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Photograph by Stephen Laufer

Metro Santa Cruz Bars & Clubs 2003

[ Intro | Guide | Live Music | The Catalyst ]

Metro Santa Cruz Presents: Our Annual Ultimate Guide to Local Live Music

Aptos Club
Four words: Kick-ass local music. The AC is probably the best place on earth to catch our local up-and-coming rock bands getting rowdy and loud. They've got better sound and keep it cleaner than it's been in the past, and two pool tables and an outdoor patio for smokers more than make up for the five-minute freeway jaunt from downtown SC. They've also got an open-mic hip-hop lab on Monday and Wednesday nights. Find out for yourself what Becky's Bordello of drink specials is all about every Thursday ... but don't forget to bring a designated driver. 7941 Soquel Dr., Aptos. (688.9888)

Blue Lagoon
Once Santa Cruz's leading gay bar, the Blue Lagoon has morphed into a breeder's mecca where girls with Jennifer Aniston hair ignore guys who wish they were Brad Pitt, as gay videos play out above the bar. But the ladies' "I'm too cool to talk to you" chic evaporates on the dance floor, with gothic industrial, hip-hop disco, the Big '80s, pop and techno fleshing out the week, all under classic strobe lights. So, how did a men-only joint become a heteros' paradise? Blame it on Eve, of course. Sensing that a gay bar has to be about the safest place for straight gals to gyrate, women took to dancing there in hordes. The guys soon followed, if only to watch on the side, beer in hand. The rest is history. 923 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. (423.7117)

Bocci's Cellar
Certain moods scream for an evening of fine Italian food, strong drinks, some live jazz and a friendly game of bocce ball. Sporting two bocce lanes, an outdoor patio and a low, dark cellar for dining, this little gem is like a not-so-secret bat cave, with a comfortable, casually elegant and friendly ambience. Karaoke on Saturday nights. 140 Encinal St., Santa Cruz. (427.1795)

Britannia Arms
1066 not only signifies the Battle of Hastings and the first recorded use of the longbow; it's also the name of a fine microbrew that goes great with fish and chips and is one of the 21 beers on tap at Britannia Arms. These pleasures and many more await at this fun pub featuring all-you-can-eat fish and chips on Mondays, rugby parties on Tuesdays and Thursdays, trivia on Wednesdays, karaoke on Fridays, and occasional live music on Saturdays. 8017 Soquel Dr., Aptos. (688.1233)

Brookdale Lodge
Nestled among the redwoods of Brookdale, the historic lodge is home to a restaurant with a honest-to-Goddess brook running right through it. And if that weren't enough, it's got a vaulted-ceiling hall for concerts with a nice big dance floor. The whole place has an old, creaky, woodsy feel, complete with slightly crooked floors and log cabin décor. And keep your eyes peeled for hot throwback acts like the Dirty Butter Jug Band, Leon Russell, Dick Dale and even, if you can believe it, the occasional punk band passing through. 11570 Highway 9, Brookdale. (338.6433)

The Catalyst
The Catalyst is the largest nightclub in Santa Cruz, and home to some of the rockin'est shows this side of ... well, the hill. Randall Kane has passed the torch on to new owners, but around here, this is still the big time, where national acts come through year-round. Its long tradition of surprise Neil Young shows is the stuff of legend, while many an act, from Pearl Jam to Alanis (and almost, so it is said, Nine Inch Nails), has opened its world tour here. And while the Catalyst Pit can be intimidating to performers (with its 5-foot-high stage), the Atrium stage is low and intimate in a casual jungle setting. The club also boasts three bars, six pool tables, a shuffleboard table and some of the most overworked bartenders in the universe. 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. (423.1336)

