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WANNA DANCE?

Newport's Thunderbird Is Revved Up for Saturday

November 17, 1994|ROSE APODACA JONES | Rose Apodaca Jones is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to the Times Orange County Edition. and

If two heads are better than one, consider the possibilities of four.

What would happen if there were a meeting of the minds among four of Orange County's longtime nightclub promoters who decided to join forces and open a super-club together?

What would happen is Thunderbird, in Newport Beach's Lido Village. It will open Saturday night in the building formerly housing Bacchus and the Magic Island, powered by a partnership that could very well strike like lightning among clubgoers.

The riders of this storm are owners Gregg Mullholland, Mike Tuomisto and Jonathan (Scorchman) Marshall, along with promoter and friend Johnny Drummond, who claims a full-time staff position.

Their resumes are impressive.

Mullholland and Tuomisto are responsible for building and running the Empire Ballroom earlier this year. Tuomisto was also a partner in last decade's splashy NYC. Marshall has promoted once-a-week clubs at the Warehouse, the Red Onion, Metropolis, the Shark Club, Bacchus and a host of other places since the mid-'80s. Drummond has entertained yuppie surfers with his highly successful, club-jumping Johnny's Joint.

Call them the dream team of local clublife.

United, they plan to take a crack at the two-story building that has always been considered a potential hot spot, but whose former owners had trouble sustaining the heat. With the incredibly popular Visions across the way at the Warehouse, the mellower Atlantis down the block and the post-nightclub coffeehouse Not Just Java around the side, the Lido Village should turn into the raging 'hood it has long aspired to become.

Thunderbird owners completed renovations on the 17,000-square-foot building in an impressive 60 days. Walls were pulled down or stripped to reveal their brick base. Windows were carved into walls to give patrons access to a bar.

Gone is the Egyptian motif. In its place, the walls have been sponged, combed and washed in luscious scarlet red and royal blue. The ornate moldings have been gilded or plated silver and the Roman columns wrapped in faux cheetah and tiger fur.

Outside, a canopy of red neon tubes topped by a glowing red, blue and yellow T-bird logo leads patrons into the refurbished club.

Among the few features still remaining is the stationary elevator in the entrance, a trick of the former Magic Island, which gives riders the illusion of sinking below street level.

Patrons first enter the piano bar, which has been gussied up to resemble a fancy schmaltzy cocktail lounge doused in red and gold. A pianist and singer will camp out near the baby grand on some nights, while on others deejays will spin an eclectic mix of vintage lounge, blues and garage ditties or a band will deliver the sounds.

Through the building's signature twisting halls, past the hideaway alcoves, guests will come across the Roadrunner room with its two pool tables and photo collection of vintage performance cars. Beyond this room is the dance hall, which is expected to keep revelers groovin' to hip-hop, house and disco.

The former cinema room, which played silent films, has been catapulted into the future with a virtual reality ride, not unlike the one developed for Peter Gabriel. The contraption will be in place and ready for takeoff in December.

The restaurant has been brought downstairs--next to the kitchen to avoid the regular strife waiters used to endure by continuously running meals up the stairs. The staff isn't totally off the hook, of course, since anyone in the upstairs lounge can order dinner and have it delivered.

Toukan promises an affordable menu of Cajun and Caribbean dishes, from jerk fish to gumbo, by New Orleans chef Gil Guilty. Most entrees will go for $8 to $10. Diners will indulge in the thick of jungle foliage, listen to a nearby waterfall and be tended by casual waiters who might take the liberty of sitting with guests.

Owners hope Toukan will become a hangout for hungry locals. The bamboo chairs seat 250 diners.

The restaurant will be open nightly, except Mondays. When the club is not open, a side entrance will provide access. On club nights, patrons here to dine and dance can skip the cover and be escorted to the restaurant.

Heading upstairs, patrons will notice the reconstructive changes the most. The deejay booth is gone, as is the wall that divided the upstairs lobby and the hall. An enormous, round settee anchors the center of the room, surrounded by five pool tables. The tables will be moved around when live bands are featured on Thursdays. Live or Memorex, the room will always feature a soundtrack for shooting stick, such as rock, blues, jazz and acid jazz for those wishing to escape the dance thump below.

Next door is the Locals Lounge, a blue room where partiers can poop out as the night progresses.

Thunderbird will kick it off this Saturday and every one thereafter with Danny Z and Scorchman at the turntables in the dance hall.

On Nov. 25, Johnny's Joint finds a permanent home with deejay Priest. Drummond will personalize the evening with two oyster-shooter bars serving up a concoction of ginseng jelly, lemon, horseradish, cocktail sauce, premium vodka and an oyster. Shoot it and be spritzed with Evian and sea plasma for $7.

On Dec. 1, Thunder Thursdays will ensue, with deejay Mark Moreno (of Empire, Lava Lounge) downstairs and a live band showcase upstairs.

Appropriate nightclub attire is requested on the weekends. What exactly that entails, the guys refused to specify, only saying that common sense should prevail.

* THUNDERBIRD

* 3505 Via Oporto, Newport Beach.

* (714) 675-6599.

* Restaurant is open 5:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. daily, except Monday. For now, the nightclub will be open 9 p.m to 1:45 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

* Cover: Thursdays $5; Fridays and Saturdays $8.

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