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CLUBS in and around Orange County | NIGHT SHIFT

The Party Line

As a dance hall, the White House has liberal beats, moderate cover charge and conservative space.

September 25, 1997|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LAGUNA BEACH — It is nearly midnight on a Friday, and downtown Laguna has as much foot traffic as most Southland city centers do at 7 p.m. Cars whiz by at breakneck speeds on Pacific Coast Highway. And inside the White House, perhaps this city's busiest and noisiest dance club restaurant, it is business as usual.

One side of this landmark property, which club manager Rob Max notes has been open more than 80 years, is a sit-down restaurant. The other half is a long, narrow bar filled with ferns and decorative art, and it is jammed like a can of Norwegian sardines.

It is so crowded, in fact, it takes me nearly three minutes to elbow my way from the street to the dance floor, where I can finally get a better look at the band of the evening, the Gypsy Beggars. This group really rocks, with a steady diet of such disco oldies as "Brick House" by the Commodores and Top 40 songs played at nearly ear-splitting decibels.

People on the dance floor, though, appear blissfully oblivious. These are beautiful, high-fashion young people from Laguna Niguel, Lake Forest, Irvine and like surroundings. And brother, are they ever here to boogie.

The White House is a tough gig for cocktail waitresses, despite the obvious rewards a club this busy provides. These women are forced to carry drink trays above their heads in order to punch their way through the crowd, and milling about, they remind you of acrobats.

*

Not everyone is enamored of the place, which has drawn celebs including Montel Williams, Heather Locklear and St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire.

"I've got one thing to tell you about this club," one patron grumbles. "It sucks. It's hot, too crowded and people bump into you all night long."

Most of the patrons clearly disagree. Furthermore, when midnight strikes, a long rope is employed to keep wannabes at bay. The ropes--and the doors--are manned by burly security guards with black muscle T-shirts and biceps the size of beach volleyballs. Doubt their credentials? Most of these guys were recruited from Camp Pendleton.

There are at least 200 people in here, a good 75 of whom are gyrating energetically on the dance floor. Four bartenders are working nonstop; they remind me of robots bobbing up and down in an animated cartoon. Near the dance floor, two very self-consciously trendoid couples are drinking a combination of Moet et Chandon Champagne and bottles of Corona beer. How perfectly Laguna, dahling.

Finally, I reach the dance floor, just as the song ends. As I'm pushed backward away from the band, I bump into the same disgruntled patron. "Remember," he cautions me, "it sucks in here."

But can hundreds of well-dressed party animals be so wrong? Doubtful.

BE THERE

*The White House, 340 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach. Live music from 9 p.m. nightly. $3 cover charge Tuesday-Thursday, $5 cover charge Friday-Monday. (714) 494-8088.

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