Amid a cluster of auto repair shops and car dealerships in North Hollywood lies a pit stop: the Blue Saloon. With a name like that, one expects a blues club. Nope. The only blues in this area is the feeling you get once you see your body-shop bill, or perhaps, the club's color scheme.
This well-worn neighborhood bar has little ambition to be much else. There are no muscle-bound fashion-police doormen. The awning outside is blue, but the daisies in the planters are brown. Patrons can park on the street for free, an infinitely better deal than at nearby Universal City.
Inside, the bathroom is blue and the carpet used to be blue, or, at least, bluer. The one big room contains the requisite number of pool tables (three), stools around the perimeter, and a few tables here and there. The jukebox is the typical quarter-sucking operation, featuring plenty of classic rock bands that seem to go hand in fist with beer and recall the days when yesterday was king.
The parquet dance floor survived more than a few feet over the years, and the stage with the big blue Blue Saloon sign on the back wall is very large--and the sound system has been tuned up to more than acceptable specifications.
Then there are the bands, plenty of them. Weekend favorites include original rock from the likes of the Stoney Curtis Band, Ravi & the Rexers and Alligator Soup. On the typically dead nights in the bar biz--Sunday, Monday and Tuesday--the Blue Saloon has as many bands as possible, often local bands, or, really, any band with a pulse. There's also no cover, but there are free popcorn and hot dogs. On the first Thursday of the month, the venue keeps it down to a mild uproar with its Acoustic Night.
Orchestrating this never-ending soundtrack is the legendary Gina B, a transplanted Bostonian and longtime fixture on the L.A. music scene. She booked bands at the Troubadour for many years and survived encounters with, among others, loud, long-haired rock stars including Guns N' Roses, Bullet Boys and Poison. Her new haunt is more laid back and relatively quieter.
"I don't think about what other clubs are doing," she says. "I'm not out to compete with other clubs. We just do what's right for this place. This place reminds me of Cheers--it's a very friendly place. Everybody knows everybody else. I think we have the best music in L.A. for such a small club.
"The most popular band here is probably the Stoney Curtis Band--I don't know why he doesn't have a deal. He's better live than he is on his CD. On our last Acoustic Night, the place was packed. We had seven acts of mellow music, and people could actually talk to each other when the music was playing, so no one left."
Gina B doubtlessly has weathered arguments with frantic musicians who want their girlfriend's girlfriend's cousin on the guest list at a $2 show. She's also heard every conceivable reason for being late--or not showing up at all.
"I've heard every excuse there is, but it seems to usually have something to do with the drummer. Why not the guitar player or the singer once in awhile instead of the drummer?"
No matter what happens to the drummer, the music at the venue is supposed to start at 8-ish on weekdays, an hour later on weekends. But we all know that real time and rock 'n' roll time are complete strangers, and starting times are subject to change for no apparent reason. Mom was right. Always call first.
Blue Saloon, 4657 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Tonight: Acoustic Night. No cover to $5. (818) 766-4644.