Published: Sept. 25, 1992

IF I worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, I could probably get away with saying something like "strategic pre- inspection data culled from usually reliable sources in the region was contradicted by on-site evaluation. This discrepancy necessitated the immediate reassessment of project goals."

But, since I work for an organization that deplores that sort of weasel-tongued, waffle-brained obfuscation, I better just cop to it: We screwed up. It wasn't what we thought it was, but it worked out anyway.

Last Friday night around 11, Iron John and I rolled into this club at the north end of Aquatic Park in Berkeley. Thunder Bay, sandwiched between the railroad tracks and eight roarin' lanes of I-80, was supposedly a hard-rock establishment. Supposedly. True, it does book medium-grungy local rock three nights a week, but . . .

We paid our cover charges and navigated into a huge, six- sided, two-level chamber filled with several hundred very jovial club kids who were dancing to the ear-bleeding din of industrial-strength house music. I was just about to turn to John and holler, "Hey, what a sweet-lookin' bunch of kids . . ."

That was when I noticed the two guys necking behind us. And the rainbow flag above the stage. And the muscular dude with the Madonna-style lace stockings under his bike shorts, who was grinning and nodding furiously at Iron John.

''Hey, John, I think this is a . . ."

''Yeah, thanks a lot. I picked up on that."

Geez -- if I'd only known, I would have dressed a little better. With my less-than-stunning black leather-and-jeans ensemble and John's Harry-Angstrom-as-an-undergrad chinos, we were squarely in the sartorially impaired category. We saw a lot of clean-cut guys in their early 20s who spend more on hair-care products each month than we do on beer. We saw a lot of guys in big, clunky boots, baggy shorts and little else. We saw a few "kids" dressed in summer-camp outfits. And a half- dozen assorted drag queens. For all we could tell, the only heterosexuals we saw were the glum little knot of hard-bitten young bikers in the corner. Overall, it was a very innocent and carefree scene -- without the undercurrent of tension that one finds at most rock clubs.

Down the hall, we found a quieter bar and a game room where someone had set up a smart-drink bar on the back of a 20-foot plywood alligator. The club, originally a firefighters' fraternal hall, is not much to brag on in terms of decor. The current regime -- which took over a year ago -- hasn't exactly busted the bank on renovation.

Back out in the main room, a young man with a shaved head, pancake makeup and a crushed-velvet baby-doll dress was onstage introducing Pussy Tourette, the opening band. The trio (two women and one dragster in a black leather trench coat) was wonderful. Imagine the Andrews Sisters sitting on the banks of the River Styx with Sam Kinison and a large tank of nitrous oxide. Imagine the lyrics. Because we can't print them here.

At 12:45, the Del Rubio Triplets gave the callow young crowd a masterful lesson in the art of high camp. With their sequined mini-dresses, turquoise tops, white go-go boots and huge peroxide beehives, the 60-something siblings (Eadie, Milly and Elena) are an anomaly -- an unabashedly cheesy act that plays equally well in hip clubs and retirement homes. Perhaps you've never heard an acoustic guitar treatment of James Brown's "I Feel Good" and Madonna's "Like a Virgin." And perhaps you've never seen a crowd of predominantly (but not exclusively) gay post-teens go ape over three old gals singing a painfully stilted rendition of Devo's "Whip It." But you should. At least once, you really should.

Thunder Bay
One Bolivar Drive
Admission: No cover-$5
Details: Live music
Mondays-Wednesdays, country dancing Thursdays, disco Fridays- Saturdays.
(510) 548-0706

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