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Kapow! : A Purple Pool Palace : Leisure: The decor at Gotham Hall inundates visitors with images designed to evoke the New York of old. Most say it looks like Batman's digs.

June 03, 1993|CONNIE BENESCH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA MONICA — If Batman and the Joker were on hand, the tableau would be complete. The purple decor is reminiscent of the Caped Crusader's lavish lair--although the kinship is more with the campy '60s TV series than with the '89 movie. Likewise, the iron hands on the doors, the spider-web shapes in the windows and the wrought-iron, snakelike vines that jut from the walls evoke images of Batman's archenemy.

Some people are even mistakenly calling the hip, surrealistic spot "Gotham City."

In fact, the name of the poolroom-bar-restaurant that occupies the vast second floor of a converted fraternal lodge on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade is Gotham Hall, and co-owner Albert Mizrahi insists that he did not have Batman in mind when he conceived of the decor.

Gotham Hall, which opened in January, is intended to elicit thoughts of New York City, which in an earlier age sometimes went by the nickname Gotham.

"The name made sense because it spoke about the history of the project," said Mizrahi, 39, co-owner with his wife, Renee, 35. "I wanted to give people a taste of New York--an environment outside of L.A.," he said. "But we built this for the Westside."

Whatever the intention, something seems to be working. Gotham Hall, which accommodates 500, has become a hot spot. On Friday and Saturday nights, lines--albeit fast-moving ones--form down the block, with the 17 pool tables hard to come by. On other nights, it is easier to snag a table.

Celebrities have found the place too. Recent sightings have included Michael Bolton, Mick Fleetwood, Carly Simon, Chuck Norris, Harry Hamlin, Magic Johnson and members of the Lakers, Raiders, Clippers and Kings.

People have become fans of Gotham Hall simply through word of mouth; Mizrahi says "not a dime" has been spent on promotion. The absence of a cover charge probably helps too.

Although no money has been allocated for advertising, plenty was devoted to the renovation: $3 million over three years, Mizrahi said.

"We wanted to keep the old look," he said. The structure was formerly the Santa Monica headquarters of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. The group, now operating out of a nearby smaller Promenade storefront, sold the building when the Promenade's taxes and the cost of a required seismic upgrade made the property too expensive for it to keep.

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About $500,000 of the renovation was spent to earthquake-proof the building, Mizrahi said; steel beams were custom-made and hidden so they would not obstruct the architectural elements.

In addition, all furniture was built to order, including the purple couches and purple-topped pool tables, said Mizrahi, who is owner of the 19 Eastman West furniture stores in Southern California. The walls were hand-painted by artists who work on movie sets.

Apparently, it is the ambience that beckons. In fact, pool is not the main allure.

"I don't even like pool," said Rob Silverstein, 33, a visitor on a recent evening.

"Gotham's kind of got that happenin' feel--it reminds me of New York two or three years ago," said Silverstein, who recently moved from New York to be a producer for a Fox TV news magazine.

And the Batman connection, real or imagined, seems to be part of the appeal as well.

"I expect Batman to be coming out of one of the doors" at any minute, said Andrea Klimek, a bank teller from Culver City.

"It's like the Joker's parlor," said Gregg Barson, 32, a producer at Warner Brothers, who had brought his parents, visiting from Allentown, Pa., for a look.

"I've always thought my father looked like Cesar Romero (who played the Joker in the original Batman TV series). I felt this would be his element."

Sure enough, Romero look-alike Albert Barson called the pool hall's architecture "magnificent and gorgeous."

The profusion of purple--walls, pool-table tops, furniture--also has people talking.

"It's very Prince," said casting director Julie Ashton, 28, of Santa Monica.

In fact, that inundation of purple has led some to falsely surmise that Prince, the rock star, owns the place. Actually, he has never even been there, according to the Mizrahis.

Others sneer at the decor.

"I'm not a purple table kind of guy," said Santa Monica chiropractor Stephen Goldman. "It's too hip. I like a corner pool bar with a green table."

Some Promenade regulars speculate that Gotham Hall's emergence has taken some business away from nearby Yankee Doodles. However, officials at both pool places say that is not the case. Moreover, they point out, their pool halls have a different feel.

"We're not losing people," said Yankee Doodles assistant manager William Anderson.

"Gotham is a total S & M bar--stand and model," Anderson said. "It's much more a place to be seen. . . . They have purple felt tables. We have traditional green tables. Ours is a place to have fun. We're more of a sports bar. We have . . . air hockey tables and pinball machines.

"Some of our customers have gone over there, and they've come back and said it really wasn't for them. It was too snooty. They didn't like the attitude.

"But," Anderson acknowledged, "when you first walk in there, it's totally cool. There's no way getting around it.

"It looks like the bat cave."

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Gotham Hall is open 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, and from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. on weekdays. Pool tables are $10 an hour before 7 p.m. and $12 an hour after 7 p.m. for one person, plus $2 each additional person. A full menu is served from 5:30 to 11 p.m. Phone: (310) 394-8865.

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