The management of the downtown nightclub L.A./L.A. likes to brag that the place isn't as snobbish as neighboring rivals Vertigo and the Stock Exchange.
"You don't have to look gorgeous to get inside, and you don't have a bunch of people craning their necks to see if there's a star around," one owner of L.A./L.A. said.
On a recent Saturday night, he was right. The dance floor at L.A./L.A. was crowded with people wearing everything from faded jeans to jeweled cocktail attire, and out among the dancers, unnoticed, was actor Lou Diamond Phillips, who played rocker Richie Valens in "La Bamba."
A Mainstream Audience
Opened last year in a defunct hat factory, L.A./L.A. reflects the taste of part-owners Geoffrey Dillon and Dean Tenen, both 23 and veterans of the underground nightclub scene. Licensed, and backed by funds from a Beverly Hills doctor and a Westwood poster-store owner, the pair sought to capture the outlaw feel of an unlicensed club, while making the place acceptable to a mainstream audience.
"Most of the underground clubs have been closed by the police, and a lot of people have grown out of that scene anyway," Dillon said. "A lot of the places were real dirty and real rough. People want a better atmosphere, with art on the walls."
To a large extent, L.A./L.A. succeeds in straddling the underground and the above-board worlds. The music, all supplied by disc jockeys, is punk-influenced and very, very loud.
"I don't play what other clubs play," said deejay Drew Steele, who dished out everything from Big Audio Dynamite, Cameo and Prince to James Brown and reggae mainstays Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar.
The concrete dance floor is hard on the feet, but, as with street parties, its common character exempts dancers from such niceties as having a partner or following any particular style of movement. The club has a high ceiling, which eases the cigarette smoke concentration, and the black walls--punctuated with glass bricks--create a submarine, away-from-it-all feel.
Shotgun Floor Plan
The floor plan is a shotgun arrangement--a barroom in front, table area in the middle and the dance floor in back. Decorations are simple--a few paintings by aspiring L.A. artists--and no strobe lights.
"You can let go here," said customer Karen Silverstein, 25, of Los Angeles. "You don't feel as much on view as at some places."
"To me, it's more like a home party or a college party than a fancy club," said Dave Palmer, 22, of Mar Vista. "It's comfortable. It's not some big-deal place."
The club is not licensed to sell hard liquor. Beer runs $2.50, wine $3, champagne and saki $3.50. Sandwiches cost $4 to $5.
Currently doing business just Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., L.A./L.A. owners hope to expand their hours and attract an after-work crowd. The club is at San Pedro and 3rd streets, just a few blocks from Skid Row, and must battle downtown's poor image.
"Having the Stock Exchange downtown is helping, because it's a more conservative club," Dillon said. "Once people come downtown for the first time and nothing bad happens, they'll come back again."
Parking is free across San Pedro from the club. Owners said the lot is patrolled by guards.
Thursday night tends to attract a college crowd, a club employee said, and Friday and Saturday a mix of yuppies and New Wave hipsters. There are more singles than couples, he added. The club is fullest between 1 and 3 a.m., although by law the bar closes at 2. Cover charge is $7, sometimes $10 on Saturdays.
L.A./L.A., 315 S. San Pedro St., downtown Los Angeles; (213) 687-3730.