Do That Conga
Since its debut a decade ago in its original Miracle Mile location, the Conga Room has served as the epicenter of the local Latin cultural scene, expanding its scope beyond salsa and rock en español to include a panoply of multicultural music—jazz, hip-hop, pop, and world—and hosting talent that ranges from Shakira and Carlos Santana to Common and Nelly Furtado.
With so many vital beats pulsing, it’s no wonder that founder/owner Brad Gluckstein—who launched the original Conga Room with such backers as Jennifer Lopez, Jimmy Smits, and Paul Rodriguez—wanted to bring the steamy scene closer to the heart of LA. Recently he opened (with investors including LA Laker Trevor Ariza, Will.i.am, and Amaury Nolasco of Prison Break) an even more upscale, expanded outpost (at 15,000 square feet, three times the size of the original) in the burgeoning LA Live entertainment district, which promises to become the city’s centralized version of Times Square overlooking the Nokia Plaza.
“The view is pretty spectacular,” Gluckstein says from the glassed-in VIP room overlooking the Staples Center, the Nokia Theater, and ESPN Zone. The panorama outside is rivaled by the multilevel interior, designed by Hagy Belzberg of Belzberg Architects (whose two-story grand chandelier dominates the entrance) and featuring Cuban-American artist Jorge Pardo’s playful papaya-shaped central bar and Latin-minded installations by luminaries like multidisciplinary Mexican artist Sergio Arau.
“This is perfect for us,” Smits explains, in one of five VIP rooms during the December grand opening—which lured the LA Lakers, Jessica Alba, Eva Longoria Parker, and investor and LA Clipper Baron Davis. “I’m from New York originally,” Smits continues. “When I look out there, I think about Times Square, and I think it’s going to be booming around here in the next couple of years.”
The Conga’s performance space—which doubles as a late-night dance club—is enhanced by a unique, multilevel flower-petal ceiling, designed to deliver ultimate sound quality (engineered by the same team that outfitted the Nokia Theater). “The ceiling snakes into the lobby and funnels down as the chandelier,” says Gluckstein, “so this system is going to tornado down.” “The music is going to be a little bit different
than what we had in the other venue,” says Smits. “We were known as kind of a tropical venue with salsa music. We’ll always have that as our base, but we’re going to try and open that up. One of the reasons
Will.i.am has come on board is to help guide us with the world-music kind of feel.”
The Conga Room’s restaurant, Boca, is a glassed-in dining area where patrons can chow down on pan-Latin cuisine and converse with as much backbeat as they desire. “We have licensing until 4 A.M. for food.” Gluckstein says. “We can do a late-night Mexican hangover breakfast.”
While the new touches are exciting, one vestige of the past is along for the ride. According to Nolasco: “I was a bartender here 10 years ago when I came to LA. It’s a Cinderella story, I guess. I started as a bartender and now I get to give the orders! I definitely want to get behind the bar and mix a few drinks. I hope I don’t break any bottles.”