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

  • Mary Jo Brown says:

    I spent my 21st birthday at Fairfax Kelbo’s in 1961. I was so proud to show
    my drivers license and have my first “legal” drink at my favorite restaurant.

  • Shazam says:

    My parents met there in 1963 on a fluke. My dad was a Marine stationed at Santa Ana and mom was in marketing for CBS Studios. Somehow they met there like it was fate. They had six kids and celebrated 50 years of marriage when mom passed. They spoke fondly of the place.

  • Jeanne Conklin Johnson says:

    We used to go starting in 1956 !!!!!!!! After becoming a widow, still took my two kids to KELBO’S. !!!!! Took my parents with my kids on birthday dinners. How I miss KELBO’s and the great food , wonderful tropical drinks and all the memories. That’s right you really miss the awesome places that are no longer around……………….

  • robert conove says:

    Looking for Jim Kelly, who grew up in Mar Vista calif.

  • Jack says:

    I went to Kelbos from
    1975 to 1993

    Best ribs ever!

  • christine u fukunaga says:

    Billingsley’s Restaurant is still there–next to the former Kelbo’s on Pico. Billingsley’s was owned by Leave it to Beaver’s mom, Barbara Billingsley’s then husband.

  • Michael says:

    This review brings a smile to my face. I only remember it as a six year old child but it was like an amusement park for me. I now know my parents really went for the super strong Navy Grogs but I loved the place. The drink menus were lit up on the tables like a Lite Bright. The tables were thickly shellacked wood. The straws were like 3 feet long. And I did love the spare ribs. I went looking for Kelbos after college only to find a strip club. That was a really sad day.

  • Stephen B Boyd says:

    Our favorite date spot in the early 1960’s!

  • R. Werth says:

    I wish I could find the recipe for the flaming fun bowl. The Coconut one it was excellent. I Went there as a kid in the late 60s. Yes the pickles are the best and the Ribs. Now I am hungry. If any one know the recipe for the flaming fun bowl I would sure love it.
    Loved that place!

  • Irene botvin says:

    They had the best dill pickles. Does anyone know where they got them? Would love to know.


    My first job as a teen I was a bust boy for 8 months, met great people at this place George Hernadez the main manager ( Mr COCO BOWL ) Emery a Philipino cook/chef Tacho another bust boy Kate also another incredible person she was a dance teacher at Santa Monica College,
    In thos wonderfull place I met the cast of Beverly Hills 90210 for a wraped up season party, Mat Groening the Simpson 1st wraped up season party Michael Keaton regular customer, Bobcat Goldthwait from PoliceAcademy movies, Elton John, Bay Watch crew David Hasselhoff, Pamela Anderson, and many more

  • Lorenzo Boido says:

    At the WLA location I discovered the cocktail napkins emblazoned with ‘IITYWYBMAD’

  • M Pawl says:

    We used to go there all the time when I was growing up, and I even went there as a young adult. If my dad came home and my mom had not made dinner he knew it was time to get in the car and head to Kelbos. Such sweet memories!

  • Dave Peterzell says:

    So sad they are demolishing the building on Pico. I grew up in the neighborhood. I went there exactly once as a kid with my parents, and it was closed before I would’ve been old enough to go on my own. I remember loving it and wanting to go back. I remember all the resin covered tables, flaming drinks with paper umbrellas and plastic knicknacks, and more. I went in FI years later to (ahem) see the bar that still had Kelbo’s stuff underneath the resin. (They should’ve sold that bar rather than just ripping it out a few years ago). And somehow, if only they could preserve that crow’s nest tower…

  • Jim Tucker says:

    I remember going to one on pico in the 60s with my parents and grandparents great place. It was like nothing i had seen before at age 5

  • Donna Pinelli says:

    One of the craziest dining spots in mid-century L.A. The drinks were full on charged with ample alcohol, the room so dark you never wanted to know what it would look like in the bright of day. Favorite visit was with a nun who knew the whole menu and was recognized by the owners and managers…that’s an L.A. classic.

  • Rosanne says:

    My alltime favorite restaurant in Los Angeles, growing up in the 1960’s!!

  • Joanne says:

    I loved going to Kelbos with my Dad and Sisters. ..,., I was born too late cause I have always been obsessed with 1940s and 50’s. I loved the music they played and the black and white videos they projected on the wall

  • Richard Silverman says:

    Does anyone know about the stained glass piece of LA that was there in later years?

  • Ingrid Larson says:

    Karen Tani… I have a vague recollection of going there when I was about five years old. This would’ve been more than 55 years ago so my memories are scant. I seem to recall somewhere outside the women’s restroom there was a big red button on the wall, I think there was a warning sign , saying not to touch it…. so of course, I did. I remember being really embarrassed, but I don’t recall what happened. Do you have any insight?

  • Steven Charles Kaufman says:

    I went to Kelbo’s many times with my fam u ly. My parents liked the navy grogs. I loved the atmosphere. The tables were thick and covered in resin.

  • JJ says:

    Any one know the recipe for the BBQ sauce there at Kilbo’s?jj

  • West_LA GUY says:

    That’s too bad. I actually only New it as Fantasy Island the bikini bar which was the brain child of the now deceased Dennis J Morgan (see obituary) before
    He was strong armed out of the business he built from the ground up. Anybody
    Know if they still have the lap pool in the loft upstairs?

  • Steve Brett says:

    aaaahhh yes! the flaming fun=bowl for 4!!

  • Susan Smith says:

    Ok the latest news alert for our beloved KELBOS.
    To be torn down in 2019 ‼️😱🌴
    A large Appartment complex is going to be the next address @
    11434 W. Pico Blvd.
    my Dad Jack Bouck and his partner Tom Kelley bought the old farmland from the Nobel Family in 1945 just after the war ended. The Pit BBQ was built from bricks taken from old brick buildings being torn down post war.
    Glad to see a strip club on its way out. But anything left of the old KELBOS will be hard to let go.
    Susan Lillis Bouck-Smith 🏝💔

  • KB says:

    My ex was waxing nostalgic some time back about Kelbo’s. I introduced him to it. My parents used to take my older brotherand me there when we were growing up. We thought that it was a real treat to go. My husband and I would order dinner and a flaming drink for 2, a cherie valentino, 2 separate straws and see who could drink the most. I don’t think that the decor was meant to be anything but fun. The lights were dim and the booths were tall enough to provide some privacy. I have missed it over the years since it closed. It was fun and different.

  • 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Comments