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WANNA DANCE?

Rockfield's Tavern Gets a Biker-Blues Kick-Start

November 24, 1994|BLANCA A. LA BOUNTY | Blanca A. La Bounty is a free-lance writer who occasionally contributes to the Times Orange County Edition

Turning a fading club into a success is no minor feat for even the shrewdest promoter. But longtime friends Chris Manfredi and Lynn Brown felt that Rockfield's Tavern in Lake Forest deserved a second chance.

The new owners took over in June and rejuvenated this vintage, kick-back bar. Live rock and blues bands play every night and the CD jukebox is stocked with everything from Nirvana to Stevie Ray Vaughan. There's no disco, metal, rap, country or deejays, Manfredi said.

Everything about this place reveals an urban-biker, rock 'n' blues heart. Bike parts (seats, rear mirrors, wheels and everything Harley) hang among exposed tubes from the ceiling. A small, raised stage heads a 400-square-foot, wooden dance floor, illuminated by dim, multicolored lights. Where neon beer ads, customer snapshots and posters of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and the Stones are not plastered, the walls come alive with the artwork of Cliff Larson.

A retired tattoo artist, Larson is a celebrity among locals for his murals at the Tavern. Bold strokes and painterly swirls form vast murals of psychedelic imagery. Fiery suns, foreboding skulls, desert-bound bikers and the soulful faces of ghosts that were born to be wild peer solemnly from all sides. With fluorescent colors tailored to black lighting, this head-trip art glows incandescently.

One regular noted that a band could be in the middle of a set and Larson will stroll in, find some vacant wall and start going at it with his paintbrush. Onlookers sometimes make a game of trying to decipher the mysterious images before the final strokes are applied.

And speaking of games, this place is rarely at a standstill for those who like to play. A couple of pool tables, a pair of pinball machines and an electronic dart board invite a steady pace of competitive action.

Then there are the weekday promotions: Mondays feature televised football, pool tournaments and a showcase for new bands. Satisfy your cravings with complimentary popcorn and $1 drafts.

On Tuesdays, customers (you must be at least 21) can sign up for "Guest Bartender Night" and work the bar during an 8 p.m.-to-midnight shift. Besides tips, they get a bit of genuine bartending experience without having to go to school first. Wednesday night's happy hour, catered by Peppinos Italian restaurant, is from 6:30 p.m. to whenever the grub (consisting mostly of pastas) is gone. Thursday's entertainment strays slightly from the classic-rock bill by widening its format to include alternative rock, appealing to a dominantly college-age crowd.

While weekdays attract a friendly clientele of band fans and bikers, weekends pack the dance floor with a mix of locals and leather-clad yuppies taking a wild, rockin' detour from the drab workweek.

Admission is free nightly except for special events and occasional appearances by heavyweight groups, such as the Walter Trout Band.

Spirits are limited to beer and wine. On weekdays, domestic drafts go for $1.75; pitchers $5.50 and bottled imports, $2.75. A glass of Chablis will set you back $3, and sodas are a buck. There's no menu and no kitchen, so don't plan on grabbing dinner here.

If you're in need of a last-minute birthday or anniversary gift, be sure to visit the Tavern's tiny curio shop selling New Age charms, jewelry and other trinkets. The shop was a ticket booth for comedy acts during one of the club's former lives. Now it lends yet another groovy touch to the decor.

*

Once again, the nation's top swing dancers will compete in the 12th annual U.S. Open National Swing Dance Championships, Friday through Sunday at Anaheim's Disneyland Hotel. Standing-room-only tickets, which allow holders to observe the multi-category dance-off and enjoy about 18 hours of non-competitive dancing themselves, are available at the door. Admission is $35 a day or $95 for all three days. Hours are Friday, 6 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday, 1 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m. to midnight. A $5 "Get Acquainted Dance" runs this evening from 8 to midnight; for information, call the Disneyland Hotel, 1150 W. Cerritos Ave., (714) 778-6600. Ask for the grand ballroom.

* ROCKFIELD'S TAVERN

* 23600 Rockfield A-3, Lake Forest.

* (714) 768-1224.

* Open daily, 2 p.m. to 2 a.m.

* No cover, except for special events.

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