Electronic-music fans unite in front of an enormous wall of LCD lights; shadow boxes showcase silhouettes that pulse to an electro sound second to none in San Diego. The lines are long.
The interior is a clever arrangement of walls, balconies, and stairs that separate a modest-sized venue into smaller areas, creating a seductive sense of space. Faint candelabras and random flashes from the stage illuminate the grunge/gothic decor. On a Friday or Saturday, the first floor is packed by midnight. It glitters with dancers, from head-banging fraternity bros to candy kids wearing baby pacifiers and colorful bracelets from wrist to elbow. That diversity is what makes this club special, along with its passion for electronic dance music and the interplay between the crowd’s mass mentality and the DJs’ self-expression.
755 Fifth Avenue, Downtown San Diego
(No longer in business.)
Beautiful women and men socialize on the second floor where a few cubby holes are provided as places to act civilized and escape the intensity of the stage-speakers. The space separates DJs — such as Gareth Emery, Cosmic Gate, and NERO — from fans.
Voyeur blends enough sex, ambiance, and bone-crushing bass to propel any EDM fan into a frenzy. Tickets purchased early can be discounted as low as $15, but if you wait until the last minute, be prepared to pay upwards of $50 for marquee names from progressive trance to dubstep.
Bottle service and VIP tables are available but unnecessary for anyone who’s there to dance. There’s usually no cover before 10:30 p.m., but you’ll likely spend the savings on pricy cocktails.
— Whitney Butler
2236 Fern Street, South Park
The Amandas at Whistle Stop
These days, dancing to a live band is rare in bars, so perhaps it’s fitting that the Amandas get people on their feet by skillfully playing covers of greats such as James Brown and Etta James. The first Friday of each month sees this soulful rhythm-and-blues band lay down a live soundtrack for dance-floor aficionados and amateurs alike at the Whistle Stop. Although most of the dance moves are individual expressions, you can spot classics like the Twist here and there. The Amandas have even instigated a Soul Train line — a human corridor down which dancers strut their stuff. facebook.com/theamandasband
1808 W. Washington Street, Mission Hills
(No longer in business.)
Borderline invisible between a liquor store and the always-hopping Lucha Libre Taco Shop, Bar D packs a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd for Friday and Saturday hip-hop nights. Smaller house and electronica shows on Wednesday and Sunday also pull in quite a few dancers. Special guest DJs will trigger cover charges, but other nights it can be free to dance the night away. The space inside is small but the PA is loud and the bass hits are tight.
Liable to appear on either side of the border every few months, Club Purple is a four-year-strong nu-disco dance night with a twist. The party, hosted by Miss Lady D, formerly curated by Monsterpussy (Makeout Weird), combines a dark dance and indie-band aesthetic, with art installations at venues that have included the Flame, the Office, El Dorado, and, across the border, the iconic Sixth and Revolución bar La Mezcalera, the Don Loope Cantina, and La Chupiteria. Guests such as Addiquit, Dr. Indulgent, Nguzunguzu, Dani Shivers, and Halloween Swim Team are but a few of the borderland artists on Club Purple’s résumé. Various locations: facebook.com/clubpurplenights
1030 Broadway, East Village
Every third Wednesday, hosts Mawkus and Bencey coat this happening downtown cocktail lounge with a rich layer of “future sexual chocolate” — a mingling of ’80s boogie funk, beats, baby-makin’ medleys, future funk, and Mawkus’s patented “future wife” jams, designed to please the ladies and facilitate the vapors. Sweet Cheeks debuted at El Dorado last month with obligatory Ring Pops on hand to accommodate dance-floor engagements. Coined after hip-hop slang, Trill (a fusion of “true” and “real”) showcases the future sounds of electronic music and live beats every first Wednesday, all to a backdrop of live art and craft cocktails.
500 Fourth Avenue, Downtown San Diego
Ritual is the name of the current production at San Diego’s award-winning Fluxx, a nightclub that, as the name suggests, is constantly changing. Ritual takes a neon forest, mixes in some dreamcatcher magic, and tops it off with ceiling acrobatics just inches above the crowd. This tribal scene takes people out of their heads and into the forbidden forest. The show runs a few more weeks, then Fluxx and its design team will be back at it, transforming again. Even on house-music Thursdays, you don’t need drugs to get high.
