A Long-Forgotten Nightclub from the ’40s Is Coming Back to Life

The World War II-era Rhythm Room will return to Los Angeles

Though you may have never heard of it, the Rhythm Room nightclub operated for decades in the lower level of the Hotel Hayward at the corner of 6th and Spring streets downtown. In recent years the space has become little more than a dingy storage room. It won’t remain that way for long.

When Cindy La and Vincent Vongkavivathanakul happened upon the old basement bar last year while scouting locations for their new club, they immediately knew it had potential. “When I walked in here,” La says, “I saw the entire concept come to life.”

The duo is planning a bar and restaurant with live music, a coffee counter, and a copious amount of games. “We’re open to all kinds of entertainment and activities,” La says. “We have competition size pool tables, darts, shuffleboard, foosball, and tons of board games. All of our tables are chessboards.” When it opens, their club will bring new energy to what was once a lively downtown destination.

The Hotel Hayward’s forgotten past

The Hotel Hayward opened in 1905 (on the site of the first Ralphs grocery store). The hotel was expanded in 1918 and took on its present form in 1925 with an addition by the architects John and Donald Parkinson, who also brought us City Hall, the Coliseum, and Union Station.

Hayward Hotel, circa 1905

Security Pacific National Bank Collection/Los Angeles Public Library

Patrons at the Rhythm Room on April 22, 1945

Photograph courtesy Cindy La

The Hayward Hotel—and with it, the Rhythm Room—was boarded up in 1972 as the Spring Street financial district began to collapse. Though it soon reopened as a residential hotel (the second largest downtown), it continued to deteriorate. In the 1990s, the hotel was “infested with cockroaches and rodents,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “The smell of dead rats lingers in the air.”

A new future for the Rhythm Room

Those days are gone. Developer Izek Shomof has spent the last 15 years sprucing up the historic hotel, creating a mix of affordable housing and market rate apartments. What was once a liquor store is now a Starbucks, and the neon at ’50s-themed D-Town Burger Bar burns until 3 a.m. on the weekends. It’s below all this that the Rhythm Room will be revived.

To enter the space, visitors will descend the same steps the original patrons used. “You enter on 6th Street and go down the marble staircase built 100 years ago,” says La. “We uncovered some adorned columns that were very art nouveau, but that’s now the kitchen. The upper mezzanine has tile, and the floors in here are all original. You can see the outline of a dance floor.”

The original Rhythm Room hosted some great musical acts in the 1940s and ’50s (though it never compared to the Cocoanut Grove). Rediscovering this lost landmark will bring back some of the hold hotel’s soul—plus there aren’t a lot of “jazz, blues, and bluegrass” bars downtown. The club deserves to be full of music again again.

Rhythm Room Los Angeles is expected to open this June.

Chris Nichols is the city scholar at Los Angeles magazine. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He recently wrote: Disneyland’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Statues Are Missing