It's been a long time since an underground club in L.A. felt this good. Chocolate Bar, a deejay-driven dance party that celebrated its first anniversary on Friday night, is the most special club around these days.
It cuts across all racial boundaries, making its guests feel comfortable just being who they are, while inviting artists to show their wares and deejays to explore the finer points of vinyl.
But first, some bad news: The anniversary party, which attracted more than 1,000 guests and hadn't even peaked at 2 a.m., was broken up by police, who said that proper permits weren't secured for the bash at downtown L.A.'s Alexandria Hotel.
Now, for the good news: Those who made it in before its quick closure got a taste of something truly unique. There was a jazz combo performing in a room decorated with lush-looking vintage furniture and colorful art from top underground L.A. artists. Deejays Cocki-O, Higher, Daz and T-Lee were set to blaze the main room's dance floor with pulsating hip-hop bass lines, dance-hall reggae and soulful drum 'n' bass. People were streaming in well past 1 a.m., willingly paying the $15 cover to be a part of the eclectic scene, which was fun while it lasted.
When we checked in with Chocolate Bar six months ago, it hadn't found a home yet, floating from location to location. Its three promoters alerted club-goers to the specs by passing out pieces of Hershey's bite-size candy, which were cleverly sealed with special wrappers containing the hotline number and directions to checkpoints. At these checkpoints, guests could find out where to go the night of a Chocolate Bar event.
Those who took the chance and drove to the designated street corners may have found two of Chocolate Bar's promoters posing as street artists--artists who knew where the nearby party was happening. Sometimes, they'd direct club-goers to an art gallery, where the deejays were already firing up the turntables and the bodies were already in motion. Other times, the promoters would take an abandoned warehouse and spruce it up with local art.
Although such tactics aren't uncommon on the underground club scene, Chocolate Bar itself can't be duplicated. The reason? Its three young promoters--Aurelito, Kjell and Shakespeare--each bring a different point of view to their weekly dance party. Aurelito, who was raised in Chicago, makes guests feel as if they've been invited into his home (actually, that's where he brought many anniversary party-goers after the Alexandria was forced to clear out). The Brooklyn-raised Shakespeare brings his East Coast club sensibilities, while Kjell, who was reared in and around downtown L.A., offers the trio some West Coast flavor.
They are the real reason people flock weekly to Chocolate Bar, which is currently happening every Saturday night at Zen Sushi in Silver Lake. Los Angeles, with its rich mix of cultures, responds well to a club run by a dreadlocked black poet, a Puerto Rican artist and a white kid who grew up downtown.
While other hip-hop clubs have been scarred with shootings and gang violence, Chocolate Bar has never had even one fight--how many clubs can claim that?--seemingly existing in its own time and space.
Chocolate Bar, upstairs at Zen Sushi on Saturdays, 2609 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake, (213) 960-5197 and (213) 665-2929. 21 and over, cover varies.