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Some Real Grand Dancing : Always a place to shake it up on the dance floor, Grand Avenue is mixing it up ethnically, musically.

September 18, 1997|YVETTE C. DOSS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Grand Avenue has always been about dancing.

The downtown nightclub, which silent film star Mary Pickford built in 1910, was a hangout for the likes of Mae West and Rudolf Valentino and his gang, according to the club's co-owner Jim Myron, who recently celebrated 50 years in business. The Hollywood greats used to cut the rug on the spring-loaded dance floor to big-band music in what was once a thriving downtown scene.

"In 1936, Cesar Romero hosted the first mambo contest in the U.S. at Grand Avenue," said Myron, who changed the name to Myron's Ballroom when he and his mother, Myrna Myron bought it from Pickford in 1946.

Dancing is just about the only thing shared by the club and its antecedents, which have included many different names, from Dillon's in the '70s to Vertigo and the Shark Club in the '80s and early '90s.

It's now the place to sweat on a dance floor to salsa, house music and rock en espan~ol. With lines curling around the block on weekend nights, the 1,200-capacity club is one of the most happening spots in the city for different groups of Latino and young Asian American club-goers.

Its evolution provides a study in demographic change, and its current mailing list is a microcosm of the diverse city.

Thursday nights, which are promoted as the Shark Club, Grand Avenue becomes the meeting place for mostly Chinese American twentysomethings who venture into the heart of downtown to dance to house and hip-hop music.

Grand Avenue promotes its Friday house music, disco and modern rock nights as Bongo. It's the night when Eastside Mexican Americans in their 20s--ranging from ravers to KROQ listeners--come out for some hard-hitting beats, flashing lights and a whole lot of nostalgia.

"I specialize in minority crowds because they stick together, they're organized and it's better for business. When you establish yourself as a Latin music club, they come rain or shine," said Myron, who talks about the days when fellow nightclub entrepreneurs used to make fun of him for delving into the world of Latin music. "People said, 'Oh, Latin music won't make it in L.A. You stay downtown with the Mexicans.' But now, Latin nights are the biggest nights at clubs [on the Westside]."

It's a loyalty to the familiar that's not lost on Grand Avenue's DJs either, who tailor their music to the tastes of L.A.'s Gen-X Latinos.

"Our club-goers are creatures of habit," says Gerard Meraz, 27, producer of the Power 106-FM radio show Power Tools. He DJs at Bongo with Power Tools host Richard Humpty Vission, Joseph Wham!, Alex Jumbo, Steven Ankele and Jose Visage. "So we play a mix of everything from familiar '80s modern rock hits like old Cure and the Smiths, to '70s and '80s dance music and disco, to classic house music."

On Saturday nights, Grand Avenue's crowd gets a little older, and a whole lot spiffier. Salsa nights, featuring live performances by Los Costenos, draws thirty- and fortysomething Latinos who dress to the nines for merengue, salsa and cumbia dancing.

And for L.A.'s young Latino immigrant community, there are Sundays, which Rivera says Grand Avenue has just begun promoting as rock en espan~ol DJ nights, featuring Super Estrella 97.5-FM radio personality Alex III.

Until recently, the different groups of club-goers came in on their respective nights and rarely mixed. But it's something Meraz said he'd like to see change.

"Grand was known as a salsa and rock en espan~ol club, but since we started doing the Bongo promotion in July, we're getting a cross section of people," he said. "The rock en espan~ol fans are listening to house, and the house people are listening to rock en espan~ol."

Because of that, Meraz describes his gig at Bongo as a sort of higher calling: "Once you experience a true house dance floor, where you have all sexual persuasions and ethnic groups under one groove, it's a religious experience."

BE THERE

Grand Avenue, 1024 Grand Ave., downtown L.A., (213) 747-0999. Open Thursday-Sunday. All nights 21 and over. Cover $10-$12.

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