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Rachel Levin
California Dancing
Hip hop
United States
Greater Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA

A Night at the Chocolate Bar @ Gabah

by Rachel Levin
June 13, 2001
Los Angeles, CA

A Night at the Chocolate Bar @ Gabah

By Rachel Levin

June 13, 2001

4658 Melrose (at Normandie)

Los Angeles, CA


Saturday Nights 10pm-2am

Hip-hop, old school, reggae, dancehall

$10 cover

It sits across the street from a Pentecostal church, a nondescript green wall in between two car repair garages; the only hint of the festivity contained inside is a cluster of white Christmas lights around the sign that announces its name. As I click past the church, dodging the pothole puddles in the rain, Latino families in ruffly dresses and sport coats and ties are emerging from the night's church activities, connected through music, prayer, shared experience, and community. I scurry past them and cross the street, thinking about the parallel universe behind the green wall where another set of people are trying to do the exact same thing: connect through music, share experience, and find community. Could the two be equivalent spiritual encounters?

The big security guard looks down at me and compares my two-dimensional plastic image to my real-life face; he raises an eyebrow questioningly (OK, I look young) but hands back the card and waves me through. Instantly, I am hit by warmth, vibration, and incense. Coats are peeled off like banana skins in this narrow walkway to reveal skimpy tops, oversized pants, layers of t-shirts, big chunky chain necklaces of silver and gold, and Adidas tennis shoes (although really cool leather jackets are of course left on). I hear the swish of parachute pants material as we are all propelled forward by the promise of light and sound. We are like a stumbling creek that splits into two tributaries at the end of the hall: some turn right towards the bar, and the others turn left towards the dance floor.

As I round the corner and look down on the sunken floor, I behold a bobbing sea of braids, dreds, bandanas, knit caps, baseball caps, and hair-wrap material. The colors of the moment are camaflouge, red, orange, and army green. The spin of purple and pink light splatters the dancers like a careless paintbrush. The crew of DJs pace around on a platform above the floor, headphones to one ear, spinning, hopping, high-fiving, scratching records, entreating the audience to get pumped up. I descend the steps - one, two - and wiggle my way through the crowd. S'cuse me, pardon me, a hand on my back, an elbow in my face, a spilled drink makes wet toes. Shake, sweat, grind, jump, "Throw ya' hands up! Throw ya' hands up!" Colossal speakers spew soul-reverberating boom and thump. Thick fingers wrap small waists, faces join at the cheekbone, legs are stationary as hips circulate. Overhead fans bring heavenly breezes. Then suddenly the sweetness sours - I spy the one person I absolutely did NOT want to see.

Escape to the patio. Steam rises off bodies, smoke curls from cigarettes, and everyone seems to slow to weightless motion, like astronauts outside the space shuttle. Too cold out here. I dart back inside and duck into the lower bar. Couples ooze into one another on the animal print couches. Guys mess around with the video game joysticks; girls look on at their boys showing off virtual karate kick bravado. A circle of friends breaks into impromptu freestyle. Then finally, finally, finally, I spot him - the one person I absolutely DID want to see. He is skulking around at the edge of the dance floor, sipping a beer, skating in place with his right foot. Yao, yao, yao, what up? He grabs the curve of my face between his thumb and hand and slides me to him with one arm. Meltykiss happiness, sticky smooth.

At 2:20 a.m. the lights go on, and everyone is exposed without consent. People shield their eyes from the brightness with their hands, their hair, or their caps. Pagers and cell phones beep as they are turned on and checked compulsively by their owners. Out front, couples linger, plans are made, alliances formed, enemies clarified, disinterest defined, carpools confirmed, numbers exchanged. Who will be connected this night? Who will find belonging, acceptance, warmth, and cuddling; who will strut off into the night defiantly lonely, rejected, guarded, and cool? Well, there's always next Saturday. Check it out for yourself.

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