ANGE — June 2010
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Tey Owned the Night
Nancy Rommelmann

“There is no doubt that it was the greatest club ever,” says A-list L.A. party promoter Josh Richman. During a meteoric two-year run, Power Tools attracted the ’80s A-list: George Michael and Grace Jones, Prince and Mickey Rourke, Pee-wee Herman and Matt Dillon. But at this raucous weekly club, celebrities were the sideshow. The main event was the mix of then-emerging SoCal cultures—hiphop, skateboarding, surf punk—colliding with rock upstarts (the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys) and art stars (Andy Warhol, Keith Haring).

Power Tools started when two cash-poor club kids, 23-year-old DJ Matt Dike and UCLA student Jon Sidel, threw a party in a warehouse, put up an impromptu art piece of broken blackand- white Tvs and set the dance floor on fire with Dike’s fresh mishmash of music on the turntables. Conceived in part as a response to New York’s famed Area, the roving club soon touched down in the glorious, if decrepit, Park Plaza Hotel across from MacArthur Park.

Each Saturday, the club was reborn with go-go girls upstairs and theme nights riffing on everything from superheroes to religious leaders. It was an era of L.A. nightlife that prized innovation and ingenuity over fame and flash. And it became a launching pad for nightlife kingpins Sean MacPherson and Sidel, co-owners later of the influential

Olive on Fairfax, whose coolness quotient is still being chased by bars and clubs across the country.

A quarter-century later, Power Tools may be unknown among 20-something night crawlers, yet its legacy lives on. For those who built Power Tools and those who stormed it, the club was a creative coming of age. Here, everyone from MacPherson and Sidel to such regulars as designer Tarina Tarantino, Pulitzer-winning food critic Jonathan Gold and Delicious Vinyl’s Rick Ross, recall the greatest L.A. club ever.
JON SiDEL (then: doorman and partner at Power Tools; now: music biz exec): Of course it was illegal. We didn’t have a permit to have beer. This photographer, Brad Branson, had a storefront on Washington Avenue and Sixth— sort of the ghetto in those days. It used to be a tools outlet; the sign outside said “Power Tools.” He asked Matt Dike to spin. I was brought in to do the door. If I thought you looked cool, I let you in. The party only had like 60 people—and then Andy Warhol was there.
Rick ROSS (then: college student; now: curator at the record label Delicious Vinyl ): Power Tools on Washington was like making every Saturday night into performance art.

JON SiDEL: We focused on a different set of cool people than they do now, that’s for sure. Artists were more celebrities to us. Art and the creation of hip-hop were the driving factors.

MELANiE TUSqUELLAS (then: go-go dancer; now: owner of Edendale Grill ): [Tey] brought soul and black music to the white urbanite of Los Angeles. No one had ever seen anything like that.

Alex BERLiNER (then: student; now: photographer): It wasn’t like the usual bars. You could have punks and hardcore gangsters rolling in and there was no hassle.

JOSH RiCHMAN (then: actor; now: principal in Te Alliance): I remember Matt telling the story of how shocked he was when he looked up and there was David Bowie.

JON SiDEL: And then we got busted. Te vice squad came in. Brad had fallen in love with some male model and was like, “I’m going to Europe.” So I just said, “I’m in.” And I became not the doorman anymore, but the partner. We started looking for new spaces and Power Tools became a roving illegal nightclub—that was a lot of the allure. Remember, there were no cell phones: You gotta take an adventure to find this club.

CHRiSTOPHER NEAL ROMMELMANN (then: doorman; now: actor): No one would know where the new spot was if I wasn’t outside with my black Triumph and beret on. And we always thought, “Maybe no one will show up,” but they always did.

SEAN MACPHERSON (then: business and philosophy major at USC; now: bar/ restaurant/hotel entrepreneur): It was a wild goose chase to find it, but then when you got there, it was sort of a pot of gold. Everyone really had to make the effort to get there, so it was sort of self-selecting.

JON SIDEL: We eventually landed at the rooftop of the Embassy Hotel. We would do these psychedelic projections on the dome, and we had two go-go dancers, and that’s when the whole thing just went from having 100 people, to having 200 or 300 people in line trying to get in.

In late 1985, Power Tools moved to the Park Plaza Hotel on the edge of MacArthur Park. Its interior was tired, but the Neo-Gothic building was huge and the price—the guys took the $10 door cover and the hotel took the bar profits—was right.

SEAN DELEAR (then: artist; now: artist and singer): Te Park Plaza was a run-down dump: scary, scary, scary, falling apart. Te ballroom upstairs couldn’t be used because the ceiling vents were falling in, and when Matt put on music, it was like, crash! Oops, not using that room!Magda Berliner (then: FIDM student; now: fashion designer): MacArthur Park [seemed like] the No. 1 homicide district at the time. If you went on the corner you could pretty much guarantee that one out of 10 people would get stabbed.

Doug FleMing (then: scenester; now: attorney): Every week, we’d go to City Hall and get a one-night dance permit.

Jon Sidel: We were always trying to stay one step ahead. We really felt we had to answer Area and say, “Tis is what we’re doing in L.A.” We might only have 500 bucks and a box of duct tape, but we’re going to do themes, too.

Barry “douBle-B” BluMBerg (then: UCLA English major; now: president of Smosh.com): We built guillotines. We built an iron lung. For Religious Superstars night, we needed a population for Jim Jones’ Jonestown. We went down to Skid Row in my Rabbit convertible and told the guys there they could have $25 and all the beer they could drink. My car was overrun. We drove five or six of them to Power Tools and they performed well. Tey acted, they “died” every 20 minutes, they drank the Kool-Aid.