618 Fifth Avenue, Downtown San Diego
It’s impossible to leave Swing Night on Tuesday at Henry’s Pub without a smile plastered all over your face. The Stilettos play live, classic swing music all night, while San Diego’s best swing dancers shake, rattle, and roll. In the background, men in newsboy caps scope out their prospects, onlookers sip delicious drinks at the bar, and Bettie Page strips in black-and-white on various TVs. The band comes on at 9:00 p.m. For the first hour you get the older-timers, but at 11:00, stiletto groupies come out to play. Take a swing class at Firehouse in North Park first if you want to avoid that two-left-feet feeling.
5373 Mission Center Road, Mission Valley
Swamp Thang. Baby Likes to Rock It. Slappin’ Leather. They sound like lousy erotic-novel titles, but they’re group dances held at San Diego’s leading two-step barn in Mission Valley. Over 20 years into its legacy, In Chaoots offers free dance lessons at 6:30 nightly (’ceptin’ Mondays), accompanied by some downright belly-branding booze specials. Skip the overcrowded “Big Wednesday” ($8 cover, $2.50 you-call-its, plus belligerent co-eds) and stop in on a Sunday instead for $2 you-call-its (free before 7:00 p.m., $4 after). The dress code is ridiculous, but they’re serious about it. If you can look like John Wayne (sans sidearm), you’ll be fine.
2812 Kettner Boulevard, Little Italy
Between the fringe bass and beats of Liquid Geometry, Critical Beatdown, Kill Quanti, and Doo Doo Roo, the tribal dubstep and liquid drum and bass of RealEyes Events, the experimental noise of Stay Strange, and the exploratory future jungle riddims of Dragon Lounge, this intimate Little Italy venue cultivates some of the most innovative underground electronic events in town. Of note is the always-packed, half-year-young Glitch Slap, which pairs out-of-town glitch-hop and bouncy-bass pacesetters with local thumpers such as Misk, Puppy Kicker, and urBn:LgNd. The sound is accessible, making for ecstatic dance parties that hit full capacity.
4240 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla
Characters Bar and Grill at La Jolla Marriott
Rotate partners through an hourlong free salsa lesson at Characters Bar and Grill in the La Jolla Marriot — it’s like speed-dating, only cheaper. People of all ages and ethnicities come to shake their bon bon and body roll all over strangers during the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday Salsa Nights (Friday and Saturday tend to be more lively). Six-dollar drink specials will loosen you up. At 8:30 p.m., you hit the floor. A professional salsa dancer teaches a group of about 30 people the steps of an entire dance. Occasional Saturday nights feature performances, and every third Friday a live band plays. Bring your parking ticket to the bar for validation. Evelio hosts other events in San Diego, along with his promo company, Rumba Entertainment (see rumbaentertainment.com for more info).
3936 30th Street, North Park
Cue the laser bleeps, airhorn, and riddim rewinds every Monday at the Office with Dub Dynamite, hosted by DJs Rashi and Eddie Turbo. For nearly a decade now, this weekly event (formerly held at Bar Dynamite) has clashed cutting-edge electronic bass and dub tracks with old-school steppers, dancehall, and roots reggae spun on vintage 45s and dubplates. Add $4 beer specials, $6 Cazadores shots, and $5 signature cocktails until 9:00 p.m., and you’ve got a Jahsome dance party straight out of Rockers. Get irie to kindred vibrations on Sunday nights with Rashi’s crew, Tribe of Kings. Yes I!
4696 30th Street, University Heights
(No longer in business.)
Moonshake at Kadan
Twice a month — on first and third Fridays at Kadan 9:00 p.m.–2:00 a.m. —Moonshakes’ dance scene is filled with party people who trust they’ll hear quality DJ sets that don’t rely on typical club hits and predictable ’80s/’90s retro. The Moonshakers (Mark E. Quark, Dr. Indulgent, and Bob Dazzla) spin “future disco, spacey house, and techy grooves,” and are looking to create a good time: there is no cover charge. The result is a sweaty dance-floor smorgasbord filled with good vibes and drunken debauchery — sometimes even involving the potted plants on the floor. An outside sound system provided by Rawness usually accompanies Moonshake, for that added low-end boost. facebook.com/moonshakesd
Many bars in TJ may have given up on catering to tourists, but Porky’s (Calle Sexta #210, corner of Avenida Revolución) seems to have reeled in various scattered American partiers who ignore the propaganda. The old Porky’s was one-tenth the size of this newer two-story powerhouse, with pig-shaped windows, chairs, and a pink furry passageway. Tables cover most of the layout, so you can put your cheap drink down and dance with your glass within arm’s reach. Pockets of pure dance space exist by the DJ booth, which mostly spews American ’80s and ’90s jams. porkysplace.com.mx
1051 University Avenue, Hillcrest
Rich’s is the Beatles of gay dance clubs in San Diego. The huge floor gets packed, sweaty, and sometimes ridiculous. Due to the sheer number of attendees, there’s an inevitable mix of styles and ages, though many folks seem to be in their prime. Ample security politely keeps things legal and maintains a safe environment. There are regular go-go dance competitions on Wednesdays and a consistent ladies’ night on Thursdays with hourly bartender performances. Rich’s occasionally offers “military” nights and “what-the-fuck” nights, which include live musical performances.
