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.

180 Responses to Kelbo’s

  • Lisa Benck says:

    I asked to go to Kelbo’s every year for my birthday! 1975-1980. I was ages 7-12, lol. The bar tables with the lightnup menus on the wall amazed
    me. Beautiful drinks in fun glasses. I went for the ribs!

  • Linda Rapp says:

    when i was little my family always ate there it was a special treat for me

  • Mark Volenec Hamel says:

    Yesterday in a Goodwill in Gallup, NM I found a vintage Kelbo’s Tiki Mug. It’s marked on the underside “Kelbo’s Los Angeles, California “ . I also found what might be a rlly poly mug that someone mentioned in an earlier post

  • Terrill A Carder says:

    We held our wedding reception at Kelbo’s 8/13/83. I’m trying to find out who the DJ was. I recall that he’d been a big band radio DJ for many years.

  • Lorin O’Neil says:

    My father, Sal, owned Sal’s Liquor on Pico and Veteran as well as The Spanish Inn on Santa Monica and Sawtelle in 1946. When Kelbo’s opened at Exposition we became fast friends with “The Ex Sailor Owners”. Great times through the years were shared as well with the Guys at Apple Pan….also ex sailors. WW II produced many iconic eateries. Lorin O’Neil

  • David Pelfrey says:

    Almost positive a scene from an episode of “Perry Mason” was shot there. Makes sense; Raymond Burr was a good friend of the Hedleys. I think a location establishing shot from “Charlie’s Angels” was done out side the building as well. Also the motion picture Tapeheads.

  • Sara Reyes says:

    Oh Kelbo’s! My Dad used to take me there all the time after he and my Mom split. My Dad loved the decor. He claimed many of the fake plants were plastic marijuana plants. We always went to the one on Pico circa 1977.

  • Mike Shields II says:

    Good times here as a kid no less. Shirley Temples in a roly-poly glass. All because my dad worked across the street at the aforementioned CBS Television City.

    I recently found pics of my dad’s car after he was run into at the nearby City Slicker parking lot. I remember eating there a lot too. Recently visited and found a different type of restaurant there.

    Good times.

  • Wayne says:

    “The Thing” drink may have had their signature 151 proof rum as the main ingredient.

  • David Wagner USAR ret. says:

    When I was in high school in Alhambra, we used to double date and take the girls to Kelbos. Of course they never served anything alcoholic to us kids, but we I remember how they would bring a large punch bowl with 4 straws to our table. We felt so ‘grown up’ sipping with our girls.

  • Ted says:

    Does anyone remember the recipe for “The Thing”?

  • Jim Fox says:

    Kelbo’s on Fairfax was a big hangout for the CBS crews from TV City across the street in the ’50s. Red Skelton use to have his wrap party there at the end of the season. I still miss their ribs.

  • Stewart Andrew says:

    In the early 1990s, I lived in the neighborhood behind Kelbo’s on Corinth Avenue. While walking my dog one morning, I came across the the film crew for “The Wonder Years”, who were filming inside Kelbo’s. Alley Mills had parked her white Corvette in front of a fire hydrant. The name of the episode is “New Years” from season six. Some of Kelbo’s distinctive decorative features appear in the 5 minute segment.

  • Rosella A Alm-Ahearn says:

    My mother and step-father and I went to Kelbos on Pico in 1950-1952 after a day at the beach. Fun in the sun gave those incredible ribs and fries even more of a delicious taste.

  • James Bassett says:

    I LOVED Kelbos!!! My brother and I chose it every year as our birthday celebration restaurant. The ribs were my favorite – along with the flaming zombie drink in the cool coconut ceramic cup : )

    If the family published a cookbook with food and drink recipes I would snap it up! Chasen’s and the Brown Derby published cookbooks, so I can dream . . .

    Or, if once a year there was a special dinner recreating the Kelbos menu – THAT would be a hot ticket. The Bullock’s Wilshire Tea Room comes back to life for one day a year so, maybe?

