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P.J.’S NIGHT CLUB: L.A.’S FIRST DISCOTHEQUE

Lucy and Desi at The Mocambo at 8588 Sunset Boulevard on the Sunset Strip in July 1942.

By the late 1950s, Hollywood’s original Golden Age had almost run its course. A new, young Hollywood crowd had emerged on the scene, both on movie sets and after hours. Glamorous nightclubs and supper clubs like Ciro’s, the Mocambo, and the Trocodero on Sunset Strip had become old-fashioned, and many of the bigger and better acts featured at those clubs had fled to Vegas.

In the early 1960s, one of the first discotheques opened up across the street from the original Fred Segal in the heart of West Hollywood. It was called P.J.’s. It paved the way for new dance clubs such as Gazzarri’s and the Whisky A Go Go which opened up on the infamous Sunset Strip. Fred Segal frequented this popular dance club. Employees of P.J,’s would send club goers over to Fred Segal for the latest fashions during the swinging ’60s. Here’s a look back on the club’s history during that groovy time in Los Angeles.

Club goers and hip celebs like Ann-Margret, Steve McQueen, Joey Bishop, Lenny Bruce, Mia Farrow, Don Rickles, Buddy Hacket and Paul Newman would dance the Watusi to live bands.

The first of its kind was P.J.’s, located directly across the street from the original Fred Segal boutique inside the Crescent Square mall at Santa Monica and Crescent Heights. Fred Segal remembers it well, “There was a nightclub across the street from my first Fred Segal Location. It was called P.J.’s. I made friends with the bartenders and outfitted them in my clothes. When celebrities and ‘cool’ people would come in, the bartenders told them about my store and the clothing. It was the greatest advertising you could get. Everyone wanted it.”

The Club was owned by Bill Doherty, Paul Raffles, Phil Tanzini, and former Chicago police detective, Elmer Valentine. They opened it in 1961 and Tanzini and Valentine also went on to open The Whisky A Go Go, and The Trip a few years later in 1964. P.J.’s was names after Paul and his girlfriend, Judy. “They had previously opened a club in Chicago called The Black Orchid, which was quite similar to P.J.’s. They were all from Chicago,” recalls Daugherty’s girlfriend, Sharyn Hillyer Doherty. “They basically introduced the first discotheque in Los Angeles. The goal was to create a late night hot spot that became the destination when all the other nightclubs closed. The clientele was a mixture of celebrities, crooks, criminals, gamblers and strippers.” Doherty chuckles when she remembers Doherty, telling her, “Honey, sit down with this guy and be nice to him tonight because he’s going to prison tomorrow.”
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