ChriStopher neal roMMelMann: For Rock Star night, I brought in my boa constrictors and we announced, “Snake feeding in the kitchen!” We fed them rats. One freaked out and ran through the crowd.

Barry BluMBerg: On Cereal night, I convinced the market where I worked as a box boy when I was 14 to loan us the cereal after they closed. Which today seems like… the millions of health code violations committed that night! And then we had to restock the shelves before they opened.

Apparently, it was not returned in the same condition that it left in.

Neal FraSer (then: 15-year-old ninth-grader; now: chef/owner of Grace and BLD): On Love/ Hate night, someone was walking around with a plate of liver and onions. On Super Hero night, they had a woman shaved from head to toe, painted silver and standing on a surfboard.

Jon Sidel: We did a party for Keith Haring and he painted all our go-go dancers. Can you believe it?

Dude, I should have had him paint a thing for me! I could sell it for like half a million bucks!

RiCk roSS: [Power Tools] at that point was the melding of hiphop, high art, low art and gutter European trash. You could try some sh*t that no one had seen. It just was freestyle, you know?

RoSe apodaCa (then: scenester; now: co-owner of home boutique A+R): I was barely out of high school when I first went to Power Tools.

Te flashback is always the same: pink, orange and green flashes on the walls from some arty artschool projection, an ear-splitting mix of music, and me in some crazy tutu with a giant lime green sash and bow at the back and a black 1950s bra top.

Tarina tarantino (then: model; now: accessories designer): It was such an incredible eye-candy fashion scene, so much glitter and glam.

I saw Grace Jones there one night, wearing a white backless cape dress with a boxing hood— probably Miyake or Alaïa. To me it was like the ’80s version of Studio 54.

ChriStopher neal roMMelMann: A buddy of mine from Malibu brought Mickey Rourke, Chris Penn, maybe Rob Lowe and some others to see the club and to meet me. I went to shake Chris Penn’s hand but there was no open hand, just a lit and blazing doobie.

Sean delear: One night, my spike heel went through George Michael’s espadrille, and I said, “Queen, you’re wearing espadrilles in a nightclub?” doug FleMing: George Michael was always there, wasted on X, trying to take one of us home.

ChriStopher neal roMMelMann: Jane’s Addiction used to play in the lounge. Nobody knew who they were and nobody gave a f*ck. Poor Perry was getting no respect.

Doug FleMing: You’d have Matt Dillon, Crispin Glover, Pee-wee Herman, all blazing in the DJ booth; John Doe of X doing an acoustic set in the lounge; the Del Rubio triplets singing in a ballroom upstairs; and Tony Alva skateboarding in another room.

N’dea davenport (then: go-go dancer; now: singer): You had Nina Hagen and Prince; Ice-T, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fishbone, N.W.A. No one was freaking out that they were there. Tey could party like any other citizen. Tey could relax and mush in with everyone else.

Tere was a VIP room, but there wasn’t a VIP.

Jon Sidel: By April of ’86, we were huge. We kind of owned ’86.

And Matt Dike in the ’80s, he was a star in every sense of the word. He looked great. Chicks loved him. He was in Interview magazine, Vanity Fair, and when he got on the turntables, the place went nuts.

Jonathan gold (then: member of the band Tank Burial; now: Pulitzerwinning writer and dining critic at LA Weekly): Matt Dike was the most magical DJ—probably ground zero for DJ culture in Los Angeles. He had this instinctive knowledge of the dance floor: when the percolating go-go beats he liked would work, how to mix Van Halen and the Scorpions in with hip-hop, just how much skronk his audience would take, and than, just at the point when people were on the brink of walking away, putting on “Brick House.” By the spring of 1987, Dike and Sidel were running two other clubs downtown, only to see them leech attendance from Power Tools. In April 1987, they decided to shut down the mother ship.

ChriStopher neal roMMelMann: We weren’t getting many people toward the end. Maybe 700.

On the last night, I didn’t figure anyone would come, so I got there late—and there were 5,000 people in the street.

Jon Sidel: Power Tools’ last night was the craziest. I just let it rip. I said, “Let anyone in.” We weren’t a little over occupancy; we were like triple occupancy. Te police told me it took two helicopters and 11 squad cars, and the fire department wanted the cops to throw me in jail.

Maria gallagher (then: go-go dancer; now: film producer): People were getting wildly, wildly, wildly wasted. Just losing their minds. I was screaming, “I’m on the list to get out!” Sean MaCpherSon: Now, it seems, [nightlife] is about bottle service and flashy cars and celebutantes.

What Power Tools was about was some sort of counterculture. I don’t know of a place that does that right now.

N’dea davenport: Power Tools really provided a support system. Matt Dike started Delicious Vinyl, which led to my musical future: I got a record deal with Delicious and then became a member of Te Brand New Heavies.

Maria gallagher: I owe my career to Power Tools. It’s where I met [filmmaker] Tamra Davis. She hired me to produce my first music video: Young MC’s “Bust a Move,” which Matt Dike wrote for Delicious Vinyl. As much as it mattered that I went to film school, it was those connections that paid off.

RiCk roSS: What Power Tools did for everybody, from Sean MacPherson to Sidel to Matt: that was their postgraduate program in being an entrepreneur and having fun.

Sean MaCpherSon: I didn’t realize it at the time—and maybe if I had, it would have saved me from my career path. But Power Tools definitely was [a launching point]… Jon and I did Small’s, Small’s begat Olive. And the story goes on from there.
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