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Closing Time

[whitespace] Club Deluxe
We're Gonna Party Like It's 1959: Club Deluxe reserves its nights for rockabilly--the music Elvis should be remembered for but isn't.

Revisit 'retro' one last time before millennial angst takes hold

By Martha McPartlin

It's 1999--within spitting distance of a new millennium. With the Future so close at hand, you'd think we'd all be wearing a lot more metallic fabrics--or at least be moving toward a more utilitarian monochromatic jumpsuit. And is it really necessary to keep making music on those unwieldy wooden instruments that you have to actually pick up and play? Can't computers generate all that stuff from now on?

But instead of looking ahead, many San Francisco clubs and clothing stores have their gaze firmly fixed in the past--and local club-goers are enjoying the view. This century-ending backlash has made it possible to ignore the future, forget the present and relive nearly any era of the past 60 years somewhere within the city limits.

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Club Retro: Relive the decades at these fine establishments.

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The Fashionable Forties

When more than 50 percent of the dance floor is in khakis, the swing scene can be officially declared mainstream. However, there are still plenty of diehards who enjoy dressing to the nines in true '40s style. With dim lighting and red-velvet booths, the Hi-Ball Lounge is a good place to enjoy a cocktail and hear an eight-piece band, complete with horn section. The club offers swing several nights a week--some with DJs, some with a live band, and many with free dance lessons before the show. Because swing has been in the public eye for a couple of years now, more than just the trendsetters have become regular Fred and Gingers. Hi-Ball Lounge, 473 Broadway (397-9464).

Vintage clothing stores are cropping up faster than new Starbucks locations, so it's not difficult to find the duds for the '40s look. However, a quality item that has been around since Normandy doesn't come cheap. At Martini, a double-breasted sharkskin suit will run you about $275, but as Al Ribaya of Martini says, "It's the accessories that makes someone retro." So once you add a gabardine shirt ($50-$75), silk tie ($25-$30), felt hat ($30-$40), reproduction two-tone wing-tips ($99), silk pocket kerchief ($10-$15), suspenders ($20) and cuff links ($5-$15), you're looking at an investment.

The ladies don't have it much better: a rayon or gabardine full-skirted dress can range from $30 to $75 depending on condition, style and material. Completing the outfit involves genuine 1940s stockings ($12 for six pairs), vintage leather high heels ($20-$60), a handbag ($30), maybe a hat ($30-$60) and hat pin ($35), and a silk scarf ($10-$20). Martini Mercantile, Men's Shop, 1773 Haight St. (668-3746); Ladies Store, 1736 Haight St. (831-1942).

The Fast Fifties

The '50s scene today is made up of the bad boys and fast girls that Mom always warned you about. Sundays at Club Deluxe is reserved for rockabilly, the music that Elvis should be remembered for but isn't. Arguably, Deluxe has been a staple in the retro scene longer than any other club in the city, featuring live swing, lounge, jazz and rockabilly bands five nights a week on average. The dance floor consists of what space there is between the tables, but that doesn't stop the guys and gals from doing the rockabilly modification of swing dancing--basically faster and tighter. Club Deluxe, 1511 Haight St. (552-6949).

Think the Gap's marketing geniuses thought up this whole cuffed-dark-jeans look? Well, the rockabilly crowd has been doing it for years. This goes for guys and girls: no denim is too dark, no cuff is too big, and as for brand names, it's exclusively Levi's. A pair of Levi's can start at $29.99, but for a Limited Edition 1955-model Red-Line Selvage pair (available at American Rag), be prepared to drop $165. Sparky's offers reasonable prices and a sizable selection of cotton bowling-style shirts ($18-$30), but guys can always opt simply for the white wife-beater undershirt. A pair of motorcycle boots, a wallet chain and a greased pompadour are also staples.

