Three Clubs feels like an import from another time. With a red-toned interior that features dark wood, deep, mid-century banquettes and an impressive scotch selection, it's still a mainstay of the Hollywood scene, attracting musicians, actors and other locals on any given night. Tucked away below the teeming hub of Hollywood nightlife, the bar is nestled among small playhouses, a gas station and dark, industrial-looking buildings. It's concrete exterior hides its hedonistic function, and it's only signage is a neon sign that reads, "cocktails." If it weren't for the mustached local hipsters hanging around in barstools or bands rocking out in the bar's side room, it would feel like a the kind of place one's grandparents used to frequent. When 'Swingers' arrived in 1996, it grossed just $74,118 on eight screens during its opening weekend. Fourteen years later, its total domestic gross stands at just $4.5 million -- but its status as a cult favorite has mushroomed well beyond its financial significance. Written by Jon Favreau and directed by Doug Liman, the film was based on Favreau's experiences as an out-of-work comic and actor in Los Angeles who was excessively mourning a break-up with his girlfriend. Given that it was his and Liman's first movie, the budget was small and the most of the locations were real -- including Three Clubs, to which Favreau's character brings his pal before the film's party scene in the Hollywood Hills.
Three Clubs feels like an import from another time. With a red-toned interior that features dark wood, deep, mid-century banquettes and an impressive scotch selection, it's still a mainstay of the Hollywood scene, attracting musicians, actors and other locals on any given night. Tucked away below the teeming hub of Hollywood nightlife, the bar is nestled among small playhouses, a gas station and dark, industrial-looking buildings. It's concrete exterior hides its hedonistic function, and it's only signage is a neon sign that reads, "cocktails." If it weren't for the mustached local hipsters hanging around in barstools or bands rocking out in the bar's side room, it would feel like a the kind of place one's grandparents used to frequent.
Location as Character: It was that old-school, seedy vibe that led Marc Smith and business partner Matthew Webb to jump on the chance to buy the bar, as-is, nearly 20 years ago -- and which adds to 'Swingers's' role as an ode to local L.A. culture. "We kept the original decor, and just redid it [a little bit], and went with the original look, like late-50s, Frank Sinatra look," Smith says. "People thought we were crazy because we were buying ten cases of martini glasses. "The glass-guy was going crazy, saying, 'If you buy these, we're not going to let you return them.' I said, 'Relax, we have an idea that martinis are going to be fine.'"
Its overt Sinatra-era feel plays into both 'Swingers's' subtext and style, in that the film's five main characters, according to IMDb, were meant to represent the five member of the original Rat Pack, which included Sinatra himself. The film captures L.A. culture at a particular moment, when swing bands were becoming trendy and big-band-driven lounges were sprouting up on both coasts.
Three Clubs' anonymity also plays directly into the script. "For some reason, the cool bars in Hollywood have to be hard to find, and have no sign," Mike (Favreau) tells Rob (Ron Livingston) as they head down an alley toward it. "It's kind of like a speakeasy kind of thing. It's kind of cool. It's like you're in on some kind of secret, you know? You tell a chick you've been some place, it's like bragging you know how to find it."
Historical Significance: When Favreau, Vince Vaughn and first-time director Doug Liman approached Smith to use it as a movie location in 1996, they were unknowns, and so was Three Clubs. Smith and Webb had owned it for just a couple of years and were hoping it might become a hot-spot film location. Favreau, meanwhile, had never written a film before, and Liman had yet to direct his first feature. Vaughn had appeared in a few after-school specials and an episode of 'China Beach,' but starring roles were still the stuff of his imagination.
Nearly a decade and a half later, the fortunes of both the bar and the filmmakers have far eclipsed their early beginnings. Favreau is directing blockbusters like 'Iron Man 2,' while Vaughn is a household name. Liman's career isn't too shabby, either: He's directed and produced a gamut of major productions, from 'The O.C.' to 'Mr. and Mrs. Smith.' As for Three Clubs? Not only does it enjoy nearly unparalleled longevity as a neighborhood hot-spot, but it's become a go-to film location, appearing in current shows such as 'Mad Men,' 'Private Practice' and 'FlashForward.'
Fun Fact: Liman and co. doubled up on Three Clubs as a location. The bar eventually appears during Mike and Rob's party-night preamble, but it's used earlier in the movie, too, after the guys go to Vegas and meet "two beautiful babies." Smith explains that that bar scene was actually shot in a back room of Three Clubs that has a slightly different look, and it allowed the filmmakers to stay within their limited budget.
Smith also notes that the Three Clubs scene feels real because it was. It was shot while the venue was open, using special cameras that didn't required a lot of extra lighting, and which didn't attract a lot of attention "The crowd really didn't know what was going on," he says. The scene also derives its authenticity from the fact that it was already a regular watering hole for actors and writers. One of Smith's friends knew the filmmakers, and they were only happy to combine forces and make the shoots happen.
Directions: Three Clubs is at the northwest corner of Vine and Santa Monica Blvd., just south of the heart of the Hollywood bar and club scene. From the West, take the 10 West to La Brea. Drive north on La Brea and make a right on Santa Monica and then a left on Vine. The bar is on the left. From the Valley, take the 101 South to exit 9A toward Vine St., and turn right on Vine. Three Clubs is just under a mile south, and will be on the right.
Visitor Info: Three Clubs is open seven nights a week for 'Swingers' fans and barflies alike. The venue also features live acts, from rock bands to a weekly burlesque show, in a side room.