Life's tough these days. So when night comes around, we want to be entertained. Sometimes we want to be intoxicated. Every now and then, we like to be fed. Sometimes we just wanna dance; other times, a little rochambeau isn't out of the question. And maybe, just maybe, we'll hop on one of those mechanical bulls and ride till we eat it. This year's guide highlights a handful of venues that do better than drink specials to keep us entertained—from dancing to big-band tunes in City Heights to getting friendly with Nugget the mechanical bull in North Park. And, as always, we've provided a ton of blurbage on county watering holes near and far. If we forgot your favorite, let us know (just be nice about it). So, drink up, get down and, as always, if you can't say the alphabet backward, call a cab or a sober pal to give you a ride home.
That's bull!Theme: “Mechanical Bull Riding”Time: 9 p.m. to close, every MondayLocation: U-31 Bar & Lounge (3112 University Ave., North Park)Website: www.myspace.com/U31sandiegoCover: FreeSomeone, somewhere, must have displeased the mechanical-bull gods.
On July 14, the bull at U-31 Bar & Lounge expired after about 30 minutes of alcohol-soaked ridin'; the diagnosis was a blown fuse in the operation console. Too bad, because the group of skinny dudes in western shirts and cowboy hats was just getting started in what looked like some unfortunate blend of Urban Cowboy and Brokeback Mountain. Two weeks later, there was no ridin' at all; a contractual misunderstanding led to some website false advertising.
But on Aug. 4, there was “Nugget,” one of two rotating bulls, at the ready in the center of what is essentially one of those inflated Jolly Jumpers you see at neighborhood block parties or suburban kiddie birthday bashes. A small crowd of mostly young women was getting lubed up for some serious grinding.
Yes, “young women” and “grinding.” Urban Cowboy, the flick starring Debra Winger and John Travolta, and the bar-bull craze it spawned, make complete sense now. Many of us were too young to understand it at the time (1980), but watching young women riding mechanical bulls is just about the most erotic fun a guy can have without nudity.
Watching guys do it is sheer, ball-crunching pain, but women? That's something else altogether.
And it gets sillier as the night progresses and the alcohol works its magic. Last Monday night, sexy solo action gave way to a couple of comedic duets, with one girl faced forward and pressed up against the bull's neck and another hugging its ass and heading the other direction. Yep, it's good, clean fun, set to mainstream rock and hip-hop but probably should be set to stuff like Motorhead, AC/DC and Judas Priest.
Alas, said emcee Laura Jane, you gotta play to the crowd, and this crowd wants to dance.
Fine. Girls who straddle large, slow-moving objects wearing bright yellow sundresses (in one case, making sure to keep her privates private as she was tossed from the beast) or tight denim shorts can pick whatever soundtrack they want. No prob.
The nice thing is, women in bars know they're being watched—both because it's ingrained in their DNA to know and because we men are, for the most part, gawky tourists in the Realm of Subtlety and Discretion.
Oh, and if you're more the Beavis and Butt-head type, you'll be amused the first time the bull-operator guy stops the action and penetrates “Nugget” from the rear.
What the hell is he doing, Laura Jane was asked.
“Tightening his nuts.”—David Rolland
Mmm… sacriliciousTheme: “El Domingo”Time: 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., every second SundayLocation: Ponce's Mexican Restaurant (4050 Adams Ave., Kensington)Website: www.poncesrestaurant.com Cover: FreeIt's 9 p.m. on a Sunday evening, and from a moving vehicle, no signs of life can be seen inside Ponce's Mexican Restaurant in Kensington. The blinds are drawn, and other than an assortment of patio smokers, things look empty.Sunday night is no man's land for good Mexican dining, and the likelihood that Ponce's would be open at all is slim, considering the Catholic upbringing of most Mexican-American families. It is, after all, the day of rest.
But as it turns out, unless “rest” involves downing tequila and grinding away on the dance floor, there's some serious sacrilege afoot.
As my accomplice and I open the front door, we're greeted by pounding Latin house, courtesy of DJ Kevin Glover. The host stand is vacant. A guy wearing a backward Padres cap spins around with a curly haired brunette. He clumsily breaks away from her, approaching us with an exuberant grin.
“Do you need a table?” he asks.
“Yeah, for two,” I say.
“I'm not the host,” he informs. “Just sit anywhere!”
Obviously, this isn't a velvet-rope affair. As the story goes, Ponce's owner, manager and bartender were sitting around on a Sunday night eating tacos and drinking tequila. They decided to make it a monthly occurrence, so “El Domingo” was born. It's as simple as that.
