Monday, June 13, 2011

Because Some Days You Just Want To Drink From A Flaming Tiki Skull

L.A. is in a constant state of rewrites.

It tears itself down, builds itself up again. Bit by bit it erases its history for something shiny and shoddy that will house a Vietnamese nail salon, a donut shop, a yogurt place.

Some of it is understandable. Sort of. Bunker Hill, for example. From one perspective it was damn near a shanty town when they tore it down in the fifties. From another, it was fucking criminal.

Either way, L.A. does not appreciate its history. We let things go that should never have gone and hang onto shit that should never have been.

Case in point, Kelbo's.

As pseudo-Polynesian, white-man kitsch goes you don't get much better.

The place was done up with nets, starfish, and lacquered pufferfish hanging from the ceiling. This monster lucite block on one wall with found object art embedded inside that was backlit to look like, fuck, I don't know, beachcomber chic?

The wait staff wore white patent leather loafers, white pants, blue Aloha shirts, like they were refugees from the Don Ho Show, whose music, incidentally, my grandmother listened to fucking incessantly. I hear Tiny Bubbles and I still go into convulsions.

The food was mediocre at best, but they had these spareribs that were, and I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to resort to Pidgin here, ono.

And then there were the drinks. My god, there were the drinks.

Over every booth in the place hung one of these, a backlit photo of a few of their specialties.

That one in the middle at the top? Yes, that is a motherfucking SKULL mug. What they don't show you is that it's ON FIRE. Really.

And the names of these things. The Wiki Waki Bowl, The Jet Pilot, The Green Dragon. You don't see shit like that these days I don't care where you go.

The restaurant opened in 1947 on Fairfax across from the CBS building. Then there was the one on Pico and Exposition, and three others scattered throughout the Southland.

Eventually, the wonder of drinking flaming rum out of a ceramic skull faded for some folks, though god knows why. I mean come on. FLAMING TIKI SKULL MUG, people. The fuck is your problem?

Anyway, by the early 90's the last of the Kelbo's locations, the one at Pico and Exposition, closed down to be replaced by a bikini bar. Sort of a strip bar? I guess? Only not nude? I'm still a little unclear on that.

And with that, Kelbo's and their spareribs and their flaming skull drinks faded away.

Sure, they were no Trader Vic's (which has also gone the way of the dodo), but they were distinctly L.A. They were part of a culture that was, maybe not good, but certainly interesting.

And there just aren't that many interesting places left.

1 comment:

Thomas Pluck said...

Man. I wanted this place to still exist.
If you make it to Jersey sometime. Stuck on a layover... take a cab from Newark to Lee's Hawaiian Island in Lyndhurst.
The spare ribs aren't ono kine grindz but they are okay. The shrimp toast was good.
Get a pupu platter and a drink in a tiki glass, served by ornery old men. Sadly, no skull mug.