The underground is a place that functions without the help or awareness of society at large, but rather in spite of it. When it comes to the arts, the most exciting and experimental scenes often happen outside of mainstream view and L.A. is no exception. The Saturday night dance club Chocolate Bar is an inspiring exercise in subterranean fun, attracting 600 people weekly and growing.
It's indeed a sight to behold: In the most hard-core section of downtown skid row lies the warehouse loft, which is both an art gallery and the most recent home of Chocolate Bar. Try to find it and you can't help but notice the turbulence of skid row. But unless your eyes follow the stream of young people or the limos cruising slowly around the block, you'd never even know the hottest club in L.A. is happening right in the middle of all this chaos.
Those lucky enough to get the tip-off enter from a side alley into an outside patio, where a jazz band performs and an art exhibit is on display. Guests ranging from celebrity hipsters to older professionals commune with ease, all happy to be a part of a scene so fresh. A walkway leads to a mid-level bar area, where a "donation" can get you a cocktail before heading upstairs to the loft, the heart of Chocolate Bar. Here is where its young deejays--Cokni O'Dire, T. Lee and Hier--strut their stuff, with an infectious mix of contemporary hip-hop, rare grooves, dance-hall reggae and energetic jungle mixes.
Here's also where the dancers get a chance to debut their latest moves, which undoubtedly we'll be seeing a year from now on MTV. Between the music and the energy of the club itself, it's pure dancing nirvana, offering complete and total abandonment for those willing to seize the opportunity.
A joint venture between three young promoters from three cities, Chocolate Bar began six months ago at a restaurant in Los Feliz but it quickly outgrew the space, moving to its latest location 10 weeks back with plans to relocate again as soon as next week.
The promoters (each with one-word names) bring a variety of creative strengths to the collaboration. Kjell, a native Angeleno who grew up in and around downtown L.A., and his partners--the Brooklyn-born Shakespeare and Chicago-reared Aurelito--created a club that combines the music of each of their hometowns with strong artistic sensibility. Because the club "floats," the intrigue begins before one even arrives. Either you've been tipped off in advance by one of their promotional flyers--the real chocolate bars they pass out at various Hollywood clubs--or you have to call a hotline, which is updated as late as the evening of the event.
On a recent Saturday, the hotline instructed listeners to a checkpoint location, a downtown street corner, where Aurelito and Shakespeare posed as artists, with easel, crayons and a skateboard in tow. A tiny radio played reggae music softly, while they tested their abilities to draw cityscapes--in between passing out directions to the club, of course. The ruse worked brilliantly, with that particular evening being Chocolate Bar's most successful night.
Chocolate Bar on Saturdays. Call hotline for more information and location, (213) 960-5197. $10 cover, age limit varies.