The Playboy Club

The original Los Angeles Playboy Club was opened on New Year’s Eve of 1964 at 9000 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.

19 Responses to The Playboy Club

  • Phil says:

    I went to a James Bond celebration there in 1981, George Lazenby was there and so were stuntman Rick Sylvester as well as Lana Wood and Martine Beswick,
    And of course soon after it went out of business.

  • Juan Carlos says:

    I visited the Playboy Club in Century City in January 1981. It really was a magnificent club as the other two I’ve met, Chicago and New York . Times were different and really remember it as a pleasant experience-

  • The ChocolateDoctor says:

    I had my bachelor party at the original Playboy Club on Sunset. The Bunnies were beautiful, the drinks were strong—that’s all I remember. No one remembers the food. I don’t know if there were any movie stars there or what the entertainment was, but who cares… the beautiful Bunnies stole the show. I can’t say the marriage was successful, but the bachelor party sure was.

  • Tim Stewart says:

    I had a key back around 1978 or so. I thought the club was a blast. I entertained several young ladies there (on different dates) and all of them enjoyed it as much as I. It was a sad day when the club closed. It seemed the end of an era that I was lucky enough to get a taste of before it was killed off. Great memories though.

  • Andy Powell says:

    I wonder if the lady you saw entertaining and promoting herself might have been Lainie Kazan. I love Lainie — just recently saw her sing at Catalina’s in Hollywood and she was terrific — but what makes me think you might have seen Lainie is that I know she had her own room for a while at the Playboy Club, called Lainie’s Room, and she performed there regularly. I’ve never heard her sing an entire program of songs of self-aggrandizement, but she does tend to talk about herself and tell stories about her career in between her songs. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that…Lainie’s had quite an interesting career.) Since then, of course, she has become quite well-known in the movies, primarily playing ethnic mother roles; two of her most famous roles were as Bette Midler’s mother in BEACHES and as Nia Vardalos’s mother in MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING. She also received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her role as “Belle Carrocca” in MY FAVORITE YEAR, and appeared with Tab Hunter and the late, great Divine in the western spoof LUST IN THE DUST.

  • Gordon Meyer says:

    My dad was a charter member of the Playboy Club. In fact I used to have his actual key which I guess was used as his de facto membership card. Later, when I moved to LA, I became a member myself, both because membership included being able to pick up a free copy of the magazine (as I recall, the cost of membership was actually less than the cost of a subscription) and because it was a very convenient place to hang out after a performance at the Shubert next door while the parking lot emptied. I seem to recall a very inexpensive late night breakfast buffet they often served as well as some pretty good jazz combos. Fond memories.

  • Dr.Steven Cast\'13 says:

    Went to a New Years Eve party at the Playboy Club in Century City in the mid 70′s…I think I was there for YEAR that night and morning! Great fun and music and ALL THOSE OTHER things were just great! It was a good year! Cheers

  • Alan Schreibman says:

    I have many fond memories of going to the Sunset club’s Living Room in the 60′s with dates after a movie or concert for a drink and to listen to the entertainment. They had a terrific buffet on Sunday nights that offered all you could eat for $1.50, plus $1.50 for drinks. Best dinner deal in town. One night we had a surprise party for a friend’s girlfriend and brought in a cake from Hanson’s (with the pink elephants crawling under the frosting). Our friends got there early and when the guest of honor came in, she saw most of the Living Room tables occupied by people she knew. The bunnies brought the cake in and sang “Happy Birthday”. They were very efficient, friendly and accommodating.

  • Mitch Levine says:

    My brother and I used to ride our stingrays up the hill to the Playboy Club on Sunset. They used to allow us to buy playboy bunny decals but we did it mainly to check out the bunny selling us the sticker. What a thrill.

  • Bonnie says:

    I was the first female to ever get a key to the Playboy Club! This was in the late sixties, and I was working my way up at a big firm in Beverly Hills, and went out to a lot of long lunches with male executives. I thought it would be a kick to take a man to the Playboy Club, so applied for membership, thinking they would laugh at me, but they did not, and I got my key.

    The men that I took there were always very surprised that I had my own key, and in fact many were quite impressed. As I recall the food was good, but very pricey. There was some very good entertainment at night, I recall Tony Bennett doing a show.

    I was sorry that it closed.

