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A rocking island at the beach

The cool 80-year-old establishment may reverberate with punk, blues and rap sounds, but a low-key chat is still possible.

September 23, 2004|Heidi Siegmund Cuda | Special to The Times

It was like a scene out of "Road House."

Inside a lowdown wood-trimmed nightclub, a bar band takes the stage. Musclenecks strut in one by one. While Patrick Swayze is kickboxing a thug by the bar, Sam Elliott's hitting on a stripper in the corner.... OK, so Swayze and Elliott weren't really there. But the Malibu Inn sure feels like a cool slice of cinema.

"It's definitely in its own private Idaho," says Robert Smith, a clubber who came from the Valley on a recent Sunday night.

And you can't beat the location -- an nondescript stretch of PCH. The seaside roadhouse is the only thing shaking for miles. And when we say shaking, we mean shaking. The 80-year-old venue is a restaurant by day and a hotbed of punk, rock, blues, soul and rap by night.

The fact that it's nestled in a community more known for actresses in Ugg boots than say, agro-punk, makes it thoroughly unique.

"It's like its own little island out there," says Damian Brawner, one of the club's three talent buyers. "We had no idea it was going to work, but people come out from all the nooks and crannies in the hills."

Brawner, who spent the last decade bringing hard-core punk and rap to the Sunset Strip's Key Club when other clubs weren't taking the risk, also books shows at Long Beach's Vault 350. Both the Malibu Inn and the Vault 350 are owned by Mitchell Stewart, who purchased the Malibu venue a couple of years ago and made key changes.

One was erecting a legitimate stage. In the days the Malibu Inn was merely a collegiate hangout, local bands strutted their stuff on a makeshift stage behind the main room. Now the club has a proper stage, with sound and lighting, and a backstage area for artists. It also attracts some formidable talent, from veteran punk acts to country crooners.

"I drove here from Alhambra to see T.S.O.L. and D.I.," says Lloyd Ite. "I'm a punk from back in the day, and this club is perfect for this scene."

Funny thing is, despite the Malibu Inn's low-key, offbeat sensibilities (i.e., photos of B-list actors line the walls), it's attracting major players. At a recent Parliament show, Flea and Anthony Kiedis were on the scene, and at last week's Dickey Betts performance, David Geffen and Gary Busey were hanging out.

And that's just the sort of joint it is. Over the years, such artists as Eric Clapton and Tom Petty have rolled down the hill to plug in and play. Recently, Kid Rock showed up with his gear and asked if it was OK to do a set (the answer, of course, was yes).

Truth is, the Malibu Inn is so casual it's a cool place to simply chill out, even when punk-rock bedlam is ensuing in the main room. And that's the upside -- there can be a hard-core band whipping the crowd into a frenzy in the front room, but in the secondary room, it might as well be kaffeeklatsch time.

There's a bar running the stretch of the back room, with plenty of couches and cozy chairs shaped like high-heeled shoes. On a recent night, the Bad Samaritans were letting it all hang out on stage, but folks in the couch area were having polite conversion under a ceiling adorned with disco balls, surfboards, a sleigh and a fan made out of a giant wooden propeller. From that area, a spacious hallway takes you to a billiards room, set up with two tables. Not far away is a large outdoor patio.

The crowd is predictably diverse -- surf punks with mohawks to flannel-wearing blue-collar types.

"I come for the camaraderie," says Tony Hardhead, a thick-necked punk fan with sweat dripping down his face from D.I.'s mosh pit. "People here know what it's about and it's cool."

Not that the scope is narrow. Upcoming shows include a Warped Tour bands showcase, rapper Aceyalone, country singer Hal Ketchum, reggae artist Steel Pulse and punk band Discharge.

If you think about it, that lineup's not too shabby for a seaside dive.

"It's trippy because we never know who's going to come out," Brawner says. "But once they get here, everyone seems to dig it."


Malibu Inn

Where: 22969 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu

When: Open nightly (also open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner).

Price: Cover varies, as does age limit. Often all ages or 18 and older. Dining open to all ages.

Info: (310) 456-6106 or

Heidi Siegmund Cuda can be reached at

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