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The Derby in Los Feliz likely to close soon

January 23, 2009 |  9:43 am


The Derby, one of Los Angeles’ landmark live music venues, appears to be on the verge of closing — and soon. 

Though we have yet to receive confirmation from anyone on staff at the Los Feliz nightspot, which was featured heavily in the 1996 film “Swingers” and was popular throughout its peak in the 1990s into the early part of this decade, multiple sources confirm the bar will likely cease nightly operations in the coming week, with a possible last day for staff as soon as Feb. 1.

E-mail messages left with several staff members regarding the matter have not been returned, but the club’s usually reliably updated calendar has not been updated since the new year. 

On Dec. 21, the club encountered a rare run-in with the police. A shooting took place inside the Derby, The Times has confirmed with a detective from the Los Angeles Police Department's northeast division. The event was a private gig booked by outside promoters, but two men were injured around 1:30 a.m. “inside the club,” the detective said.

It is not known what role the incident might have played in the decision to close the club sooner rather than later in 2009 (there have long been rumors swirling that the club may close). It should be noted that the Derby has operated for years with no similar incidents, hosting hundreds of shows by indie rock bands and jazz acts and holding swing nights, hip-hop showcases, drum&bass club nights and more.

The historic club, one of the very few original Brown Derby restaurants, was granted City Historical Cultural Monument status in 2006 after a Save the Derby campaign, but as this neighborhood council document shows, the designation “does not prohibit destruction” and may only “delay it.”

Club Derby's lease was recently changed to a month-to-month contract, according to a source familiar with the bar's current situation, and apparently the landlord decided not to renew the lease.

This is the second bit of bad news Los Feliz music fans have received lately. Last month, The Times reported that the Derby's neighbor, Tangier, which booked music in its back room, would shut its doors for good before the end of 2008. 

Tony Gower, former Derby co-owner from 1993 to 2005, said he had heard rumblings of the club's impending closure. "It's very sad... My fondest memory was seeing Roger Daltry playing 'Teenage Wasteland' at a private party," he said via phone Wednesday. "It was loud, but he wanted it to be louder."

"Swingers" director Doug Liman was also saddened to hear the news.  "This almost happened thirteen years ago when we snuck a rabbit into the Derby in violation of the health code," he said in an email to the Times. "Though no film could ever do the Derby justice, I am proud to have been part of a film that will continue to invite people into that magical world frozen in time."

-- Charlie Amter

Photo: Swing dancers at the Derby circa 1998. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times