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Oldies Clubs Turn Back Clock to Rock

March 03, 1985|ALAN CITRON | Times Staff Writer

I can mash potato

I can do the twist

Well now tell me, baby

Do you like it like this?

--"Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance)," 1962

At 11 p.m. one Saturday night more than 75 people were lined up in front of Popcorns bar in Marina del Rey. The crowd, most in their 20s, waited 45 minutes to get to the front door, then paid a $5 cover charge to enter the cavernous club.

Most of them had come for the music. But it wasn't just to hear Michael Jackson or Prince. Blasting from the main bar's speakers, luring crowds of sweaty but determined dancers to the checkerboard floor, were the decades-old songs of performers like Little Richard, the Beatles and the Beach Boys.

Some of the dancers twisted. A few jitterbugged. Except for the women's designer jeans and the men's $30 haircuts, the scene looked like a replay from an earlier era. But the crowded dance floor also said a lot about the present.

Oldies hits are making a comeback. Popcorns--which saw its business grow by more than 50% after it converted to an oldies format last summer--is one of a handful of Westside bars capitalizing on the latest wave of nostalgia for early rock 'n' roll. Oldies hangouts are also gaining popularity nationwide--be they chains of dance clubs like Confetti's and Studebaker's or of malt shop-restaurants like the Hard Rock Cafe and Bentley's 49, both of which have Westside locations.

The Cavern Club

The California Jukebox Club in West Los Angeles rarely plays anything recorded after 1970. Hollywood's Continental Club enjoys its biggest business on Fridays, when it becomes the Crush Bar and offers soul music from the 1960s. On Wednesdays, the bar is called the Jailhouse, with a menu of 1950s music. Another Hollywood bar called the Cavern Club is patterned after a 1960s-style disco.

Popcorns on Lincoln Boulevard is part of a Florida-based chain once called Flanigan's. Club manager Steven Mayer said all of the chain's locations have done better business since switching to the oldies format. "It seems to be one of the latest fads as far as drinking establishments go," he said. "A lot of people seem to like the music. In fact they complain that we don't play enough of it."

Mayer said Popcorns, a 15,000-square-foot building that holds more than 600 people, frequently reaches capacity. To maintain order the bar employs more than 40 people on busy nights, including several large bouncers.

Free Cab Rides

Because of the recent crackdown on drunk driving, the club is starting to offer non-alcoholic wines and beers and free cab rides home for people who have had too much to drink, said chain official Greg Stewart.

With its soda shop motif, bold colors and bright lighting, however, Popcorns looks more like a high school hangout from the days of Ricky Nelson and Wally Cleaver than a serious drinking establishment. Patrons can sit at a huge wrap-around bar, but most choose the small tables that are served by waitresses dressed as cheerleaders. The walls are decorated with life-sized blow-ups of pop idols such as James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, and a neon sign on one side of the club welcomes visitors to the "Be Bop Cafe."

A second-story dance floor--equipped with smoke machines, confetti blasters, strobe lights and mirrors--plays new music and caters to a later-arriving crowd. But the first floor best captures the spirit of the club, which advertises itself as a "fundrinkery."

Young professionals dominated the bar at one recent Friday happy hour. The bar was quiet early. But by 6 p.m., with the last of the day's light peeking through the windows, well-dressed couples were dancing to familiar numbers like the Isley Brothers' "Shout" and Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock."

Motown and Beatles Hits

The next night found the dance floor filled with a younger crowd, dancing wildly to a medley of Motown and Beatles hits. Karl Del Rio, a 23-year-old Popcorns regular, and his date waited in line to get into the club. Later, the two spent most of the night dancing to songs that were recorded when they were infants.

"I think I was born a few years too late," Del Rio said between songs. "This is much more fun than dancing to the new stuff. It's happier music."

The California Jukebox Club, situated in a historic building at Barrington Avenue and National Boulevard, also is part of a national chain. The moderate-sized club attracts a crowd of people in their 30s and 40s, most of whom come to dance to a deafening mix of 1950s and 1960s hits.

Jayson Ritter, Jimmy Sarubbi and Ann Labe--three self-described music lovers--opened the club last fall. Sitting in a cramped office above the bar, Ritter motioned toward pictures taken at a recent birthday party the club hosted for Little Richard. A big fan of early groups like the Coasters and the Platters, Ritter said he hoped to start alternating live music with records to further encourage the revival.

Memorabilia Abounds

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