Photograph by Thomas K. Arnold
“A group of us was standing outside at 2 in the morning, looking at that giant Moose Lodge sign, all lit up, and we said, ‘We have to do something about this place.’”
It’s a Friday night in (pre-pandemic) south Oceanside. An eclectic crew has come out for the monthly “In the Round” showcase, a night “dedicated to songs, the songwriters, and their stories.”
2017 S. Coast Highway, Oceanside
Up on stage, Kimmi Bitter — a blonde who looks a lot like a young Joni Mitchell, only prettier — is strumming her guitar and singing smooth country blues ballads. On the side wall, to the right of the stage, huge impressionistic acrylic paintings of Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, and Louis Armstrong appear to be watching her. Their bold colors absorb and reflect the stage lights. Along the top of the other side wall, which opens to a long bar made of distressed wood, are a pair of vintage longboards, dark brown, a nod to the neighborhood’s beachy vibe.
Photograph by Thomas K. Arnold
After a few songs, Bitter is joined on stage by another singer-songwriter, Hilary Osterberg — a Linda Ronstadt-ish type with a broad-rim hat, a sweet voice, and expressive brown eyes — who introduces one of her songs with a sad tale of eating disorders and a bout with depression.
Maybe two dozen people are gathered around the tables in front of the stage, beneath whirling ceiling fans and a vintage disco ball hanging from the rafters. Three young Marines in polo shirts and jeans. A lumberjack type in a flannel shirt with a shaved head and a long beard A white-haired old man in a windbreaker and a baseball cap that identifies him as a veteran. Two girls who appear to be in their early 20s, one in a floral pinafore and the other in a skimpy halter top and short skirt.
More people are lined up along the bar to the left. Two middle-aged men in jeans and T-shirts order rye whiskeys — Few, a premium brand — from the bartender, who, as instructed, pours the drink into a rocks glass over a single large ice cube. Next to them is a young woman whose wavy blonde hair nearly covers the huge owl tattoo on her back.
Look around and you could be at any of the bars, pubs, and clubs that over the last few years have made “South O” a hipster hangout rivaling North Park. But the huge mounted moose head, its long-dead eyes watching over the room from the back wall, give the place away: we’re at the Moose Lodge, which has occupied this same spot since before anyone here tonight was born.
And if you look closely, you’d swear there’s a hint of a smile on the moose’s muzzle.
Kimmi Bitter and Hilary Osterberg perform at the Moose Lodge
Photograph by Thomas K. Arnold
Take over the Moose
The Moose Lodge, part of the International Loyal Order of Moose, is located on the west side of the old Coast Highway just before the road dips through Buena Vista Lagoon into Carlsbad. From the outside, it looks like something straight from the pages of a 1960s Life magazine photo essay on small-town Americana. Built in the early 1900s, the two-story, quasi-Spanish-style building, with a painted brick exterior and a huge glowing Moose Lodge 1325 sign out front, has been home to the Oceanside chapter of the international service and fraternal organization since 1949.
Drive past the building and you can almost visualize a group of old men, half of them drunk, identically dressed in white shirts, gray suits, ties and hats, sharing off-color jokes and growing red in the face as they discuss Communists, hippies, and the Kennedys.
The International Loyal Order of Moose, after all, is a fraternal and service club founded in 1888 about an hour’s drive west of Chicago in Mooseheart, Illinois. It was spoofed by Jackie Gleason and Art Carney on The Honeymooners as the International Order of Loyal Raccoons, and in 1972 made headlines when K. Leroy Irvis, a black Pennsylvania state lawmaker, was invited to visit a lodge in Harrisburg as a guest, only to be refused service in the dining room on account of his race.
Moose Lodge governor Jay Malik and Allen Carrasco, one of the longtime Oceanside residents who resurrected the Moose Lodge beginning in 2015.
Photograph by Thomas K. Arnold
Like many service clubs, including Rotary International, the Loyal Order of Moose for years limited membership to men. Rotary, goaded by a Supreme Court ruling, admitted women in 1987, and others soon followed.
Membership in the International Loyal Order of Moose, however, remains limited to males over the age of 21 — although there is a separate organization, the Women of Moose, whose members also are allowed into the association’s 1600 lodges throughout the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. (The two organizations will officially merge in 2021).
