Published: June 18, 1993

BROTHERS and sisters, barflies and friends of the band, as I gaze out from this print-bound pulpit today, my heart is heavy with woe. For today's is not a happy sermon, children. It is a tale of treachery and deceit almost without precedent in this department, this blessed realm, this Clubland.

One of our nation's most cherished art forms is under assault. A lifestyle that was once the ultimate expression of the American Dream is being sucked into the maw of revisionist thought like a thumbtack into a Dirt Devil. I'm talking lounge music. Hard-swinging, highball-swilling music for gone cats and wicked dames. While the tastemakers churn out lavish boxed sets of gospel and blues by every Tom, Dick and Blind Lemon Harry who ever picked up a two-dollar guitar, lounge music -- born of the Vegas Strip and the Rainbow Room -- is getting picked apart, perverted and snickered at by irony-drenched ersatz hipsters such as Buster Poindexter and Bud E. Luv. This is an abomination. This slow death by a thousand winks and smirks is no way to treat the American voice that once told the world, "Hey, doll, we gotcha on a string . . ."

Last weekend the Fun Consultant and I set out in search of real lounge music. We wanted the straight stuff, not some urban malcontent trying his hand at parody. Make it Rat Pack-style, and hold the wry, pal -- because Dino don't do no camp . . .

We found it at the Iron Gate in Belmont. Like the Carlos Club and the other old-line cocktailing stations on the King's Highway, the lounge (in the front room of a Continental dinner house) is patronized by the kind of folks who wouldn't know an ironic comment from a 5-iron. Belmont is Deep Burbs -- a place that hasn't had distinguished nightlife since the salad days of robber baron William Ralston. But the nondescript, blessedly dark 100-seat lounge is a very cool scene on the weekends. Cool in a "Pal Joey" kind of way.

When we rolled in on Saturday night, the Jeff Gaeto Trio was pouring on a dreamy pure-crinoline version of "You Belong To Me." A dozen fifty-ish couples were turning slow arcs around the dance floor, bathed in blue light and the smoke of a dozen Pall Malls. We felt like we'd crashed somebody's church-hall wedding reception. And the hits kept coming -- everything from Bobby Darin and Nat King Cole to "Begin the Beguine" to "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown." The Iron Gate is the kind of establishment where one just expects to hear "Mack the Knife" and "New York, New York" like clockwork, on the hour. But who would have ever expected a swing-paced, Vegas-ized version of Marvin Gaye's "How Sweet It Is"? Cooler than a pitcher of Stoli martinis.

Perhaps you are a young person who wonders if there is a top-end age for nightclubbing, a mandatory retirement for lounge lizards. I assure you there is no such thing. The median age of the Iron Gate crowd was 45. The Fun Consultant and I may have been the only people in the joint who don't remember seeing Nat King Cole at the old Circle Star down the road. If you Gen. X tyros can picture all your old junior high school teachers doing the mambo boogie in their Sansabelt slacks and natty blazers, I can tell you where they're doing it. This is the kind of place where a swingin' guy in his 50s who has a rug on his head and a '68 ragtop in the parking lot could feel like -- as they used to say -- the cock o' the walk.

No, it wasn't Keely Smith and Louis Prima swinging at the Sands or the Desert Inn. And it wasn't a retro-rocket back to "Ocean's Eleven." But it had soul. And it had heart. And that's all we ask.

Raise the glass high, brother, 'cause there's good swingin' tonight.

The Iron Gate
1360 El Camino Real
Admission: No cover
Details: Music Thursdays-Saturdays
at 8:30 p.m.
(415) 592-7893

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