The booth tables have been removed to create a casual atmosphere, and each booth is equipped with a small stool, where a Bible and candle sit. At least two empty drinks sit atop most of the Bibles. The heathenism continues.There are always specials on pomegranate margaritas and tequila flights, and the only food available is five varieties of street tacos at $2.25 apiece. Ponce's is normally closed on Sundays, but on the second Sunday of every month, the staff makes an exception. DJs rotate for every event, as do drink specials.
Turns out it's someone's birthday. As everyone sings, it's time to insert the guest of honor's name. Half of the crowd mumbles incoherently. Erica? Emily? At least we're not the only ones who don't know her.
Many of the tables have been moved out to make space for dancing, but by 10, everybody's more interested in boozing. It's a relatively upscale crowd, and the only large table in the room is crowded with impeccably tanned women in their late 20s and early 30s who occasionally stand up to compare clothes.
But I get the feeling that the spontaneity of “El Domingo” brings in a different type of patronage every month. If anything, it's worth grabbing a few Sunday drinks and absorbing the atmosphere of this clever, below-the-radar gathering.
Even if God makes you pay on Monday morning.—Todd Kroviak
Where the girls areTheme: “Game Night”Time: 8 p.m. to close, every TuesdayLocation: 710 Club (710 Garnet Ave., Pacific Beach)Website: www.710bc.comCover: FreeGirls go to Game Night at 710 Club. Maybe they go to game nights elsewhere, too, but they definitely go to the one at 710, out at the end of Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach. It's not entirely clear what lures them there. Is it the Jenga? Nah, drunken Jenga turns out to be less entertaining than one might hope. Could it be CityBeat columnist Edwin Decker patrolling the bar, serving up the $7.10 pitchers? Decker is one charming mo-fo. But the women didn't really hang around the bar so much as mill around the beer-pong tables. Right. The beer-pong tables.
Every Tuesday night, 710 Club hosts two beer-pong tournaments. The tables themselves line the front of the bar, each one eight feet of drunken hope, glory dreams and aluminum. The tables at 710 Club have born witness to more defeated agony and victorious thrills than any 10 episodes of ABC's Wide World of Sports, and all accompanied by the sounds of the ‘80s, ‘90s and today. The matches attract the usual teams of frat boys and loudmouths, but half the pairs had at least one woman, and, often enough, both teammates were female. The double-x teams were easy to pick out because they had the most off-color names. “Ouch! Wrong Hole!” and “They Call Me Rimjob,” just to pick two. Yes, the women come to play beer pong.
Not that there aren't other reasons to hit this particular game night. Few other bars can boast an old-school Nintendo 64, complete with all the staples of an ill-spent youth: Tecmo Bowl, Pro Wrestling, Super Mario, Nintendo Hockey and a box of others. There's a pretty sweet bubble hockey game, too, that appears to pit the Chicago Blackhawks against the Colorado Avalanche, but be warned: Playing bubble hockey while tipsy can lead to getting body-checked by the floor. Risky business, indeed.
And heck, there is Ed Decker and his colleagues. Some bars keep the drink jockeys on the sidelines, but Decker has developed a reputation as an unstoppable force at the chessboard, and his colleagues will take all comers in trivia contests or Connect Four, so even solo fliers will be able to keep busy for a wile. You know, until the girls get there. —Eric Wolff
Burners and belliesTheme: “The Nomads Show”Time: Dinner show at 8 p.m., late show at 10, every first Friday Location: Portugalia (4839 Newport Ave., Ocean Beach)Website: www.sdportugalia.comCover: $10Bubba Kron, a San Diego soul singer who owns a recording studio in Sorrento Valley and isn't shy when it comes to telling you about his stutter, said it best: “Th-th-th-th-this is pr-pr-pretty cool.”
Bubba, like a quarter of the people in the audience at The Nomads Show, Portugalia's new first-Friday-night event, is a hardcore Burner (which means he goes to Burning Man, a radical festival out in the desert, every year without fail), and tonight is about as close to the goings-on at Burning Man he can get without leaving San Diego.
On stage, the beautiful Shimmy Sisters belly-danced and balanced long, sleek swords on their heads while leaning back into a somewhat contorted position that just didn't look comfortable—sword or no sword. The members of Danyavaad closed their eyes and sank into the Middle Eastern-fusion music they were making, and with the skilled DJ Sandbag on bass, Gabriel Penix on bongos and Greg Vaughan on electric sitar, the audience—even the non-Burner majority—sank into it, too. The clanging of dishes and glasses while the audience worked on their Portuguese food was the only sound they dared make.