But all of that is beside the point. To paraphrase the cliché, this ain’t your grandfather’s Moose Lodge.
Ever since a group of Oceanside locals took over the lodge’s charter in 2015, the Moose Lodge in south Oceanside has established itself as one of the hippest, trendiest. and busiest live music venues in all of North County, a members-only club where local favorites and national touring acts such as the Pat Travers Band appear on stage, often at benefits and fundraisers. Beneficiaries range from Special Olympics and Toys for Tots to Wounded Warriors and a local musician suffering from cancer.
Downstairs sitting room, with jukebox and bookcase filled with Moose memorabilia.
Photograph by Thomas K. Arnold
From the Oceanside lodge’s website: “The Oceanside Moose Lodge is appreciated for hip gatherings, philanthropic purpose, and unapologetic coastal vibe. It’s the best kept secret in South O for awesome bands, inventive cocktails, and incredible humanity.”
Aside from the event room and bar, there’s a downstairs “sitting room” and game room, the latter equipped with a pool and a foosball table. The sitting room, decked out in mid-century furnishings, includes a jukebox with such classics as Marty Robbins’ “El Paso,” Al Martino’s “Spanish Eyes” and Dean Martin’s “Memories are Made of This.” There’s a shrine of sorts to the Moose Lodge’s illustrious past, including a stack of booklets — Moose Rituals, a Pocket Secretary, and an Official Manual for Moose Officers and Committeemen — and assorted memorabilia such as a pen stand with a statuette of a moose and a plaque that reads, “Strong and Majestic.”
The walls of the sitting room and the entryway are adorned with black-and-white photos of past Moose Lodge officers and colorized photos of “Ladies of the Moose.”
Upstairs is a spacious lounge and art gallery, where members are free to relax when the lodge is open, Wednesday through Friday nights, beginning at 5 pm. Saturdays are reserved for fundraisers and special events. One such show, about a year ago, hosted a reunion for This Kids, a popular North County band from the 1970s and 80s. Guitarist Stevie Salas, the band’s most famous alumnus, was there. He has toured and recorded with Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, and George Clinton, and enjoyed a solo career with an especially strong song base in Japan.
Dance floor while Aviator Stash is playing.
Photograph by Thomas K. Arnold
“Here’s the thing, when we were kids here in Oceanside, once a year, someone would get their grandfather to let us use the Moose Lodge, and it was like walking back in time — stinky curtains, worn floors, a real funky place,” Salas recalls. “We would play and have parties and there would be women bartenders who were like 70 years old. And then flip to five years ago, when my buddies who I grew up with decided they wanted to take over the Moose and revive it.”
The place was a dump
One of those “buddies” was Allen Carrasco, a 57-year-old Oceanside native who works as a self-employed creative director. Carrasco, like Salas, remembers the Moose Lodge from his teenage years. From time to time, he and his friends would rent the lodge for parties and fundraisers.
Fast-forward to 2015. Carrasco wanted to throw a benefit concert for a friend’s daughter who was suffering from a brain tumor. He decided to check out the Moose Lodge, and as soon as he walked through the door, he could see that it had deteriorated significantly since he had last been in the place.
“I walked into the lodge one day when it was raining,” he recalls. “Water was leaking from the ceiling, and at one end of the bar were four old guys, pouring their beers over ice and not even noticing. The place was a dump; you could smell it from across the street.”
Moans at the Moose Lodge.
Photograph by Thomas K. Arnold
Still, the room was big and the price was right. The concert, featuring a handful of local bands, was a huge success, Carrasco recalls. “We packed the place. And at the end of the night, after we gave this little girl $2000, a group of us was standing outside at two in the morning, looking at that giant Moose Lodge sign, all lit up, and we said, ‘We have to do something about this place.’”
Carrasco and some of his pals met with Peter Katzmark, at the time the lodge’s leader – called “governor” – and he shared his dismay at the Moose Lodge’s sorry state. “There were maybe 25 members, all over 70, on the roster, and half of them were probably deceased, just so they could keep the numbers up so [the Moose organization’s leadership] wouldn’t close it down,” Carrasco recalls. “They rented the upstairs out to Alcoholics Anonymous, and they paid just enough rent to keep the place open. But just barely. None of the plumbing worked, there were trays under every faucet, and black mold in the walls. It was just Band-Aid over Band-Aid.”
