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Live & Well in Santa Cruz

Emi Restaurant
Shmuel Thaler

Split Personality: Locals get down on the cozy dance floor of Emi, Korean restaurant by day, funky club by night.

A guide to Surf City's best places to take in some music while soaking in the Devil's brew

By Michael Mechanic

Here we go again: the lush's guide to local music venues. For the moment, at least, music fans under 21 will have to rely on their wits in this town, attending shows at rented halls and following bands as they shuttle from one hush-hush underground venue to another.

But for music fans who like to "Consume the Beverage," as one of my friends likes to phrase it--this guide will take you on a tour where you'll meet young hipsters, old geezers, punks, hippies, yuppies, bikers and rednecks. You'll hear music ranging from hardcore punk to bar blues, lounge music, rockabilly, country folk, jazz and bluegrass. You'll go places where the music stops and everyone stares at you menacingly if you ask for an imported ale, and others where Bud drinkers are treated with snobbish disdain. Whatever you do, have fun out there, watch your step and bring along a designated driver.

Aptos Club
7941 Soquel Dr, Aptos, 688-9888.
Nestled in a little corner of Aptos Village, this sports bar's claim to fame is horseshoes--the club's backyard pits having attracted pros in addition to the usual recreational shoe-tossers. This wood-paneled joint has a lively neighborhood atmosphere, pool tables in back, a nook with darts and video games and a local crowd, mostly in the 25-to-50 age range. The AC has live music on most Friday and Saturday nights, including C&W, rock, blues and jazz--mainly covers of the old favorites. Usually no cover charge.

Bocci's Cellar
140 Encinal St, SC, 427-1795.
This restaurant has a rich history, operating out of a house that was built in 1885 by the Urbani family, who opened it originally in 1925. The music happens in a tiny underground cellar (natch) with rustic woodwork and soft lighting. On Friday and Saturday evenings, duos and trios--including Dizzy Burnett--play jazz and blues or bluegrass. Flamenco music happens one Wednesday each month. Out back in a sheltered patio area are dinner tables, plus a ping-pong table and two bocci ball courts where patrons can try their luck. Every Sunday evening, Bocci's puts on a live dinner theater. Running through Oct. 27 is The Jewel Thief, a Hollywood-set whodunit with a surprise ending. Admission is $30, which includes play and dinner.

Brookdale Lodge
11570 Hwy 9, Brookdale, 338-7633.
Right out of The Shining and Twin Peaks, the Brookdale Lodge is a rare sight to behold. Tucked away in the blink-and-you'll-miss-it town of Brookdale, the bar occupies the left wing of the lodge. Cushy orange velour chairs and red booths accent the deep mahogany of the bar and walls. Old film posters decorate the place, adding to the illusion that you might have stepped into a time warp. Bands play everything from psychedelic rock to country swing--think Blissninnies, Blackouts--every Friday and Saturday night in the cavernous ballroom area, complete with a black-and-white-checkered dance floor, Gothic chandelier and the ultimate underwater glimpse into the lodge's pool. Usually a cover.

Café Rio
131 Esplanade, Rio Del Mar, 688-8917.
This 17-year-old nightspot draws a young casual upscale local crowd to drink and listen to jazz and R&B duos and trios every Friday and Saturday night. It's a clean and intimate place, very "California," with blond wood, outdoor patio and windows providing views of the esplanade, beach and sunsets. The café has a full bar and serves light food until 11:30pm. Music starts at 9:30pm. No cover.

Callahan's Pub
507 Water St, SC, 427-3119.
This biker-friendly roadhouse pub has a rough-and-tumble working-class feel, not necessarily a spot for the timid. The wall opposite the bar is adorned with a huge drawing of an old Harley and a print of James Dean and Norma Jean riding a "hog." In the back, there's a pool table and Bubba's Barbecue, in case you're drinkin' on an empty stomach. In a space near the entrance, you can find a band every night except Monday, belting out classic rock and blues cover tunes. Upcoming Halloween parties include a "screaming and wailing" contest. Sounds fun, sort of. Usually no cover.

Tarmo Hannula

Shake a Frog Leg: The spacious Catalyst dance floor provides a perfect venue for the Mudfrogs to get their fans hopping.

