Merv Swings: Swing dancing and supper clubs are super-hot, so Merv Griffin has created an updated version of the old Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel, where he used to sing with Freddie Martin's orchestra. The new Coconut Club ("coconut" being spelled dictionary-fashion this time around) will feature the music of Jack Sheldon and his big band. The club is set up in the old grand ballroom of the Beverly Hilton, behind the water wall in the lobby. It will swing only on weekends, though; on weekdays, normal ballroom functions take over.
The ballroom has a grand 900-square-foot midnight-blue dance floor, but you know what they say about never being able to go home again. Instead of the papier-mache palm trees and monkeys with lighted eyes of the old Cocoanut Grove, you're getting aluminum palm trees with psychedelic monkeys. The food is light supper club stuff: caviar, seafood platter, gourmet pizzas, tenderloin sandwich. Prices start at $8 for appetizers.
Two grand opening parties are being held Jan. 16 and 17. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.; Jack Sheldon and his band go on at 9:30 and play until 2 a.m. Cover charge is $20 a person. Call (310) 285-1358 for reservations and you'll hear a cheery Merv asking you to leave a message.
* Coconut Club, the Beverly Hilton, 9876 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 285-1358.
They've Lavanded: Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel is opening a new Provencal restaurant, Lavande, in the old Coast Cafe space at the end of the month. Chef Alain Giraud, formerly of Citrus, will serve such dishes as chicken Catherine (he used to make a similar chicken in the Bistro at Citrus) and coffret (i.e., jewel box) of halibut with truffle and Minervois sauce. He plans tasting menus, and a truffle menu is also in the works. Price range for entrees will be approximately $22-$28. The tasting menus will run between $50-$60; the truffle menu will be market price.
Zap! Zowie! Ka-Blam!: If you've always wanted to dine with the X-Men, Marvel Mania is the restaurant you've been waiting for. It just opened at Universal CityWalk next to the park entrance. Marvel Comics heroes adorn the walls and stand around as figurines, and there's a large shop of Marvel souvenirs, of course, but the place also features a full bar and a split-level dining room with a 20-foot video screen showing (what did you expect?) cartoons.
The bar serves a long list of frozen fruit drinks, one of which, "The Amazing Fantasy," comes in a 22-ounce lab beaker. The menus are comic books you can take home; kids' menus come with crayons.
Is there food? Yes, your traditional theme-restaurant menu of pizzas, pastas, burgers, salads and sandwiches. Some of the appetizers sport fun names like Gambit's Sugar Cane Shrimp, Sunfire Spring Rolls and Mutant Chicken Wings. Price ranges from $6-$16.
* Marvel Mania, 1000 Universal Center Drive, Universal City; (818) 762-7835.
Bel-Air Bus Stop: If only there were a way to get someone to drive you and your friends to the Getty Center after lunch so you wouldn't have to make those dang parking reservations. Well, maybe there is, or soon will be. Bel-Air Bar & Grill, scheduled to open this month, is less than a mile from the Getty, so the restaurant is working out the logistics of dropping customers off after lunch in one of their vans.
In the meantime, it's secured chef Robert Lia from 72 Market Street Oyster Bar and Grill to do the cooking. He'll be cooking some of his pasta dishes, a wild mushroom risotto, a braised veal shank and his chocolate souffle. Prices will range from $6-$14 at lunch, $10-$19 at dinner. Bel-Air Bar & Grill has a full liquor license.
* Bel-Air Bar & Grill, 662 N. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; (310) 440-5544.
Still Makin' Turducken: Rick Royce and Mary Atkinson of Royce's Cafe Orleans got so many inquiries about their turducken (Paul Prudhomme's recipe for stuffing a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey) that they've decided to hold a class on it. Why anybody isn't content to sit down in a dining room and just order this labor-intensive dish (it takes between 8 and 18 hours just to bake) is a stumper, but maybe some people want to make it for Easter. Royce's Cafe chefs Raul Contreras and Ramiro Trejo will be teaching the class Jan. 24; it runs 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (obviously, a condensed lesson--the baking is done beforehand, TV cooking-show style). The chefs will show how to debone a chicken. The cost is $40 and you get to help eat the finished turducken.
* Royce's Cafe Orleans, 10916 Pico Blvd., West L.A.; (310) 441-7427.