In the ever shrinking world of Tiki bars Kelbo's was ranked among the best. While it didn't feature any truly original drinks and the food was sub-par the atmosphere was spot on.
The interior was the creation of Eli Hedley. "One of the weirdest businesses in California, where weird businesses are a perfectly normal thing, is run by a 42-year-old ex-grocer ... who makes a living out of things the Pacific Ocean throws back," began a story in Life magazine in January 1946. As his beachcombing decor found favor on Hollywood sets and in the homes of stars, celebrities often dropped by the San Pedro home. "They'd come down there and disappear from Hollywood," Bassham says of the stories he's heard from his mother and three aunts. "The way he was, he'd pull a copa de oro flower off the vine, fill it with champagne and say, 'Here, drink this.' " Actor Raymond Burr was a close friend, who at one point optioned daughter Marilyn Hedley's book, "How Daddy Became a Beachcomber." The business grew, and by the 1950s, Hedley was in demand as a tropical decorator. He worked on tiki-themed Los Angeles nightspots, such as Don the Beachcomber and Kelbo's. The hostess area of Kelbo's featured what could only be described as a glowing Lucite wall filled with crap. Matchbooks, forks, knives, starfish, you name it encased in a glowing wall. A monolith to be discovered by some future civilization lies in a landfill somewhere. The ceilings were draped in fishing nets that held a virtual museum of sea bounty. Yes, Fugu were included. The preserved blowfish with a solitary Christmas light in the belly. The Pico location had a dance hall called the Coco-Bowl. It was a great room, dark, with palm trees and tiki's and a bandstand at the far end. For a while, Kelbo's had Francis Ford Coppola as a dishwasher until he was fired. His mind seemed to be elsewhere.
Kelbo's was the creation of Thomas KELley and Jack BOuck. They opened two locations in Southern California. Kelbo's-Fairfax. 101 north Fairfax Avenue across the street from CBS Television City. (Home of the Twilight Zone series) That location featured an outdoor garden and wishing well. The wells first coin was dropped by Lucille Ball with Desi standing at her side.
The other location was Kelbo's-Pico. 11434 West Pico Boulavard. That location closed almost 20 years ago and is now the home of FANTASY ISLAND Gentleman's club. Nothing remains of the spectacular interior.
They Always Come Back:
Kelbo's sadly will not be resurrected. I wish there was better news. In honor of Kelbo's, They Always Come Back has created some products based on the Kelbo's cocktail napkin logo. You can find them here. (Along with some other goodies.)
If you would like a close approximation of what Kelbo's was like visit BAHOOKA in the city of Rosemead California. The creator of Bahooka learned the Tiki Restaurant business while working at Kelbo's for ten years. Bahooka opened in 1967. It is more nautical than tiki but the spirit of Kelbo' lingers there.