  • Audrey Yokota says:

    Whenever Mom and Dad asked us kids where we wanted to go eat, they always knew our answer would be a loud KELBO’s, followed by us jumping up and down on the bed singing, we’re going to KELBO’s, we’re going to KELBO’s. We loved the zombo, ribs, pickles, and pork sandwiches. The drinks always made us kids feel like grownups. We miss you Dad and we miss you KELBO’s!

  • Gordy says:

    My wife and I had our first date there on Pico Blvd. Loved the decor, spare ribs were the best and the Coco Bowls were delicious. Great memories.

  • Diane Goose says:

    We use to go to Kelbo’s on Pico in the 50’s.. I use to love the shrimp and the virgin drinks. They had car service back then. Special dates there. When they opened the one in Marina Del Rey we went there. I think Pico was gone at that time. I wish it was still there.

  • Lawrence Hatch says:

    The Kelbo’s on Pico served a great roasted pork sandwich which came on a hamburger bun with a slice of pineapple. Kelbo’s prices were also fairly reasonable for the food the served. No description of Kelbo’s would be complete without mentioning their list of exotic “tropical” drinks. Drinks with names like “Fog Cutter” and “Pirates Blood” many were served in soup bowl sized glass and some arrived at the table on fire. Then there was the Coco Bowl a separate room for dancing and listening to Hawaiian music, a place mostly frequented by lively middle-aged couples and spry senior citizens. Kelbo’s was always a lot of fun and popular spot for hosting 21st birthday parties.

  • Tod Brett says:

    My parents went on their first date at Kelbo’s on Pico in 1958. I remember them bringing me there as a young child in the 1960’s and it was facinating to just look around. I was writing a family history for my son who is getting married and I had to Google it to see if it was still in existence. I’m sad to see it’s gone. Thank you all for sharing your memories.

  • Barbara Benjamin Tadokoro says:

    I loved the Kelbos on Fairfax and it was one of our special lunch spots to go on Fridays when we got an hour lunch. I loved the combo with the pork sandwich..pork on pork!!!! I loved the extra BBq sauce that was warm and your could just pour!! I only knew of the other one on Pico but was surprised to see the other locations. When the Pico was still open but Fairfax had burned which always bothered me, my mom and husband and I were looking forward to the food but when it came, the ribs had hardly any meat and were not even the same cut…nothing but fat and the sandwich was awful too. I actually went to the bathroom and cried! My husband and I with friends 1 year and just us another had spent New Year’s Eve there and it was so good. I asked Joyce what happened and she said they had to buy lesser quality meats as they couldn’t afford the good stuff anymore. Soon after, that location was closed and it was really the end of an era and a very sad ending!!!! No more bean sundaes for my co-worker Glenda, no more flaming cocktails or bartenders telling me a Navy Grog was a man’s drink!!! I don’t know all the details but something was fishy going on with the fire on Fairfax and Pico being run into the groumd

  • Ann says:

    I still dream of the pork sandwich with barbecue sauce. That sauce was THE BEST. I wish I had the recipe.

  • Joel says:

    Nothing reminds me more of my childhood than Kelbo’s on Pico. Our family had countless meals there from the mid/late 1970’s until it closed.

    From the cheeseburger and ribs combo to the coconut wing dings to the diamond head platter.

    I sure would love to have one of those lighted tropical drink signs that was at every table.

    With Bahooka in Rosemead closing a few years ago, I don’t think there is another Polynesian restaurant of its kind anywhere in So Cal.

  • Carole Talaway says:

    We ate at Kelbo’s on Pico many times back in the 50’s when we lived in Cheviot Hills. It was a great place. Their spareribs were so good. It was a good family place. You didn’t have to dress up to go there.

  • Theresa says:

    Every now and then I search up kelbo’s just to see if I might find some memorabilia to remind me of all the great times we had there growing up in LA. I still think about the entry wall with all the collections in resin and the other fantastic decor. If anyone has a source for things I would love to know it.