Katzmark turned the club’s charter over to Carrasco and crew, “and we gutted the place,” Carrasco said. They restored the interior, fixed the plumbing, crafted a new wood backdrop for the bar and tore out the ceiling in the main room, exposing “these beautiful brown rafters.” Then they painted the place in red, brown, and teal paint. “The walls were an accident,” Carrasco said. “We had just painted them when the plaster guy came back and said he hadn’t yet sanded them. To show us, he sanded a small portion of the wall which created these really cool white streaks. So we told him to keep going.”
Restoring the Moose Lodge “is just a continuous process,” says Jay Malik, a retired Marine Corps colonel who serves as the Lodge’s current governor. While the bar and entertainment room were the first to be fixed up, “we just put all the gaming stuff in there a month ago.”
Today, the Moose Lodge No. 1325 has about 450 members, each of whom pays annual dues of $45. That grants them admission to the local lodge, and to all other Moose Lodges. (Admission to benefit concerts is extra.) The money goes to the international Moose organization in Illinois to support Mooseheart, a 1000-acre campus outside Chicago that serves as a private educational and safe living facility for up to 500 children and teens in need; and Moosehaven, a retirement community outside Jacksonville, Florida, that provides assisted living for older Moose members.
The local Moose Lodge raises enough money from facility rentals, fundraising activities and bar and merchandise sales to pay taxes and insurance on the building “and keep the lights on,” Malik says. On top of that, he says, the lodge raises as much as $75,000 a year for charity, when you combine events produced by the lodge itself with outside fundraisers by other nonprofits.
“At our heart, we are still very much a philanthropic organization,” he says.
The Moose Lodge No. 1325 is run by a 12-member board of volunteers currently headed by Malik as governor. It includes John Gilley, who has been a member for more than 30 years and was one of the original team who resurrected the lodge with Carrasco; Sean Griffin, a retired San Diego probation officer; Kim Blaylock, retired Carlsbad Fire Department battalion chief; Tony Mata, a former professional surfer; and financial advisor Mark Buckman, also a member of the original resurrection crew.
Come back, Dougie boy
Saturday night. The Moose Lodge is packed, a blur of swirling bodies as a celebrity band — including Ron Blair, the longtime bassist with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, now a Carlsbad resident; and Winston Watson, who drummed for Bob Dylan in the 1990s after a stint in Stevie Salas’ post-This Kids band, Color Code — plays classic rock favorites like Dave Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright,” made famous by Joe Cocker, and Bad Company’s “Ready for Love.”
It’s a benefit for the ALMA Rescue Foundation — Animals’ Lives Matter, Always — a local charity run by Erin Riley-Carrasco, Allen Carrasco’s wife. Tickets are $30, steep for the Moose Lodge, but hey, it’s for a good cause. There’s a street taco stand operated by the Oceanside Kitchen Collaborative, $3 draft beer, and a silent auction and raffle where prizes range from various doggy baskets to vacation rentals and gift cards to some really cool restaurants as well as spas and facials.
And besides, the band! Aside from Blair and Watson, the lineup includes three This Kids alumni: lead singer Patrick Pinamonti — who now works as an electrician but by all rights should have hit it big in music, given that he’s got a set of pipes somewhere in between Steve Perry of Journey and Bon Scott, the original lead singer in AC/DC — guitarist Paul Martinez, and keyboardist Dave Judy. Stevie Salas was supposed to make it, but he was tied up in Toronto.
Warming up the crowd: popular local groups the Keg Band and 40 Proof.
The most striking thing about tonight’s benefit is the diversity of the crowd. Young, old, old, young. Hippie, hipster, and not so hip.
I first became aware of the Moose Lodge in south Oceanside in the late 1990s, when fellow Carlsbad resident Doug Desjardins and I both worked at a home entertainment trade publication, Video Store Magazine. Most days, we carpooled and sometimes when I-5 was backed up we’d leave the freeway at Oceanside Harbor and take the Coast Highway down south.
Each time we drove by the Moose Lodge, we laughed and joked about joining. We envisioned a bunch of old men with moose hats, since our only point of reference was the Racoons of Jackie Gleason fame. Once or twice, we even stopped by, wanting to take a look around. But the door was always locked.