Cayuga Vault
One dream ... one Vault with high ceilings ... an endless stream of local artists and musical eclectica ... the Cayuga Vault stars in The Little Venue That Hosts Some of the Most Interesting Cultural Events in Santa Cruz. It's an independent production starring local loopers, indie bands, singer/songwriters, didgeridoo and wood flute virtuosos, and well, so much more. It's an everywo/man epic where you, your friends and your neighbors play the roles of best supporting actors/community. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the movies, but it sure is a fun metaphor. 1100 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. (421.9471)

Club Dakota
Slated as a gay-friendly bar, Club Dakota has a locals-only feel, even though it attracts its fair share of out-of-towners. Welcoming, accepting and intimate, Dakota boasts some of the flirtiest, bitchenest bartenders in town, but no one's gonna bother you if you want to drown your sorrows alone. Home of drag queen Shanda Leer and her fellow drag sistas and bros, Dakota also lays a mean shake-your-booty groove on weekends with Rebecca Gee's dance party each Friday, and DJ AD's hip-hop house fest on Saturday night. Hot, hot, hot. 1209 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. (454.9030)

Crow's Nest
A harbor landmark featuring high-energy local live music four nights a week and comedy night on Sunday. 2218 East Cliff Dr., Santa Cruz. (476.4560)

Fog Bank
A favorite with a diverse crowd of locals and tourists of all ages, the Fog Bank features blues on the weekends with a jam session on Sunday nights and karaoke on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On the deck out back you can bask in the negative ions generated by the ocean and maybe catch more impromptu jams. 211 Esplanade, Capitola. (462.1881)

418 Project
Although it's primarily a dance and performance art venue (and who's to say live music isn't performance art?), the 418 has hosted DJ dance parties, rock shows and hip-hop. The weekly techno party FLOW (Wednesdays) brought superstar DJ Doc Martin into town, while the Big Bang Lo-Fi music festival showed off a whole bunch of local indie rockers. Occasional independent hip-hop showcases keep the venue jumpin' to a different beat, making the 418 one of the few venues in town to support local hip-hop. 418 Front St., Santa Cruz. (466.9770)

Harbor Cafe
Jazz, contemporary rock, folk ... they book pretty much anything here that won't rock the pictures clean off the walls. The Harbor Cafe is a relaxing spot where locals like to hang in the part-Hawaiian, part-Santa Cruz setting, but not on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, because they're closed. They've recently opened up another room inside, opening up the space a bit, although it's still nice and cozy. A porch with heat lamps is inviting on warm nights, when the live acts join patrons for some music and food 'neath the Seventh Avenue stars. 535 Seventh Ave., Santa Cruz. (475.4948)

Henfling's Firehouse Tavern
A veritable Santa Cruz (well, OK, Ben Lomond) institution, the little log cabin up in the woods attracts some of the most interesting and incredible folk music from around the world. They've got live music pretty much every night, featuring a roster that suggests the very dictionary definition of "eclectic." World music, folk, blues, Americana, rock--don't blink or you might miss a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see an offbeat show. It's also pretty cool how the dinner specials are tailored to fit the evening's music. The warm wood look and equally warm sound (the acoustics are surprisingly good) gives Henfling's the feel of a small Austin club (among the highest compliments we can give, by the way), except that the smoking is--thankfully--outside. 9450 Highway 9, Ben Lomond. (336.8811)

Ideal Bar & Grill
As the name suggests, the Ideal Bar is the perfect place to unwind after a day at the beach ogling the local talent. Serious showoffs will want to belly up to the bar, which dominates the center of the room, while serious wave watchers gravitate to the periphery to snag an oceanfront table. Music is funky, mellow, jazzy midweek, with karaoke madness ruling on Friday nights. All of which sits mighty fine with the mighty funky mellow jazzy Ideal clientele. Smooth. 106 Beach St., Santa Cruz. (423.5271)