1271 University Avenue, Hillcrest
(No longer in business.)
Two years ago, drum-and-bass emcee Tyler “Ridda” Rosier teamed up with Ruby Room co-owner Sean Cute — a veteran junglist himself — to curate SD Union. The monthly event started as a response to feelings of division among genres and crews in the expanding electronic-music scene. Now, it’s an explosive commemoration of what Ridda calls the “golden years of drum and bass in San Diego” (around 2005) interspersed with hip-hop, breaks, house, and dubstep. Backed by Deep’s reinforced sound system, SD Union has featured out-of-town headliners, including Maximum Moves, Circuit and Wizard, Machete, and drum-and-bass legend AK1200.
3925 Ohio Street, North Park
Swing and Salsa at Queen Bee’s
For a more low-key, all-ages dance scene, check out weekly sessions and classes at this artistic center in North Park. Attendance can be 100-plus, but no alcohol is involved. Salsa and bachata (a Dominican dance style) lessons every Sunday night at 7:30 are followed by a DJ’d session that lasts until midnight; $10 with or without the lesson, $8 for students. Wednesday-night swing-dancing starts with a class at 7:30; open dance begins at 9:00; $15, $12 for students.
4125 El Cajon Boulevard, City Heights
You’ve probably seen Vallarta’s vintage cobblestone façade along El Cajon Boulevard in City Heights and wondered what goes on in there. You may have pictured half-drunk vaqueros leering from a hazy bar, out past the pool tables and into a spacious dancehall. You may have envisioned women in flowing dresses and men in white cowboy hats, their jeans held up by gigantic, glistening buckles, dancing to traditional norteño bands as a hole-in-the-wall kitchen dishes out steaming street-style tacos. If so, felicidades! You’re correct. Vallarta is a ghost town by day, a dance party by night. Cheap beer. Good food. No sandals allowed.
1921 Bacon Street, Ocean Beach
Since fall of 2009, Ocean Beats has been showcasing big-bass bangers from prominent local and national artists who specialize in dubstep, glitch, experimental, IDM, hip-hop, acid-crunk, and everything in between (iLL.Gates, MartyParty, Freq Nasty, Kraddy, etc.). A joint venture of the Madero Group — the managing agency behind notables such as Ana Sia, David Starfire, Samples, and Eliot Lipp — and bass-music veterans SUBLMNL Sound System (Austin Speed and CRMNL), Ocean Beats regularly hits capacity at O.B.’s premier hippie hideaway — Winstons. They’ve also hosted one-offs at the Belly Up Tavern, Ruby Room, and the Del Mar Marriot.
This TJ dance club is a mighty multi-leveled identity search for coming-of-age locals. The third story has the dance scene, with a floor that easily holds 300 people. On weekends, it’s packed late into the night. Of course, late in TJ means 1:00 a.m. Self-proclaimed as an “electronic bar,” the place is outfitted with lasers and DJs oozing electro out of the therapeutic subwoofers and massive speakers. From time to time, Ese’ & Zain DJ here (Nathan Joyner of All Leather, and Mike Delgato). You might find couples casually grinding on the sidelines; at this place, everyone checks out everyone else. facebook.com/YouRevolutionRPM
4612 Park Boulevard, University Heights
The dance scene here on Saturday nights has a younger Hillcrest feel, the vibe silly, cordial, and politically correct. The layout is divided into sections, so there’s plenty of space to talk during dance breaks.
After a night of drinking and shakin’ it, you might consider walking five establishments up to El Zarape. That’ll help you sober up before driving home.
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