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Counting on Montecristo

A new dance club overlooking Wilshire Boulevard is catering to a diverse clientele.

May 13, 1999|HEIDI SIEGMUND CUDA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After 18 years in the club biz, Vincenzo Moschella thought he was through. He sold Riviera, his popular Pasadena salsa club, and decided to put an end to all those late nights. But a couple of months ago, his pal Michael Pecina phoned to say he'd found this unique rooftop location on L.A.'s Wilshire Boulevard. Italian-born Moschella--borrowing a quote from a Corleone--notes, "They keep pulling me back in." Within weeks, a new dance club was born.

The 5-week-old Club Montecristo, a hybrid of Moschella's Roman sensibilities and Pecina's fascination with theology, offers an interesting choice for Angelenos looking to try something different. Its sharp-dressed owners clearly are banking on Wilshire, which has seen a remarkable revitalization in the past year or so. From Beverly Hills, where the Coconut Club and C Bar are located, through Mid-Wilshire, where you'll find the El Rey Theatre and the Conga Room, Wilshire Boulevard is very much alive again.

En route to Montecristo, shops are still open at 11 p.m., Korean clubs have lines out the door, brightly lit neon signs cast their glow over the boulevard. Two blocks east of Vermont Avenue is Montecristo--the only hint it's there is a sign for valet parking pointing to the right. Even halfway up the long stairwell, there's not a peep to be heard from the club. At the top of the building, however, there's plenty of action.

The club is divided into two rooms--a spacious dance floor area, complete with imported Italian furniture, wall-to-wall mirrors, the requisite disco ball and a multitude of angels. The second room, a VIP area called Strega (which means "witch" in Italian), is Pecina's homage to all things theistic. The room is painted blood red and adorned with paintings symbolizing the occult, religion, the seven deadly sins and various other vices.

If they lowered the lights in Strega, the club would be ideal for a Gothic crowd--it's the perfect setting for those subscribing to life's darker elements. Currently, however, the promoter-based dance club hosts "Estillo"--a Latin-Afro-Cuban jazz dance club on Fridays. On Saturday, Luis Q and Nightking serve up plenty of hot house and hip-hop, orchestrated by DJ 2 Swift, to a late-night crowd. Beginning in June, VIP Entertainment takes over on Thursdays with Dolce Vita, and next week, "Salsa Con Clase," launches its Wednesday night salsa promotion.

Although they're still putting on the finishing touches--painting the entrance, adding potted trees--the area that needs the most work is the bathrooms. Considering the effort put into gussying up the two main rooms, and the upscale-attire dress code that's strictly enforced at Montecristo, the ladies' bathroom could use some serious upscaling, too.

Other than that, Montecristo's off to a nice start. The Italian gangster-style motif gives Montecristo that sexy "Scarface" feeling, which is probably what attracts the wide-ranging word-of-mouth clientele. Here, race doesn't seem to be an issue--the club draws people of all ethnicities, not an easy thing to do in L.A.

The rooftop view of Wilshire and beyond adds a dose of romance for those looking to get lucky. It's definitely aimed for the singles set, so dancing doesn't really get heated until midnight, when those straddling the sidelines finally summon the courage to ask someone to dance. Meantime, it's fun to watch folks shake their groove thing on the very edge of the dance floor until they look like they're going to explode.

BE THERE

Club Montecristo, 3100 Wilshire Blvd. (enter from rear of building on Westmoreland Avenue), Los Angeles, (213) 252-9343. 21 and older. Cover varies.

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