Burn baby burn! Disco inferno. Burn baby burn! Burn that mother down. --From the Trammps’
1977 hit “Disco Inferno”
Heidi Siegmund Cuda
At Saturday Night Fever, the weekly gala at the Diamond Club on Hollywood Boulevard, the boogieing never stops. Dancing queens in the capacity throng come dolled up in satin, platforms and the occasional glittering afro wig.
No matter that it’s L.A. ’95, and the neo-disco wave is soooo five minutes ago.
In a city obsessed with style, Saturday Night Fever is an anomaly, having actually gotten hotter virtually each month of its 3 1/2-year existence, defying new trends that would seemingly drive a stake into its polyester heart. Its success just proves that if strobe lights, a disco ball and a deejay spinning Jackson 5, ABBA and Bee Gees tracks are in the house, the divas will come.
For scenesters who wouldn’t be caught dead at a club that’s been around for more than, well, five minutes, there’s Camp Hollywood, a brand-new hot spot at Dragonfly that offers a music mix on Fridays so eclectic your head will spin as fast as your body.
Folks who like to combine their gyrating with a bit of raunch can check out the Grand Ville at 7969 club, a sexy Thursday night funk scene in West Hollywood that for six months has been spotlighting strippers.
Therein lies the beauty of L.A.'s current dance scene. Not only is there something for every partying palette, but the current crop of nighttime dancers has also largely abandoned the rave world’s warehouse-size dance halls for these more intimate spaces, prompting the scene to splinter into a variety of energetic clubs and giving a new lease on life to some venerable L.A. institutions.
“The people who come here don’t want to be anonymous,” says Tammi Gower, co-owner of the Derby in Los Feliz. “Couples come together to enjoy the setting’s ambience and the romance of the music.”
Poised on the other side of the town’s spectrum, the Derby offers a more modest atmosphere. In this throwback to the swing era, G-strings give way to elegance as couples gracefully dance the night away.
And we’re just getting started.
For a splash of the city’s multiculturalism, El Floridita represents yet another facet of L.A.'s dance scene. The tiny Cuban restaurant in a rundown Hollywood strip mall packs ‘em in like sardinas on Mondays, as Johnny Polanco’s salsa band infuses dancers with a desire to swing their hips until the lights come on and owner Armando J. Castro has to urge everyone to go home.
This flurry comes just a few years after Los Angeles claimed one of the world’s largest rave cultures. But today, the real dancing heat is in places offering such music as disco, salsa, swing, hip-hop and funk. This being L.A., you can even find drag-queen punk.
“There are only a few clubs getting it right,” says Cliff Cantor, the owner of Dragonfly, a popular Hollywood nightspot. “The [rave] scene is to the curb, and in post-rave L.A. it takes more than a deejay to keep a crowd coming back. It’s like ‘Been there, done that.’ You gotta give the people more.”
The trick isn’t to merely know a club’s name--most of the best dancing occurs on specific theme nights at leased-out venues--but don’t worry, we’ve already done the legwork. The following guide offers a sure-footed trip through the sights and sounds of L.A.'s eclectic dance scene, so don’t be a wallflower. Dive in.
B-SIDE AT CHECCA
This is L.A.'s finest hip-hop happening. More theme-night hits than misses have occurred at this restaurant, but B-Side is definitely a winner at the Santa Monica Boulevard venue. While the other dance concepts haven’t quite merged with its ornately campy interior--think Dali does West Holly'--B-Side’s music mix packs the colorful restaurant and dance floor each week with young folks who can’t get enough of what the promoters call “the flip side of funk.” Translated, that means you won’t be hearing too many radio hits, because B-Side digs deep to unearth such gems as obscure remixes by A Tribe Called Quest or KRS-One.
Probably the best contemporary lineup of local deejays--Sean Perry, Daz and Marquis--mixes it up with a bit of soul, acid jazz and even a dash of dancehall reggae. Inspired by the music, the multiracial dancers take turns showing their seemingly boneless moves as the head-nodding crowd forms a circle around them--think of a “Soul Train” for the ‘90s.
Part of the club’s charm is influenced by its price: free before 11:30 p.m. The mere fact that B-Side has virtually eliminated the requisite dance club guest list is reason enough to venture inside. When you really want to move your feet, standing in an interminable line is no idle pleasure.
* B-Side at Checca, 7323 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. Wednesdays. Ages 21 and older; free before 11:30 p.m., $3 after. (213) 960-5148.
CAMP HOLLYWOOD AT DRAGONFLY
This Santa Monica Boulevard spot is continually buzzing with the times, and its latest Friday night sensation, Camp Hollywood, offers one of its most ambitious affairs to date.
