Kelbo's: 1986's 'Funkiest Place in L.A.'

One of the great pleasures of writing about food and restaurant history is all the ephemera I come across.

Kelbo's: 1986's 'Funkiest Place in L.A.'
Image: The Go-Go's

One of the great pleasures of writing about food and restaurant history is all the ephemera I come across. If you're a regular visitor to this site you know I like to post vintage commercials, but sometimes the old print ads are even more interesting to 2024 eyes. Like so:

Genuinely surprised to see frog legs as a selling point in my parents' lifetime. The Van Nuys News, May 23, 1972.
What IS this? Is it sexual? The Van Nuys News, May 23, 1972.

Kelbo's was a "Hawaiian" restaurant that opened in 1947; it grew to five SoCal locations and then shrunk back to the first one, which closed in 1994 and is now a strip club: if you look at the sign you'll see it's in the stereotypical tiki shape. The Kelbo's menus and photos that people have posted online are great.

Image via Reddit

The menu above is reportedly from 1950; it highlights the dish Kelbo's was most famous for: "Hawaiian-style" ribs. The founders built their business on those ribs, along with the yams and beans, of all things, when they started making food in San Pedro. The brick-and-mortar location on Pico was formerly an Army barracks. (Another restaurant owner claims to have a recipe here that's a near-match for Kelbo's ribs.)

Yellow pages listing, 1958. Image: Tiki Central
Image: Alison Martino
Image: Alison Martino
Image: Tiki Central

You can see the different iterations of the Kelbo's scene over the years. The ad above asks "why not treat your mom and dad to a night of dining and dancing the way they remember it," placing it in the '70s, I'd imagine. Later the restaurant got a young crowd in, possibly visiting with a touch of irony. This blogger lived behind Kelbo's in the early '80s and says it was always empty, but on various forums I've seen people reminisce about partying there into the early '90s. A beautifully-written LA Times review from 1986 says:

Kelbo’s effortlessly screens out precisely the kind of people who make me most nervous at restaurants: the ones with high school French accents who insist on discussing with the waiter the exact origin of the pickle in the relish dish. Kelbo’s is a shrine to the ‘50s, nay the ‘40s, when vegetables were something you served children and meat reigned triumphant. Started by two ship welders from San Pedro, Kelbo’s has been serving up the same combination for 39 years.
Image: The Go-Go's

The Go-Go's hosted a party at Kelbo's in 1981. I'm pretty sure it doesn't get cooler than that. Later - circa 1990, I'm guessing - it looks like The Simpsons had a party there. Someone on eBay is attempting to sell photos of Dan Castellaneta (voice of Homer) performing at the event.

Image: eBay

I wish I were a time traveler. Or a vampire, I can never decide.

Image: LAPL

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