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COMMENTARY : The Movable Clubs That Cater to L.A. Night-Lifers

November 27, 1987|KRISTINE McKENNA

Power Tools, Booth, Cheetah, Scream, Egg Salad, Performance, Red Square, Dirt Box, 48 Crash, Seventh Grade, Plastic Passion, Mothership, A.A.

And now . . . Read.

Over the last two years, a handful of ambitious L.A. scenesters have masterminded an ongoing series of after-hours clubs located downtown that open amid much ballyhoo, flourish ever so briefly, then mutate or disappear altogether. Like some exotic species of nocturnal moth, these clubs flicker with nervous energy while in their prime, then abruptly vanish, leaving the veteran groover with little more than a hole in his favorite sweater and the blurred memory of something moving across the room.

These clubs don't exactly fall on hard times and fail; what they do is evolve. The well-dressed, credit-carded kids who frequent this downtown scene seem to have an insatiable appetite for new thrills, and L.A.'s veteran nightclub impresarios have learned to simply pull up stakes, concoct a new angle on club-going, then find a new hall in which to sell overpriced Coronas.

The halls they rent frequently house the enterprises of various entrepreneurs, each of whom reserves the place for a different night. The newest hangout on the after-hours circuit is a Friday-night cotillion called Read, which converts into a club called L.A.L.A. that caters to an entirely different crowd on Thursdays and Saturdays.

The Elks Lodge in MacArthur Park was the site of such now-defunct clubs as Power Tools,Booth, Cheetah and Scream, while Egg Salad, Performance and Red Square could be found at the Variety Arts Center. Some of the hippest clubs--Dirt Box, 48 Crash, Seventh Grade, Plastic Passion, Mothership and A.A.--change location from week to week. These clubs could almost be described as private parties (that charge an admittance fee), so if you're not totally connected to the underground club grapevine, the chances of knowing where to find them are slim. Advertising is for squares, and if you have to look in the paper to find out what's going on, then you just don't know what's going on.

All of these clubs are launched with the aid of some gimmick that guarantees them to be fun, innovative, and--most important of all--exclusive. Read (315 S. San Pedro St.) is designed to appeal to L.A.'s young intellectuals. (Yes, it's true, they do keep a low profile, but they are rumored to exist.) A press release informs us that "Read is an alternative to clubs which are oversaturated with party people (Read's italics), and less than intimate atmosphere. Read will cater to the intellectually active."

How does Read propose to do this? By positioning a newsstand stocked with trendy magazines adjacent to its dance floor, and playing classic tunes by cool night owls along the lines of Miles Davis and Billie Holiday rather than the bone-rattling rap that shakes the rafters of most after-hours clubs. The blank faces that floated from one dark area of Read to the next at its opening last Friday looked as though they'd permanently misplaced their library cards ages ago, but, hey, last year it was the glam-rock revival; this year it's reading--yeah, sure, I can get into that.

Read's opening night doubled as a publication party for a novel called "Sad Movies" by Venice writer Mark Lindquist. The party was to be hosted by Bret Easton Ellis, author of the controversial novel "Less Than Zero" whose story unfolds against an underground club scene not unlike the one at Read. But, alas, authority on both coasts that he is, the New York-based literary enfant terrible failed to attend because, according to club operator NicholasGriffin, Ellis is afraid to fly.

Lindquist, however, was in attendance and he cuts much the same profile as Ellis: young, preppy, handsome and marginally talented at best. As in "Less Than Zero," Lindquist builds his novel around the aimless meanderings of a blase hero crippled with alienation. This sad dude ponders his miserable life for 196 pages, occasionally taking a break from his grief to mention his favorite pop groups, drugs, sexual kinks and name-brand products, then finally decides not to commit suicide.

That's all there is to "Sad Movies." And presto! Lindquist is an author being photographed at his own publication party! The great American novel seems to have become the dumping ground for the psychological toxic waste of a generation of spoiled post-adolescents, and now Read gives them a place to air their angst on Friday nights.

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