1011 Pacific Ave, SC, 423-1336.
The "Cat" is the longest-standing and largest (800-plus) venue in Santa Cruz. The club opened during the 1960s as a coffeehouse, later adding a bar and live music. In 1973, the popular haunt relocated to a much larger space in an expanded bowling alley, where it remains. The Catalyst's non-smoking performance area has a high stage and superior lighting and sound setups capable of attracting big touring acts like Beck, Public Enemy, L7 and the Digable Planets, along with some big reggae, punk and rap acts. To the club's credit is the revival of its Thursday "Dollar Nights," which allow more local acts to get a foot in the door. The Catalyst serves food and has two bars--one in the large, tropically adorned atrium and the other upstairs, where a number of pool tables can also be found. Cover charge only for those attending the live performances. Covers vary.

Cocoanut Grove Ballroom
400 Beach St, at the Boardwalk, SC, 423-2053.
During the year the Cocoanut Grove was built, President Teddy Roosevelt put the Army in charge of the Panama Canal, Rudyard Kipling won the Nobel Prize for literature and scores of women were arrested in London after demanding the right to vote. Rich in history, this grand old hall, built in 1907, has hosted the likes of Glenn Miller, James Brown, Jefferson Starship, Tito Puente and other leaders of musical genres from salsa, Latin and jazz to funk, rock and reggae. The ballroom is awash in retro elegance, which makes it a fitting spot for a disco party. Walls are papered in elaborate velveteen. A massive girandole hangs from the high ceiling, with strings of lights reaching out like starfish fingers. The oval, red-carpeted space holds up to 1,000 people and contains an elegantly columned bandstand that evokes the likes of the Dorsey Brothers. Recently, however, live music has been intermittent, and the hall has been used mainly for private events. Disco nights for a 16-and-over crowd occur regularly (next one is on Oct. 25). Planned musical events include a dinner dance with the Jive Hounds on Dec. 12, Joe Sharino on Dec. 30 and, on New Year's Eve, Shaboom and Orquesta Candela. Cover varies.

Costa Brava
1222 Pacific Ave, SC, 425-7871.
High ceilings and earthy colors give a warm feel to this downtown restaurant/bar, and Picasso-esque wall paintings give it a flair of the haute culture. After the dinner crowd has had its fill, patrons can drink and dance to live music on Friday and Saturday. Bands play world beat, jazz, blues and African Hi-Life from 10:30pm-1:30am, attracting a fairly mature crowd of revelers in their 20s and 30s. No cover.

Crow's Nest
Robert Scheer

Eye Contact: Christine Garabedian of Santa Clara and Santa Cruzan Mark Chapman show off some serious moves, inspired by the Latin group Orquesta Gitano at the Crow's Nest.

Crow's Nest
2218 E. Cliff Dr, at the SC Yacht Harbor, SC, 476-4560.
Up a flight of stairs from the Crow's Nest restaurant, this popular night spot has a tropical atmosphere, with surfboards hanging from its wooden rafters. The place has great views of the jetty and the lights of the wharf and possesses a deck, where you can stand and gaze at the ocean or have a smoke (which isn't permitted inside). On weekends, the moderately sized dance floor gets packed with an eclectic range of revelers. The crowds tend to be primarily from the 30ish to 50ish set. The Crow's Nest has live comedy every Sunday. Wednesday features funky unplugged blues-rock. The club has Jazz every Thursday (no cover). Friday and Saturday get hopping with live rock, reggae, R&B and salsa dance music. Cover varies.

Don Quixote
6275 Hwy 9, Felton, 335-2800.
This grand place was the Tampico Grande in a previous life. The room where the music happens has vaulted wooden ceilings, a nice stage and plenty of space for dancing. The separate barroom has an air of 1920s elegance, with wooden ceilings and a cush padded bar that is made almost surreal by the blue fluorescence that emerges from behind the bottles. DQ has live music on some Saturday nights--with bluesy rock, country and salsa dance bands doing both covers and original tunes. On Friday and Sunday, the restaurant has flamenco and classical guitar for the dinner crowd from 6:30-9:30pm. A Halloween Party on Oct. 26 features Mudslide and Soul Pod ($3).

1001 Cedar St, SC, 423-7502.
This ornate upstairs venue, by day a Korean restaurant, is a rowdy dance spot with live music several nights a week. The cozy bar has intricate woodwork, a fireplace, skylights and ample windows, plus hot sake on tap. On Friday and Saturday, the small dance floor gets packed with a young and hard-drinking mix of students and valley types gettin' down to live funk bands. Local DJs spin old-school hip-hop, funk and disco on Wednesday and Thursday. On Sunday, Emi's provides one of this town's few venues for local hard rock and punk bands. Music starts around 10pm, and admission is free before 10:30pm. Cover varies.

