The night air left little doubt that summer sat and reigned over the city. On the streets of Hollywood women wore mini-skirts and guys short-sleeved shirts as they bar hopped, waited in line for night clubs and found the nearest tattoo parlor. The signature city heat that makes Los Angeles either a massive, sweltering discombobulation of people or a destination-dream-paradise cradled the city like a blanket, and added a frenzied pace to everything happening on the boulevard as if heat aiding the movement of mass multiplied and proliferated the various possibilities alive in the night. The mass – people, traffic, love, friendship, drinking, drugging, music, sex – everything.
This city is often like a slow blooming flower, every year unfolding a new petal, unveiling a new aspect of itself for anyone looking and discerning the cities beauty. Hollywood sits close to the heart, but numerous other areas and neighborhoods combine to create the rose that is Los Angeles, or maybe it resembles more a lily or a farewell-to-spring. Forget Hollywood for the moment. This story only starts in Hollywood with a ride into the dark-rising heat of the city streets, ending just on the other side of the L.A. river directly north of downtown in a small nondescript Latin nightclub named Los Candiles. Just for the purpose of translation, Los Candiles means “the candle.”
If asked where the club resides you might say Eagle Rock just because most wouldn’t recognize the name Glassell Park. Like so many working-class neighborhoods its history and uniqueness rest forgotten and ignored among a maze of similar streets with names like Desire, then further lost in a puzzle of similar cities and neighborhoods that all fit into a mold named America. Or perhaps with a history of violence and crime people looked more towards Eagle Rock or Atwater Village for homes, writing the neighborhood off as the bad side of town. Glassell Park – the bad side of Eagle Rock, the bad area of Atwater – goes unmentioned. For instance the LA Weekly published a story about a crime family, an AK-47 and typical L.A. violence that belongs more to the late 80s and early 90s but happened in Glassell Park in 2008. Or just the other week while talking to a resident he simply stated in sterile terms how some kid recently got beat with a baseball bat, and June 12 of this year a young woman and young man died in a shooting. Violence makes neighborhoods disappear in this city like so much bad food in the refrigerator, people must discard it or the stench and mildew ruin the pleasure of modern society. For instance have you ever heard of the neighborhood of Del Rey?
Of course for the past 20 or 30 years (if not more) a majority of working-class families have called the neighborhood home, and only recently with the whole area of downtown including everything below and above experiencing a renaissance in every sense of the word, although some call it gentrification, the neighborhood has begun to see a shift towards the middle. With middle we mean demographically. Young professionals looking to buy good real estate and others just seeking a more authentic Los Angeles find the neighborhood perfect. With beautiful large homes atop hills that lead into Eagle Rock providing breathtaking views and hidden away in trees; or authentic and great Latin food available through street vendors; or even a sense of community that exists where people live and die together daily; the neighborhood offers a friendly hello at the local gas station, that is of course if you don’t mind a rougher handshake and a little dirt covering up a gem. A gem discovered and just starting to see the light.
Take Los Candiles, an unassuming Latin dance club that sits along a main drag in Glassell Park. You find these clubs all over the city. Some like the ones in Echo Park and Venice have been converted into new sleek dance venues for indie rock and electronic acts, but most in the city still keep their original flavor and offerings. At first look nothing out of the ordinary, but like the neighborhood this club is a gem. Scouring the online website gives the first hint that this club offers something unique with the traditional Latin dance music. “Venga y disfrute con nuestro show Fantasia con Las Estrellas” that loosely translates as “Come and enjoy our show / Fantasy with the Stars”; or later when you click the ‘show’ link in the menu sidebar “Ven y disfruta con nuestro travesty show Fantasia Con Las Estrellas” and the show Fantasy with the Stars comes up again, this time with the word “travesty” attached. Most people relate travesty to what happens during a war when innocent people die, but few relate the word to its original usage that is closer to “burlesque” than to “appalling.” In fact the Latin word “travestire” means to disguise or more literally to cover up with clothing; and travesty means a literary or artistic imitation usually incongruous in style, treatment, or subject matter. Maybe it gets confused because it is so close to tragedy, or because people use the statement “travesty of justice” too often changing the meaning. So a travesty show? Call it what you will, but at Los Candides it means a drag show with singing, and don’t forget the male stripper and the DJ.