By the time dancers AnJa and Akashan made their way to the stage for a vigorous swordplay show, the audience was finished with the food and had hands free for applause—and by the sweaty end of the performance, there was plenty of it. A few folks even left family and friends at the tables to join the belly-dancing throng on the floor in front of the stage, using windbreakers tied around their waists to imitate the ornamental fringe and coin belts the dancers were wearing. By that point, a few of the Burners were relieved to finally be allowed to let lose with their noodle dancing, a free-form hippie dance highly popular at Burning Man.
After a few minutes, the professional belly dancers slyly left the twirling masses on the dance floor and slowly worked their way around the crowd in the dining room and bar. Somehow, even Asian moms know what to do when a beautiful lady baring her belly shakes her butt in front of them: Take out a dollar bill and tuck it into her waistband.
“Th-th-th-th-that girl will eat your heart out,” said Bubba as he watched more and more of the audience follow Asian Mom's lead.
After the group-dancing climax, the lights went off and out came the glowing outfits and giant glowing hula-hoops. Danyavaad left the stage, and DJ Sandbag assumed his position behind his laptop, where he mixed electronica with traditional Indian music while the belly dancers put on a black-light show.
Everyone was mesmerized by the sight, except for one barefooted Burner who cut across the stage to use the bathroom (not bothering to put shoes on before using the facilities) and the kilt-wearing camera man (“I've only worn pants a total of 10 times since discovering the freedom of the kilt,” he explained) who asked a bewildered bystander to man his camcorder while he stepped outside to smoke a bowl.—Kinsee Morlan
Throwing signsTheme: “Rock Paper Scissors”Time: 9 p.m. to close, every TuesdayLocation: The Wagon Wheel (8861 N. Magnolia Ave., Santee)Website: www.thewheelsandiego.comCover: FreeAt first glance, Santee's The Wagon Wheel can seem intimidating. It's kind of a cross between the bar where Jodie Foster got raped in The Accused and a place you'd see the characters from RENO 911! throw back a few after a long day of failed sting operations. A sign that reads “Don't drink and ride” next to a cowboy mural welcomes you to this oak palace where old rifles and spurs hanging from a nail are considered high-end décor. The house rules are clearly posted next to the pool table: “No gambling or side betting of any kind.”
No gamblin'? What kind of saloon is this?
The East County institution (formerly Mulvaney's) has seen many incarnations, including serving as an impromptu Army Depot and housing barracks during WWII, but has remained true to its country self. Lifted trucks are now used in lieu of horses, and there's no need for leather chaps and straw hats here; baggy jeans, hoodies and straight-billed baseball caps are de rigueur among the crowd of 20-somethings that flock here Tuesday nights to partake in the raddest of gesturing-hand games: Rock Paper Scissors.
After getting a good buzz from the weekly beer-pong festivities (held on the same night), rochambeau revelers, two by two, lined up against the wooden stage to participate in the tournament and meet their fate. Carrie Underwood's “Last Name” blared from the jukebox; the competition was now in full swing.
“That's a nice belt,” the emcee told a female contestant as he sipped on his Crown Royal, then added, “I wish I had it around my neck, tied to my bed.”
“Scissor sandwich!” he then exclaimed when both participants chose the paper-shears-paper strategic throw. The tension was contagious; even bartender Melissa took a break from pouring $2 Budweisers and joined in the scrimmage.
After a tie in the evening's final melée, sudden death was called, and the remaining two participants stood back to back to engage in blind play. The stress was so thick it could have been cut with a Texas butcher knife. In one fell swoop, and after using what the World Rock Paper Scissors Society calls the “Fist Full of Dollars” gambit (rock-paper-paper), the girl with the snazzy belt took home top honors: a $100 bar tab, bragging rights and, of course, oodles of street cred. Guns N' Roses' “Paradise City” provided the soundtrack to the celebratory mood.Cheap booze, mainstream rock and swift hand gestures—that's how the West was really won.—Enrique Limon
Brain drainTheme: “Think & Drink Trivia”Time: 6 to 9 p.m. on TuesdaysLocation: Winston's Beach Club (1921 Bacon St., Ocean Beach)Website: www.winstonsob.comCover: $1 to play“Think & Drink Trivia” sounds like a fantastic idea. The title alone blissfully weds three of my favorite things (drinking, trivia and drinking). Granted, alcohol is largely responsible for purging my comprehension of the Pythagorean theorem, Franz Kafka and the War of 1812. But it's still left me with the knowledge that Falcore was the flying dog/dragon/thing from The Neverending Story and Falco is both the guy who sang “Rock Me Amadeus” in Germanglish and the last name of Keanu Reeves' barnacle-scraping, football-slinging character in The Replacements. I figured my capacity to retain this so-called “useless information” would only aide my efforts to become The Greatest Think & Drink Trivia Player in the History of History. I was wrong.
