March 26, 2007

Getting Bombed Again in Dresden


Last Saturday night, I satisfied my penchant for retro at one of the meccas of retro.The Dresden Room has been a Los Angeles staple since the 1950s, and has been featured in the films "Swingers" and "That Thing You Do." The interior of the Dresden Room looks like a Vegas lounge that has not been refurbished in decades. On one side is a brightly lit dining room with round white leather seating booths. But most of the activity takes place on the other side of the art deco frosted glass. There, one is surrounded by dark wood, hanging wrought iron lamps, and a stone wall that could have been lifted from the Brady Bunch's living room. On either side of the stone, dark cork lines the walls.

The Dresden Room crowd has a retro sensibility to match the interior of the place. Many of the women wear vintage print dresses. Some of the guys wear fedoras or porkpie hats. One woman has a silver razor blade hanging from her neck, reminscent of a 1970s Studio 54 clubgoer. We find seats at the bar and turn to face into the room, which seems like a good idea, until people start packing in and standing right in front of us. The drinks are pouring and the conversations grow loud. The cork on the walls is not doing its job. The Dresden Room begins to take on the appearance of a hen house.

Luckily, we are saved by the Dresden Room's key attraction: musical duo Marty and Elayne. Made famous in their appearance in "Swingers" and a regular act at the Dresden Room since 1982, Marty and Elayne personify the term "lounge lizards." Marty walks into the bar dressed in a black caftan style shirt with gold trim and, as Borat would say, "sleeve of wizard." He moves a table that is inches out of place. Then he takes a seat at the drum kit. Next to him is an array of keyboards that juts into the middle of the room. Around the curve of the piano is a small bar where patrons can sit and listen to Elayne, a birdlike woman with a flashy silver and black outfit and jet black hair matching Marty's.

Accompanied by an upright bass player who does not share Marty and Elayne's hair dye habit, the duo launch into "The Lady is a Tramp" followed by "The Best is Yet to Come." They share vocal duties, with Elayne scat singing in a heavenly falsetto to accompany her keyboard notes. But then their playlist becomes as random as my iPod on shuffle. Elayne sings the opening lines of "I Will Survive." By the end of the song, she has given this disco classic a psychedelic twist, using her entire body to wring from the keyboards a heavy metal solo that would make Deep Purple jealous.

Afterward, Marty and Elayne shift gears again for "Copacabana." I catch the following conversation from the clucking hens standing in front of us:

Girl #1: "Copa -- do you know it?"
Girl #2: "A Mexico beach?"
Girl #1: "No, it's in fucking Rio!"
Girl #2: "I knew that!"

I didn't have the patience to tell them that the song is about a New York City night club that shares the name, but not much else, with the beach in Rio.

My one "Swingers" moment occurs when the woman I am with returns from the ladies room to find a guy standing up against the front of her bar stool. I tap him twice on the back of the shoulder and say "Can you move a little? She needs more room." He turns and gives me a menacing look. But instead of us pointing guns and exchanging epithets, as happened in the nearby rear parking lot in "Swingers," he replies: "You know, you could have said that in a nicer way." Apparently, life does not always imitate art, and this time, I'm glad for it.

Maybe one day, someone will write a song about the Dresden. Maybe someone already has.

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