Burning through the hot night the road led through the up-and-coming neighborhood, to the unassuming Latin dance club and to a birthday party for an unknown girl with unknown people at an unknown place. The invite seemed strange at first, a phone call promised a party with a ton of women while at the same time offering a drag show. For some reason the two promises didn’t go together, I always equated drag with gay bars in West Hollywood, not straight woman celebrating a birthday in a working-class neighborhood. After learning more about Glassell Park the place even seems more unlikely since gang violence and the machismo of the hood normally make anything GLBT (Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender) unacceptable. Or even more so with a possible large Catholic population, you would think such a place harbors the ill will of the church. Regardless of its location and its stigma, for the ladies who arrived to the birthday it meant dancing to sweaty South American rhythms and letting loose in a place tingling with an open atmosphere that celebrates what it means to be beautiful and a women.
The local crowd loved the band playing, while the ladies loved every minute of every second. Every song brought out dancers, and the enthusiasm of the small local crowd showed they came for the music. The birthday girl found a dance partner for every song. She often grabbed a friend, or a friend grabbed her, some of her guy friends followed the girls to the floor to dance with the birthday girl as tempos sped up and the band picked up energy. A few times an older gentlemen, a veteran of Latin rhythm clubs would escort her to the floor and steal a few moments of youth back. Him and the other few older gentlemen masterfully controlled the dance floor leading their partners around in what from afar seemed slow rhythm combined with the quick turns and spins of ballroom dance. Looking more closely the majesty of what it takes to have that control and grace was tantamount to intricate and precise dance steps that happened quick and fast so the eye could barely follow the practiced patterns that flowed with ease. For these few gentlemen the smiles on their faces and sparkles in the eyes meant that whatever happened earlier in the day at work or home, and whatever happened tomorrow meant nothing in the moment of the dance. For some a cold beer and a shot of hard liquor washed away the day, the week and the years. For those weaving a spell with the Rumba or sweeping across the floor with a Cha Cha the dance gave them the same dignity along with the semblance of eternal youth.
The club wasn’t very packed but if everyone got on the floor room became sparse. This led to a perfect intimate spot for a birthday. As the women drank alcohol and their male friends did the same the atmosphere around the table slowly unwound becoming looser and looser. More alcohol, more drinking and finally the show started, the “travesty show Fantasia Con Las Estrellas.” Beautiful women dressed up as famous Latina stars, the most notable Shakira in gold and flowing blond hair. In true Burlesque and travesty, sexuality permeated the singing and dancing along with a hint of the more sultry tradition of strip clubs. Every so often a famous Latin singer would mount the lap of a gentleman in the crowd shaking her hips back and forth while continuing to lip sing to the radio hits.
After a few acts of famous latinas, they unleashed the male stripper onto the floor dressed in classic cowboy attire, chaps and all. He made his way around the room to the various women at the various tables, collecting dollars along the way, unzipping his fly for extra smiles and girlish embarrassment. At this point it might be worth skipping the entire rest of the episode for a stripper is a stripper. Hunter S. Thompson in “The Rum Diaries” writes this beautiful scene during the Carnival celebration where a beautiful woman dancing with a fabulous man gets drawn further and further into seduction as the tempo and rhythm of the Samba create an explosive sexual energy. If anything about the stripper at Los Candides, his pure sexual energy should be remembered. When tempted over to the birthday girl by dollar bills and innocent eyes, her friends put her up to experiencing first hand the show and his dancing while the alcohol made anything possible, words alone and even pictures fail to describe what happened next. Never has a female stripper ever performed that well for a man, and the question remains who was more surprised – the dancer for his own abandonment in the passion of the moment, or the birthday girl for her willingness to wear a cowboy hat and straddle his lap, chaps and all. The club gave them everything they needed for a memorable night of partying. Of course if they forget they can always refer back to L.A. the Blog and the pictures we posted online of our brief time at Los Candides. We hope the girls tipped their cowboy dancer extra for that one.
Los Candides and Glassell Park might never be the same with young people looking for new exciting and fantastic neighborhoods to live. We left the girls and their friends still drinking and partying. The DJ came on before as we walked out replacing the band and his opening track rocked like a Tijuana night club. Before getting in the car we grabbed tacos from a food stand down the street. One of the best burritos we have ever ate. Maybe year after year from this point forward the murder rate in Glassell Park will slowly become nonexistent, and like so much of the city that we grow up in the neighborhoods continue to change and become wealthier as the working class moves on. Local thrift shops become small boutiques, and development slowly brings large corporate chains. Maybe Los Candides will eventually host techno clubs and indie line-ups, but for now it remains a jewel of a good time … especially for the ladies.
UPDATED: Below find some video from Los Candides …