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Mellow’s out, the crowd’s in

Special to The Times

FROM flailing fondue lounge to grinding rock ‘n’ roll grotto, Vine Bar has an uneven history on the Hollywood bar scene. Now it has let its hair down and transformed itself into a real contender among the cavalcade of venues for Hollywood’s hip, stylishly messy indie music contingent -- or as DJ-promoter Myles Hendrik calls it, “the crowd everybody’s chasing right now.”

Hendrik’s Pash party on Fridays is definitely a front-runner, packing in trendsetting twenty- and thirtysomethings with a high-energy music mix of old (the Stones) and new (Franz Ferdinand) that keeps the dance floor in the back of the place packed.

Squeezing through the narrow column along the bar to get to it is a task, and you’ll see lots of hair pasted on foreheads and flushed faces (not to mentioned fashionably jumbled get-ups) along the way. But when you finally do make it to the tiny dance area, it’s like an iPod commercial come to life, with a wall of television sets, some transmitting static, some showing flicks like Russ Meyer’s “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” creating a sparsely lighted backdrop to the sea of manic silhouettes that don’t stop shaking until last call.

“There’s no pretense here. People walk in the door and head straight for the dance floor,” says Hendrik, a New Zealand native who moved to L.A. three years ago. He throws the party with Roosevelt Hotel promoter David Heath and DJ Miss Sarah, and together they’ve “built a scene that started small but has now really flourished to a point where we’re constantly turning people away on a weekly basis.”

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He adds: “We want to look after our crowd and let them have fun, without diluting it all.”

The raucous atmosphere is a turnaround from the mellow feel of Vine’s early days. When the place opened in fall of 2001, it seemed to be spearheading a fondue revival, but the retro nibbling novelty wasn’t enough to keep the crowds coming, especially since the place served only beer and wine.

Even though Vine did receive its full liquor license in February 2004, its reputation as more of a laid-back food joint made it difficult to attract new clubbers who already had plenty of “real bar” options: Daddy’s to the north of Vine and 3 Clubs to the south.

Majority owner Samir Khader (who also owns part of the Beauty Bar on Cahuenga), decided to do something about it. He closed the bar for a month this summer to revamp the place, changing its interior from gray-and-green groovy to black-and-red sexy, complete with flocked bordello-esque wallpaper, a new “bar shrine” and shiny leather stools and booths. Although transforming a space with a coat of paint and a slew of new decor is nothing new in Hollywood, the change was more than aesthetic.

Khader’s partners in the bar also modified their varying levels of involvement. Some, such as Women’s Wear Daily editor Rose Apodaca Jones and her spouse Simon Jones became less involved, while others, including former Club Cherry doorman and Hot Topic buyer Jason Shelby, and Khader’s wife, Liz, of the clothing company Blest, became more so.

A planned name change was ultimately scotched, because, according to Khader, “the new vibe is out there now.” Part of this new, wilder vibe includes the addition of other rock-flavored promoters including Travis Keller (of Buddyhead, at buddyhead.com), who hosts a punky Saturday night gathering, and members of the band Silver, who host a Monday rock night. Soundgasm, the longer-running, loose (and often late to get going) love-in thrown by members of the Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Warlocks on Thursdays continues to thrive as well, and other nights in the works include a gothic Tuesday and an ‘80s-themed Wednesday.

“We had a vision of making this an upscale dive bar,” says Shelby, entirely aware of the seeming contradiction. “And it’s really grown into that.”

“There’s a subversive scene that’s seemed to have emerged in L.A. recently, and the bar has very a New York look and feel that lends itself to that,” Hendrik says. “A friend of mine from Manhattan came by for a visit recently and gave us the best compliment. He said, ‘This is what the Lower East Side wishes it was.’ ”

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Lina Lecaro can be reached at weekend@latimes.com.

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Vine Bar

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Where: 1235 Vine St., Hollywood

When: Open nightly, 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Price: Free, 21 and older

Info: (323) 960-0800

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