The latest dance craze to sweep the nation is the lambada, but at the newly opened California Earthquake Cafe in San Marcos, patrons are much more inclined to resurrect such past dance crazes as the twist, the Watusi, the mashed potato and the frug.
Seven nights a week, the latest addition to North County's night life is a veritable sock hop. Graying baby-boomers crowd onto the elevated, black-and-white checkerboard dance floor and shake, rattle, and roll their way down memory lane, as deejays spin vintage rock 'n' roll dance tunes from the 1950s and '60s.
Friday and Saturday nights, the action is broadcast live over San Diego oldies radio station KCBQ-FM (105.3). On Thursdays, deejays take a break and let local oldies bands like Classic Energy, the Bel Airs, and the Legends supply the beat; on Wednesdays, lip-sync, Hula-Hoop, and limbo contests add to the fun.
Like the myriad other retro-rock diners that have been popping up all over the country in recent years, the California Earthquake Cafe, which opened the first weekend in June, is a throwback to the post-drive-in teen hangouts of the "Happy Days" era.
The food is straight off the menu of Arnold's Diner: juicy burgers and greasy fries, meat loaf and mashed potatoes with lots of gravy, banana splits and root-beer floats.
The decor is '50s kitsch: turquoise Formica tables with stainless-steel trim, booths upholstered in glittery oilcloth, linoleum floors.
But what sets the Earthquake Cafe apart from the rest is its emphasis on music and dancing.
"I don't like to think of this music as oldies, but as classic music, classic rock 'n' roll, the favorites we all grew up with and liked listening to and dancing to," said owner Bob Geiserman.
In December of 1986, Geiserman opened the original California Earthquake Cafe in Mission Valley, with a similar menu and decor. Almost as an afterthought he decided to pipe in oldies music.
"The reaction was incredible," Geiserman recalled. "People started dancing in the aisles, so within a year, we had built a dance floor and hired a deejay, figuring that, if people wanted to dance to this music, we might as well give them the opportunity."
A year ago, Geiserman said, he began making plans to expand.
"A lot of our regulars were coming down from North County, and I felt it would make sense to go up to them, so they wouldn't have to drive as far," he said. "I did a lot of research in regard to possible locations, and the reason I finally settled on San Marcos is that, with the new university and Scripps hospital coming in, it seemed like the new epicenter of growth in North County."
Although the original California Earthquake Cafe in Mission Valley was designed as a restaurant, the new one in San Marcos was designed as a nightclub, first and foremost.
Instead of a separate, walled-off dining area, everything is integrated. Every table, every booth, offers a clear view of the dance floor; there are even some tables and booths up on the dance floor.
"As a result, even when you're eating, you're still part of the high energy that's taking place on the dance floor," Geiserman said. "Eating should be a fun experience, and our idea of a fun experience is something that spans generations: We provide the food, the atmosphere, and the upbeat music that the whole family can relate to."
Appropriately enough, the California Earthquake Cafe in San Marcos is a family affair. Geiserman's partner is his son, Marc, a recent graduate of the University of Southern California School of Business's entrepreneurial program. And the club's interior was designed by Geiserman's wife, Kay Hines-Geiserman, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers.
CALIFORNIA EARTHQUAKE CAFE
1020 West San Marcos Boulevard, San Marcos.
Hours: Thursday, Friday, Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday from 11 a.m. to midnight.
Note: Dancing every night, live bands Thursday nights.