  • Anonymous says:

    I remember all the cool junk and trinkets inlayed in resin and displayed on backlit walls, lights and tables …so much stuff to look at ! I think it was on Pico I was only a kid but the ribs were great! and yams with pineapple… So good , really no one ate that then! Most seating was booths which is great …
    Just got nastolgic and Googled it … One of the best!

  • Katy says:

    Speaking of virgin drinks, I used to order one called a “pupusa”.
    I think it had passion juice in it. I frequented both the Pico Kelbos
    and the one on Fairfax where they always seemed to be running
    reruns of Gilligan’s Island. I miss Kelbos, their food, and
    those old slow LA days.

  • Patrick Trigueros says:

    My grandfather was Tom Kelley. I literally grew up in Kelbo’s, its soo cool to see that others had such great times in my family’s restaurant. And I still have dreams of those ribs! Haha I have very fond memories of live music in the Coco bowl, I actually still have a bass drum head that reads “coco bowl”. I certainly wish it hadn’t gone under, I truly miss my grandparents. But that’s the way of the world.

  • Kim Gordon says:

    Kelbos brings back such fond memories of growing up. I had my 13th birthday there and we thought we were so cool drinking the big punch bowl. The waitress would set it down and it would still have a fire burning in the middle of the drink. Now I am 50 I still live in Mar Vista and how I wish that Kelbos was around for my daughters celebrations!. I wish I would have asked to bring home a bunch bowl or a menu……Miss that place!!!

  • Chris says:

    I really liked Kelbo’s back in 1980 or so. Just a campy joint to get a strong drink and enjoy the atmophere. However, I have doubts that the place would pass City Fire Inspection today!

  • Linda says:

    I worked at 7966 Beverly Boulevard near the intersection of Fairfax and frequented Kelbos during my years working there in the mid to late 70s. I left LA to Sacramento and have been here ever since. After all of these years, I still crave Kelbos food, the atmosphere and the drinks. One lunch I discovered an entire season of Rams tickets left behind, will never forget that. We located the owners thru the ticket sales at the stadium and returned them. No they never gave us tix to a game! Two other food experiences in the area I still crave are the falafels on Fairfax and Joe’s Big Burger about 4 streets behind where I worked. What I would give to go back to those good ole days living in LA.

  • Bloomfield says:

    Eat at Kelbo’s many times with my father back in 1965 , had good times there Thank. You

  • Anna says:

    Why did kelbos close?? We miss it so much….anyone know???

  • Rick Esslinger says:

    Back in the early 70’s my (now) wife and I used to frequent Kelbo’s on Pico every payday. We loved the atmosphere and drank CocoBo’s with our dinner. The flaming drinks were always fun and would be ordered when we took another couple with us. We loved the corny (albeit dusty) atmosphere. It’s a shame the restaurant is no longer around. It was always fun and I would go back there in a heart beat.

  • Darrel King says:

    My mom used to take me there for special occasions. Years later, I’d bring my staff there for meetings. I really miss that place, it was so unique to Los Angeles, and such a connection to our past, like El Coyote, and The Canton Kitchen, places like that should just never go away.

  • Ron smith says:

    It was the first restaurant that had virgin version of drinks. I thlught i was so cool with my virgin pina colada

  • Ron Bailey says:

    Wow this is sad. I was looking Kelbos up hoping I could find one closer to where I live now so I could take my kids there. When I was a kid my Dad would take us to the one on Pico, It was the place we always picked for special occasions , birthdays,graduations etc. The ribs were delicious and if I remember correctly , a flaming zombo, in a mug shaped like a coconut. But my favorite was the salad dressing,my Dad always knew we were gonna want a jar to take home, because you could buy it. It was so good. It’s a shame it’s gone, now I really want to go, Good memories of good times.

  • Susan Lillis Bouck- Smith says:

    I will never tire of reading everyone’s comments about KELBO’S.
    My Dad , Jack Bouck gathered recipes when he was a drummer/ percussionist on a cruise ship that circled the So. Pacific. For 3 years he would cook for the band members after completing their last set. This was in the late 20’s to early 1930’s. Dad met Tom Kelly when they both worked at the Long Beach Ship yards during WW2. My parents invited the Kelleys over one night for dinner, Dad served his RIBS…..and the story began.
    Dad died Jan 18,1971…”See you at the Pump” is on his headstone -Love you Dad ????

