With a white horse perched atop the roof of a red barn, the last thing you'd expect to find is a sweltering nightlife inside. But at The Renegade in El Cajon, that's just what you get.
What used to be a western clothing store on Old Highway 80 is now home to one of themost popular country music scenes in the San Diego area.
Country music isn't easily found in San Diego's beach confines, but Steve Hill, lead singer for local country music band Hill Country, says once people find their way out to The Renegade, or any of the handful of “real” country music bars, their inner rustic will blossom.
“We just have a great time out here,” he said. “The people are friendly and the music is good. It's just a great atmosphere.”
Hill says San Diego's country scene has been unstable and inconsistent over the years. “It definitely goes up and down, but right now I think it's on its way back up. I've had people come up to me and say, ‘I don't even like country music, but I like you guys.' But we're country music-we're as country as you can get. So if you like us, you like country music.”
Jerry Meyer, who has owned The Renegade for the past four years, says the crowd has always been steady.
“We do good business,” said Meyer. “There are new people coming in all the time, but there are always the regulars because we're family here.”
The real draw to places like The Renegade is not just the music, but the dancing. Carol Frederick, a self-proclaimed regular, says The Renegade and Magnolia Mulvaney's in Santee are the best places to find a real honky tonk. And real honky tonk, she says, is separated from other ass-shaking rituals by one distinguishing characteristic.
“The best thing about country line dancing is you don't need to have a partner,” Frederick explains.
Obviously, The Renegade isn't the only hitching post in town. Web sites for country music stations KSON and BOB 99.3 are a good place to start when looking for concerts and local events. But here are the main outlets to quench your pang for twang:
Magnolia Mulvaney's 8861 Magnolia Ave., Santee, 619-448-8550 Best Nights: Wednesday through Sunday. Notes: They have a huge dance hall, so this is for those who don't want to just cry in their beer.
In Cahoots 5373 Mission Center Road, Mission Valley, 619-291-8635 Best nights: Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Notes: On Wednesdays it's $1.50 you-call-its and they play more than just country music. Line dancing still reigns, however, and instructors hover around for the novices. But don't think this isn't a real country bar-on Friday and Saturday nights, the belt buckles and cowboy hats are in full effect, and they take it seriously.
The Renegade 14335 Old Highway 80, El Cajon, 619-561-8105 Best nights: Friday and Saturday. Notes: Besides having a live band on Fridays and Saturdays, you can go to The Renegade any night of the week to cook yourself up some real grub. That's right-just like the hipster rock dive, The Turf Club-you grill your own steaks on the barbecue pit. Interesting leisure activity the bar is known for: tricycle barrel races. You'll just have to go and see what that's all about for yourself.
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