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Roaring Time

Lion's Den lures a high-energy crowd with pulsing music and lively shows.


COSTA MESA — "Le gusta bailar high energy?" emcee Pepe asked.

He had to ask? Not even technical glitches triggering a series of brief musical sound-outs crimped the zeal of revelers primed to dance (bailar) con mucho high energy at the Lion's Den on a recent Friday night.

The evening marked the start of a weekend celebrating Mexico's independence, which jibed with the popular gay and lesbian club's Fiesta Latina format.

"Viva Mexico!" prompted Pepe, his words echoed in a roar from the sweating crowd.

Festooned in a folkloric gown, vibrant blossoms offsetting his huge ebony curls, Pepe introduced in Spanish and English four male performers also dressed in drag for a well-received lip-sync show a la low-budget TV fare.

One braided senorita swirled and stomped through a traditional village dance, reappearing later as a sombrero'd mariachi singer. The aptly named Lola la Grande, a cloud-like vision in a voluminous white tent dress, mouthed searing torch songs en espanol. Overcome with emotion, she covered her dark eyes with a delicate hand bejeweled with a brilliant rhinestone ring as gloriously glitzy as her inch-long, jet-black eyelashes and acrylic fingernails.

The audience seemed most taken with a second large-breasted diva, whom deejay Carmello Robles described as a Mexican Mae West. Resplendent in yellow sequins and feathers, she vamped about beneath the patriotic red, white and green balloons covering the dance floor's reflective ceiling as patrons shyly tucked bills into her bulging bodice and placed kisses on her heavily made-up cheek.

Before and after the show, the largely male Latino clientele worked off the week's tensions to the deejay's pounding mix of disco (by Latino and Anglo artists), salsa, merengue, banda, cumbia and rock en espanol. By 10:40, the club was packed.

"I come here every week," said Kevin Hayden of Anaheim. "It's the hottest club on Fridays for a gay, Latino crowd, and it's not a cruisy bar. Everybody comes just to dance and have a good time." Such technical glitches had never arisen before, he added.

A few patrons, such as one clad in a leather micro-mini, 6-inch platforms and a blond bouffant wig, dressed in drag, but most went casual in jeans, with a muscle shirt here and there.

The 14-year-old venue's decor doesn't put on airs either. It's got the feel of a dingy neighborhood bar, in fact, with beefcake shots pinned to a bulletin board and a few neon beer signs. A single pool table occupies a small side room, and the bar is paved in Formica. Drink discounts are nonexistent on weekends, but some sort of show is always staged.

On Saturdays, the venue changes its name to Bev's (after owner Beverly Corrigan) for an all-female format. The deejay favors house, and go-go dancers strip within legal limits. Wednesdays feature the same music mix as Fridays. The draw on Tuesday and Thursday is as much Miller Lite draft as you can drink for $5.


* Lion's Den, 719 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday; 9 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; 11:30 p.m. show Friday. (714) 645-3830. Cover: $5 Friday and Saturday.

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