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WANNA DANCE?

Step Aside, This 'Gate' Swings Best With Live Tunes by Locals

April 21, 1994|ZAN DUBIN | Zan Dubin is a staff writer for The Times Orange County Edition

Attention, serious swing dancers: Go to the Starting Gate. Attention, serious country dancers: Do not go to the Starting Gate.

That's right, this scruffy, albeit spunky, Los Alamitos roadside bar works well for West Coast Swing but falls short of a good place to practice two-stepping.

First, the L-shaped, 1,500-square-foot dance floor provides room enough for swingers, who generally don't need that much room. Two-steppers, however, cover a lot of territory, and the floor is too small and oddly configured for much of that. It can accommodate only two rows of line dancers, far fewer than most honky-tonks pack in.

Second, breathing is easy on the Gate's three designated swing nights--popular among some of the area's devoted swing hounds--but unbearably smoky on its three country nights. The eyes begin to sting after a few minutes.

Swing nights are Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday, while country dancers get Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Live music begins at 8 p.m. on Sunday and at 9 every other night. (Monday is strictly karaoke, no dancing.)

The live music from local bands is a treat for swing enthusiasts, who often must dance to recorded fare. Ray and the Idols (the usual swing nights band) deliver a lively mix of 1950s and '60s blues and rock, plus such standards as Glenn Miller's "In the Mood."

Whether country hoofers are better or worse off depends on personal taste. Those hooked on the Top 40 songs and bankable stars now hyped by Nashville might prefer Denim & Diamonds. But at least one band, the Tooters, plays such classics as Bob Wills' "Take Me Back to Tulsa," and John Anderson's savory classic "Seminole Wind."

Sitting across Katella from the Los Alamitos Race Course (hence the name), the Starting Gate's work-a-day decor caters neither to a Lindy Hopping nor bull-riding clientele.

Decidedly blue collar, it features straight-back red vinyl chairs, small linoleum-topped tables, neon Coors and Bud Light signs and framed pictures of mounted jockeys.

With a dress code that allows T-shirts, baseball caps and shorts, the crowd tends to be equally casual. Ages range from mid-20s to 60s and includes servicemen, couples in matching Western garb--the skirt for her, the shirt for him--and a more uptown contingent in slacks or dresses.

A big draw, no matter your dancing preference, is the cover charge: There never is one.

Refreshment comes cheap, too, with all drinks $2 on Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays after 9 p.m., and a good, one-third-pound cheeseburger with fries is only 60 cents from 10 p.m. to midnight Sundays through Thursdays.

Happy hour, Monday through Friday from 3 to 7 p.m., boasts roast beef and turkey plus salads, all complimentary.

* STARTING GATE

* 5052 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos.

* (310) 598-8957.

* Open daily 7 a.m. to 2 a.m.

* No cover charge.

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