Life in the Clown Room

Jumbo's Clown Room is what I would call a strip club, but is probably technically referred to as something with burlesque in the title. It used to be a hole-in-the-wall filled with bright lights and dimmed prospects. These days it's been overhauled, for the better, and something everyone visiting Los Angeles should think about adding to their to-do list.

The first time I ever went to Jumbo's was sometime pre-Y2K. I was visiting Los Angeles and friends that I also occasionally worked with. We had been hopping bars around the city before we ended up there. I had no idea where there was except yet another Los Angeles strip mall. We sat down on the edge of the stage and were drinking, mildly watching the dancers, and continuing our conversations.

It was late, and some rocker girl came out on the stage raging to Black Sabbath's Paranoid. Tongue out, horned hands raised while headbanging to the beat. This girl really liked her 1 a.m. Sabbath. As I was lost in conversation with my head turned, she got on her knees, hands on the brass rail, leaned over and bit me. Hard. Right on the cheek. The bouncer ran over and scolded her, but she wasn't listening. Just back on the pole to headbang her way through the song.

I later found out Jumbo's is located on Hollywood, somewhere in the no man's land between Los Feliz and Hollywood proper. It's called Thai town technically, but I tend to just call it "over there." Over the years my friends and I have spent way too much time in Jumbo's. There is rumor that Courtney Love used to dance there in the 90s, but of course, that could be just a hipster wives' tale passed down through the ages. After giving it the facelift a few years ago and painting over the junky vibe, it currently serves up the most entertainingly strange burlesque I've ever seen outside of a David Lynch movie.

The thing about Jumbo's is that it's not just another strip club. The girls pick their songs and some make their outfits. The music can range from Britney Spears predictable to the most obscure record in your collection. I'm no longer surprised by the rarities. The dances, when everything comes together, can silence the place and pull you in as if you are watching a scene from a highly stylized movie. Through the cheesyness, you have to admit the girl dancing slowly to The Rolling Stones Gimmie Shelter is actually pretty amazing. And just when you become self-aware that you're gawking, you notice that almost everyone else is too. Captured by a moment that truthfully is, well...pretty great.

Until you realize you need another tap beer in a tiny mug or a handful of ones to tip with. The other great thing about Jumbo's is that it's not your usual strip club vibe of salary men stealing away from their families to sneak a peak. It's more like a regular bar, that happens to have dancers. But even while not dancing, the girls wander around like everyone else, and spare you the hard sell for a lap dance. On top of that, it isn't even all guys. Quite often there are more girls in there than guys. Go figure. I've even seen friends meet girls in there who weren't dancers. Actual nice and normal people.

The only girl I ever met was a dancer who gave me her number. Someone once told me "when life gives you two paths, choose the one with the best story." I tried to live this idea unwaveringly for a few years until I realized it'll get you into a lot of trouble, following story a case in point. I went to meet the dancer for a coffee that ended up being barely that. We met midmorning at the Coffeebean in Hollywood (aka The Coffescene..) where she arrived in short shorts, tiny shirt and her cellphone worn in a holster on her leg like Aeon Flux. As it turned out, her personality was even more obnoxious than the outfit and the whole entire place was soon staring at us with that "whose the dude with the stripper" look. I left soon after she loudly told me (and everyone else in the cafe) the story about Anthony Kiedis winking at her from his Harley as she trotted across some Hollywood crosswalk. The whole experience proving that the path of the better story can be a rough one.

As the years wear on, I go to Jumbo's less. You know, that whole maturity deal, I suppose. For all I know in the past six months things have changed yet again and it's completely weird instead of just kind of weird. But since I already tried my "when life gives you two paths..." years, I think it's your turn. Go check it out and report back for us.