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CLUBS in and around Orange County | NIGHT SHIFT

A Blended Family

Amato's the Bar caters to those seeking peace and quiet--or a piece of the action.

April 02, 1998|GENA PASILLAS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

HUNTINGTON BEACH — There's magic at work behind the dry cleaners and auto parts shop in a minuscule Beach Boulevard strip mall. It's an amazing act of transmutation that--come the weekend--converts a quiet refuge into a rambunctious meeting ground. It's Amato's the Bar, and though it may seem like a typical hole in the wall, it's a wonder.

Amato's metamorphosis is all the more remarkable for the people who arrive with the weekend. Sometimes cowboys saunter in, sometimes yuppies; often, quite a few punk rockers. And always there are people aged like fine wine. It's a bar, so only those 21 and older may join the Amato's family--and some are way over.

During the week, it's inhabited mostly by gentlefolk of advancing years who are eager to partake of a game of pool or shuffleboard. Though the atmosphere changes Friday and Saturday nights when a younger, friskier crowd appears, the old-timers are not driven away. In fact, it's still their turf: Shuffleboard tournaments take place at 7:30 p.m. Saturdays.

Amato's means different things to different people. To weekday frequenters, it's a place for a peaceful drink among friends. To weekend night owls, it's a place to catch the party scene and to be seen.

Another quality that sets Amato's apart is the way customers seem to treat it as a home. Coat hooks line the walls, and they're almost always occupied. Each month, a hand-drawn poster announcing customers' and employees' birthdays is posted on the front door. Framed photo collages documenting past holidays and parties adorn the walls. One memorializes regulars who have died. For Amato's, which has been around for 20 years, remembering the past is a constant part of the present.

Despite the tiny space, there always seems to be enough room. On weekends, people somehow find ways to accommodate more and more patrons.

A maimed ceiling fan (one prong is missing) and fossil-like beer promotion memorabilia add to Amato's character, yet it's no dive. Streamers, balloons and garland, usually themed to upcoming holidays, create a festive mood.

Events such as cooking contests and raffles are always in the works. A recent potato cook-off produced plenty of entries and netted $25 for the best dish.

A St. Patrick's Day raffle--winners received such prizes as T-shirts and gift certificates--raised $514 for St. Francis AIDS Hospice; $2 corned beef and cabbage and a couple of Irish CDs in the jukebox added to the celebration.

And though a reason really isn't necessary to raise a glass, the merriment provides an excuse to make a grand toast or to join a shot train. Amato's drink prices--$2 to $5--allow for even the tightest budgets to keep up.

Frugal types also can enjoy 99-cent burgers on Wednesdays from 3 to 7 p.m.; on Saturdays from noon till about 4 p.m., tacos are three for $1.50.

Amato's has more good news for the pocketbook: Pool is free on Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. And those who don't have a knack for shuffleboard or pool can try their hand at darts or video golf, both starting at a mere 25 cents a pop.

Anyone who doubts Amato's changeover should just sit in the bar some Friday and watch. It's quite a sight. Not many places can transform in the passing of an hour.

BE THERE

Amato's the Bar, 18862 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach. 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily. (714) 963-8341.

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