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Sharkeez Machine

The fun never seems to stop at this lively Manhattan Beach cantina.

October 08, 1998|TRACY JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Call it the beachside alternative to the party town just south of the border.

Baja Sharkeez in Manhattan Beach is where fun begins and ends in a Mexican-style cantina that caters to a young, hip crowd that has a thing or two to teach about having a good time. Think wild, crazy college days with a splash of sanity.

Sharkeez, as it's dubbed by the scenesters, is a hangout unlike many of the other beach haunts. It's not in the hip downtown areas of Hermosa or Manhattan and it doesn't have a dance floor. What it does have, however, is a party scene seven days a week.

Amid colorful walls that have been spray-painted with pictures of tropical fish and surfing knickknacks that hang from the ceiling, a good time is well underway. It's early, but the laid-back scenesters at this spacious restaurant-bar are already in high gear.

Local beach bums crowd around a bar decorated with dried palm fronds and bright Christmas lights. Meanwhile, a bastion of college coeds, from USC, UCLA and LMU packs it in at the tables and booths spread out on the wood floor covered with hay. And the bartender doubles as deejay.

Top 40 tunes blast through the room. The folks who've been drinking margarita buckets or the Shark Attack--an 80-ounce tequila-based drink with 151 proof liquor, mai tai mix and limes served in a bucket with five straws--dare to dance while others kick back and watch the tube.

Sharkeez is particularly popular when it comes to TV watching. It has 30 small screens and four large ones, making it a sort of extension living room in which the twenty- and thirtysomething crowd can tune in to such shows as "Ally McBeal" and "Friends."

When folks started watching "South Park" on Wednesdays, owner Greg Newman went all out. He ordered Cheesy Poofs, a Cheetos-like snack characters eat on the show, from the East Coast and put 'em out on every table, and he started a "South Park" trivia game.

Though weeknights lean toward the tube, Thursday through Saturday nights the place is the quintessential beach bar: loud music, lots of drinking, dancing and partying. On weekend days Sharkeez features a create your own bloody Mary bar until 3 p.m., and Sunday is Funday with kids eating free off the kids menu and receiving coloring books, balloons and prizes.

Sharkeez opened five years ago, long before the onslaught of new bars and restaurants came to Manhattan Beach and neighboring Hermosa. Unlike many longtime establishments that have been hit hard by newer, trendier places, Sharkeez has managed to stay popular, so much so that Newman opened another location in Newport Beach and an Aloha Sharkeez on Hermosa's Pier Plaza.

"This kind of bar was hip at the time we opened it because people were hanging out at corner bars in their neighborhoods," Newman said. "Everyone was sick of the meat market scene and didn't want to drive, so this place took off and it's still real hip."

BE THERE

Baja Sharkeez, 3801 Highland Ave., Manhattan Beach. (310) 545-6563. 21 and over after 9 p.m. Full menu. No cover. Other locations: Baja Sharkeez, 114 21st St., Newport Beach, (714) 673-0292. Aloha Sharkeez, 52 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach, (310) 374-7823.

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