  • Steve says:

    I was going to the Playboy Club from the late 1970s until the Century City location closed. I’ve been to five of the other locations. I enjoyed every visit. The person that wrote the above article just doesn’t know class and good food. Everytime I went with a few exceptions I had the same thing, steak and lobster, I never had to use a knife on the steak. As for the fact that was stated by the article writer my first trip there I was 30, he complained no younger crowd any younger person would ruined the atmosphere because they would be there drinking and thinking with their little heads and not with the big head on their shoulders. I did a lot of power drinking there (not bragging) still kept cool and didn’t cause an unclassy incident.
    The chain was a class act in itself. It was a sad day when Century City closed.
    The same goes for the Brown Derby in L.A. not many remember that place. It was a place where all of us in the entertainment industry went often.

  • yvette willis says:

    I was a bunny at the Playboy club in Detroit and also the Century city club. I am African American, I was there when Lainie Kazan had Lainie’s room. The bunny mother Harriet Bazler gave me my bunny name in the Detroit club “Tamika”. The club was on James Couzens Highway. I even modeled back then for Players magazine and other publications.

  • Stephen Glenwood says:

    When I was 6 and 7 my grandmothers second husband became a member of the original club. I suppose it would have been in 1966 and 1977. My grandmother would have him take care of me when she was at work and this was probably to keep him in line but that failed as he would take me to the club with him. I remember that as you went in the front, the bar or what I think was a bar was straight in and there was a dining room to the right and a hallway to the left. Somehow I would wind up in a room to the right of the bar and towards the front to watch tv or play while he did his business. After a couple of hours he would show up and we would leave. The thing I remember the most is the sparkle on the popcorn textured ceiling. There was this long haired tall slim blond that had a white bunny suit that always seemed to be the one to look after me. She would bring me a coke in a short glass with a plastic sword stir stick. I still have one or two of them. I know that anyone associated with the club would admit that a minor ever entered the club but it happened many many times. Swear to God.

  • Bob Donovan says:

    I think the Playboy Club should re-open in the cities they were in before and re-start their membership up again. They were the best clubs for dining, drinking and entertainment. Also best place to just kick back and relax with friends or people for a drinks. Hefer getting your daugther started on this please.

    P.S. I was Playboy Membership 1970-80, then all the Clubs and resort started to closed down.

  • Guy says:

    I first went to the 9000 building to get my hair cut at the Tonsorial Parlor in the building and then went with friends to the Playboy Club in 1965. I loved everything I saw ! What a Great time the 60′s were !

  • Judi Mooney McQuoid says:

    Went to the Playboy Club with a date in 1971. We wnt upstairs to a private dining room and sat across the table from Shelley Winters. The entertainment was great, wish I could remeber the singer’s name. The food was outstanding! Thanks Mike, I had a great evening.

  • RJ says:

    The club was closed on Sundays for private parties. That is were you saw the celebrities. I attended Magic Johnson’s birthday party there on a Sunday just after he arrived to play with the Lakers. Good times at the PBC….I still have my card and posted it on FB…

  • Prentiss M Davis says:

    I joined the Los Angeles Playboy Club about 1971 and remained a member for about ten years. It was a great place to take a date and later my wife and always an excellent experience. When I joined I was about 28 and I don’t recall seeing a lot of older men as some claim but with the dress code you sure saw a lot of beautiful people including celebrities of both sexes. The cynics of today simply don’t know what they missed; a world where style and good taste still mattered. There was a lot of competition in LA for your entertainment dollar and I probably gave up my membership mostly because of the long drive to the club from my home in Newport Beach.
    I recall tossing my membership card about 20 years ago and kick myself for doing so.

  • John Hindsill says:

    I belonged to PBC for several years in the mid-60s (is that really fifty years ago!), and generally went only at the end of the month. I got paid once a month, and before the next paycheck I was sans funds so out came the key. One Saturday I was discretely informed that my account was overdue and I would have to make other arrangements for paying that night. Fortunately my friend put our entire bill on his key.

    It took about three weeks to convince the the manager that a mistake had been made. This occurred during the transition from key (which I still have) to plastic card (which I don’t). He was very good about tracing the supposed charge to another member.

    The one thing I remember was having the key got me dates with a lot of young women, including Mary my bank teller.

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