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Planet LAX

Encounter at the airport is a Space Age fantasy.

February 06, 1997|HEIDI SIEGMUND CUDA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's been coming for some time, but L.A. has finally outpaced the night life competition. While New Yorkers and Eurotrash alike were busy cozying up to the notion that they were the superior clubland stylists, L.A. quietly came of age . . . the Space Age, to be precise.

Encounter, the refurbished restaurant and nightclub at the LAX landmark theme building, is an intergalactic E-ticket, offering an otherworldly clubbing experience. The 2-month-old venue, located seven stories above the Earth, accomplishes a couple of things straight away: First, it ends the age-old question of where to meet a stopover guest around the LAX area. Second, it makes the dreaded haul to LAX a potential adventure.

Encounter is the creation of a team of Walt Disney Imagineering designers, and they pulled out all the cosmic stops. Uber lava lamps and amoeba-shaped ceiling fixtures illuminate a venue that plays off the '60s interpretation of the Space Age with a '90s sophistication. As visitors get comfy on silver leather couches, blue and magenta lighting creates an extraterrestrial interior glow. Aural Valium in the form of cocktail lounge music is piped into every corner, setting a supernatural tone for the entire experience. Located in possibly the world's most famous structural homage to the Space Age, Encounter makes you feel as if you're starring in your own episode of "Star Trek," with Uhuru playing hostess and Capt. Kirk tending bar.

The whole place has a sci-fi feel and look and the entertainment begins at ground zero, as a woman in a silver Jetsons-style spacesuit offers to check any baggage. "Have a nice encounter," she says, while escorting guests to the elevator and blasting them up toward the club's entrance.

The famous white structure, designed in 1960 by architect Paul Williams to symbolize the Space Age years, already conjures up visions of alien life forms and Encounter does nothing to take away from this fantasy.

On most nights, you can hear various foreign accents mingling with the distinctive drawls of Angelenos, all marveling at the spectacle before them. The colorful club appears to be a nightspot of choice for those looking for a romantic encounter, with tables for two filling up early and staying full all night.

Although Encounter opened with little fanfare, among the celebs who have taken an early interest in it are Alan Alda, Van Morrison and James Belushi.

The bar is shaped like a moon crater and contains a few surprises. Each time a drink is poured from one of the silver, rocket-shaped taps, laser lights shoot out, accompanied by eerie sound effects.

No place aiming to offer a jet-set experience would be complete without a view and you certainly don't have to be a kid to enjoy watching airplanes to the strains of such quintessential lounge tunes as "The Girl From Ipanema" or "Tequila."

BE THERE

Encounter, Los Angeles International Airport, 209 World Way, Los Angeles. All ages, no cover. Full menu. (310) 215-5151.

*

HOW'S THE FOOD? S. Irene Virbila's First Impressions of Encounter, Page 41.

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