Kuumbwa Jazz Center
Our very own Holy Land for jazz, the Kuumbwa is nestled between two other Santa Cruz institutions, the Bagelry and the Poet & Patriot. This nonprofit jazz venue has been bringing world-famous jazz talent into the area for over 25 years. And thanks to the folks at Snazzy and Lea Lawson productions, we've also gotten a generous helping of Americana and folk music coming through. This is where acts like Robert Earl Keen, Ani DiFranco and Dar Williams cut their teeth locally. The venue is blessed with marvelous acoustics, a highly skilled sound technician and--take note of this the next time you go--the most laser-precise arrangement of chairs and tables ever. 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. (427.2227)

While the Mediterranean has been practically untouchable as the prime spot to check out local music on Friday and Saturday nights, they've also hosted some incredibly rowdy touring bands like the Angry Amputees, the Fleshies and even a surprise visit from Journey. It's tough for most people to hit the bar on a Sunday night, but the Mediterranean tries to make it worth your while with a live blues jam, featuring some outstanding local musicians. Hip-hop DJs and the occasional freestyle battle on Wednesday nights further sweeten the deal. 265 Center St., Aptos. (688.9840)

Mello Center for the Performing Arts
When the Mello Center opened, few people had any faith in it at all. They booked all kinds of interesting dance and performance down there, but it wasn't until Ani DiFranco played a show there several years back that Santa Cruz really got down there and checked it out en masse. And what they found is what Watsonville already knew: the Mello is top notch: great acoustics, a great stage and not a bad seat in the house. Watsonville High School, corner of East Beach and Lincoln streets, Watsonville. (763.4047)

Moe's Alley
Pitched out in the commercial area across the street from Toys "R" Us, this blues club has the comfy feel of a revival tent out in the bayou. With its low ceilings and modest square-footage, Moe's gets cozy real quick. But there's always space to spread out in the back, and the open-air courtyard (complete with barbecue and tasty munchies) enables smokers to get stinky while still enjoying their share of the blues. Funk, reggae and hip-hop occasionally invade this funky little shack, which otherwise remains a shining beacon in the Santa Cruz night for hot blues-guitar talent. 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. (479.1854)

120 Union
The cafe formerly known as the Jahva House is now back in action, complete with a new paint job, a sunnier interior and a pending beer and wine license. They have live music most afternoons and evenings, and although they don't seem to have a regular schedule per se, they've had mostly jazz so far. Their food selection is not as eclectic as it used to be, but it still functions nicely as a cafe, its spaciousness still highly conducive to expansive, caffeine-induced musings about life, the universe and ... well, everything. 120 Union St., Santa Cruz. (459.9876)

Peachwood's Lounge
At least twice a month on Saturdays, Peachwood's is swaying with the sounds of a live swing band. On the rest of the Saturdays, a DJ mixes up the sounds of the 1940s and the 21st century, and everything in between. David Lynch would be proud of the monthly goth night, which somehow works with the regulars and the woodsy décor. Tucked into the Inn at Pasatiempo, Peachwood's has an amazing knack for stretching out time like taffy, given that their Happy "Hour" lasts from 11:30am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. Highway 17 and Pasatiempo Drive, Santa Cruz. (426.6333)

Rio Theatre
The Rio is like a cultural chameleon in that it adapts to a whole range of different entertainment events, whether it's hosting film festivals, rock operas, throat singers or funky jam bands. No booze here, just plenty of water and sweet treats. Although it's perfectly comfortable for sit-down shows and movies, there is limited standing room (some space in front of stage and aisles), so things get a little tight for those who love to get out on a dance floor and shake it. Then again, call us perverse, but there's something about jiggling your ass in the aisle, mere inches from the face of a less-inspired seat-sitter, that makes it all worthwhile. 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. (423.8209)

Rosie McCann's
Irish pub purists might think Rosie McCann's is a bit like a one of those designer beers that mixes Guinness with champagne or lemonade. It calls itself a pub, but the DJ dance parties on Thursdays and Fridays and live music showcases on Saturdays point to the contrary. In the end, it's more lively and uppity (read: cleaner and preppier) than your average pub, and there's never a shortage of well-above-average pub food. 1220 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. (426.9930)

Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium
Besides hosting events by venerable local cultural institutions like the Santa Cruz Symphony and the Cabrillo Music Festival, the Civic has hosted some of our favorite Santa Cruz concerts of all time. Remember the Johnny Cash show there a few years ago? Beck? The Bonnie Raitt benefit shows? We could go on to events like A Gay Evening in May, appearances by Molly Ivins, Stephen King, etc. Come to think of it, we couldn't manage without it. 307 Church St., Santa Cruz. (420.5060)

Seabright Brewery
It's Tuesday, also known as Neighborhood Night. Do you know where your $7 pitchers are? Obviously everyone else and their mother does, because the Brewery is packed on Tuesdays. If you're expecting a seat, stake out a place early or be a cute girl, because the place fills up quick. Lots of feel-good live music here on Friday nights from reggae to salsa to blues, and there's room to dance, but not much. Oh, and they're also packing a full bar and some of the tastiest pub food around. 519 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz. (426.2739)

Severino's Seacliff Inn
One bar patron claims that Severino's is the best place in town to eat good food and watch a game, but it's more famous for its swinging happy hour Monday through Friday from 4:30 to 6:30pm and live entertainment on the weekends. The elegant atmosphere extends onto the patio where you might be tempted to lounge with a martini next to the koi pond and a cascading waterfall. 7500 Old Dominion Court, Aptos. (688.4433)

From the moment you arrive at the Shadowbrook's romantic, sprawling edifice on Soquel Creek, you are transported to a world of splendor, whether you take the garden path through the Eden-like landscaping or glide down in the unique trolley. This remarkable restaurant is known as a destination for birthdays, weddings and anniversaries, but why wait for a special occasion? Dizzy Burnett plays on Martini Mondays, and Friday and Saturday nights feature more live music. 1750 Wharf Road, Capitola. (475.1511)

Vets Hall
Far and wide across this great land of ours, Vets Halls are like the Starbucks of indie-music venues. We don't mean in terms of quality here, and certainly we're not talking about corporate hegemony--on the contrary, the Vets Hall offers everything from punk to hip-hop to the occasional circus. No, we're talking about a place that even in the most podunk town you can usually count on to get yourself a tall drink of underground music. At our own Vets Hall, we've seen a ton of great shows featuring acts in every subgenre of the indie scene. Riot grrls like Bikini Kill, queercore acts like Team Dresch, Fat Wreck Chords geeks like Lagwagon and tons of great shows from local bands like Fury 66, Soda Pop Fuck You, Slow Gherkin. We could go on. It ain't fancy, and the sound varies from solid to horrible on any given night, but the Vets Hall always seems to come through. 846 Front St., Santa Cruz. (454.0478)

Windjammer Lounge
Now under brand new ownership, the Windjammer has a spiffy new look, with a new paint job, new carpeting, a newly functioning fireplace and a spankin' new pool table. Check out the new style at the Oct. 25 grand opening. Larry Hosford will play country music every Thursday night, and a rotating schedule of blues and rock bands will rock the house on Fridays and Saturdays. Check listings for possible live music on Sundays and karaoke on Wednesdays, as well as a brand-new dart league. 1 Rancho Del Mar Shopping Center, Aptos. (688.4433)

The Zelda's folks really gave local music a shot in the arm earlier this year when they hosted a Songwriter's Showcase that brought the best undiscovered musical talent far and wide out of the woodwork. Area music fans heard the Zelda's call to arms and packed the place every night--it was quite a scene, and it put Capitola on the map as a place to hear the best up-and-coming music in the Monterey Bay. Here's hoping they do it again soon, but until then, just sit back and enjoy the view of the beach and the live music on Saturdays, and take a turn on the mic yourself during karaoke Fridays. 203 Esplanade, Capitola. (475.4900)

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From the October 22-29, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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