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Country Style : Favorite Watering Holes

August 08, 1991|DIRK SUTRO

Tucked in an oak grove behind Lake Wohlford outside Escondido, the Oakvale Lodge seems a lot farther from urban life. On a Sunday afternoon, a throng shuffles through a line dance on the smooth concrete dance floor, moving in unison to live country music.

In a back room, kids and adults play darts, video games and pool. Parents cuddle their infants on a deck outside while old timers tell tall tales and people of all ages graze on fried chicken and french fries the size of buck knives.

Whether they are urban cowpokes or authentic ranch hands, North County's country fans have their favorite watering holes. A few big events--such as the Poway Days Rodeo in October--put Western tastes in the spotlight, but it is everyday music, dinner and dance that sustain the country spirit all year long.

"I like the atmosphere," said Cheryl LaRusch, a secretary at a swimming pool company who decompresses from the work week every Friday night at the Pomerado Club in Poway. "People seem more friendly and open, male and female, than they do at the rock clubs."

Adds Cathie McDill, a real estate and marketing consultant who hasn't yet been able to drag her husband to the Pomerado: "The very first night I walked in, people were doing line dances--you don't need a partner, and I had a blast. The etiquette in a country bar is that the guy asks you to dance, you dance a song, they say, 'Thank you very much, ma'am,' and they leave you alone. I like that."

LaRusch and McDill are among what seems an increasing number of North Countians turning to aspects of the country lifestyle as a means of escaping the daily grind of urban living.

Here are some of the places that offer country-style socializing in North County:

THE OAKVALE LODGE

14900 Oakvale Road Escondido 749-3193 Most every weekend, Henry Rodriguez comes down from his home at the La Jolla Indian Reservation on Palomar Mountain to hit the Oakvale Lodge. With his long gray hair tucked under a turquoise-colored bandanna, Rodriguez works the crowd.

"I've been coming here since 1945 or '48," he said, sitting down at an outdoor table to take a break. "There's nothing else to do and it's close to home. I come by myself, but I know most everyone. I'm recognized as an elder here. I would rate this the best country place for the simple reason that the people are very friendly. If you're in trouble, they help you--if you run out of gas, get a flat tire or a fan belt breaks. One of the band members had a serious auto accident, and everyone helped him out in their own way."

A few feet away, Lynette Boublis sits at a table with sons David, 13, and Stephen, 12, and her friends and business associates David Nielsen and Darlene Hind. The three adults are partners in Cimarron Ridge, which stages Western gunfights for corporate parties and other social occasions. Boublis' boys also participate in the mock gun battles.

Boublis says she and her friends visit the Oakvale Lodge at least once a month.

"It's outdoors and there's lots to do. You can picnic under the trees or down by the lake. It's a good way to introduce kids to music and dancing."

David and Stephen say they like country music, although they confess to liking pop and rock better. They look at each other and wrinkle their noses when asked if they do much dancing.

Since new owners took over three years ago, the Oakvale Lodge has staged something of a comeback.

"When we first took over, they weren't doing 20 dinners a night. Last night, we did 90," said William Chuck, a partner in charge of the dining room. Besides the food--a down-home menu of steaks, chicken, baked potatoes, grilled catfish, moist biscuits--one of the main attractions at the Oakvale Lodge is the dancing. Ricochet, the house band, plays Fridays and Saturday nights from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. and Sundays from 4 to 11 p.m. Free country dance lessons are offered Friday nights from 6:30 to 8 and Sunday afternoons from 2 to 4.

A visit to the lodge can become a camping weekend if you stay next door at Oakvale Park and Resort (749-2895), which offers 60 campsites, some for tents, others for RVs. Reservations are recommended, but campsites are usually available.

THE POMERADO CLUB

12237 Pomerado Road Poway 485-6511 On hot summer nights, the pack of bodies moving and grooving to the Cajun country sounds of the Savery Brothers makes the atmosphere inside the Pomerado Club warm and humid. Dancers escape to outdoor tables on the broad, covered porch, where, under a starry sky on this dusty, otherwise quiet cul de sac, the only thing missing is a pink Cadillac convertible with big tail fins.

Geographically, this place is only a few miles from downtown Poway, but in spirit, it is genuine frontier. The location at the dead end of Old Pomerado Road furthers the sense of isolation. The club occupies a dance hall known for years as the Big Stone Lodge, a long, low structure of stone and wood, built in 1925 at this onetime stagecoach stop.

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