211 Esplanade Ave, Capitola, 462-1881.
The decor in this modestly sized watering hole walks the line between a nautical theme and that of a pro sports marketing franchise. You might find a little rock & roll or R&B dance music happening, with patrons from truck drivers to yuppies drinking hard and dancing to the pop tunes. On Friday and Saturday, the joint gets packed, and live bands kick in at 8pm with blues and rock covers from the '70s and '80s. Sunday afternoon features a blues jam starting at 5pm. No cover.

Henfling's Firehouse Tavern
9450 Highway 9, Ben Lomond, 336-8811.
This is a roadhouse blues kind of joint, perfect for listening to some homegrown music and knocking back a few. A dark and rustic tavern with a long, full bar and high wooden tables, it seems the only light in here glows from cigarettes and neon beer signs. This is definitely the place to come for live music, as the Henfling's folks offer it up at least five times a week. It's a mostly rockin' blues scene around these parts, with the Firebirds and other locals taking up residence, and some bigger names have been known to happen by every now and then, like Moonshine Willy, who will grace the Ben Lomond bar in early November.

Ideal Bar and Grill
106 Beach St, SC, 423-5271.
Part bar, mostly restaurant, Ideal's located smack on the beach at the mouth of the wharf, offering a sparkling view of the water from either behind the wall-sized glass windows or the expansive outdoor dining area. The full bar--located in the middle of the airy, sand-colored interior-- cascades with vines and holds just about any booze you'd desire, as well a prime view of the stage area. Live music is a focal point, happening seven nights a week. Most of it is local, but no genre is left unturned. There's everything from laid-back jazz and R&B to good ol' rock & roll. No cover.

Kuumbwa Jazz Center
320-2 Cedar St, SC, 427-2227.
Kuumbwa is a local institution, having recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Unlike most clubs, it is a nonprofit that has successfully attracted jazz greats and cutting-edge experimental acts from around the world. The club has supported local performers and those of worldwide acclaim with equal enthusiasm--supporting money-losing shows from the success of the sellouts, in addition to donations and grants. Nestled behind the Bagelry, the Kuumbwa has the feel of a cozy gallery, with a small stage and artsy pictures adorning the walls. Most shows are sit-down, and tasty treats, plus wine and beer, are served in back. Cover varies.

One-Eyed Mike's
9410 Mill St, Ben Lomond, 336-2234.
Named after its owner, who isn't shy about popping his eye out upon request, One-Eyed Mike's occupies the space that was home to the former La Salsa Bar and Grill. Mike has completely remodeled the joint to give it a clean, bright sports-bar feel, replete with posters and banners hailing pro teams and a large number of TVs--including one with a 50-inch screen. The owner stresses that he wants to run a family and "woman-friendly" place that caters, well, not to yuppies exactly, but to a bit more of a refined crowd than La Salsa drew. Local rock bands play on Wednesday, auditioning for the weekend slots. There is karaoke on Thursday and, on Friday and Saturday night, original, danceable rockabilly and rock from the likes of the Fat Cats, Ronnie Godfrey Band and One More for the Road. No cover.

Mobo Sushi
105 S. River St., SC, 425-1700.
Mobo features not only tasty raw fish and sake, but live music. The Sushi bar serves until midnight, and the booze flows even later in a somewhat intimate atmosphere on the restaurant's barroom side. Live music happens Thursday through Sunday, with styles ranging from solo acoustic and jazz to blues and alternative music. No cover.

Moe's Alley
1535 Commercial Way, SC, 479-1854.
Located on the outskirts of town, Santa Cruz's premier blues club draws in people from a broad cross-section of generations and social scenes. The place attracts cowpokes, hippies of all ages, college hipsters, aged bluesmen, wholesome-looking married couples and sharply dressed single adults, providing a people-watching sideshow in addition to the main attraction. Moe's gets packed to capacity on many nights, leaving limited room for getting down on its small dance floor. Viewed from the outside, the club has a classic Southern roadhouse look, while the blues lovers within are treated to a comfortable, clean atmosphere, a full bar, a backyard patio with outdoor heaters, and an excellent sound system. Moe's rep attracts renowned blues artists, traditional and contemporary, to its intimate stage. Fans and groupies can chat with the likes of Joe Louis Walker, Jimmy Rogers, Angela Strehli and Charlie Musselwhite while they tune up a mere handshake away. Drink choices range from fine wine and microbrewed beer to the ol' rot gut. Live bands nightly. Cover varies.