  • John Hindsill says:

    Say it ain’t so, Shellie. A kidney (especially if it’s your own kidney) is a dear price for a recipe. None can be that good.

  • Shellie Leonard Willden says:

    I grew up in Kelbos. My Grandaddy worked as a singer/matradee at the band box across from CBS. I have never found any ribs compare to kelbos. The closest would be ribs from a Chinese restaurant. I would give a kidney for the recipe.

  • Kenneth H. Fleischer says:

    Kelbo’s at Exposition and Gateway was one of my regular places; I went there when their original building stood; made of whatever Kelly and Bouck could scrounge together after the War, it one day got destroyed by a kitchen fire, and they rebuilt it with cinder blocks and made the former décor seem conservative. Over the decades, I went there so often that I was recognized and asked such questions as, “Your usual?” They had the second-best spare ribs in Los Angeles; the best were my Mom’s. Unlike most restaurants, they had enclosed booths that afforded some privacy. It was a great place for lovers to dine; when I was dating, it was to Kelbo’s that we went, more than all other restaurants combined. Kelbo’s and Anna’s were my two most-favored restaurants, and I miss them both.

  • suz says:

    Back in the 1960’s my family frequented Kelbo’s a lot! We loved the ribs, chicken and the tropical drinks were awesome. The Hawaiian decorations were great also. Now we are living in Orange County and I would dearly love to have a Kelbo’s here. Would that be a possibility? We dohave a Don The Beachcomer in OC but nothing compares to Kelbo’s.

  • Patrick Tierney says:

    Wow! I see I duplicated my information! So ignore today’s post!

  • Patrick Tierney says:

    I worked a long running comedy act at Kelbo’s in the Coco Bowl and did a video interview with Tom Kelly. He said him and bunch of friends would get drunk and decorated the place. Perhaps Elias Hadly “The Original Beachcomber” pitched in as he had a tropical supplies store in Hollywood (I interviewed on of his daughters). Before that he was out at White’s Point in a driftwood home selling his decor on the beach there.

  • Lee Smith says:

    I was at Don the beachcomber’s tonight for ribs, hoping they were like Kelbos. Very good, but no cigar does anyone make anything like those sweet ribs now?

  • Nancy says:

    I remember a room for dancing at the Kelbo’s on Pico where they flashed black
    and white pictures on the wall of the old big bands.

  • Linda says:

    Been looking for kelbos rib recipe for years! Please post if u have it, talk about comfort food

    My parents used to bring home the rib take out- yummy pork ribs, baked sweet potato with real butter, pineapple with half red cherry, and slice of dill pickle. — just the best… Restaurant so tiki cool, back lit menus, hanging glowing blow fish,such a great memory

  • John Silver says:

    Jack Bouck was a close friend of the family. My father, Bud Silver, was the manager of Kelbo’s for many years and my mother, Joy Silver, was the hostess also for many years. I worked at Kelbo’s driving between the Pico and Fairfax locations. I was delivering the barbecue sauce for the ribs and the ingredients for the tropical drinks. I’ll never forget the smell of that delivery van! I can picture Jack now in our garage on Federal Avenue where he made most of the decorations for the restaurant. We ate ribs for dinner most nights. When we weren’t having ribs, we were eating hamburgers from the Apple Pan. Life was good then. “See You at the Pump”, Jack.

  • David Swarat says:

    In 1966 after dating my now bride of 49 years, for 4 years I asked her to be mine for life.
    We did not care what the food taste like, we were together ( I did like the ribs yum yum)

  • Joanne Cohan says:

    When I was a kid we went to Kelbo’s on Fairfax all the time! I would order the beef sandwich or sometimes the combo with ribs. They always had a dill pickle on the plate.

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