Well, Dougie boy, more than 20 years later you should come back.
The older members love it
Music brings in the people, people who buy $45 annual memberships, which keeps the lodge in good graces with the international organization, and people who buy drinks, which supports the club’s operational and philanthropic efforts.
John Gilley, was one of the original crew that resurrected the Moose Lodge in 2015. He was also the only one who was an actual member of the lodge, having joined in 1991, when he was 24. “At the time, I was trying to get into promoting local musicians, bands, deejays, that sort of thing, and I was looking for a place to host events,” says Gilley, a 52-year-old AT&T manager. “My dad and uncle had recommended I talk to the board and present to them what I was trying to do, so I did, and I wound up joining.”
At first, Gilley said, he produced a concert or a dance every other month, which made the board happy, because the bar did good business. But after he got married and began a family, his events grew less frequent, “and then after a while, I quit doing them altogether.”
Until now. “Music is our best avenue to draw people in,” Gilley says. “When we started this project, everyone involved was either in the music scene or around the music business in one form or another, whether it was actual musicians or managing groups or doing sound or just being friends with musicians. The North County music scene has always been diverse and vibrant, and we felt the best way to capture the demographic we needed in order to revitalize the lodge was to focus on live music. And the funny thing is, the older members love it. They were right in step with it.”
Today, musical acts play every Friday night, booked by Shane Dolly, a local drummer. The first Friday of the month is reserved for singers and songwriters, modeled after the Bluebird Café in Nashville. Other Fridays feature an array of blues, country, folk-rock, heavy metal, and even punk bands, with an emphasis on “Americana,” given the lodge’s proximity to Camp Pendleton and the fact that a good percentage of its members are active or retired military.
Regulars include the Keg Band, 40 Proof, and the Tighten-Ups. From time to time, big names drop in, such as the Paladins, a celebrated rockabilly band whose stand-up bassist, Thomas Yearsley, owns a recording studio just down the street.
“We’ve also had country royalty: Trey Twitty, the grandson of Conway Twitty, and Taylor Lynn, the granddaughter of Loretta Lynn,” Gilley says. “We’ve had folksingers, and we’ve had punk bands with mosh pits.”
Mosh pits and locked antlers
The Oceanside Moose Lodge is not simply another club for live music. The lodge holds weekly meetings where traditions and rituals such as the Legend of the Locked Horns and the Nine O’Clock Ceremony are faithfully honored.
The Legend of the Locked Horns comes first. According to The Lodge Handbook, last updated in January 2015, after the opening prayer and salute to the flag comes this exchange between the Governor and members:
Governor: “Brothers, what is the duty of every Moose member? You will repeat after me. To uphold our fraternal obligations.”
Members: “To uphold our fraternal obligations.”
Governor: “To strengthen and maintain the Defending Circle.”
Members: “To strengthen and maintain the Defending Circle.”
Governor: “And in our daily lives conduct….”
Members: “And in our daily lives conduct….”
Governor: “… To exemplify Purity, Aid, and Progress.”
Members: “…To exemplify Purity, Aid, and Progress.”
Governor: “Brothers, form the Defending Circle by placing your left hand over your heart as a token of sincerity, place your right hand on the left shoulder of the Brother to your right as a token of friendship, and listen to the ‘Legend of the Locked Horns.’”
(Officers and members form the Defending Circle about the altar. Each member faces the altar and positions hands as instructed. The governor waits until the circle is formed and then advances to Position 8 through an opening created by the sergeant-at-arms. The sergeant-at-arms opens and then closes the circle after taking his place in front of the governor’s station. The governor places his left hand over his heart, but does not raise his right hand.)
Governor: “In the primeval wilds of the northland, two noble moose, leaders of their herds, met in deadly combat. Today, their locked antlers, a silent reminder of the futility of antagonism and conflict, lie bleaching on the plains. We meet tonight as brothers united in a common cause. Let the spirit of harmony and fraternal regard guide our deliberations. Otherwise, we will be blinded to the lesson of the ‘Locked Horns.’ Brothers, I welcome you and ask you to return to your places and remain standing.”
