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Nightclub Revives That Lovin' Feelin' of 1950s With Nostalgic Music, Hula-Hoops

September 14, 1989|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

LAKEWOOD — They come from all over representing a myriad of life styles and a span of generations.

In the parlance of the nightclub business, they are a "mixed crowd."

What they have in common is a love for the music and, in some cases, the culture of the 1950s and '60s. They meet at The Hop, a popular dance club featuring the sounds and sights of that period.

"This is our era," said Bill McCracken, 50, a local high school counselor. "It's nice to hear the music that we're used to."

Caren Harvey, 25, a real estate agent from Torrance, said: "I like the old stuff. My parents listened to it when I was growing up."

Opened three years ago by a partnership that included Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley--better known as the Righteous Brothers--the Lakewood Hop was the second in a chain of nightclubs that now traverse Southern California. Other Hops are in Fountain Valley, El Toro and Riverside and one is scheduled to open next month in Puente Hills.

Hatfield and Medley, whose hit songs included "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' " and "Unchained Melody," were initially criticized by some who thought that the '50s nostalgia craze would be short-lived. Today, however, competitors abound and The Hop, which has a $5 admission charge, is packing them in six nights a week.

"We've barely scratched the surface," said Chris Cunningham, general manager of the Lakewood Hop, which he says attracts about 4,000 customers a week between the ages of 21 and 70. "The bulk of the population grew up in that era, and it was a great era. This is just the beginning of a trend."

Friday and Saturday nights at The Hop are reserved for frenetic dancing to recorded tunes selected by a disc jockey who lip-syncs his selections from above the mounted front end of a 1956 Chevy. Other nights are set aside for special programs, such as a live 1950s Las Vegas-style revue and contests featuring Hula-Hoops and limbo sticks.

To complete the time warp, waitresses dress as cheerleaders and the dance floor resembles a high school basketball court with backboards that double as television screens for the showing of such 1950s and '60s fare as "I Love Lucy" and "Dennis the Menace."

Patrons add to the color by dressing in everything from black leather miniskirts to jeans with cowboy hats and, in true high school fashion, they sometimes smooch on the dance floor during slow numbers.

"We like this '60s music, not the New Wave garbage," said Tim Fisher, 30, eating a hamburger and French fries in the club's '50s-style diner. "We were only little kids when that era was going on. This gives us a chance to relive what we missed."

Like other nightclubs, The Hop attracts its share of regulars, some of whose antics have become well known. Gene Weeks, for instance, is a Christian minister with tattoos on his arms who says he rides a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and likes to impress fellow patrons by chugging two beers simultaneously in seven seconds.

"This is where the real people are," said Weeks, 42, pastor of the Norwalk Christian Church, an independent evangelical church loosely affiliated with the North American Convention of Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. "I believe that, if Christ were walking the earth today, he'd be at The Hop."

Others say they come to unwind with friends, take strolls down memory lane or meet eligible members of the opposite sex.

But that last motive can be problematic. On a recent Friday night Wendy Burckhardt, 33, of Downey, left in a huff after only one dance. "I don't like guys crawling all over me, dancing dirty with me and hanging out with me the rest of the night like they own me," she declared.

Some things, it seems, never change.

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