Two men, Thomas Kelley and Jack Bouck, combined the first syllables of their last names and invented Kelbo’s, a small chain of Hawaiian barbecues that were not all that Hawaiian: Burgers, barbecue meat sandwiches and some miscellaneous seafood. The concession to the islands was that every plate was garnished with a piece of pineapple and the fried shrimp was coated with coconut. They also served very sweet (but very good) barbecued ribs and had a menu of tropical drinks, some of which came flaming or served in a skull mug. About half of each restaurant was a large, dimly-lit bar that I suppose some found atmospheric. I never saw anyone there who looked like they might have been a hooker but given the mood, it wouldn’t have surprised me.

What was Hawaiian — and much of the appeal of the places — was the decor which was comprised of tiki gods, fish nets, lanterns in the shape of pineapples, and other things you could buy at any cheap patio furniture shop to suggest a real cheesy tropical motif. Some of it seemed to have come from a chain of stores that existed in L.A. in the early sixties called The Akron. A gentleman named Eli Hedley was reportedly the main designer and he also was responsible for the interior of other tropical-themed restaurants like Don the Beachcomber. I don’t know when Mr. Hedley did that voodoo that he did so well but Kelbo’s felt like a place that had been decorated in the thirties or forties and then no one changed anything.

I frequented two Kelbo’s. One, on Fairfax across from CBS Television City, was torn down and there’s an outlet of The Vitamin Shoppe at that address today. It was a popular hangout for crew members who worked across the street at CBS Television City in the fifties and sixties.

The building that housed the other was over on Pico at Exposition.  It still stands but has been converted into a bikini bar called Fantasy Island.  I haven’t been inside since it stopped being Kelbo’s but I’ll bet they kept some of the old Hedley-selected furnishings and tiki tchotchkes.

Click above to enlarge a little

One other thing that interested me about Kelbo’s was that much of its advertising art —like the drawing above — was done by a gent named Bob Hale who otherwise turned up on Los Angeles TV from time to time as a cartooning weatherman. (He was also active in Seattle where he owned a popular hobby shop that bore his name.) Hale’s drawings of a fat Hawaiian guy in native garb could be seen on Kelbo’s napkins and menus, and both of the outlets I visited had had huge Bob Hale murals on the outside, all featuring his little signature character, Sammy the Seagull. Sammy was always being drawn into his TV weathercasts, shivering or tanning himself depending on the forecast. It was said that Mr. Hale had once had a severe drinking problem and that after he quit, he lectured and illustrated pamphlets for Alcoholics Anonymous or some such group. Which always made me wonder why he had done so much work promoting a place where a lot of people just went to drink.

154 Responses to Kelbo’s

  • Mary Lee says:

    My mother and I would attend St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, just around the corner from Kelbo’s, and would often eat at Kelbo’s afterward. I loved that restaurant!

  • Karen Tani says:

    My folks would take me to the Pico restaurant when I was a kid in the 50’s and early 60’s, then I’d go there with my friends when we became teenagers. We lived nearby on Barrington just north of National. The Tahitian Lemonade was to die for, and the sandwiches were the best I’ve ever had. The Thousand Island dressing was also a standout. The huge maze of booths and the over-the-top decor made every visit a treat. I was heartbroken when they closed.

  • Fred ten Haaf says:

    Hi, I found in a photo album of my past away father in law a full color menu card of all the cocktails they served . He was there in 1947/1948 while he was Dutch working for KLM in the Douglas factory in LA.
    At that time I see two other locations on the menu card.
    At that time these tropical drinks cost from $.80 to $1.75
    Brentwood Country Mart
    26th St & San Vincente Blvd in Brenwood
    2214 W Manchester
    (Between Crenshaw and Western)

    I hope this add something to this

  • FVP says:

    AHhh Memories. lived in the neighborhood. had to cross tunnel under the 405 fwy. at one time they covered tunnel then opened it to cover it up ever since. would go and treat myself and felt like a grown up back in 1976. played Dragon’s Lair. would like one of those Flaming coconut drink. I can still taste it.

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