The Playboy Club

The original Los Angeles Playboy Club was opened on New Year’s Eve of 1964 at 8560 Sunset Boulevard, where the parent company had its L.A. offices.  At times, a large bunny logo was projected on the side of the building.  That logo was a fixture of The Strip and it also made a statement about the changing times or the new sexual freedom of Hollywood…or something like that.  I never set foot in the place but I always heard it was filled with middle-aged men who came to ogle the Bunnies and to act out the fantasy that being a member made you as hip as Hef.  I also heard that the parking was abominable.

In 1972, when the ABC Entertainment Center opened in Century City, the Playboy Club was relocated to a lovely room nestled under the Shubert Theater.  I was given a free membership in 1981 (courtesy of Hef himself) and I couldn’t resist going a few times, partly to see the Bunnies, partly to see what the Playboy Club experience was all about…and partly to see some of the oddest dinner show entertainment in town.  I dunno who booked the room or what was on their minds but the shows all evoked what I call the Springtime for Hitler look.  At times, it was like they were searching for people who actually did the kind of thing Bill Murray had parodied on Saturday Night Live.

The oddest was a lady…and given her act, it’s ironic that I don’t recall her name.  But I’d never heard of her before and I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard of her since.  Her act was all what I call “Ego Songs.”  Every one was about her: “I’ve Got the Music In Me,” “I’ve Gotta Be Me,” “This is My Life,” “My Way,” “I’ll Make My Own World,” etc.  It was a variation on what the eminent philosopher Daffy Duck once called “pronoun trouble.”  Between the songs, she talked about — surprise, surprise — herself and her career, as if any of that was of vital interest to us.  Then for her closer, she pulled out all stops and performed what still stands as the single greatest example of Excessive Ego I have ever seen on a stage.

The great singer-songwriter Peter Allen once wrote a tune called, “Quiet Please, There’s a Lady on Stage.”  It was about Judy Garland, who was recently deceased when he wrote it.  She was also his mother-in-law.  It’s a nice little tribute tune that quietly asks that people remember Ms. Garland (even though she is not named in the song) and to understand that despite her occasional public shortcomings, she was a great person.  A very touching number.

Well, the woman at The Playboy Club closed with that song.  Only she changed some lyrics and the emphasis of others and made it about herself.  There’s a line that goes, “Stand for the ovation,” and she kept singing it over and over, commanding us to give her a standing ovation.  People finally did, just so she’d shut up and end the show.  If we hadn’t, we’d all still be there listening to her screaming out, “Stand for the ovation.”  Then she took a tearful, humble bow, left the stage and came around to each table for praise, to offer autographs and to pass out business cards that told us where we could order her new album.  Even the Bunnies in the room were muttering, “How can she parade around like that?”

The entertainment at The Playboy Club wasn’t all dreadful.  I remember one peppy dance revue that included ten or fifteen minutes of great stand-up comedy by a young Hispanic guy I’d never heard of before.  First time I ever saw Paul Rodriguez.

Food at The Playboy Club was a mixed blessing…edible but not worth the price.  The best thing was the steak and it came with a lavishly-produced baked potato.  Your Serving Bunny would roll a cart to your table loaded down with toppings — butter, sour cream, bacon bits, chives, salsa, etc.  A very big deal was made out of having your baker dressed precisely the way you liked it.  My Serving Bunnies were always disheartened that I just wanted a little butter and I sometimes let them add bacon bits not because I like them on a potato but because I couldn’t stand to disappoint a beautiful woman.  The service was pretty decent except that Bunnies always had to keep dashing off to other tables to join in a chorus of “Happy birthday” and the presentation of a little bunny cake with a candle in it.  Some nights, it seemed every single table there was someone’s birthday outing.

What I think killed The Playboy Clubs — or at least, that one — was that anybody could go to them…and did. There was nothing special about the clientele.  You didn’t look around and see a younger, hipper throng.  You saw a crowd that apart from the absence of children, could have been at the Sizzler.  I once asked a Bunny I knew there how often Hef came around. She said, “About once a year for some special press conference or event.” Then, letting me in on a secret that could have cost her her tail, she told me, “He usually doesn’t stay for dinner but when he has to, he has his own chef come in and prepare his meal special.”

I started to really feel like an exploited tourist when I went there.  The name, prices and “club” premise promised something more than a mediocre restaurant with bad entertainment and good-looking waitresses in what looked like uncomfortable costumes…but that’s all you got.  My research failed to turn up the date when the Century City club closed and I think I know why that information is so elusive.  It’s because when it happened, nobody cared.

54 Responses to The Playboy Club

  • David P says:

    You are totally wrong about the Sunset Blvd location. I was in grad program at USC and had a membership. It was great for a late dinner after studying or a game. (I think they served til midnight) The first membership ID was actually a key with an enameled logo on one side and membership number on the other side. They replaced it a couple years later with a metal card that ripped the hell out of my wallet.
    The club was a series of rooms with the bar separating the dance floor from the rest of the club. The population of the club was mostly under 40 and very active dance floor and bar. One whole side of the club was glass overlooking the lights of Los Angeles. Took a lot of friends there including Snow White and Minnie Mouse – the girls that played the characters at Disneyland.
    I only went to Century City Club a couple times. It seemed so impersonal compared to Hollywood location. I remember seeing Dick Shawn in the show room. During his routine he lifted the microphone stand like a drum major pumping it in the air. The ceiling was so low that he ended up poking holes in it. (The real laughs came watching club manager on the sidelines.) As I recall the club and theater were in different buildings in the same complex. Seems like we walked out of club, across a plaza to the theater – but that was a long time ago so could be wrong)
    I didn’t renew the membership after the move. Century City was too impersonal without the excitement of “The Strip” location. I did visit Chicago, NY and London clubs too (casino in London) but none had the feel of the of the Hollywood club with the lights of LA as a backdrop. I still have the shot glass that Bunny Tammy slipped me as a birthday gift. (I think they were $5 at logo merchandise kiosk).
    Lots of good memories there. Just had a flashback memory. Minnie Mouse and our Bunny talked about what special cleaning was required of the outfit. (It was washable) when our Bunny found out who the girls played she had to have a pic with them. Fun times.

  • Ted schroeder says:

    I went to the Sunset Club in 69, in my new 70 ranchero which got great replies from the two guys that parked cars. Diner was okay, nothing to wow about. the bunny suits were, tight as hell and way too much of them hahaha, expected something more sexy, even back then.
    I remember that the girls that did the resturant, of which at about 6pm I was the ONLY one in the restaurant section, also served drinks in the club. place was deff. not what I expected, with a lack of smiles and friendliness I can get at a Denny’s, or anywhere else. A long drive out of curiosity from the valley that left me wishing I hadnt bothered. food and drinks were nearly double what I could get Anywhere else. never went back. think I canceled my subscription for the next year. Think I still have my membership card in my “oldy” stuff, they were made out of aluminum.
    First time since that I have remembered it all hahahaha, so thought I would look it up. doesnt seem to exist any more. True, who cares hahaha living in Oregon since 71 :-))

  • Aitch Cee S says:

    I see it was at the top floor of the club. Looking for any association of Playboy with David L. Shane owner of a car rental place on the Strip and a burger place called Alfie’s.

  • Aitch Cee S says:

    Hugh Hefner had an apartment on Sunset Blvd. in the late 60s before Playboy mansion west. Does anyone know where that was?

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