When Ricardo Gieseken closed his popular Glendale nightclub Limon y Menta last January and moved eight blocks uptown to open a new dance club, he left behind more than just an old address and some used furniture. He also discarded Limon y Menta's generic ambience in favor of something with a bit more bite.
"We want to become a Hispanic version of the House of Blues," he says.
That goal is still a ways off for the Copacabana, Gieseken's new nightspot. But if the first three months are any indication, the eclectic club's journey in that direction figures to be a quick and entertaining one.
First, however, they'll have to deal with the local competition. Housed in the still-operating Stars Theatre, the Copa shares Glendale's inviting Brand Boulevard with two other Latin-themed nightclubs: Pappy's and Giggles. So to set their place apart, Gieseken and his partners plan to bring international acts to their intimate 650-person club one Thursday each month. Last week, for example, Puerto Rico's Eddie Santiago and Tito Nieves from New York, two of the biggest names in salsa, shared the Copacabana's tiny stage. Next month, Colombia's Grupo Gale will be there.
On most Thursdays, however, the club is given over to recorded salsa, merengue and Spanish-language disco while Saturdays feature live salsa and merengue from Yari More and his orchestra, the house band. Fridays appear to be something of a tribute to Gieseken's Limon y Menta days with a laid-back feel featuring rock en espanol, pop, reggae, techno and just about anything else you might find at a high school dance. In fact, the program is so different the club even changes names on Fridays, becoming Energy.
On a recent Friday night, the painfully young crowd--decked out in skintight mini-dresses and loose-fitting Dockers--rushed the dance floor at the first strains of Xuxa's teeny-bopper anthem "Llarie." Although all the club's employees and most of its patrons are bilingual, Spanish--much of it spoken with a distinctive South American accent--was the language of choice on the dance floor.
Gieseken, a Colombian, would prefer to hear a little more Cuban Spanish, which is one reason he and his partners named the club after the famed nightspot from Havana's pre-Castro days. It's also a reason why they're planning to turn the theater's balcony into a cigar club. (Indoor smoking is permitted in Glendale.)
"We hope that will draw an older crowd, a more sophisticated crowd," he says.
Currently the club's main nonmusical attractions include valet parking, three well-stocked bars and a kitchen that features a very limited menu of appetizers such as chicken wings and shrimp cocktails.
Yet it's the club's physical design that really sets it apart. Visualizing a dance club inside a theater takes some imagination, and even with the chairs removed and the curtains drawn, strange angles and unwanted protrusions remain. But rather than being distractions, these quirks give the Copa a kind of unpretentious personality.
The transformation from theater to nightclub takes less than two hours, according to Gieseken. But turning that nightclub into an Hispanic House of Blues will take a little longer.
Copacabana at the Stars Theatre, 417 1/2 N. Brand Blvd. Open Thursdays-Saturdays. 21 and older. No admission charge before 10 p.m. After 10 p.m. there's a $10 cover, $20 for special engagements. Dress code. (818) 551-0519.