Campers are treated to a live band from 9 to 10 p.m., with the music ranging from harpists to punk bands to surf rockabilly. In the larger of its two dance spaces, a rotating lineup of deejays offers a variety of funk, hip-hop and disco, while the neighboring room competes with guest deejays spinning house, ambient and salsa music.
Here, a house track by Frankie Knuckles is perfectly at ease with an old-school funk jam by Wild Cherry.
“The key to a dance club’s longevity is to continually tear down the walls,” says Dragonfly owner Cliff Cantor. “The walls of categorization, the walls of specific genre. If it gets stale, people will stop coming.
“A lot of our regular Friday night people who were just there to boogie down can catch a band they might never have seen. It’s enlightening for them, and it also exposes the band to a different audience.”
As summer camps go, this one won’t make you homesick.
* Camp Hollywood at Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd. Fridays. Ages 21 and older; $10 cover or $5 with flyer. To RSVP on guest list, call (213) 466-6111.
CHERRY AT THE LOVE LOUNGE
The 10-month old Cherry theme night is a sweet L.A. indulgence. Not only has the club put glam rock back on the L.A. map, but Gen-X’ers can count on a music mix that allows them a chance to relive their youth--yeah, it’s cool to openly adore KISS and the Go-Go’s.
Cherry, which takes place at West Hollywood’s Love Lounge every Friday, features a live band each week. The club’s vintage glam collection of David Bowie and Queen recordings inspires the gay and straight patrons to mingle on the dance floor.
Although tracks by T. Rex and Aerosmith complete the glam mix, Cherry isn’t solely a revivalist scene. Don’t be surprised to end up bopping to a current single from the Foo Fighters or Supergrass.
* Cherry at the Love Lounge, 657 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood. Fridays. Ages 21 and older; $5 cover before 11 p.m., $10 after. (310) 659-0471.
Tammi Gower, who runs the restored supper club with ex-husband Tony Gower, sees swing dancing’s current popularity as a form of escapism. “It’s appealing to people because it conjures up visions of a bygone era, happier times,” she says.
It’s clear that the Gowers worked painstakingly to bring these visions of yesteryear into focus. On the busy swing nights, usually Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, many club regulars arrive clad in authentic ‘30s and ‘40s garb, primped from head to toe. No sign of the era o’ grunge here.
The antique spirit--the facility was built by Cecil B. DeMille in 1929 and once housed the Brown Derby--is ideal for the club’s musical leanings. Along with swing, the Derby features a variety of live jazz, lounge and rockabilly acts and also offers free dance lessons at 8 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
* The Derby, 4500 Los Feliz Blvd., Los Feliz. Nightly. Ages 21 and older; cover varies. (213) 663-8979.
DRAGSTRIP 66 AT RUDOLPHO’S
As the music of “trip-hop” star Tricky gives way to punkers Rancid, this “queen-core” punk showcase rages. Deejay and co-founder Paul V. bucks any aural stereotypes with music ranging from the industrial noise of Filter to Courtney Love’s primal screams.
The club has gotten so popular that if you’re not in drag you can expect to wait a bit longer than the well-stilettoed crowd, and you might even have to pay double to get in.
The 2 1/2-year-old club, held the second Saturday of every month in an Italian restaurant in Silver Lake, has drawn such celebs as Traci Lords and members of L7. Each month Dragstrip adopts a theme, helping make every visit an event. Although the freewheeling atmosphere offers a chance for all guests to let their hair down, Paul V. has a stipulation: “No show tunes.”
* Dragstrip 66 at Rudolpho’s, 2500 Riverside Drive, Silver Lake. Second Saturday of the month. Ages 21 and older; $10 cover . (213) 969-2596.
This Cuban salsa spot is arguably L.A.'s best-kept secret, although Jack Nicholson, Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman know about it. But shhhhhh , don’t tell anyone else--the club is too small to handle the types of crowds Saturday Night Fever draws, but if you really gotta salsa, this is one dance floor worth squeezing onto.
Especially on Mondays, El Floridita is dancing-room only, as Johnny Polanco & Conjunto Amistad’s performs from 9 p.m. till 1 a.m. Polanco’s salsa is so invigorating that even novices get the urge to give the dance floor a whirl. The 7-year-old venue’s history reportedly dates to 1820, to the original El Floridita in Havana, but the music seems as fresh as an ocean breeze.
* El Floridita, 1253 N. Vine St . , Hollywood. Nightly. All ages; $8 cover on Mondays or free with dinner . No smoking . (213) 871-8612.
