Kelbo's


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.
R.I.P. Kelbo's

18 comments:

Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Oh, I'd love to have a Kelbo's here, but we do have our Tonga Room at the 'high toned' Fairmont.

Gavin Elster said...

Id love to have a Tonga Room here.

Ms. Bizarro said...

Hey Gavin - your prayer to the god of pork on Ms Jill's page inspired me to visit your glob. I am a tiki fanatic of many years. In fact, if you read the Tiki Road Trip book you'll see a shout out to me in my maiden name form (first name Elena).

Anyway, come visit me at my blarg!

Anonymous said...

I used to go to Kelbo's on W. pico Bl. in W.L.A., during my growing up, back in the 60's... It was everything you say and MORE! I miss it lot's & dream about it when I'm half-pie-eyed...
Ahhhhhhh, the good old days...
btw, it was about a block from a ledgendary steak-house resturant named "Billingsley's" which was owned by Barbara Billingsley, of "Leave It To Beaver" fame...
Timmy

Gavin Elster said...

Aw Barbara. I once saw her on the back lot of Universal. At one point during the 80's they had the NEW LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and she was busy wrapping that show up. She was begging with her agent to get a meeting with someone. She was stressing that the meeting was so important that she was saying "I'll even pay for the lunch." I admired her drive.

Anonymous said...

I worked with a musical act at Pico Kelbo's towards the end(and in fact was--with act Joey Cheezhee and friends--given over the reigns of a new proposed entertainment policy/restoration), and interviewed "owner" Tom Kelly extensively in the Seventies Mexican restaurant-style interior of his penthouse atop the building.

He never mentioned Eli Headley as a participant in the creation of the building or decor (which was all refreshingly amateur), but said that in fact it was he and a bunch of friends who decorated it (using lots of resin and spray paint)during several drinking binges. That's why the "popular science"/home-made look to the dive.

Joey Cheezhee had a "farewell to his stage persona" event there after it became a strip club and I recall lots of artifacts from it's former incarnation--including a menu item.

--Papa Tango

Anonymous said...

I dined at Kelbo's twice in the early 1990s before it closed. Great place! What's stopping someone from making a new Tiki cave restaurant like Kelbo's or even better? I'm glad you mention Bahooka. Bahooka is a lot like Kelbo's, but is much larger, and has good food, and great decor.

Tina Segler said...

Kelbo's was really cool. We used to go there in the early eighties. I remember those shared cocktails in the giant white clamshells. A whole table could get buzzed from one. Sadly, the building is now a stripclub called Fantasy Island.

Aluminum Case said...

It’s complete blast for everyone to know the actual size of history about Kelbo's. That’s really very big center attraction for entertainment. It’s seems useful reasons to encourage myself to give up their time for entertainment in Kelbo’s.

Anonymous said...

Kelbo's was one of my favorite restaurants as a kid. I believe the large shared drinks were called "Pupules". I remember there were only male waiters and they wore hawaiian shirts. My favorite foods were the ribs and the "sky high" roast beef sandwiches. They had a delicious salad dressing called "ten thousand island". The dancing was held under the world's biggest coconut. Really a fun place.

Anonymous said...

RIP, Kelbo's. I grew up here. When I was little, my mom and dad owned a booth here---LOL!! At least, they ate there enough to have bought one. I would practically kill for them to bring this place back. It was SO sad when we went up there one time--we moved out of Santa Monica years ago---and stopped in, only to open the door and see some stripper on a pole since it had been turned into some sleazy T&A bar called "Paradise Island" or something of the sort. It was disheartening. Kelbo's was such a unique place---I used to have virgin Coco Bowls; later when I was legal, I had the regular ones and they were the BEST.

Anonymous said...

I loved kelbos from the time I first went there more than 50 years ago to the 90's. So many great memories - my best friend and me (as kids) were amazed at the bare chested women on the menu, and the barbique sauce on the beef sandwiche (trust me, it really grows on you), and the incredible decor (including the hanging puffer fishes). Man I miss that place!

Dean said...

Sadly, since your blog entry on Kelbo's, we have also lost Bahooka.

dean m roberts said...
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dean m roberts said...
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Michael G. said...

Sadly - Bahooka Restaurant has also closed in 2014.

Anonymous said...

I loved Kelbo's on Pico and loved their famous flaming crouton in big bowl drink that was served with many straws. That big bowl came in handy for those that needed to barf a few hours later.

I also remember the prune-flavored drink served in a skull mug. I wish Kelbo's would come back. What fun memories I have of that place.

dean m roberts said...

My parents liked to eat there. We lived close so we ate there a Lot. My brother and I never mined waiting because we loved the acrylic wall with all the different things embedded in it. Plus, they had the best bbq sandwiches. Yum, yum.