With its fake lighthouse and Tiki-hut decor, it's hard to imagine Kelbo's restaurant harboring one of the best places for '40s swing dancing in town. But deep in the heart of Kitschland is where couples come to mambo, samba and jitterbug into the night.
They dance in the Coco-Bowl, an adjunct to the main restaurant where a giant coconut shell hangs over a parquet dance floor. Around that are tables where couples and families watch the action while sipping potent flaming cocktails and eating ribs that are served with a moist, pre-wrapped towelette. This is the antithesis of contemporary L.A. hangouts. There is no post-modern decor, water does not come with a slice of lemon and waiters do not wear designer uniforms.
"It's like Miami Beach in the '50s," said one patron who was gaga over the mirrored ball hanging from the middle of the coconut shell.
When the deejay spins big-band tunes the dance floor fills with couples of all ages. Jim and Lily Marie Farrell, both in their 60s, have been coming to Kelbo's for four years but have been dancing much longer; said Jim, "We learned how to dance back in the early days, when we were kids. But we stopped when we were raising our boys. And now we found the music again."
"Everybody is congenial," Lily Marie said. "We met these people here," she said, gesturing to the two other couples sitting with them, "and now we meet them here every Friday and Saturday night."
'New York Upbringing'
One of the younger couples, Steve Goldberg and Tammy Stein, already looked like veterans of many years of dance lessons. "Actually," Goldberg said with a sheepish smile, "I learned how to dance on the streets, as we say. It's from my New York upbringing."
And Stein? "I was one of those teen-agers who watched 'American Bandstand.' But I got into this after disco was over, about eight years ago."
The Kelbo's experience isn't complete without trying one of the exotic drinks (served with or without alcohol). The descriptions are as wacky as the drinks themselves. There is the Zombie ("The walking dead, too lazy to settle down in his grave"), the Dirty Stinker ("For salesmen and dirty bartenders who make 'Dirty Stinkers!' ") and the Star Fire ("Johnny Carson's favorite"). Non-alcoholic drinks include "Flaming Fun Bowls" served in tureens with extra-long straws. These exotic creations start at $3 and go up, depending on size and ingredients.
Dinner and appetizers are served in the Coco-Bowl; on the menu are the King Kelbo assorted appetizers (ribs, fried shrimp, egg rolls, slices of pineapple and kosher pickles; $6 and $8), original Hawaiian-style spareribs ($10.95) and honey-dipt Hawaiian fried chicken ($7.95). Desserts include Hula Pie, macadamia nut roll and pineapple fruit cheesecake.
Wallflowers are welcome at Kelbo's, but dance lessons are offered there during the week. The fox trot, waltz, cha-cha, tango, mambo, samba and rumba are taught by Kay Gordon, a lively woman whose credits include an appearance in the TV movie "Queen of the Stardust Ballroom" and a 13-year stint with Arthur Murray. She has been teaching dance at Kelbo's for 10 years. "Swing dancing is coming back," she said. "The cycle is starting to come around again. People are getting more into touch dancing. Coming here is a social night out for people--people need that sociability. And dancing is the avenue they take."
Kelbo's, 11434 W . Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles; (213) 473-3050.