When Prince Hung Out at Helena’s

Once upon a time, the Silver Lake supper club was L.A.'s favorite celebrity haunt.

In an essay in our sister publication The Hollywood Reporter, producer Mark Canton retraces his close professional and personal relationship with Prince. He started working with the musical prodigy in 1983 on the Warner Bros. film Purple Rain and several years later, was spending some memorable nights out:

My favorite personal memory was having Friday night dinners with him and meeting acquaintances at the fabulous Helena’s (a private supper club). He would often spontaneously invite me to jump in his 1969 purple Cadillac with his friend and driver, a 6’ 9” cool guy named Chicky, and we would end up in Silver Lake…

Helena Kallianiotes in Five Easy Pieces

With regards to Prince and Helena’s, that’s only the half of it. The supper club was opened in April 1985 by actress and dancer Helena Kallianiotes, with backing from her friend Jack Nicholson. It had been her belly dancing studio, and within a short amount of time after it was switched over, the grey stucco building on West Temple Street in Silver Lake was the place for celebrity mingling. However, per Dennis McDougal’s book about Nicholson, Five Easy Decades, Prince had a rough start there:

When Prince tried to get in without a [membership] card, Helena barred the door. “I detest royalty,” she said. “F*ck the prince. I never heard of him. He can apply for a membership like everybody else does.”

Ha ha. The New York Times caught up to the Helena’s phenomenon in a July 4, 1986 piece titled “Two Los Angeles Clubs for the ‘New Elite’.” From the following paragraph, it’s easy to understand why Canton would remember the place as “fabulous:”

Madonna and Sean Penn, charter members of the club, enter with guests and take a table beside a blazing fireplace. Three tables away, Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarandon and Cher huddle. Harry Dean Stanton stares into the middle distance. Over by the bar, Rob Lowe, in jeans and T-shirt, talks to members of what is sometimes known as ”young Hollywood.” Young movie and television executives bop on the dance floor.

Prince’s name is dropped in the article by a co-owner of the other profiled hot spot, a “New York-style” downtown discotheque called Vertigo. Helena’s had a good run, becoming known a few years later for its celebrity poetry readings.