It's kind of like the guys in The Endless Summer. But instead of chasing the perfect wave, we’ve b e e n wandering a i m I e s s I y throughout San Diego looking for the perfect rock and roll club.
Back East in college there was The Point. Perfectly located at the intersection of State Route 10 and U.S. 20. Loud music and beer. Lots of college friends and townie strangers. And the happy giddiness of pick-ups bv both sexes.
We were really saddened when the South Cardiff Lodge failed to reopen this summer. Located just across the highway from the ocean between Solatia Beach and Cardiff-by-the-Sea. The Lodge was an almost perfect rock and roll place. Big. funky, cheap, and the beach was a perfect place to walk. run. love, sw im, or sick off the dizziness so that we could drive home. In our memory, the bands were always
Disappointed by this loss, and fueled w ith a memory, off we went
in search of the perfect rock and roll dance spot.
Before going on, some conclusions are in order. We discovered no rip-offs. We were strangers to all the clubs, and never felt quite at home with the widely varying crowds. Except for some suspicions about a tip-stealing waitress in one place, everything was honest, friendly, and above board. Unlike some of our Eastern experiences, all of the bands were pretty good, they played long sets, and there were no hidden minimums or exorbitant drink charges.
Ledbetters was a Monday night gas. Arriving early during happy first-rate. It was at The Lodge that McLeod (the mime/band) first left us speechless. Even in mid-week there was always a decent crowd, sprinkled with some old friends, hour (50c pitchers), we found a male-dominated bar, half watching a ball game on TV and half playing games from pool to electronic ping-pong. A bleacher affair along the far wall gave forebodings of a
high school dance with a jillion boys ogling the three dancing girls. But it just didn't happen that way. We guess that the men were just cheap, and got there early to save the admission price (which is charged only after 8 p.m.) Inflation fighters tip: Ledbetters is fond of putting free admission coupons in campus and alternative papers. They sometimes forget to put in an expiration date, so they can be saved forever.
By 8:30 when the band started, the place was packed and we were loaded. And it didn't let up all night. Ear-splitting rock and roll from Chuck Berry to the Stones kept the dance floor crowded. Most men and women seemed to regard Ledbetters as a place to dance with everyone as friends.
Throughout the bedlam, there's plenty of action at the game tables. We asked one Foosball expert if all the noise interfered with the game. “Naw, it just adds to the excitement”.
Ledbetter's main problem is that it's just too small for the crowd.
For non-smokers, the haze is a problem. The music is too loud our ears rang the next day. Others tell us of waiting an hour outside just to get in.
Neutral Grounds has attempted to be more than a rock and roll dance club. In the early summer they brought in several big-name acts and switched to a nightclub formal. With admission prices of $2.00 to $3.50, there were shows with Mike B lorn field, Mary McCreary, Joe McDonald and the All Star Band, and others. For us, dancing and listening to these performers, in a more intimate atmosphere than the Sports Arene or the Community Concourse, with a couple of beers thrown in at the same relative price, was quite a bargain, but, alas, San Diegans confirmed our impression that it’s a bush town, and the big-name club idea is stagnant for lack of support. We have not visited Neutral Grounds as a not-so-big-name club.
Harvey Wallhanger’s was easily the classiest joint of the lot, even on a Wednesday evening. A sign on the door forwarns, “We invite you to come in and enjoy yourself. Please NO bare feet, jeans or jean jackets, hats, insignias or emblems, ripped or torn clothes, or vest tank tops.” Dressed to the hilt, we walked into a spacious den, with a spacious stage, and a spacious bar, spacious large tables with soft deep wrap-around benches — very chic, and very comfortable.
The Burgandy Express band, ‘-just in from Oregon,” began its first set at nine sharp. Outfitted in black sateen, with every beautifully tailored hair in place, they began with polish, the current rendition
of “2001”. They warmed up quickly, tii a still empty house, doing best on Credence Clearwater and worst on Stevie Wonder. By 9:30, the place was still relatively empty, and Sharon, one of the waitresses vying for our trade, apologized, “It takes a while to get busy.”
Sure enough, at 10:15, the beautiful people arrived. It was all of a sudden and like a fashion show. At each number, there would be three or four new couples on the dance floor. First was" a woman who looked like a flamenco dancer. Her partner was in a perfectly cut high-waisted blue suit. Bronzed navels below' colorful halter tops were in abundance. Men crossed the floor in a trucking-in-reverse gait, clicking their platform heels. Wallbangers is clearly “the in spot.”
Wallbangers could be a thoroughly enjoyable place, though a bit too high tone for our taste. But the sexist nature of its decor and promotion leave a bitter taste. We assume the owners thought it funny to label the bathrooms “Bangers” and “Bangees”, call their drink (at $2.00. four shots of various liqueurs, something like an alcoholic smoothie) the “Gangbanger”, and put caricatures above the stage, a woman portrayed with glasses, and books, next to an OMBAC shirted he-man. one hand dangling a bra, and the other a pop-top beer can. We were offended.
On another weekday evening, we visted Palais 500. a very smooth place. A friendly person checked our I.D.s at the door, and directed us through a dining room to The Home of Kirk Bates, where we (
were greeted by a blond pom-padoured double knit and white-shoed chap who led us to a table and directed a waitress to us. There’s no admission charge, but it costs $1.00 to have a glass at your table, be it filled with beer, coke, or water, and $1.25 lor a mixed drink. The Palais 500 is the red velveteen haven for half of San Diego. For the place seems big enough to hold that many, and every San Diego type was seen there, from the traveling salesmen of Hotel Circle to the surfers from Ocean Beach.
Kirk Bates and the Leaves of Grass, the only band in town on a monster billboard, is very easy to listen to, and can imitate anybody
Blood Sweat and Tears’ best and (again) Stevie Wonder's worst. There are two smallish rectangles of linoleum stuck on either side of the stage — for dancing on.
Palais 500 leaves the impression that it was created as a Las Vegas nightclub, huge, carpeted, ornate, and professional. As a rock and roll club it's overdressed, but still accommodating.
The Palace (now calledJJ.’s) loses only on location. It's impossible to find. It's on the Pacific Highway service road, a couple blocks northwest of Washington Street. Because of safety fences, you have to approach it from Washington Street. Apparently, location is everything.
It's an airplane-hangar proportioned room, with a delicatessen/ snack bar on one side and a beer bar on the other. No alcohol is allowed in the rock and roll part of
the club itself, so that those “prohibited from consuming alcoholic beverages by law by reason of age” can only dance their heads off. But not many were.
We stayed mainly in the bar, jawing with the amusing bartender. The Allman Brothers concert was the reason for the lack of a crowd. Which was a shame. The beer is cheap (75c for a 28 oz or so Texas goblet), the band good (the only one w ith even a smattering of soul), and the building perfect for a mob.
Jim Pagni, the local concert producer, is the reason for the name change. He promises to showcase name acts at reasonable prices starting about October 1st.
The waitresses at the Red Coat Inn wear just that — red coats with nifty little tails (as in coat). It's located in the bowling alley near the corner of University and College Avenues. Its low ceilings and lack of ventilation caused problems for the non-smokers of our group. Even with no admission charge, 85c for a glass (not a mug or a bottle) of warm beer seemed high. A sign advertises beer at 35c a glass, $1.25 a pitcher on Thursday nights.
A lot of people in their upper 20's scanned the room trying to catch another's eye. The band was competent, but not exciting. Maybe it was our mood, but we weren't turned on.
We had a good time looking around San Diego for the dance of a life-time, but we got tired and broke, too. We visited each of the clubs only once or twice, often in mid-week. So, these have been our impressions, not conclusions.