I slip into the Moose Lodge on a Wednesday evening. It’s board meeting night, and the 12 board members are sitting around a table in the upstairs lounge, in front of them either a Pacifico beer, an iPhone, or both. Business is winding down, but some questions remain. A few bar stools need to be replaced — the best price is for a dozen, but is that too many? Should the rotating art exhibit in the upstairs gallery include tattoo artists? How can the lodge best engage local merchants? Perhaps by offering discounts on the Moose Lodge website? And how is work progressing on the storyboards that chronicle the Moose Lodge’s history, which Malik would like to see hung up in the entrance corridor?
At the end of the meeting, board members rise up and face toward the northeast. It’s time for another Moose tradition, the Nine O’clock Ceremony. Again, according to The Lodge Handbook: “At the hour of nine o’clock pm, wherever Moose are gathered in the name of the Order, they are requested to stand, face toward Mooseheart, fold their arms across their chests, and for a moment bow their heads in silent prayer, repeating in concert the words of the Nine O’clock Ceremony. At a regular meeting the governor should call for the ceremony as close to nine o’clock as possible.”
(It’s only 7, but as Malik tells me later, that’s 9 in Mooseheart.)
Governor: (gives two raps) “It is now nine o’clock. At this time the little children at Mooseheart kneel at their beds to say their evening prayers. Let us face toward Mooseheart (governor gestures in the direction of Mooseheart), fold our arms, bow our heads, and join them in silent prayer.
(Lights turned low but never off, chimes sounded slowly nine times.)
Governor: “Repeat after me: Let the little children come to me.”
Members: “Let the little children come to me.”
Governor: “Do not keep them away.”
Members: “Do not keep them away.”
Governor: “For they are like the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Members: “For they are like the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Governor: “God bless Mooseheart.”
Members: “God bless Mooseheart.”
Gilley said it’s important to maintain some of the key Moose traditions, like the opening and closing ceremonies. “We don’t want to lose sight of what the organization stands for,” he says. “As a group, we still need to be reminded of who we are and what we stand for. Having fun and listening to live music is great, but at the end of the day we’re there for the community, to do our part for our fellow citizens.”
A dying breed
All told, the 1600 Moose Lodges have a total membership of about 650,000. A handful have followed the Oceanside Moose Lodge model and reinvented themselves. Most haven’t.
The calendar for the Moose Lodge in Belleville, Michigan, a town of fewer than 4000 people in Wayne County, about 30 miles southwest of Detroit, includes bunco games, bowling tournaments and a Sunday afternoon Make & Take Crafts workshop.
The Moose Lodge in Huntsville, Alabama, is known for its weekly Friday bingo nights, while the Moose Lodge in Sylvania, Ohio, boasts a weekly Sunday morning “beer breakfast,” a Friday afternoon fish fry and bake, and such special events as a March 28 gun raffle.
Closer to home, the Moose Lodge in Kearny Mesa, on Ruffin Road, offers weekly shuffleboard tournaments, a pool league, and dance lessons.
The Moose Lodge in Jacksonville, Florida, was shut down less than a year ago by the International Loyal Order of Moose. Tab Turke, the lodge’s last “governor,” told a local radio station, “We’ve been, for quite some time, having financial hardships and fleeting membership, as well as a lack of volunteer participation…. Truthfully, I believe that service clubs are starting to dwindle now. Our average age of members was about 55-60, and we do have a hard time recruiting younger members.”
Carrasco can sympathize. “We’re one of the fastest-growing Moose Lodges in the country,” he says. “People come here from all over Southern California and even other parts of the country and they say, ‘Wow, this place…’”
Carrasco credits the Oceanside community as much as anyone for resurrecting the old Moose Lodge No. 1325.
“We have a lot of special events like birthday parties and memorial services,” he says. “A friend donated a sound system and brought a bunch of kids in, so now the School of Rock is here two or three times a year, and from 10 am until 10 pm we’re packed with families, just as if you had gone to a Little League game and the bleachers were full.”
City leaders, too, “have embraced us,” Carrasco says. “We hosted a memorial for the Oceanside Police dispatcher who was killed in a car accident,” he says. “The mayor was here on our stage a few weeks ago, playing music, and every city council member has been here as well.”
Chuck Lowery, a former councilmember and deputy mayor, says, “I know what they’re doing there and I think it’s pretty awesome. They have taken a completely rundown, almost deceased organization and pumped some life into it. It’s amazing.”