Shaking the supper club stigma requires constant innovation

Once the backdrop for Ricky Ricardo’s orchestra, the Mocambo is now a Sunset Strip parking lot. And for much of Hollywood, supper clubs have gone the way of the ’50s sitcom — big on nostalgia, short on relevance.

However, that didn’t dissuade Chris Isaacson from looking for a restaurant to host his Upright L.A. Cabaret show last year.

“Everyone told us cabaret was dead,” he says. “People automatically assume a smoky piano bar with two people singing all these old songs.”

Upright eventually found a home at Mark’s Restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard. When the first show sold out, the show stretched from one-night stand to one weekend a month. It’s now moved into more spacious digs at La Boheme.

Still, shaking the supper club stigma requires constant innovation.

“Our show is always Broadway with a twist of pop,” says Isaacson, who created the show with co-producer Shane Scheel and music director Trapper Felides. “We’re three guys in our 20s –nothing’s off limits.”

In other words, for every rousing rendition of “Oklahoma,” there’s a fair share of Fiona Apple and the Dixie Chicks. Tomorrow, Upright performs the music of Rupert Holmes, who will be on hand to sing “Escape: The Pina Colada Song.”

Since opening in December 2003, Vibrato Grill Jazz in Bel-Air has played host to its own big-name talent, such as Chuck Mangione, Toots Thielman and an impromptu performance by Stevie Wonder.

“When (Dave Brubeck) walked onstage, I wasn’t sure if he was gonna make it to the piano,” says owner and jazzman Herb Alpert. “But he played like he was a teenager.”

The question remains whether famous musicians and filet mignon are enough to keep young Hollywood in the same venue for a 90-minute set.

“We’ve struggled with that,” says Isaacson. “Sometimes you can feel that energy in the audience, ‘Ok, got to get to the next place.’ ”

While a few L.A. bastions like Largo and Gardenia have held tight to the supper club’s one-stop shopping, a new round of restaurants are reintroducing dinner and a show.

8400 Santa Monica Blvd.
(323) 848-2360
Show: Performances by a dozen members from Upright L.A. Cabaret’s roster
Dinner: Three-course prix fixe
When: Tomorrow, to accommodate Rupert Holmes; normally, the second Saturday of each month
Cover: $15; $39 for dinner

2930 Beverly Glen Circle, Bel-Air
(310) 474-9400
Show: Jazz, sometimes performed by greats like Kenny Werner and Dave Brubeck
Dinner: Lighter-styled steakhouse
When: Nightly; closed Mondays
Cover: Dinner required to sit at a table; $20 minimum at the bar

8358 Sunset Blvd.
(323) 654-7100
Show: Standards performed by Frank Sinatra’s pianist, Page Cavanaugh
Dinner: Italian-California bistro
When: Cavanaugh performs Tues.-Fri.
Cover: None

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