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Sunday at O'Shea's: Alive With Deadheads

The band may be no more, but you wouldn't know it when the weekly scene swings into high gear at this Irish pub in Venice.

January 29, 1998|TRACY JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If it weren't for the shamrocks on the bright sign or the white patio furniture covering the brick patio out front, it would be easy to mistake the Sunday night scene at Scruffy O'Shea's Irish pub in Venice for a Grateful Dead concert.

Volkswagen vans fill the parking lot out back. Deadheads hanging on the outdoor patio smoke cigarettes and swap stories about their days on the road.

Amid the sweet smell of patchouli incense inside the club, collectors peddle paraphernalia such as bootleg copies of the now-gone band's concerts, beaded bracelets and perfumed oils. And Cubensis, a longtime Dead cover band, plays the same brand of folksy, rock-and-blues tunes that spawned a cultural phenomenon still living here each Sunday at Scruffy's.

Who says the Dead are dead? The famous band may be no more, but the weekly Grateful Dead revival at Scruffy O'Shea's is proof enough that there is still life after Jerry Garcia--the founding member of the band who died in August 1995.

Tie-dye-clad fans who followed the band across the country from show to show relish in the communal spirit that made each performance like a near-religious event. They dance freestyle--and often off beat--to Cubensis, now in its 12th year of playing Dead tunes, and the music is as colorful as the crowd's outfits.

The clothes are as much a part of the ambience as the music. Women wear things that spin when they dance--billowy skirts and dresses made of gauzy fabric and worn-looking smocks undoubtedly purchased at a thrift shop. The men are equally eclectic and casual in their hooded jackets, jeans and jams.

An inordinate amount of people are wearing Birkenstocks or walking around barefoot--much to management's chagrin.

The Dead get-together is one of the area's more diverse club scenes, since the band's following includes all kinds. There are baby boomers--original hippies, perhaps--whose long locks of hair and grizzly beards are going gray, and college-age kids who obviously didn't discover the Dead until well after Cherry Garcia ice cream was in Ben & Jerry's.

It's a jammin' scene for a Sunday night, which is often a stale night in clubland. Other nights at Scruffy's are equally eclectic and far different from the offerings at your run-of-the-mill Irish pub.

The club, which opened a year ago in the old Bernie's location on Washington Boulevard, features reggae on Mondays and swing music and lessons on Tuesdays. On Wednesdays, the club offers three original music bands and saves Thursdays for Latin funk. Fridays are reserved for a deejay and Saturdays return to live music.

In keeping with tradition of most Irish pubs, however, Scruffy's televises many of the big soccer games out of Europe, no matter the time.

Scruffy's lineup is as eclectic as its crowd each night, but then one would expect nothing less from a place that reunites the folks who've taken the Dead's long, strange trip.

BE THERE

Scruffy O'Shea's, 822 Washington Blvd., Venice. (310) 821-0833. 21 and over. Cover varies. Full menu.

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