still under construction on the rooftop includes plans for a full bar, plus swimming pool and Jacuzzi.
The most important element to be carried over from the old days is Javier Corubas, who has been concocting tropical works of drinkable art for 24 years. Is this the only place in Los Angeles that can boast a "Drinks Chef" in addition to a full complement of bartenders?
The most important new feature is Chef Robert Roaquin. "I'm formerly of Granita in Malibu, originally of the Four Seasons in New York, and I don't know what I'm doing here," says Roaquin, laughing maniacally amid the chaos of the new kitchen. The question is, would Wayne and Garth truly appreciate a good penne arrabbiate?
The response so far seems to be one of approval. "I used to come here about once a month," says neighborhood resident Peter Kent, who works in the movies as Arnold Schwarzenegger's body double, on his first visit to the redesigned club.
"I like it better now," he says. "The whole grunge thing that was happening here before was a little too much. They were trying too hard."
Where: L.A. Tower, 11434 W. Pico Blvd., one block west of the 405; (310) 473-9921.
When: Nightly, 5 p.m.-4 a.m. Free buffet 5 p.m.-7 p.m. Dinner 7 p.m.-10 p.m. Bar menu until 2 a.m. Live entertainment 9:30 p.m. on, disco open from 10 p.m.
Cost: Dinners $8.50 (burgers) to $24 (lobster). Tapas platter $8.50. Oyster bar $6 to $12. Wine $12 a bottle and up. Tropical drinks $4 and up. Beer $4.