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All Fired Up

August 01, 1993|MARK EHRMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There's only one temperature at Club Chank-a-Chank. Hot.

Take the music. This Sunday-evening dance club always hosts some blistering Cajun/zydeco bands--always live--imported either directly from the Louisiana bayou or culled from Southern California's burgeoning Cajun/Creole community. Things don't cool off much off stage, either. Look at the seating. There are a few booths, where you can sit down and order up hotter-'n-July jambalaya and seafood gumbo, and a line of stools at the bar, of course. But all you'll usually find on them is a jacket or a handbag.

The action here is among the upright--on the foot-stompingly sturdy dance floor, that is. Here the crowd churns to a barometer-raising frenzy as couples of all ages, colors, skills and sizes do the Cajun Two-Step or the Zydeco Swing.

And don't plan on waiting for the band to take a breather. They just might not.

"When they play the dance halls in Louisiana, they play four hours straight without even taking a break," explains promoter David Gaar, who's been hosting these weekly dance-a-thons at Santa Monica's Alligator Lounge for close to two years.

"When these bands come up from Louisiana, it's harder to get them to take a break here than not take a break."

And in case you still can't read the mercury, they even got the walls painted Tabasco red. Hot. So hot, that they keep pitchers of water on the bar to slake the thirsts generated by such dervish-like dancing. And during what brief between-set lulls there may be, throngs of madly perspiring patrons make for the exits.

"You come out here, you're in Santa Monica," says a sweat-soaked Tom Polk, who's taking in some ocean-cooled air after a particularly rousing version of "Jolie Blonde." "Go back in there and it's Louisiana."

Like about half of those present, Polk, an L.A. Unified school teacher who drives here from his home in Long Beach, has been back to Chank-a-Chank many times since it first opened. "Oh, yeah, it's worth it. It's fun and you get to see a lot of regulars."

The high percentage of regulars (around half), coupled with the club's early evening hours (7 to 11 p.m.) make the place feel less like some big-city nightclub and more like a neighborhood bar.

"It doesn't even feel like it's in Los Angeles," says Jennifer MacDonald, a law student who finds that the place has many virtues for a woman just looking to "blow off a little steam and forget about all things legal."

"It's safe, it's friendly and it's the only place in L.A. where men will actually ask you to dance."

The Alligator Lounge features live music every night. Mondays are given over to jazz/experimental/new music. Local bands from across the musical spectrum perform Tues.-Sat. * Name: Club Chank-a-Chank at the Alligator Lounge.

* Where: 3321 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 449-1844.

* When: Sundays 7-11 p.m. Other nights, 9 p.m.-2 a.m.

* Cost: $8 for local bands; $10 for touring bands. Beer and wine $3-$3.50; food served.

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