I was on Facebook and saw people reminiscing about the beloved Derby nightclub. I loved that place too. That got me thinking about some of the other great swing venues we’ve had in Southern California and the great memories I made at each of them. So, for all of you old-time swing dancers out there, here is my list of the top ten Los Angeles/Orange County swing venues that I miss the most and why. Tell me if you agree and if I missed one of your favorites.
1. The Derby
In its time, many Swing dancers had a love/hate relationship with The Derby. Detractors said there were too many beginners, the floor was sticky, it was too crowded, the management treated us bad, it was too hot, yada yada. Now, I think we can all agree we’re sorry it’s gone. Where else could you bring your non-swing friends and not have them be bored out of their minds after an hour? What other real nightclub had swing dancing and provided a huge dance floor, lessons, and live band every night? This place was actually cool and hip! Don’t get me wrong, I am fine with dancing in fellow Swing geeks in less-glamorous venues, but it was cool to also dance in such a historic “Hollywood” type of venue.
And, how many of us learned how to swing dance there? I still remember my first swing dance lessons with Kim and Dave and Eric and Sylvia (I won’t mention the Salsa instructor who is now in jail). How many friends did you first meet at the Derby? For these reasons, the Derby will always have a special place in my heart. I actually wanted to have my ashes spread there after I died, but I guess that won’t happen now..
2. Satin Ballroom
If you remember Satin Ballroom, you’re an old-timer, but you probably have some great memories of this place like I do. What other swing dance event in Southern California could draw 1000 people, all dressed to the nines and ready to dance to a great band (sometimes two!!) It was great because everyone would show up – beginners and experts alike! Alas, Satin Ballroom had to close due to the increased cost to rent the Culver City Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium, but it’s a shame. There have been a few big band Swing dance events since then, but for some reason, they haven’t been the same.
3. Paladino’s Lounge aka Kim and Dave’s Juke Joint
I had a really morbid thought one time I was at Paladino’s. If a bomb were to hit the place, a large majority of the top swing dance talent in LA would be wiped out. I mean, this place always had the best dancers. But, it was also small and friendly. It was reliable. You could be sure of some great dances when you went there. And let me talk about the DJ-ing for a moment: Dave Frutos was the best swing dance DJ around. He played the best variety including a lot of obscure stuff that you don’t hear anywhere else like “Jungle Drums” by Earl Bostic for example (I wish I could provide a link, but I can’t find it anywhere online). That’s why this place rarely had a live band – the DJing was so good. Plus, where else could you go swing dancing and hang with biker gang dudes at the bar afterwards?
4. PBDA’s Swing Camp Catalina
Swing dancers from all of the country, and the world, would show up for this four-day swing weekend on Catalina Island put on by the Pasadena Ballroom Dance Association. I have fond memories of renting a house with friends on the island, attending classes all day (some of which were taught by Frankie Manning), swapping moves we learned, then getting dressed up for the big dance at night at the amazing Casino Ballroom. You could also do late-night karaoke at the local bars, or swing dance along the beach during the day. I remember thinking, “this is what heaven must be like for a swing dancer”.
5. Memories in OC
Yes, I know – Memories is still around in Whittier. But to me, that feels like a completely different venue than the old Memories in Orange County. I’m not knocking the current location, which has its own charm and a whole lot more room, but there was something about dancing in the small OC location that was special. There were always tons of people to dance with, and always great dancers. I didn’t go to Memories OC a lot, but I know many of you did, and I’m sure you have some great “memories” of the “Old Memories” in Orange County.
6. Suzy Q’s
After Suzy Q’s closed, the West Side hasn’t been able to hold onto a new swing venue to save its life. I’ve often wondered why. Is it just too expensive? Located in a Masonic lodge on Westwood Boulevard, it wasn’t an especially glamorous location, but I had some great times there. Yes, there were a lot of beginners, but usually some advanced dancers too. For those of us who lived far from Pasadena, this was a nice local alternative.
7. Monsters of Swing
Okay, you have to be a really old timer to remember Monsters of Swing in Ventura, a three-day swing dance weekend put on by the Flyin’ Lindy Hoppers. This technically wasn’t in LA, but most of the dancers there were from LA or Orange County. It was a more irreverent, more adult swing camp at the peak of the swing craze. It’s true that back then, few of us really knew what we were doing (which inspired Dave Frutos to coin the term, “Ventura style swing dancing”), but it was pure fun anyway. Pack a bunch of friends into a car, take over the small town of Ventura, and dance all night until you’re exhausted.
8. Paseo Colorado Mall in Pasadena
I am a sucker for outdoor swing dancing in Southern California, and Paseo Colorado was a perfect place to do it. During the summer, they would have swing bands playing for free every week. The setting was beautiful, the floor was pretty big, and the shoppers would stand around in awe of your dancing ability. Afterwards you could have dinner at one of the restaurants there. We need more outdoor swing dancing and Lindy bombs in L.A. and Orange County!
9. Los Angeles Music Center Swing Dancing
Going along with the outdoor swing dance theme, the Los Angeles Music Center used to have occasional swing dancing in the evenings. This location was absolutely beautiful. There’s nothing like dancing under the stars, between the skyscrapers of downtown L.A. Let’s hope they do it again.
Bordello was a more obscure joint in a bad area of downtown L.A. which featured mostly rockabilly bands. But, I had some great times there. The bands were awesome and the décor sort of had a devil theme (which sounds strange) but was really unique. I remember some interesting stuff going on there (i.e., when Vince Vaugn was there with his friends, or when the stripper took over the stage and had to be escorted off, etc.) You never really knew what would happen, but that was part of the fun.
One “honorable mention” classy venue that used to have swing dancing was the Coconut Club at the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel. This was way way back. I remember seeing Cybil Shepard there. She would dance with anyone who asked, which I thought was cool.
Let me also mention one other venue that is not dead, but perhaps can be considered on life support: Third Street Swingers. At its peak, this would draw a huge number of dancers, but it has not had those numbers for a while. I’m going to try to drum up interest in this event in the coming months.
Before I sound too gloomy, let me talk about the resurrection of one of our old stand-bys, The Swing Pit (which would otherwise have been high on this list!) Yes, the Swing Pit is back and popular as ever, which goes to show that the dead can come back to life. And let’s hope that some of the venues above do!
What So. Cal. swing venues do you miss? Please leave a comment! – Brian