Gals can pair up a Marilyn Monroe-esque halter top with a pair of open-toed wedge sandals ($25-$40). Absolute musts are cropped bangs, red lipstick and pencil-thin eyebrows. These bad boys and girls look even badder today, as tattoos have become a required part of the look. Barnaby Williams, tattoo artist and owner of Mom's Body Shop, sees a lot of "traditional Americana-classic pin-up girls, flames, 8-balls and V-8 engines." Sparky's Trading Company, 1732 Haight St. (387-5053); American Rag, 1305 Van Ness (441-0537); Mom's Body Shop, 1408 Haight St. (864-MOMS).

The Swinging Sixties

It's debatable which begat which, Austin Powers or the '60s resurgence. Regardless, a Warhol-style print of Mike Myers' face is prominently displayed--along with other '60s-style fluorescent posters of mod girls and catch phrases such as "groovy" and "yeah"--at the Friday-night Bardot A Go-Go at Club Cocodrie. DJs spin '60s pop while mods shake their hips on the stage and the large dance floor. Obscure movies of the era play silently on the large screen behind the stage, adding to the psychedelic aura. Club Cocodrie, 1024 Kearny (986-6678).

Sixties style has nothing to do with America and the hippie scene--mod is the exclusive product of London's Camdentown. Wasteland has a vast amount of tapered above-the-ankle trousers or skin-tight, hip-hugging corduroys for guys ($15-$20), as well as leather jackets ($75), with or without fur trim, and zip-up Beatle boots ($30-$40). But the ensemble is incomplete without an over-the-ears shag haircut.

Mini-skirts ($15-$20), sleeveless mock turtlenecks ($10-$20) and psychedelic-patterned A-line mini-dresses ($15-$30) are available for the birds. Go-go boots ($20-$30)--in suede or, ideally, white leather--are essential to the look. Wasteland, 1660 Haight St. (863-3150).

The Sequined Seventies

Polly Esther's dubs itself as the only authentic '70s dance club in the city, but it's hard to imagine that back in the day, clubs actually had blown-up murals of Farrah Fawcett and the Brady Bunch on their walls, and served drink specials like "The Afro-Disiac." But that doesn't stop anyone from bumping and grinding away on the enormous dance floor--especially on the section that lights up a la Saturday Night Fever. "People like to get drunk and sing to songs they know," explains DJ Babarino, who on Thursdays through Saturdays spins the actual vinyl he's had since he was 13. Polly Esther's, 181 Eddy St. (885-1977).

Hands down, the best thing about going '70s is that it's cheap and easy. Loudly patterned bellbottoms for girls and guys are $15 or less at Aardvarks, and that's the most pricey item you'll need. For him, combine a short-sleeved polyester shirt ($5-$10)--most effective when its pattern contrasts with the pants--and a large medallion on a gold rope chain ($12). For her, a lamé halter top ($5) and inch-long silver false eyelashes ($2) will bring it all together. Aardvarks Odd Ark, 1501 Haight St. (621-3141).

The Go-Go Eighties

The only thing missing from the thinly veiled frat party every Thursday night at Mick's Lounge is guys doing funnels. It's shoulder to shoulder, all fists pumping and girls bouncing, for Tainted Love, the '80s cover band that has been rocking this same club on the same night for over a year. Songs such as "Hungry Like the Wolf" and "Safety Dance" serve to remind that this is truly the only era for which the 30-and-under crowd can feel genuine nostalgia. Tainted Love guitarist Erik Schramm, 30, attributes the band's popularity to the fact that, for the audience, "it's like being in high school and college all over again." Mick's Lounge, 2511 Van Ness (928-0404).

While the band sports parachute pants, tuxedo blazers and sleeveless black-and-white checkered shirts, the crowd, thankfully, has yet to fully embrace the return to the decade. Should one be inspired to dress the part, it's not worth spending a dime. The best bet is to make a trip home to the parents' house and raid the closet in your old bedroom. Assuming, of course, that one can still fit into one's old Lacoste ... .

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From the August 2, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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