There are few venues in Los Angeles that will make you feel more a part of the with-it, in-crowd than Mr. T's Bowl. The trick, of course, is getting there. Few who drive by, including those who are actually looking for it, notice it. Camouflaged along a strip of Highland Park, Mr. T's, a defunct eight-lane bowling alley, has been serving up an array of music and dance clubs that are anything but the same old thing.
"About three years ago, we decided bowling no longer paid off," says Joseph Teresa, a.k.a. Mr. T., who, at 59, and a fan of classical music and standards, finds himself presiding over one of the underground's hippest haunts. "The insurance problems, the mechanical problems, so many things came up that we had to go into something different," he says.
And something different it was. Until last November, Mr. T's was known primarily as the site of Fuzzyland, a weekly club promoted by the late Jac Zinder, a fixture on the L.A. club scene whose clubs were famous for their exotic dance music and esoteric bands.
It was Zinder who first saw the potential of the site. The old polished lane floor made an excellent dance floor. There was a separate bar and lunch counter and--best of all--plenty of free parking.
When Zinder died last year in an auto accident, Mr. T's lay dormant for a few months before the promoters started trickling back. One club, Spin Cycle (various Saturdays), is put together by Fuzzyland's old sound engineers, Doug Hart and Brad Dayton, and features their old DJs, as well. They play a mixture of exotic dance music (surf, cha-cha-cha, Las Vegas grind, acid jazz, rare groove and boogaloo) and bring in equally diverse live acts that hew closely to the old Fuzzyland formula.
"A lot of the people who came to Fuzzyland feel weird about coming here," Hart says. "They still feel kind of awkward. The people who do come have a great time and get over it. But people have their reservations."
Rick Collins brings his brand of "something completely different" to Mr. T's on various weekend nights.
"Fuzzyland was really loose," he says. "It was more like a party that people went to. I want to re-create the same vibe."
Musically, his nights feature "everything from Nina Simone to the Doors to Trance music." And while Spin Cycle keeps a steady laundry theme going with wash hanging all around, Collins keeps varying his themes from "Summer Barbecue Night" to "Gone Hawaiian."
Unlike other promoters here, Collins refuses to dub his club anything but Mr. T's Bowl. "I don't think we should put any other name on it," he says. "It's very unique. It says 'Bowling' on the outside sign and then you step into this other world."
The first time many of these young hipsters come here, they're almost guaranteed to have trouble tracking down that sign (which is only visible from the parking lot behind the building) and, thus, the club, as well. But, says Collins, "I kind of like that in a way. It adds to the cache."
The patrons, it seems, agree. "Yeah, great place," exclaims a leather-clad couple, who drove here from Long Beach to see "The Abe Lincoln Story" play at Spin Cycle. "Now that we found it."
Where: Mr. T's Bowl 5621 1/2 N. Figueroa, Highland Park Enter through parking lot on Ave. 57. (213) 256-7561.
When: Nights and times vary (call for schedule).
Cost: Cover varies (usually $5). Beer $2.25, mixed drinks $3.