Cheap but quality clubs are nearly impossible to find in LA, but eventually I found Hi Hat on York Boulevard. I enjoyed a Friday night at the newly established venue for a mere $5 cover charge — but the fresh atmosphere, free billiards, glow-in-the-dark face painting and intoxicating music was worth much more.
I dragged my skeptical friend Robbie George (senior) up and down York Boulevard, passing a seemingly abandoned billiards hall a few times before realizing that it was in fact the location we were looking for. The only indication of human activity inside was a nondescript man sitting in front of a narrow black door with a tiny flashlight.
“When we first got there, the outside was not very impressive, so I was not expecting it to be great,” George said. “However, as soon as we walked in, I immediately was excited and thought that the place had a fun atmosphere and was well designed.”
The main event was the EP release of Disco Shrine, a self-described “dream pop” duo from LA. The opening acts included the “psych wave” Little Wolves and indie rock bands King Shelter and Tambourines.
By 10 p.m. the crowd was scattered with glowing painted faces, thanks to the booth manned by aspiring artist and writer Lorna Alkana. A single row of raised seating lines the spacious dance floor, and a faux VIP section is tucked in the corner. The stage and dance floor are deliberately plain — but the colorful bands and hipster audience needed little accessorizing.
The band Tambourines brought a mellow sway over the audience with trippy instrumentals and amusing mannerisms from the lead vocalist. King Shelter seemed to channel Nirvana in its grudge fashion and recklessly energetic stage presence that infected the audience. Disco Shrine’s synth beats — in addition to singer Jessica Delijani’s soothing vocals — set the duo apart from the opening acts. The variety of the concert was tactfully arranged to cater to varying music tastes.
Stephenson said that the Hi Hat will not limit the genres of its shows — with the exception of generic clubbing music. In fact, its first show ever featured a country band, with pop artists, alternative music and even a live podcast taping slated for future dates.
Dustin Lancaster, Ross Stephenson and Michael Blackman — business partners invested in the Hermosillo down the block — were not scouting out a new business venture when they first stumbled across the venue, but decided to seize on the opportunity to bring quality live music to Highland Park. According to Stephenson, they opened the club in January after they were offered the lease to what was previously Highland Park Billiards. They are in the process of remodeling the venue, but plan to make few changes.
Unlike most nightlife hot spots on York, which aren’t busy until well after 10 p.m., the Hi Hat attracted a lively crowd of mostly young adults just after 8 p.m. Not every night is 21 plus; many events, such as The Callback open mic comedy show and some musical performances, are for all ages.
Two pool tables and the artwork, such as a huge painting of James Dean playing pool, act as homages to the old billiard hall at the front of the open-floor venue. Casually-dressed bartenders served the single IPA on tap, as well as bottled beer and wine, at the modest bar. Meanwhile, the one-chef kitchen leisurely prepared finger foods such as chicken tenders, corn dogs and fried pickled cauliflower for the concert floor. Stephenson said that he wanted to work the drinks and food into the lax personality of the old billiard hall — with a few fresh twists.
One of Hi Hat’s novelties is its pop-up vendors that line the side of the stage. Cake Lust, Wovenfree and Cassidy Bliss Vintage sold cupcakes, repurposed woven vintage accessories and revamped vintage jewelry, respectively. The vendor aspect evoked the vibe of music festivals such as the Vans Warped Tour — and therefore earned Hi Hat major brownie points.
With free pool, cheap food and drink, surprise pop-up vendors and local entertainment, Hi Hat is a much-needed addition to Highland Park nightlife — and is quickly stoking the fire in what has been a dim music scene in the Eagle Rock and Highland Park area.