1133 Pacific Ave, SC, 454-0600.
With speculation flying and investors hoping to turn this downtown nightclub into a nonprofit performing arts center, it's hard to say exactly where the whole thing is going, except to say that it is still going. Palookaville is a large dance hall that holds about 600 people, but it manages a very intimate feel. The wooden dance floor is flanked with tables along two sides and a balcony in back, beneath which show-goers can find great thin-slice pizza and an excellent beer selection. The sound is usually excellent, and a wide range of big names have played Palookaville's stage. De La Soul, George Clinton, Ani DiFranco, Doc Watson, Pennywise, Pete Escovedo, the Specials--the club has attracted all sorts. A wide variety of local bands also have gotten a chance to play the big stage. No smoking allowed. Cover varies.

Peachwood's Grill & Bar
Highway 17 and Pasatiempo Dr, SC, 426-6333.
Designer-cozy in looks, but laid-back warm in attitude, this place always seems to be a non-stop party about to happen. The watering hole adjoins comfortable lodgings and restaurant, strategically located just a few feet off Highway 17, at the entrance to swanky Pasatiempo. It's the perfect place to wait out the commuter traffic or to meet old friends at the end of the workday. Soft overstuffed couches and chairs form color-coordinated conversational oases, and the pretty bar makes instant best friends of each newcomer. Old-timers who remember the heyday of the former Pasatiempo Inn still make this a regular pit stop. Things get real lively when the music and dancing starts on Friday and Saturday at 8pm with the swing sounds of the Frank Leal Band.

7500 Old Dominion Court, Aptos, 688-8987.
Part of the Seacliff Inn Hotel, this restaurant, bar and nightclub attracts a well-heeled older crowd that tends to dress nicely. The music is pretty standard jazz, blues and rock, and patrons don't hesitate to boogie down on the small dance floor. It's not exactly what young people would consider a hip night spot, but the people are friendly and the atmosphere cushy--check out the cobbled patio and little waterfall in the back. Live bands play on Friday and Saturday. No cover.

Skinny McDoogle's
3910 Portola Dr, Live Oak, 476-4442.
You can't miss this joint. It's the one with the big line of hogs parked out front on Sunday afternoon. The decor in this sports bar says biker all the way. Skinny's cantina-style setting belies a hard-drinkin' place with a working-class atmosphere. The focus of the place is a wooden dance floor, where you can cut the rug as best as you can manage in your biker boots. There are live rock and R&B cover bands on Thursday and rock or surf bands on Friday. On Saturday, DJs plays rock & roll classics.

1 Rancho Del Mar Shopping Center, Aptos, 688-4433.
This old sloop of a tavern had been around awhile, so Lord knows it was ready to hit the dry-dock for a renovation. Well, renovate they did. There's new carpeting, more TVs, laser lights and a girandole to accompany the return of the disco craze. Of course, there's brand new linoleum upon which to shuffle those dancin' feet. The fireplace is still there, along with the industrial-strength Bloody Marys to take the chill off those ocean breezes. Windjammer has an open blues jam on Thursday and an open country jam on Sunday. Live bands play danceable rock, blues and R&B cover tunes on Friday and Saturday. No cover.

203 Esplanade, Capitola, 475-4900.
Zelda's seems to be the most upscale of the "sports bars" lining the Capitola Esplanade. It combines touches of elegance with the usual boob-tubes and neon signs. A mostly straight 'n' narrow, thirty-to-fortysomething crowd here, usually clad in jeans and tees or polo shirts. The dance floor gets crowded on weekends. Zelda's has live music every night. On Monday, Al James plays funky covers and originals, and Tuesday features a jazz duo. On Wednesday, Terry Riversong offers up folksy rock tunes, and Johnny Fabulous plays jazz on Thursday. Harder-edged bands play danceable rock and funk covers every Friday and Saturday.

Kelly Luker, Karen Reardanz, Lauren Walsh and Christina Waters contributed to this article.

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From the October 17-23, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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