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Bright Lights, New City : Five New Nightspots, Including Three Transplanted From Manhattan, Hope to Revive the L.A. Club Scene

December 18, 1988|NIKKI FINKE | Times Staff Writer

Let's be honest: For months now, the conventional wisdom has been that the Los Angeles club scene has been washed up.

Remember Helena's? It's still around but when did you last hear about the goings-on of Madonna or Jack Nicholson there? The Stock Exchange? Who talks about its door trade anymore? And Flaming Colossus, Club Sandwich, Au Petit Cafe and Bazdo? Gone, gone, gone.

But the now-pooped-out, dance-till-you-drop circuit in Los Angeles is about to be revived. And the people most responsible for the reincarnation are trendy transplants from the Big Apple.

Beginning this month and continuing through the end of January, five new nightspots are opening quietly but confidently at a time when most Los Angeles clubs are considered close to comatose.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday December 19, 1988 Home Edition View Part 5 Page 2 Column 1 View Desk 1 inches; 17 words Type of Material: Correction
In a story Sunday about new nightspots, the address of the Spice Club was listed incorrectly. It is 7060 Hollywood Blvd.

Two of the new clubs are home-grown operations: Spice Club, which kicked off Dec. 10 and exhibited just enough Hollywood tinsel (including glamour-girl-costumed waitresses) to keep things interesting, and Vertigo II, which will try to duplicate the success of its once-thriving namesake, which closed last August because of a landlord dispute.

But the big news to inveterate club-crawlers is that three outposts of successful Manhattan nightspots are coming to Los Angeles.

The newly named B. C. probably has had the most active word-of-mouth promotion because it's the Los Angeles version of the hugely popular but pretentious MK's of uptown New York City.

The Heartbreak Cafe, located on the site of Catherine's Champagne Bistro (which closed due to a romantic tussle), is a direct descendant of the club made famous by Jay McInerney's cautionary tale of New York's drugging-and-dancing night life, his novel-movie "Bright Lights, Big City."

And, finally, the China Club in Hollywood--billed as the Roxy for the '90s--claims it will become a mecca for the music industry in the same way that the New York version has been home to impromptu jam sessions with Keith Richards, David Bowie, Iggy Pop and others.

"I think New Yorkers see L.A. as the next frontier and are expecting to make an easy conquest of the city," gripes Mario Tamayo, the Melrose Avenue restaurateur and club habitue who just happened to be scouting for a supper club location of his own. "The problem is whether New York people come here with New York ideas. Do they realize that the L.A. attention span is about the length of a cigarette?"

In the past year, no one club has gained a lasting foothold in Los Angeles, which is still dominated by noisy, crowded and often seedy venues that are very much underground and underwhelming. And, judging by the number of more permanent nightspots that come and go as fast as traffic on an open freeway, the idea of risking an investment of millions of dollars is seeming more and more unattractive to Los Angeles entrepreneurs.

Take, for example, the downtown Stock Exchange, which opened amid considerable fanfare in 1987 only to be threatened with a loan foreclosure a year later.

It recently received a reprieve from the city's Community Redevelopment Agency on a $1.5-million delinquent loan, which has become a cause celebre among civic groups who question the agency's decision to lend taxpayer money "so yuppies can dance on Spring Street."

"The nightclub business is really a fool's game here," moaned one Stock Exchange investor who asked not to be named. "And I think the road is going to be every bit as tough for these New Yorkers."

Naturally, some Los Angeles clubaholics worry that the New York imports will try to dictate to them how night life should be run. After all, it was Studio 54, and its clones, that started the "door policy" to guarantee a club of velvet-roped exclusivity. That policy then was brought to Los Angeles in 1985 by Vertigo.

Generally, the feeling is that New York-style clubs can't be transplanted to Los Angeles without some changes. For one thing, Angelenos are less willing than ever to put up with sadistic snottiness.

"People tend to like abuse in New York, whereas it doesn't seem to go over very well here," notes Andrew Stratas, B. C. general manager and a New Yorker.

No club, especially one hoping to be successful, can afford to turn off any member of that basic clientele that every nightspot hungers for--that mix of attractive actors, actresses, models, photographers, artists, musicians and studio executive types.

But many of the clubs that opened downtown like Roman candles last year found that it became increasingly hard to get the BPs--the Beautiful People or sheep-like Bo Peeps, depending on one's point of view--to come down to Skid Row. "The BPs are not out in the numbers they once were," maintains Lenny Berg, Heartbreak's owner.

Another turn-off has been that Los Angeles clubs, opening where space was cheap, began to resemble "large glitzy ballrooms," Berg notes. "Those are not places that make people feel comfortable enough to turn them into a hangout."

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