You see, as Shane Falco might tell you, there is no “I” in “team.” But there is an “I” in “I” and I was riding solo at a recent Think & Drink night, a substantial disadvantage considering no other team had fewer than three contestants. And I soon learned that not even $1 Bud Lights, a free shot of liquor (a T&D pre-game tradition) or a super-awesome team name (Richard Pryor, Your Hair's on Fire) could save me.
I was pleasantly surprised by the mostly 20-something crowd. I'd expected a bunch of grizzled, middle-aged OBecians. But that's not to say teams like Sputter Pimps, Here for the Cough Syrup and Whitney's Crackpipe were to be underestimated. These bastards were smart. And the questions (taken from Trivial Pursuit: Genus Edition) were tough.
The game consists of six questions per round, with correct answers earning escalating points (one point for Round 1, two points for Round 2, etc.). The host (a guy named Dave filling in for regular emcee “Jesse-San”) reads the questions, and then teams have a couple minutes to submit their written answers. Most points win.
Really, everyone wins at Think & Drink Trivia. There's the drinking. But there's also the prizes—a goofy assortment of detritus like a bottle of Liquid-Plumr, a box of feminine hygiene products, a can of Pillsbury cake frosting and a copy of Nina Hartley's Guide to Anal Sex—allocated according to point totals.
After five rounds and a bonus question, I manage a meager 21 points (out of 100). The winning team (Herpes' the Love Bug) scores 62. It's not a complete tragedy, though. After five beers, four tips, three hours and a $1 entry fee, I've spent $16 and have a decent buzz, a mildly bruised ego and a bottle of Liquid-Plumr to show for it. That's OK. I'll be back. And next time I'll bring help. —Nathan Dinsdale
The dancersTheme: Moonlight Serenade OrchestraTime: 7 to 9:30 p.m., every ThursdayLocation: Lucky Star Restaurant (3893 54th St., City Heights)Website: www.luckystaronline.com, www.themso.comCover: $5 On the dance floor, Rod Wuebben resembles Gene Kelly. He's wearing a black button-down vest, black pants and a white collared shirt. His black fedora's tipped just a little forward and to the left—and despite the dips and turns and tangos he does with his partners, the hat stays put.
Wuebben's never without a partner. Every Thursday, for five years, he's been coming to the Lucky Star Restaurant in City Heights, driving 40 miles from his home in Vista. “Gals to guys are five-to-one,” he says with a grin.
Each week, the Chinese restaurant transforms into a dance hall. White tablecloths cover the tables that surround the dance floor, the lights go low and instead of plates of dim sum, there are fruity mixed drinks, glasses of white wine and bottles of San Pellegrino. Intimate two-tops are positioned closest to the action and larger eight- and 10-person tables take up the back of the room. Few people occupy the tables, though; most are dancing. There's a moment after every song when the dancers head back to their seats, as if to take a break. Then the band will launch into a popular number and the dancers will make a U-turn and head right back out to the floor.
That band is the 20-piece Moonlight Serenade Orchestra, Thursday night's house band for the past decade. The MSO starts playing at 7 p.m. and goes until 9:30. The volunteer musicians perform under the direction of saxophonist Bob Tutelman.
“A band like this needs a ballroom,” Tutelman says during a break. “We're trying to recreate the elegance of the 1930s.”
If you're 25 and you head to the Lucky Star on a Thursday, you'll probably be the youngest person in the room. Ditto if you're 30, 35, even 40. When the band starts up with “Ain't Misbehavin',” vocalist Jason Coleman asks if anyone was around when the song came out in 1929—and, indeed, a few hands go up. But despite their age, the Lucky Star regulars (much of the Thursday-night crowd shows up each week) dance with more grace, style and class than their grandkids.
The night comes to an end when the MSO plays its namesake song. An elderly guy with a cane walks slowly up to a reporter and asks if she'd like to be his partner for the last dance; she declines (she's busy taking notes), but he's quickly able to find a partner. He puts down the cane, and soon the two are dancing a slow, abbreviated waltz.
Friends, they dance cheek to cheek, carrying on a whispered conversation.
The song ends and the man's partner takes his arm and guides him back to the table, where his cane hangs from a chair.
“You can lean on me a little,” she tells him. “I'm strong.”—Kelly Davis