Nightclubbing – Desert Magazine (January 2013)

When the sun goes down in the desert, the cool night sky sparkles with stars. But back in the day, earthbound movie stars spotted locally-just a two-hour drive from Hollywood-seemed to outnumber those in the sky. To go stargazing then, you only had to go nightclubbing. For a few decades in the middle of the last century, the intimate hot spots of the desert were nearly unequalled anywhere in the world, not only for their fabulous entertainment but for the internationally renowned celebrities sitting around you in the audience.

The most notable of all was the Chi Chi. Opened in 1936 as the Desert Grill, the restaurant was eventually purchased by Irwin Schuman who remodeled it in a fancy Polynesian them inspired by the famed oil painting on black velvet of the Tahitian woman Hina Rapa by “American Gauguin,” Edgar Leeteg.

In a play on the Spanish translation, the prominently displayed painting of this topless native woman was dubbed “the Chi Chi girl,” for obvious reasons, by local painter Jack Church. The club was thenceforth called the Chi Chi Grill Cocktail Lounge and went on to present every major entertainer of the next two decades: Lena Horne, Rosemary Clooney, Louis Armstrong, Peggy Lee, Jerry Lewis, Hoagy Carmichael, Carmen Miranda, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole, only a fraction of the list.
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