BOOGIE KNIGHTS AT FM STATION
The FM Station in North Hollywood is one of Southern California’s oldest bastions of headbanger rock, but on Fridays the club doffs its Lycra and bandannas in favor of its disco duds, ‘cause the Boogie Knights are in the house.
That’s the name of the resident ‘70s cover band, and wherever the Knights lay their wigs is a party. When the quintet is playing amped versions of the Commodores’ “Easy” or Van McCoy’s “The Hustle,” not a table goes untrodden by gyrating dancers.
Clad in tight white suits in honor of the D-King John Travolta, the Boogie Knights play the best of bad disco as well as the coolest soul music from the era. With stints from Calabasas to Hollywood to Riverside, the Knights have become an institution within L.A.'s club circuit--they’re in such demand that they’ve even created a cover version of themselves.
* FM Station, 11700 Victory Blvd., North Hollywood. Fridays. Ages 21 and older; $5 cover after 10 p.m. (818) 769-2220.
GRAND VILLE AT 7969
The promoters of this funk and soul spot know exactly what to do: combine the pulsating dance music of artists such as Rick James and Parliament with the artistry of seasoned strippers for an atmosphere hotter than a Molotov cocktail.
Located at 7969, the burlesque hall that still brings you the fetishistic Sin-A-Matic each week, Grand Ville is on the cutting edge of L.A. hip. It’s a straight club that flirts with its own sexuality. The nightspot, formerly known as Peanuts, is the ideal spot for the 5-month-old Grand Ville.
It features raised daises throughout the club for the performers, and the venue has always urged its guests to follow their urges. One word of warning: If you’ve got any Church Lady sensibilities, you might want to call in advance to avoid Grand Ville’s occasional buck-naked fashion shows.
* Grand Ville at 7969, 7969 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. Thursdays. Ages 18 and older; $10 cover. (213) 654-0280.
The popular Jamaica House promotion has become an island unto itself--a floating island. The most popular long-running hip-hop and reggae club in L.A. has decided to move from location to location--leaving its most recent home at the Roxbury for the Music Machine in West L.A. for a spell. The rule is always call for the location before you go.
A fatal shooting at the Mayan in 1993 closed Jamaica House for nearly a year, and the club reopened at Glam Slam before gradually moving westward.
Regardless of the past, Jamaica House today remains the surestweekly rap and hip-hop experience. Nearly every great rap artist has performed at Jamaica House:KRS-One, Public Enemy, Run-DMC, A Tribe Called Quest and 2Pac are among the alumni.
* Jamaica House . Ages 21 and older; $15 cover . Strict dress code enforced--no tennis shoes or baseball hats. Hot line: (818) 407-0493.
O-ZONE AT THE PALACE
A cool element of the Palace--the Hollywood concert hall that’s featured performances by everyone from Public Enemy to Dwight Yoakam to Hole--is found after the amps go down, when the Vine Street venue becomes a dance spot for the 18-and-older crowd.
Although radio stations KROQ-FM and KIIS-FM sponsor Friday and Saturday nightclubs, respectively, Thursday’s Power 106 night is the most eclectic.
Attracting a wide cultural mix of L.A.'s young residents, from Eastside homeboys to bouncy Valley girls, O-Zone gets the dance floor shaking with a generous selection of Latin house. Deejay Enrie, popular for his “Power Workout” radio show, entertains the young masses with music such as the Pirates of the Caribbeans’ “Rumba,” the Outhere Brothers’ “Boom Boom Boom” and the Bucketheads’ “The Bomb! (These Sounds Fall).”
* O-Zone at the Palace, 1735 N. Vine St., Hollywood. Thursdays. Ages 18 and older; $7 before 10 p.m., $10 after. (213) 467-3000 or (213) 467-4571.
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER AT THE DIAMOND CLUB
Best advice: Come early. The combination of deejay Mike Messex and promoter Brent Bolthouse has resulted in one of the longest-running weekly disco explosions since the “D” word came back into vogue a few years back.
Although it attracts far more out-of-towners than in its days at Carlos & Charlie’s, Saturday Night Fever--which moved from C&C; to the Diamond Club nine months ago--is simply unstoppable. It sells out every week, mainly because Messex gives the people what they want.
Messex keeps things simple: Mo’ Donna, mo’ Gloria and mo’ Barry, Maurice and Robin. Probably to keep himself sane, he’ll toss in a few grooves by the Sugarhill Gang or the Gap Band before quickly getting back on his disco track. The bootie-line is: At Saturday Night Fever, the “Last Dance” never ends.
* Saturday Night Fever at the Diamond Club, 7070 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Saturdays. Ages 21 and older; $12 cover. (213) 467-7070.