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Where the Play Is the Thing

The new Hollywood club Playroom has triumphed over its humble location.

July 01, 1999|HEIDI SIEGMUND CUDA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A whole new era is dawning in Hollywood night life, and the Playroom is out in front. It beat its significant competition out of the gate, so, for the moment, it's the leader of the new Rad Pack.

So far, it seems to be a long-odds winner. Consider: Playroom is located at the old Probe, an ugly club that lurked on Highland Avenue for nearly three decades. (C'mon, the name alone recalls every bad "E.T." joke you ever heard.) How ugly? Promoters often listed only the address of the venue, never the name, when advertising events.

Also consider: People moped when the Central became the Viper Room, they still mourn the death of Gazzarri's, originally leveled to become Billboard Live (now the Key Club). But no one shed a tear for the Probe. Although it was the site of many memorable, era-defining promotions, from Cathouse, to Helter Skelter and Scream, those successes stemmed as much from an 18-and-older policy (a scarcity in Hollywood) than from any of its virtues.

The metamorphosis is uncanny; the Probe has been transformed from a dark, stinky dungeon to a glorious '70s, pop art-inspired venue. It's everything Billboard Live should have been, but 12 million bucks later, was not.

Perhaps it's payback time for the Davis brothers, the team who recently bought the Highland property. Art and Allan Davis owned the lease to Gazzarri's when the Billboard Live project was underway. They watched what should have been an enormous success go down the tubes by virtue of bad decisions, squared, on the part of business partners. In addition, as owners of the Gate, a tony cash cow on La Cienega Boulevard, they achieved a great deal of success, but only with a strange strata of Clubland's clientele. Mix one dose Faye Resnick, two jiggers of a Heidi Fleiss girl, some Hef playmates, and a pinch of moneyed producer-types and you kinda get the picture.

With the Playroom, however, they have something closer to their New York hearts. Designed by another New York ex-pat, Ricki Kline (who created North, among numerous other hot spots), the Playroom is a colorful psychedelic joy ride into the heart of Hollywood. As you walk inside, past the wavy gravy walls, you find yourself with many gawking options, from a bar glowing with the twirling reflections of dozens of disco balls, to the far-out hydraulic-operated lights above the stage area. The entire place is alive with vibrant colors, with rag-painted bathrooms and lollipop-style swirls on the walls. There are loads of cozy rooms and private nooks, which make it nice for those who want to be there and get away at the same time.

Although the Playroom is quickly filling up with outside dance clubs led by some of L.A.'s hottest promoters, as yet nothing compares to the slam-dunk of Cherry's June 11 opening party. The Friday night glam club emitted a sexual charge to anyone within a three-mile radius (about how long the line was that night). Everyone on the scene--drag queens, veteran taste-makers, new punks, old punks, fetish fashionistas--felt the flush of energy that comes when you're a part of a defining moment in L.A. history.

Cherry, which moved from West Hollywood's Love Lounge, can spread out and turn everything up a few notches at the Playroom. With its erotic video imagery, cleverly clad clientele, male and female go-go dancers, and O.G. deejay Joseph Brooks manning the late-night turntable, Cherry manages to recapture something wonderful about the '80s--a moment when rock hadn't Balkanized into exclusive genres, when a club could come close to being all things to all people.

Simply put, we like it. And apparently, we're not alone: Rumors that big-time artists are scouting the location for unannounced shows should be taken ver-wy ser-weously.

To cop an old school edict: Long live the Playroom.

BE THERE

The Playroom, 836 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood, (323) 460-6630. 21 and older. Cover varies.

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