BEFORE I bought a house and started spending all my money at places like
Big Leon's Linoleum Barn, I had a modest little lump of cash floating
around the stock market. One of the most expensive lessons I learned was
this: It's better to get to the party early -- and leave early -- than show
up late and stick around 'til the bitter end.
That sound advice for picking stocks could also apply to this dubious
business of nightclub trend-surfing. Get to the cool bar du jour before the
crowd does. And then be gone just when the throng starts to get ugly at the
door. But clubs, like investments, seldom perform exactly as planned . . .
I'd pegged the Lanai to be a suburban luau hut barely kept afloat by an
aging clientele that favored aloha shirts, white Sansabelt slacks and
matching white vinyl shoes. Like most of my best secret dives, it had an
unbelievable location -- in the corner of a tired-looking strip mall that's
almost under an elevated portion of Highway 92. (Look for a hot-pink neon
sign, right there by Pet Club and Office Depot). Last Saturday night, the
Fun Consultant and I rolled in around 10:30. As we sat in the car waiting
for the rain to let up, a VW Cabriolet pulled in next to us and two
over-moussed club types in identical skintight black mini-dresses got out.
Then we noticed the mod couple across the way. And the two couples done up
in black leather and tastefully shredded jeans. So much for secret dives.
The scowling Maori warrior carved into the rough wood of the front door
should have tipped us off, but we were unprepared for the Kon-Tiki
kitsch-o-rama we found inside: a bar with a thatched roof. Walls made of
lava rocks, woven grass mats and bamboo poles. An indoor waterfall
trickling down a vine-covered wall. The only thing missing was Don Ho and
the Ho-ettes singing an easy-listening version of "Bloody Mary."
The Lanai, a suburban cousin of Trader Vic's and the Tonga Room, was a
fixture on El Camino Real for decades, before it was razed a few years
back. The new room, which opened two years ago, is still a straight shot of
Faux Polynesia, circa 1974. We saw many people walking around with what
appeared to be fishbowls with straws sticking out of them. Upon closer
examination, we realized these were birdbath-size snifters of
"tropical" drinks with names such as "Sidewinder Fang."
You light a match anywhere near one of these babies and you run the risk of
becoming a human tiki-torch. We saw one fellow who was almost finished with
his second fishbowl. He looked like he'd just seen Jack Lord's head on a
There's no way to pigeonhole the Lanai crowd. There were the Cabriolet
bunnies and mods -- and right at the next table, a foursome of retired
folks who had stopped in for a nightcap after catching a show at the nearby
Hillbarn Theater. There was a 50-ish guy who had his hands all over his
20-something date. There was one gorgeous woman in a stunning pajama
ensemble and suede boots. And more than a few arrested-development dudes
who probably believe that Blue Oyster Cult represented the zenith of rock's
Music is not the drawing card at the Lanai. We thought we'd find some
slack-key guitarist or maybe an Irish/Hawaiian lounge combo called the
Lovely Houlihans. Instead, we got UB40's great "Labour of Love"
album pulsing through the sound system. In the Mexican restaurant attached
to the club, there's low-key jazz and salsa on Thursdays, karaoke on
Fridays and local rock on Saturdays. The band we saw, the Freeze, was a
louder-than- bombs '60s cover group, and nothing to write home about.
So we weren't the first people under 30 to rediscover the Lanai. Big
deal. We got there in time to witness the tiki torch being passed to the
1860 S. Norfolk St.
Admission: No cover
Details: Live music 8 p.m.
Thursdays and 9:30 p.m. Saturdays