Violet Towne has been on holidays visiting me in Hollywood, and while she was here we took the opportunity to visit The Edison, one of the many cool nightspots that can be found in the great big sprawling City of Angels. The Edison, located in downtown LA in a former power station called the Higgins Building, promises a flashback into times when electricity was still a novelty, when the in-crowd dressed for a night on the town, and when cocktails were serious business rather than fluffy concoctions of gaudy alcoholic lolly water.

I read about The Edison over a year ago and it seemed like exactly the kind of place I’d find time to hang out, if it was half as good as it sounded. The club styles itself as a remembrance of things past – an antidote to the crass modern pickup joints that most nightclubs have become. The article I read emphasized The Edison’s draconian dress code: make an effort pal, or get your ass kicked back to the cheap margaritas and watery bourbon up on Sunset.

The Edison is dedicated to a resurgence of Old World style and sense of romance that once dominated Los Angeles Nightlife. Thus, innovative, sophisticated and cultured attire is required. We will always strive to more quickly accommodate those whose style and imagination suit the environment. Our door has sole discretion with regards to enforcement of our dress code.

Fair enough! This is not something that daunts either myself or Violet Towne, and so, dressed in our best retro 1900s contemporary fusion we headed off downtown to see what the best of the best had to offer.

True to the form of door bitches from here to Bullamakanka, the guy with the clipboard in front of The Edison was brimming with attitude. There was no way he was going to get us on dress code, so the best thing he could come up with was to ask for our ID. What? We’re being carded? I haven’t got the foggiest idea what this was all about – there’s no mistaking either me or VT for being under age, sad to say,1 and I really can’t think of any other reason he’d need to see ID. Prissy little power-monger. I fought back a very strong urge to call him ‘sonny’ and ask if his mum knew he was out this late. But all was well – we had a reserved table and he was plainly short on reasons to keep us outside, so in we went.

The Edison is a stunning place. The staff, dressed impeccably in a mash of couture that spans the fin de siècle to the 1930s, were polite and appropriately haughty. A descending stairway of impressive industrial gravitas takes patrons down into the club, which is arranged as an asymmetrical juxtaposition of halls and rooms radiating off a large bar. Each space has its own individual valvepunk flavoured interior design, and any of them would be a fun place to end up for an evening.

We were seated at a small table in the main room, a proto electric-age cathedral, with cascades of filamented light bulbs streaming from the ceiling, and every naked brick wall reflecting back projected images from the films of D. W. Griffiths and George Méliès. It was truly wonderful.

Drinks? If you would be so kind my good man! For Violet Town, an Absinthe ’75 – a cocktail made with Kubler absinthe, lemon and champagne. For me, The Edison – bourbon, pear cognac and honey. The recorded music meandered from Cole Porter to swing with detours via Gershwin and Tommy Dorsey. A pretty girl dressed as a green fairy appeared, pushing a little trolley of chemical flasks – flavoured absinthes by the test-tube. We each took a walk through the rooms – the early clientele seemed right in the spirit. There was a guy wearing a top hat and emerald green earrings, on his arm a woman in a long silk dress as red as fresh blood. Some kids who’d obviously escaped the ID screening looked pretty good in neckties and waistcoats, and their young girlfriends a little too dangerous under black veils.

For the first hour, it was the only place in the world I wanted to be.

And then it all went to shit.

Yes folks, the high-falutin’ talk of dress code, the pinch-nosed door Nazi, the pretensions to a time when things were… civilized… all seemed to melt down into a pathetic limp acquiescence almost on the dot of 9pm at which time there was an influx of the trashiest riff-raff I’ve seen this side of Marulan RSL.

Dress code? You say what? How did that guy with the cornflower blue shirt (no tie) and the plaid tam-o-shanter get in? What about the chap with the ill-fitting sports shirt (no tie) and tan slacks (did he come direct from his job at Kwik Kopy?) Or the girl with too much lipstick and the oh-so-teeny figure-hugging silver lamé dress? (No Atlas, that image you’re forming in your head is wrong. Add another 90 pounds to it, and reduce the dress by two sizes). What about those two sleazy guys in the black open-neck shirts with the gold chains? Innovative, sophisticated and cultured attire? If you’re in a Greek disco.

The only dress code I could see in operation here was ‘no flip-flops’,2 and I’m not at all sure that the doorman wouldn’t have turned a blind eye to that either if someone slipped him ten bucks.

Around about this time, the guy waiting our table completely lost the plot, screwing up our drink orders and vanishing off out of sight. It was like someone had flipped one of those big old relay switches on the wall and plunged the building into a dark mediocre funk.

And then, as if the invading hoi polloi had brought their own CD collection as well, the music also went to shit. Gone was the urbane swing and the jaunty Cole Porter, submerged by the same old thumpy crap you can hear in any nightclub in the Western world. Oh the humanity. It was vastly disappointing. It was like waking up from the best dream you’ve ever had and realizing it was a school day. It was like seeing Blade Runner for the first time and wishing you’d never seen the mawkish ending and that the movie had played out with the profound scene of Roy Batty and Deckard on the roof of the Bradbury Building.3

We stayed for another hour or so but the vision of what this place might have been had well and truly faded. Such a grand inspiration suffocated to death by the vast bland pillow of ambivalence.

Dear Edison owners: 10 big points for trying. No points at all for sticking to your principles. Somewhere this side of your grand vision, you appear to have well and truly lost your way, and it’s a great pity. Phone me when you really do have a dress code and taste that lasts at least till midnight, and when you’ve ditched the appalling and totally inappropriate ‘dance’ music. Then I’ll be back. Until then, I’m off to find The Tesla.

  1. Unless of course there is an upper age limit for The Edison – I hadn’t thought of that till just now. []
  2. In Australia it would be ‘No Thongs’ but that phrase has an entirely different meaning here. And I’m guessing that such a rule would have turned away at least half the female clientele, aside from being rather challenging to enforce… []
  3. Which is, coincidentally, only a few blocks away from The Edison. []